RECENTLY JAKIM was ridiculed all the way to Europe and America. Because they rejected an application for Halal Certification by Auntie Annie’s, and the history books got a new syllabus. Chaos ensued, even the Americans did not get so much bad press after dropping two atomic bombs.
Many lost their ability to be fair and veracious. Some were hellbent on condemning JAKIM for not allowing names such as “bacon”, “dog”, “beer” etc. For your information, JAKIM’s certification is sought after worldwide due the high standards practiced. I would like to share my opinion in order to clarify the issue.
I do not see a reason for the malice associated with JAKIM. Many condemned the poor Department of being inept and incapable of reason. Hence the effort to share a Muslim’s experience so that the rest may understand. Sometime ago, new food products were introduced, that bore names like bacon, ham etc.
In an effort to understand the ingredients of this alien menu, help was sought. The infamous “dictionary”, and that did not help much either. Bacon is defined as, “cured meat from the back or sides of a pig”. We also have ham, which means “salted or smoked meat from the upper part of a pig’s leg”. This actually lead to more questions than answers, partly because of the nature of the food.
Many of these products were introduced by multi national corporations. Some of the names were unfamiliar to the locals. Bacon, ham, among others created confusion among the people. The definition of the words was one aspect. The other was that many of these edibles did not follow the prescribed mannerisms in Islam.
In order to resolve the arising issues, JAKIM introduced certain measures. Any franchise that wants to obtain a halal certificate has to apply for its central kitchen first, only then for the outlets. Auntie Annie’s did not follow the procedure by applying for the outlets prior to the application for the central kitchen.
Secondly in the application presented to JAKIM there was no mention of pretzel dog. Why was it absent? We don’t know the answer, but that resulted in the application being rejected. Auntie Annie’s did not fail the certification, the application was not even accepted. They were asked to submit their application again according to the proper mechanisms. How difficult is it to change the menu or submit another application?
Better still, why was the procedure ignored in the first place? There are reasons for every step in the process. Every food item has to be scrutinised for its content. The name itself is important, so that it does not reflect anything that is forbidden in Islam. It is not befitting for food to be associated with creatures like dogs and pigs.
There was and still is, beef bacon, chicken bacon, turkey ham etc. at some restaurants. So when I first had the glimpse of “beef bacon”, I started to wonder about its content. Was it totally beef or part beef and part pork. I have only heard about bacon from the TV and never had any taste of it before.
These kinds of foods are not native to Malaysia and have been imported. Thanks to globalisation we can enjoy a plethora of foods from all over the world. However, not everyone is savvy about the nature of the recently introduced menu. The contents, the preparation and other things that inspire questions.
Another time, I was ordering food at a Subway outlet, when the guy next to me was asking about every single piece of food available. The names of these foods had a lot to do with the questions. We can definitely make eating out easier for the populace and more profitable for the restaurateurs.
Making the names more consumer friendly would help. For those who eat everything under the sun, JAKIM’s actions might not make sense. Muslims in particular have strict dietary laws.
We can’t just munch on anything that looks and sounds nice. We need to make sure the food we eat is actually meant to be eaten. Those companies that seek certifications should actually adhere to the requirements. If they cannot conform to conditions, then might as well not apply for a recognition. After all, these acknowledgements bring a lot of money to whoever that bears the “mark”.
Rehan Ahmad Bin Jamaluddin Ahmad
Research Fellow, Institut Kajian Strategik Islam Malaysia (IKSIM)