USA: HALAL – The Muslims’ Business in New Jersey

Halal Means “Lawful by Allah” – New Jersey Council of Imams Strengthened with New Jersey Law

By Baaqia J. Uqdah

NEWARK, N.J. – New Jersey Muslims have the strength of “Halal Bill Statute # N.J.S.A.56:8-98etseq” in carrying out the laws governing halal production and designated foods according to Muslim dietary law.

In the year 2000, New Jersey became the first state in the U.S. to pass a bill regarding halal slaughtering and distribution. Bro. Akbar T. Salaam, owner of Unity Brand Halal Products, at 94 Orange St., in Newark, says, “I worked with Imam Omar Aziz (now deceased) and other Muslims to establish the halal law for the state of New Jersey.”

According to Bro. Salaam, in 1976, Imam W. Deen Mohammed challenged the Muslim American community to establish halal and trademarked the name halal so it could be available for all Muslims. Prior to 1977, there were no manners of conditions established by the U.S.D.A. regarding halal slaughtering. There were only manners of conditions for kosher slaughtering.

“So we helped to establish the basic standards for halal slaughtering in the U.S.D.A. plants,” Bro. Salaam continues. “I would be remised if I did not mention that Bro. Ibrihim Bacca from Turkey was very instrumental in getting the halal bill passed. But we laid the foundation. Bro. Ibrihim introduced me to the Governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, as ‘Abu Halal’ (the Father of Halal).”

Prior to the bill being passed, Imam W.D. Mohammad met with then Governor Whitman to discuss the sensitivities of our community. Once those sensitivities were discussed, Governor Whitman was open to seeing what she could do to make sure they were addressed, explained Bro. Salaam.

As a result, the bill known as The Halal Food Consumer Protection Act, Statute # N.J.S.A.56:8-98etseq, was passed. It was administered by the Halal Food Enforcement Unit of New Jersey, a subsidiary to the New Jersey Office of Consumer Protection.

This bill requires the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to enforce the law insuring that all food offered for sale, or sold as halal, has been prepared according to the halal dealer’s representation of his practices. It requires stores, restaurants, caterers, nursing homes, and slaughter houses to post the information about the procedures they follow in their handling and preparation of the halal food they sell.

It also requires dealers to keep records for inspection by the division. The person found to be fraudulently representing the standard could be fined up to $10,000 for the first offense, and $20,000 for all subsequent offenses.

Bro. Akbar Salaam states, “This law has benefitted Muslims throughout the State of New Jersey, in that we now know there is a law in place that guarantees products that are labeled halal are in fact halal.”

As he was instrumental in getting the bill passed and recognizing the need for qualified inspectors of halal foods and facilities, Bro. Salaam initiated a Halal Certification Class and presented it to the members of the New Jersey Council of Imams.

“These Imams have undergone an intense course of halal inspection,” he says. “They’ve learned about avoiding cross-contamination, the causes of E Coli, and the causes of salmonella poisoning. Every U.S.D.A. program has to have a HACCP program. By completing the requirements of the Halal Certification Class, the Imams have received a city and state food handling license, and they are HACCP certified.

HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. HACCP is an industry-wide effort approved by the scientific community as well as regulatory and industry practitioners. This effort is designed to focus specifically on food safety, including food safety in retail establishments.

The Imams saw the importance of the overall goal to enforce the law, insuring that all food offered for sale, or sold as halal, has been prepared according to the halal dealer’s representation of his practices. As a result of completing this class, each of them is now a halal inspector and regulatory official.

The halal guidelines are based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammed. Therefore, it is the Muslim’s responsibility to enforce the law of the Qur’an and the Sunnah as it pertains to food.

“Insha Allah, what we have initiated here in the state of New Jersey will serve as a model for the rest of the country,” says Bro. Salaam. “

“We intend to insure that supermarkets, restaurants, wholesalers and other facilities who say they are halal are being maintained according to halal standards. Otherwise, we could be subjected to facilities that say they are halal, yet they are not halal.

“This means, if the product or the facility are not maintained according to halal standards, the product could become contaminated and thereby lose its halal authenticity.”

In the Halal Certification Class, the Imams visited different slaughter houses and conducted the slaughtering of beef, lamb, goat and poultry. They examined the liver, the brain, the eyes, the mouth and the tongue. They examined the heart and in doing so were able to relate to ayat in the Qur’an regarding the heart.

“We discussed the functions of the heart, the liver, and the kidneys and Imam Mohammed’s insight as it relates to vital organs,” says Bro. Salaam. They learned the two categories for halal products.

“In the first category, the animal may have been slaughtered by a machine. The other category is what is known as zabihah halal. In this category the animal has been slaughtered by hand. In either category, Allah’s Name has been pronounced over the animal,” explains Bro. Salaam.

“This Halal Certification Class was the first of its kind. Therefore, it is history in the making. It was an excellent class, and it was a healthy challenge for me because the Imams are knowledgeable men. Their questioning comes from a different perspective. This enhanced the class for us all,” says Bro. Salaam.

This is the first endeavor of this kind here in New Jersey. There may be other certifying boards but they are not under the Ashurah of the community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed. Other states in the country are also passing such laws, but New Jersey was the first.

“Wherever our community is in America as it relates to halal inspections and regulatory officials, members of the New Jersey Council of Imams can certify them, so that they can go back to their state and certify individuals within their state,” says Bro. Salaam.

There are other brothers who are on the forefront of working to establish halal products. They include Imam Wali in Philadelphia, Bro. Jalal in Florida, Bro. Anthony Mohammed in Connecticut, a brother known as The Sausage Man in Baltimore, Imam Sabir in South Carolina, Bro. Naim Mohammed in the southern part of New Jersey, and others, according to Bro. Salaam. There are some in Chicago, California, Durham, North Carolina, Las Vegas and other states.

“I was privileged to have personal dialogue with Imam W.D. Mohammed over 30 years regarding the halal industry. He shared insights that Allah had given him, and I shared insights that Allah had given me. In a lot of cases, I would say something physical as it relates to halal and Imam Mohammed would give spiritual insight to it,” related Bro. Salaam.

“I shared much of this insight in the halal certification class,” says Bro. Salaam. “Now that we’ve established halal throughout America, it is the time for our community to establish halal outlets in every city wherein Muslims reside, thereby introducing our unique African American culture to the world. We don’t have to look outside of ourselves. Whatever products and  whatever services we see, let’s make it halal.”