HOW certain are we that the food we eat is halaal? Can we trust that when we see a Halaal logo at a food or eating establishment, it is halaal?
Do we believe the Halaal certifying bodies (HCBs) – MJC Halaal Trust, SANHA, NIHT, ICSA, SHURA, self-proclaimed custodians of Halaal and self-proclaimed collectors of Halaal revenues, who do not share with the Muslim populace ‘their’ criteria used to determine Halaal because it is their ‘intellectual property’ – when they say that the foods, products and establishments certified by them are halaal?
Can we believe them? If yes, on what basis do we believe them? What empirical assurance is provided to the Muslim community by HCBs to instil confidence and trust in Halaal certification.
Grappling with the aforementioned questions at individual, household and community levels is incumbent upon all if we are to comply, as individuals and as a collective, with the numerous Quranic and Prophetic injunctions on Halaal.
A way through this grappling with these complex and vexing questions is to use a neglected leg of the triple helix of Quran, Sunnah and al-aql.
Al-aql, variously interpreted as intellect, logic, reason and rationality, provides us with a structured process of logical reasoning, intellectual engagement and critical enquiry that allows us to interrogate these questions on Halaal.
At the core of all these questions is: is Halaal integrity maintained from the point of production (farm) to the point of consumption (fork)?
Maintaining Halaal integrity from farm-to-fork requires that every step in the production of a food or product through to its final point of sale and/ or consumption complies with all Halaal requirements.
The Halaal requirements in each step of production constitute Halaal integrity indicators or control points that would have to be complied with.
Any non-compliance along the process constitutes a break in the chain and a lapse in Halaal integrity, which renders the Halaal status of the food or product at the point of sale or consumption, suspect.
Maintaining Halaal integrity from farm-to-fork can be graphically articulated in a value chain framework (see graphic) that will assist with framing Halaal questions and identifying gaps in Halaal integrity.
This value chain framework is a chain of interlinked activities that models the food production and delivery process by mapping each activity involved in the making of a particular product.
For example, if a consumer wants the assurance that the meat in a local butchery or retail outlet is halaal, the following questions would have to be asked (by the consumer) and satisfactorily answered by the Halaal certifying body whose Halaal logo appears on the meat and/ or who certified the retail or food outlet.
Was the feed and veterinary medicine that was fed to the animal halaal?
Was the animal stunned before slaughter? If so, was bolt stunning used?
Bolt stunning involves shooting a bolt through the skull of the animal, and is universally rejected by most local and all major global Halaal authorities.
Was the person who slaughtered the animal a Muslim who made a niyah (intention) and invoked the Basmalah before slaughtering? Was kitabi slaughtering used – slaughtering by a person of Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book) – Jew or Christian?
Most local and global Halaal authorities do not accept kitabi slaughtering, contending that it is near impossible in the present day to meet the criteria for slaughtering by Ahl al-Kitab.
Was the carcass inspected for any signs of disease or infection after slaughtering? Was the slaughter compliant with shariah requirements? Was the slaughtering, processing, storage and transportation done in a dedicated Halaal facility separated from any non-halaal products and/ or potential contaminants?
At the retail and food outlets, was the meat or meat-based product stored, displayed, prepared and/ or served in accordance with Halaal requirements?
If any of the aforementioned questions cannot be answered satisfactorily by the Halaal certifying body, there is a break in Halaal integrity in that one or more Halaal critical control points cannot be attested to. Consequently, the halaal status of the meat or meat-based product is considered suspect.
The framework (see graphic) can be used by consumers of Halaal and stakeholders to focus, frame and structure debate, engagement and inquiry about the Halaal status of any food product.
Rudewaan Arendse is a systems specialist and international visiting scholar from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was project manager of a recent study by the Western Cape Government that looked at global best practices in Halaal standards and certification, assessed current halaal standards in South Africa, and developed a proposed single Halaal standard for South Africa that is world class, and on par with global best practice. During this project, Arendse worked closely with the world’s leading Halaal authorities, including the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM).