What exactly is halal certification for meat and non-meat products? Explained

The hate propaganda has confused many who genuinely do not understand what halal certification means.
Halal certified food products
Halal certified food products

Hindutva supporters in Karnataka, emboldened after forcing Muslim girls to remove their hijabs in classrooms, are now attempting to drum up support for rejecting halal certified foods and other products. Besides harassment of Muslim meat vendors, an online campaign for boycott has been launched against The Himalaya Drug Company, founded by M Manal, a Muslim, recently for having halal certification on its products. However, the campaign against halal certified foods, especially halal meat, is not new and it remains a divisive topic. The meat from animals which have been slaughtered in accordance with rules prescribed in the Quran, is called halal meat. In January 2021, India under BJP dropped halal specifications from its export of red meat. Earlier, all animals that were slaughtered to be exported as meat had to comply with ‘the halal method to meet the requirements of Islamic countries.’ This requirement was changed with exporters now allowed to slaughter animals ‘to the requirement of the importing country/importer.”

Karnataka’s neighbouring state, Kerala, was the first to witness an organised and vicious propaganda around halal last year. As part of their objections against halal, Hindutva supporters and some Christian groups spread malicious rumours that Muslim-owned restaurants and hotels were spitting on the food served in their eateries; they asked Hindus to boycott hotels which either employed Muslims or were owned by Muslims. A fake video of a Muslim man blowing into food as part of a religious ritual during Uroos (an Islamic event on the death anniversary of a religious leader), was shared as ‘Muslim man spitting into food’ to reinforce this conspiracy theory. This hate campaign soon morphed into boycotting halal foods, as halal certified food was deliberately categorised as ‘food with spit.’ 

In November 2021, the Kerala High Court had pulled up a petitioner who had objected to the use of halal certified jaggery in Sabarimala Ayyappa temple. The petitioner, SJR Kumar, former Kerala state president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad claimed that saliva was an ‘essential ingredient’ to acquire halal certificate. The Court responding to the issue asked Kumar to first understand the concept of halal before approaching them. This hate propaganda has confused many who genuinely do not understand what halal certification means. 

So what is halal?

Halal is an Arabic word which translates to ‘permitted’ or ‘lawful’, explains Professor Mohammed Ansari from the Department of Linguistics, Osmania University, Hyderabad. Under halal, as per Islamic law, animals are slaughtered with a deep cut across the neck and all the blood is drained out. It is forbidden in Islam for Muslims to consume blood. Besides this, the animal should be fit and in good health at the time of slaughter. Jews also follow an identical method for animal slaughter.

The halal certification guarantees that the food is unadulterated and is also prepared in accordance with Islamic law, he says. “Before slaughtering an animal for consumption, Muslims chant ‘Bismillah Allah’ which means Allah is great. This practice also comes under halal,” Professor Ansari explains.

For all other products like cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, health products and toiletries, a halal certification means that the product does not contain pig fat, is safe, and that it is not adulterated. If a business is run using illegal money, their products are not considered halal, according to Professor Ansari. According to Halal Certification Hyd, a Hyderabad-based certification body, pigs, boars and dogs are considered haram - which are prohibited for consumption under the Sharia law. The term haram means 'unlawful'. Items containing products or by-products of animals which are haram cannot be given a halal certificate. Other animals which are considered haram includemules, donkeys and clawed predators like eagles, vultures.

Who gives halal certification?

There is no legal authority in India, unlike in Arab countries, to provide halal certification. It has to be acquired voluntarily by businesses. In Arab countries, a Magistrate provides the certification, while in India, some private bodies comprising imams (Muslim clerics), as well as some religious groups, provide certificates. Only certificates from internationally accepted companies are valid for exports.

Companies that export food, non-alcoholic beverages, raw materials needed in food processing, products related to pharmacy and healthcare, traditional herbal products, cosmetics and personal care items, cleaning products, daily consumables and leather products have to get this certification, especially when goods are exported to countries that have a signficant Muslim population.

According to reports, the market for halal products is growing exponentially even in countries like Brazil, New Zealand and Australia, whose Muslim population is considerably less.

The growth of the global halal market makes it inevitable for companies to acquire halal certification and export their products. As Muslim presence expands across the world, there is a surge in demand for halal certified products. Technavio, a market research company, has projected the growth of the halal food market at USD 388.11 billion during 2021-2025. Another report by the company says, “The halal cosmetics and personal care market has the potential to grow by USD 27.43 billion during 2021-2025.”

In response to the ‘boycott Himalaya’ campaign, Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, listed out many Indian companies such as Reliance, Adani, Tata, and Patanjali (owned by Baba Ramdev, a right-wing nationalist and supporter of the BJP government), which have obtained halal certification to export their products.   

“In some countries, halal is compulsory; but in a majority of other countries, the demand from the public for halal products is increasing, though it's not compulsory for export. That is how the halal market is on a boom. In fact, we cannot keep away from it. Many countries are already making use of the trend,” a manufacturer from Kerala's Kozhikode says, wishing to remain anonymous.

Sajna Ali, who works in a marketing chain in Dubai tells TNM that in Muslim communities, women prefer to shop for halal cosmetics. “In cosmetic products, we believe that animal fat is largely used to maintain moisture and we have no way of making sure that it is not used. Since ghee is more expensive than pig fat, there is a chance that pig fat might be used in cosmetic products. So to make sure that only permissible products are being used, we prefer halal certification. It is the same in case of alcohol content,” she says.

Syed Mohamed Imran, the Operations Head of Halal India, an organisation based in Chennai, says that halal just means that the products are hygienic and non toxic. “The certification is given to a company for a year. Each year they can apply for renewal. Our staff conducts an inspection and ensures that standards are followed,” he says.

He also asserts that there is no compulsion that organisations manufacturing halal certified products must have Muslim staff or prayers by religious heads. “We give short term training to non-Muslim staff on halal. Thousands of non-Muslims have taken training from us. It is not prayers or practices, but just training on how to keep the products hygienic, non toxic, and avoiding forbidden products according to the Quran,” he explains. In big companies, the slaughtering of animals is done in accordance with Islamic practices by making sure that the blood is drained completely out of the animals, but the chants of ‘Bismillah Allah’ are not practised as it is not very practical with a varied workforce, he adds. 

Fraud in halal certification

Though the halal certification is approved by some clerics and registered bodies after auditing the manufacturing facility, the process is not immune to deceit. According to Imran, there have been many incidents where certification was given without following proper procedures. A manufacturing facility in Thiruvananthapuram sought halal certification from a certifying organisation in Chennai. Two people inspected the manufacturing facility and then provided them with a certification. But subsequently, the Thiruvananthapuram facility had to only pay money to renew the certificate. A research on Halal Meat Fraud and Safety Issues in the UK, carried out in the wake of reports of horsemeat and pork DNA being found in halal certified food in the UK that emerged in 2013, found that some meat suppliers who wanted to exploit the growing halal food market deliberately mislabeled their products as halal meat. The research paper also said that divergent views within the Muslim community about what constitutes authentic halal had led to confusion among consumers and food business handlers.

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