Sri Lanka: Halal food certification – purely voluntary

By Manjula Fernando

imgresThe ‘Halal certification’ by the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulamas (ACJU) has become a contentious issue inviting criticism among a section of the society while others curry favour with it. Fuelled by a malicious email campaign that causes more damage to the country than protect the interests of the Sinhalese Buddhists, certain sections have warned that the issue will sow communal hatred and drag the country towards another violent phase. Last week the issue reached the topmost legislative body – the Parliament.

Some of the sentiments expressed and representations made by concerned parties and individuals in Parliament and response to queries made by the Sunday Observer are compiled below:

Leader of the House and Irrigation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva making a special statement in Parliament in reply to the Opposition Leader said, “There is no need to give government approval for Halal food certification since it is a voluntary exercise. It is up to the consumers to accept or reject halal food or halal certification. The government would not permit anyone or any body to impose halal certification.”

He said,” It is under President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the State radio started broadcasting Azan prayers five times a day. Sri Lanka is the one and only non Muslim country in the world which has given this facility.

The government condemns the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition against halal certification and the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU).

ACJU has played a vital role at the last Geneva conference in support of a unitary status and against the influences of anti Sri Lankan forces.

The leader of the Opposition finds fault with this organisation since it did not want to become a cat’s paw of the Opposition. Halal certification is known internationally and not only the Muslim nations but also some western nations have approved of it. The international headquarters of this certifying body the World Halal Food Council is situated in Indonesia. They have their member organisations in other countries. ACJU is the one accepted and approved by the World Halal Food Council. Neither the Sri Lankan government nor government institutes have accepted this organisation. There is no such need to give government approval for it since it is voluntary to obtain halal food certification. It is up to the consumers to accept or reject halal food or halal certification. The government would not permit anyone or body to impose halal certification.

There is an MoU signed between the Halal certification institute in Thailand and All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU).

The Leader of the Opposition alleges that there are a number of websites spreading anti-Muslim sentiments. It is a known fact that opposition activists and leaders had managed a number of websites to sling mud at the President and the government. The government has commenced action against websites which operate against the Muslim religion. Yet, technology is so sophisticated that even if we shut down one website they could commence another.

The President had meetings with the Muslim Ministers who had promised to do their best to avoid extremist forces causing disturbances.

The government has also proposed to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee in this regard but the Leader of the Opposition has refused to participate in it. The refusal indicates unwillingness to cooperate with the process of finding a solution to the problem. The Opposition Leader who has repeatedly said to reject terrorist struggles has an opportunity to participate in the PSC and prove his words by cooperating to find a solution.

President Rajapaksa has instructed political and police leadership to take utmost care to suppress any movement that would cause religious disharmony in the country.

The President met the prelates of all Chapters on Wednesday evening at the Presidential Secretariat and informed them of the conspiracies against the country and sought their advice to promote reconciliation. I request all opposition parties to participate in the special Parliamentary Select Committee to be appointed to look into the religious disharmony to find a permanent solution.”

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament

The present situation is being fuelled by rumours. The government has taken no steps to control the escalating situation. Divisions are being emphasised rather than minimised. The first canard is that the Sinhalese are becoming a minority in the Sinhala deep. There is a so called map showing the increase of Muslims in the 7 Southern provinces with the Sinhalese becoming a minority in the near future. Another map shows the country without any Muslims at the time of arrival of the Portuguese. It was the Muslims that warned Dharma Parakramabahu VIII not to allow the Portuguese to come into the country. The Sinhala ratio has increased from the time of independence, 1947 when it was 63% to what it is today to 75%. But the ratio within the minorities have changed since a large number of Tamils have left the country. D S Senanayake said that the Sinhalese are the majority in the country and will always be the majority but the Tamils and the Muslims also have the right to live in this country and to be treated equally. If the Sinhalese population is in danger of being depleted we in the UNP will be the first to raise the issue in the House.

Secondly, there is the question of halal certification. To the best of our information it is an purely voluntary matter. If anyone has forced halal certification on business organisations an inquiry must take place after a complaint is made. The government must inform us why a private organisation is assigned to perform this function which is the responsibility of the Sri Lanka Standards Institute? The Muslim leadership I met are all in favour of resolving this issue in a manner acceptable to all parties. Therefore, I have to ask the government why they allowed this question to boil over. Why did you fail to start a discussion on the issue with the Muslim community and the business community?

Senior Minister for Disaster Management A.H.M. Fowzie

I can’t understand why this issue has grown out of proportion. The Muslims and Sinhalese have been living very cordially. There is a lot of trust between the two communities.

There were isolated incidents from time to time but generally our relations were very cordial.

But since of late there is some element that is working against our community, I believe to bring discredit to the Government. During the last UN sessions in Geneva, the Muslim countries supported the Government, and now with the next sessions around the corner there are some elements working to ensure that the Muslim countries don’t support the Government in the event of a negative resolution being moved against the country.

They are trying to provoke the Muslims and create a problem between the two communities which had been living peacefully for a long time.

I ask them to be careful and not to be misled by these malicious campaigns. They are only trying to destroy us.

They have also been raising some unwanted issues with regard to the beliefs of the Islamic faith.

The Opposition Leader is speaking without facts. He is coming out with various allegations against the Government. Since President Rajapaksa took over office, he has been careful in handling sensitive matters. He has undertaken to look after all communities alike and to ensure that all peoples have freedom to practise their religions.

Such a leadership must be valued. The Opposition Leader is angry with the Jamiyyathul Ulamas’ President because he went to Geneva in March 2012 and canvassed for Sri Lanka among the Muslim countries. It twisted the outcome at the last sessions in our favour. He thinks Rizwi Mufti is a stooge of the government. He is not a stooge of the Government, he is doing what is necessary for the country. When the country is in turmoil we all have to look after the interests of the country. That is what he did. Mr. Wickremesinghe is trying to make it into a political drama.

With regard to halal, we as Muslims are prohibited certain things and allowed to do certain things. As far as food is concerned we have to take halal food. The halal and haraam concept apply to everything a Muslim does. Halal is what is permitted and haraam is what is prohibited.

The proposal that halal certification has to be taken over by the Government is also due to a personal vengeance against Mr. Mufti. The amount of money the Jamiyyathul Ulama recovers as fee for the certificate is not enough to run their institution. I offered some grant out of my own salary to the institution since they were in a difficult state, I also proposed that the Muslim business entities must get their membership.

The Sinhalese are not communal. We have been living in this country peacefully with them for a long time.

Head of the Muslim Wing of the SLFP and Investment Promotion Deputy Minister Faizer Mustapha

Halal products are prepared in compliance with the Islamic faith. When animals are being slaughtered, the manner in which it should be done is laid down in the religion. It is a 100% voluntary exercise. Simply if you take ice cream, in some products there are pork ingredients, which is not permissible for Muslims to consume. So halal is a mode of identification to give awareness to a person who follows the Islamic faith that this particular product is halal in terms of his or her religion. It is a voluntary process. There are a large number of Buddhists in the country who are vegetarians. Halal is similar to saying the product is 100% vegetarian. There are such products all over the world, for example ‘corsha’ for Jews which says the food produced is in compliance to the Jews’ faith.

Unfortunately, this has been blown out of proportion. I am fully aware ‘Jamiyyathul Ulama’ has not forced anybody to get this licence/certification. Not only Muslim establishments but some non Muslim companies too have obtained this certification to attract Muslim customers. Their intention is commercial, to expand their market. It has no prejudice to any other faith. The halal issue has been diverted by certain quarters to an anti Islamic campaign. I am one of the Muslim Ministers who brought Dammapadaya to all the Hotel rooms in the country. I have done more for Buddha sasana in the Kandy district than may be even the Buddhist Ministers. I have been very close to the Asgiriya and Malwathu Maha Nayaka theras. Muslims in the community have not asked even an inch of soil in the country.

All these problems started after the Muslims got on to the streets during the last Human Rights Sessions in Geneva to express solidarity with the Government. There are many international forces working to spread distrust among the Muslim and Sinhalese communities. We should not get caught up in this process.

As the President says anybody who preaches religious hatred, is promoting terrorism. We must think like Sri Lankans and work like one community. America has produced a coloured President, we are in an era where religion and race play a small role.

Some extreme forces are trying to get the country go backward, we must read through their minds.

I do not wish to get into any confrontational position but I think the Opposition Leader has made a misleading statement in parliament. Jamiyyathul Ulama is a voluntary body …I don’t think any wrongdoing has been done by this institution because they have always worked in the interests of the Muslim community.

Chairman Islamic Solidarity Front Reyyaz Sally

The President should ban all communal political parties, extreme religious groups and close down websites which could lead to conflicts among the communities.

I met the Secretary of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs M.K.B. Dissanayake and discussed issues pertaining to halal certificates. My suggestion is to bring it under the Muslim Ministry. As the Bodu Bala Sena said companies like LB Finance and Lanka Orient Leasing are run with the interests they collect and how can sharia make it legal?

Even before Bodu Bala Sena raised the issue I have been warning Jameeyathul Ulema not to venture into commercial things. Today Muslim restaurant owners pay for halal certificates, they need not pay because Muslims do not sell pork. When we step into a restaurant we look at the name board and look for any Arabic calligraphy frames to identify whether it’s a Muslim hotel. We do not look for signs of halal.

National Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara

Issues such as this come up among communities from time to time. The current issue of halal food has become one such contentious question. We must ensure that it is not dragged into a political drama that would lead to provoking communities against each other, and confine it to the matter in question – labelling of food in compliance with the Islamic faith.

We have to resort to professional ways of resolving the issue. I can understand Buddhists not wanting to consume food labelled as Halal . If that is so there should be a way to have the same product with and without the label, to suit Muslim and non Muslim consumers.

Propagating hatred among communities by these issues is unacceptable.

Minister Champika Ranawaka (Jathika Hela Urumaya)

Actually what the ACJU is trying to do is to segregate the Sri Lankan society on religious lines.

This institution is trying to impose their way of life, their customs and food habits through the Sri Lankan Islamic society on other communities. Ours is a multicultural multi-religious society. So far each others’ religious customs were kept within the community. The current move disrupts peaceful coexistence of society.

The ACJU is propagating the notion that by way of obtaining the halal certificate Sri Lankan produce can penetrate the 9.3 billion Muslim market that represents 23% of the global market.

We are not opposing the idea, of exporting our produce to Middle Eastern countries. We oppose the imposition of one religious custom on another.

We have reports that some food chains have been asked to comply to certification. What if the same request comes from Hindus with regard to beef? What if Christians and the Buddhists make similar requests? Muslims can have the freedom to choose but a single organisation should not be given the power to impose things on the communities.

All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama

The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama founded in 1924, is a nonpolitical, non-governmental organisation working towards the well-being of the Muslims and all Sri Lankans.

Halal is NOT a sacrifice to GOD by any means. It is food which does not contain unsuitable ingredients according to Islamic belief.

Halal is not a rule only confined to the consumption of meat for food by the Muslims. Also it is not food sacrificed in the name of God. It is a lifestyle. In this process the people pay attention to food, beverages and personal care. Our Association crucially observes the process with the ‘farm to folk’ concept with the assistance of scientific testings when required, and ensures that non Halal items are not incorporated at any point of the process.

The halal certification for products of manufacturers is processed only with the interest of the individual organisation and with the commitment of being transparent to the entire production line.

A certification is issued only after completely verifying the production process. Normally, a fee is levied for any product or service. Similarly we also levy a fee for this service. The fee has been decided in a manner that will neither make an impact on the producer nor the consumer. We strongly emphasise we do not charge several hundred thousand rupees on a product or a percentage of the profit or charge fees on any other base.

Halal certification involves less than 10 cents on a finished product. For some institutions it is even less than a cent.


Halal certification should come under govt says UNP Parliamentarian

Joint mechanism considered to offer certificates

The Halal certification process should come under the government through a joint mechanism worked by the Muslim Affairs Authority and the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), UNP Parliamentarian Kabir Hashim said.Hashim told The Nation that Halal certifications were provided by ACJMU voluntarily until the body was incorporated through an act in Parliament. “The recent allegations against the ACJMU have created mistrust and tensions between the communities, which is not a good sign. This could aggravate further if nothing is done”, he said.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe recently questioned as to who had permitted All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulama (ACJMU) to grant Halal certificates.

“The government should have intervened a long time ago. The process should be handled by the SLSI in consultation with the Muslim Affairs Authority”, The UNP MP added. Meanwhile, former UNP Parliamentarian Imthiyas Bakeer Markar called upon the parties concerned to come to an amicable solution without digging deeper into the issue.


PSC to find permanent solution

by Manjula Fernando

The Government will appoint a special Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to look into the recent spate of events that led to religious disharmony and find a permanent solution to issues that have cropped up with the halal certification.

Leader of the House and Irrigation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, explaining the Government’s stand on the issue said, “There is no need to give Government approval for halal food certification since it is a voluntary exercise.”

He said it was up to consumers to accept or reject halal food or halal certification.

The Government would not permit anyone or anybody to impose the halal certification.

The Minister said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa held meetings with Muslim Ministers and they promised to do their best to avoid extremist elements causing disturbances. He also met the Buddhist clergy to discuss ways and means of preventing Buddhists from being dragged into a political game.

The Government, rejecting a statement by the Opposition Leader in Parliament against the Halal certification invited them to participate in the proposed PSC to discuss a viable solution to the issue.

“The Leader of the Opposition who had repeatedly said to reject terrorist struggles has an alternative to participate in this PSC and prove his words by cooperating to find a solution,” the Minister told Parliament.


 Muslim clerics’ organization in Sri Lanka criticizes Halal certificate issuing body
Thu, Feb 14, 2013, 11:11 am SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Feb 14, Colombo: Another organization of Muslim clerics in Sri Lanka has come forward to criticize the organization of Muslim clerics issuing Halal certificates to businesses in the island. (ACJU).

Sri Lanka Jamiyaathul Ulama (SLJU) organization has criticized the All Ceylon Jamiyaathul Ulama (ACJU) organization as a corrupt body.

Mohammed Aiyaz, the media spokesman of the SLJU says that the ACJU organization should reveal the accounts of the organization without creating conflicts among religions.

He further charged that ACJU has become politicized and demanded a government body to regulate the issuing of Halal certificates.

A Buddhist activist group also has complained that there was no knowledge on how or who had given the mandate to ACJU to issue Halal certificates at a price and called for an investigation into the matter.

The ACJU earlier said obtaining the Halal certificate for businesses is purely voluntary and the Ulama is only charging the cost of producing certificates.