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Sunday 31 May 2020

Halal Is Harām: Let’s Decide India!

In a country where Islamic food certification does not invite legal actions against 'communalism', why is it not okay for non-Muslims to specify that their products are not halal?

Paavani Sinha
Paavani Sinha
Editorial consultant, सिर्फ़ NEWS, commentator on social issues

Chennai bakery owner Prasanth arrested. For putting out an advertisement where he specifies that his products are “made by Jains, no Muslim staff”. So what’s the problem? We are a country that is slowly being robbed by halalonomics today. Where unless you specify that a particular product is made according to strict Muslim religious diktats, it is harām to consume or use. Where every product needs a halal certificate if it wants to survive in the market. If not, you can kiss it’s popularity goodbye. Then why is it not okay for non-Muslims to specify that their products are not halal? Does that take away from the Muslims willingness to buy such products? Especially because it’s not as if Jains do not buy or consume halal-stamped products. They do.

Brings to mind a controversy stirring in Australia over the last few days. Amina Elshafei, a devout Muslim and contestant on MasterChef Australia ‘Back to Win’ series 2020, was on Thursday last’s episode, unable to taste her beef Bulgogi because the meat was not halal. She requested her fellow contestant to taste and check for salt, which Emelia Jackson did with honest feedback. Amina eventually went on to win the challenge. To any rational mind, that should have been it. Daughter of a Korean mother and an Egyptian father, a hijab-clad woman choosing not to consume products which are not conforming to her religions diktats. No one kicks up a fuss when religious, non-beef eating Hindus cook alongside contestants cooking beef dishes in the same competition.

But no, social media has risen up in protest at the injustice done. The producers are being slammed for not making available halal meat especially for her. Really, where is this world going? Why is not anyone asking Amina why she didn’t choose to rely on her instinct and send out the food? Why did she not keep her personal beliefs at home and simply taste it- it’s not as if one was making a meal of it. Or best, simply don’t cook meat that is not halal. Why spell it out on national tv and make a big deal of it? Remember that this a contest- you deal with what you’re given, simply play by the rules.

Halal, it is clearly stated, can be performed only by Muslims. From slaughtering to labelling, non-Muslims are not allowed to be involved in the process. Is this not akin to untouchability that Hinduism has been so derided for since time immemorial? Does this point not strike anyone?

There are scores of non-Muslims in our country today for whom halal branded products are harām − not acceptable. Yet, are we given that choice? Is this not a clear case of discrimination, going against the fundamental right of equality? If they can stamp something halal, why can we not say that something is not halal?

When we travel, when we eat at hotels, when we shop at supermarkets- why do we not have the choice to demand non-halal products? The private sector should have FIRs filed against them just as have been filed against Prasanth for forcing us to buy halal branded products which certification clearly states that non-Muslims are not allowed in the production. Just as we should collectively file writs against such government carriers and hotels like ITDC for infringement of our right to equality and right to religious freedom.

According to Islamic law, all vegetarian foods are by default halal. Unless they contain ingredients that may make it harām. Hence these days, we see many processed vegetarian foods also being labelled halal. So essentially, we Hindus, in our own country, need certification from Islamic organisations that our food is acceptable? So now we pay people as alien to our culture as night is from the day, to eat food that is intrinsic to our own?

Why should we be forced to use products that while safeguarding the rigidity of Islam, go against the very nature of Hinduism? Why should we pay to benefit economic well-being and religious beliefs of the community which at large is well-known for harming the rights, economic or otherwise, of ours?

Demand that Prasanth be freed. If halal firms will employ only Muslims and proudly endorse its products as such, he too has the right to advertise that he chooses to employ Jains for his food products and that he chooses not to employ Muslims. It’s the basics of equality… if Muslims can do it, why not Jains? India is a democratic country after all.

Indians, especially non-Muslims, must start a nationwide debate to ban personal use and consumption of all products labelled as halal, and pledge to receive non-halal products that are in line with our beliefs. We must protest this forced dictum of Islamic dominance on our system as harām and strengthen our collective conscience. That, in effect, is the only thing today, short of complete defiance, that will unify us as a people, as a society.

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