In the past few days, a furore emerged when pretzel company Auntie Anne’s revealed to have been denied a halal certificate for its branches. One item highlighted for a halal certificate was the need to change the name of a product in its menu called the ‘pretzel dog’.
This has, of course, led to an open mocking session of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) by citizens, and even politicians from all parties.
Answering this mockery were the minister in charge of religious affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom and Jakim halal division director Dr Sirajuddin Suhaimee. Both parties answered that the halal status of the branch had nothing to do with the ‘pretzel dog’ name.
Unfortunately, that isn’t right. The names of products have been changed by multiple companies in the past, perhaps facing the same dilemma.
This can be seen by a post here (page 17) by the Jakim Halal Hub Division’s procedural manual to apply for a halal certificate.
In fact, it posted the link on Facebook along with a description of the content. As roughly translated:
“Products using names or synonyms of names of non-halal products or confusing words such as ham, bacon, beer, rum, char siew and others…”
In other words, either both Jamil Khir and Sirajuddin are not in the know of their own manuals, or they are playing dumb about it. Either way, it doesn’t look good for either the minister or Jakim’s director, being portrayed or not even knowing things pertinent to their own portfolios.
So why is this rule in the Jakim manual for a halal certificate?
While we are on this question, let us be fair. The Auntie Anne’s QA deserves an award, not a rebuke. After all, what she did on Facebook was a reaction an earlier blog posts which straightaway labelled her company’s product as haram.
Her explanation justified the rumours, but has also highlighted a bigger issue that has affected businesses in Malaysia, which we didn’t know or never even questioned.
When on earth did they start policing names of products sold in the Malaysian market?
To answer this, we can actually ask a couple of Malaysian companies that have been here for a while.
Fraser and Neave (F&N) Malaysia has been in the country the longest among those who may have been affected. Thus, we should ask them when their non-alcoholic ‘ginger beer’ became ‘ginger ade’.
The second longest to be affected would be the A&W restaurants owned by Bursa Malaysia-listed KUB Group Bhd.
When did its ‘coney dog’ become ‘chicken coney’ and ‘beef coney’? And why isn’t its ‘root beer’ called a root beer anymore?
At the same time, we can also approach companies such as Ayamas, 1901 Hot Dogs, Ramli and whichever producer of frozen ‘frankfurters’ and ‘sausages’ if they actually faced similar hardship.
Also, is this not a form of blackmail against Malaysian food and beverage companies? After all, without a halal certificate, companies would face the inability to capitalise on about 40 per cent of the Malaysian consumers, made up of Muslims.
At the same time, a rather important question was asked as well – do pasar malam hawkers and kueh sellers have halal certificates, or do Malays buy these because they are made by Malays without a care?
It is also a pertinent question to raise.
See, the halal certificate isn’t about religion, it’s about power, trust and market access.
While there are Malaysians Malays who don’t care, a larger chunk of this population do to the point of paranoia and sending conspiracy junk mail on what is or isn’t halal to eat.
But from a moral standpoint, as pointed out by Auntie Anne’s staff (who I hope will get a huge raise), there is nothing non-halal about the preparation and it is pending certification.
But most importantly, this issue also plants doubt on Jakim’s halal standards, especially if businesses are not certified over the products in their menus. In the end, it goes back to the Malay community to speak up and convince Jakim that we are not idiots who get confused by a hot dog and root beer.
And if such a Malaysian does exist, then I blame the education system.
Source : Hafidz Baharom@The Heat Malaysia Online