When pork is found in halal-guaranteed food

Mohammad Yazid ,  Jakarta   |  Wed, 04/29/2009 1:25 PM  |  Opinion

could consumers say when they found pork in a product guaranteed as
halal by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) as happened recently?

The council executives were very quick to declare themselves innocent in the fatal incident and blame others.

As the country’s highest Islamic vanguard, the MUI is very active in issuing edicts (fatwa) including controversial ones.

“We are only in charge of the certification. The control
function is in the hands of government agencies like the Food and Drugs
Control Agency (BPOM), the trade ministry or the health ministry,” said
MUI chairman Amidhan recently.

The council leaders need to honestly acknowledge that they may
have gone too far in requiring food and beverage companies to get halal
stamps from the MUI because it does not have enough personnel, networks
or the technology, and let authoritative government agencies handle
halal requirements.

Let the council concentrate on much more fundamental issues.
But because the halal stamp also involves money, the temptation to
retain power may be just too strong to resist.

Realizing that sticking on halal labels issued by the MUI can
jack up the sales turnover of products, many fast-food restaurants
display such labels at their entrances or front windows.

Some food and beverage producers also unhesitatingly put the
same labels on their goods to attract consumers, particularly Muslims.

Do they have a real concern about halal products or merely
care about commercial considerations? Are Muslims actually protected by
the halal labeling?

This is a very serious and complicated problem to resolve as
Indonesia is facing various constraints that hamper consumer
protection, such as weak supervision, meager legal certainty and
powerful business interests.

The halal labels, made by the Assessment Institute for Foods,
Drugs and Cosmetics (LP POM MUI) for the purpose of providing certainty
about the permissibility of some products to ease the minds of
consumers, have turned into business commodities.

Some producers are concerned about the permissibility of their
products for consumption. But most others consider it a business
opportunity that can’t be missed and frequently they prioritize
business interests over consumer benefits.

Consequently, a lot of consumers are disadvantaged and halal
labels are no longer a guarantee to obtain products permitted by their

Unsurprisingly, therefore, pork can be freely sold after halal
labeling. As reported by the media, the Food and Drug Control Agency
(BPOM) recently found five pork products in abon (shredded and fried
meat) and dendeng (jerked and dried meat) forms sold in several
traditional markets in the city with beef preparation labeling and
halal certification. Several days later, similar products turned up in
other parts of Indonesia.

The case of the discovery of pork-based abon and dendeng
reflects the very poor system of registration and control of food
products, which involve the MUI, the BPOM as well as the central
government and regional administrations.

On the other hand, it would be unwise to put the blame only on
the MUI, because Indonesia has various weaknesses in its food and
beverage control.

Based on professional considerations, the time is opportune
for the MUI to give up the function of halal certification and focus
more on its main role of fostering the Muslim community. Various ways
are still at the disposal of the MUI to protect its community by
ensuring the halal condition of food products.

In connection with the halal and haram (forbidden by Islamic
law) edicts issued by the MUI, the MUI’s role is, of course, still
needed by Muslims. The problem is that there is a strong impression in
society today that the MUI is too generous with less essential rulings.
The edicts announced are frequently seen as being devoid of thorough
evaluation and lacking in harmony with universal values as taught by

This may be one of the factors why the MUI’s edicts have often
triggered public controversy and confusion, as was the case with the
haram rulings on yoga and smoking, which in practice are mostly ignored
by the Muslim community.

However, it is an example of how a fatwa or edict requires
profound study based on the principle of prudence, with due
consideration to the degree of its implementation in society.

The question is: What is the purpose of issuing a fatwa if,
finally, the edict causes confusion among Muslims, as it fails to serve
as a guide and draws less response?

Doesn’t this situation only make Muslims victims, especially those in dire need of good examples from their clerics?

The writer is member of The Jakarta Post’s Opinion Desk