06 January 2013

That ‘Halal Controversy’

Certain sections of the Sinhala Buddhist population are up in arms against what they call ‘Islaamikaranaya’ (Islamization) or ‘Halalkaranaya’ (Halal-ism).  The more virulent elements of this group have indulged in the most distasteful of anti-Islam hatemongering especially in social media sites such as Facebook. 

The initial objection has been to non-Muslims being forced to play participant to a Muslim religious dictate pertaining to meat, i.e. the slaughtering of animals as per Islamic doctrine.  One can argue that if it’s meat that is desired then the ‘how’ of slaughter should not really matter.    It is not that non-Buddhists consuming Halal meat are automatically converted to Islam, after all.  On the other hand, perceived intrusions (there have been instances, we note, of Muslims legitimately and systematically purchasing properties to turn formerly ‘Sinhala’ villages into Muslim-dominated entities) can act as cultural trigger where those who talk the religion but may not practice it preying on natural social fears. 
The Buddhist response would be to treat things with compassion, which would require Buddhists to draw on the principles of tolerance and empathy.  If wisdom is also employed, as is required according to Buddhism, then the wise thing would be stop eating meat altogether.  Consumption of meat is not necessarily forbidden, but since animal turns to mean only consequent to slaughter, and since slaughter does not sit with the Buddha Vacana (May All Beings Be Happy), then abstinence is a choice that takes a culturally unpalatable situation and turns it into a reason for walking closer to prescribed path. 

The attacks on Muslims and Islam, and especially the vilification on sites such as Facebook are quite antithetical to Buddhist teachings of tolerance and equanimity.  They have been quite rightly condemned.  Some of the condemnation of course comes from those who have an axe to grind with Buddhism and Buddhists, ever ready to vilify but extremely reluctant to point error in other religions, their churches or followers.  Such people use the erroneous and misleading blanket descriptive ‘Sinhala Buddhists’  which is as bad as conflating Tamils and the LTTE.  The criticism, however, remains valid.
If these so-called ‘Buddhist’ groups are in error in their vilifying thrusts, so too, sadly, are some of their detractors, many of whom believe that only the majority community needs to be rebuked fearing perhaps that if other communities are found fault with (as collectives or partial entities or individuals) it amounts to being racist, chauvinistic, religiously intolerant etc. 

A classic case is that of the furor over allegation of Tamil versions of the Law College Examination being leaked.  Now this is a competitive examination and the facts certainly raise questions that compromise the integrity of the examination in ways that are far more serious than a leaking of an Ordinary Level examination.  And yet, this has been a touch-me-not issue for almost all commentators who have intervened in the ‘Halal Controversy’. 
If Sri Lanka is to be a nation of less paranoid communities it is imperative that each individual and each community looks within.  Sinhalese and Buddhists have shown exemplary tolerance in years gone by.  In Europe the only ‘religious’ holidays are Christian and in countries dominated by Muslims there is even less recognition of other faiths.  The intolerance of the Swiss is a well concealed fact that came out when a referendum was held about mosques.  There’s nothing in Sri Lanka akin to the issuance of Fatwas as are common in Muslim countries.  These are good things to think about. 

In the end though, deeper reflection on faith and an abiding by the relevant doctrine would make for better engagement with religious others.  In the end all human beings, regardless of faith, share the same will to live and the same apprehension about death.  If a symbol of co-existence is required, take any mosque in any part of the island and the chances are there is a Bo sapling coming out of some crevice.  It doesn’t say anything about either faith, but the togetherness is a lesson that can be learnt. 
['The Nation' Editorial, January 6, 2013]


Ramzeen said...

The halal stamp also certifies the non-usage of alcohol. Pork and other prohibited additives. It's the use of the Arabic word for "prohibited" that has raised hackles. The logo is universal, hence its usage. Managers want it to increase market share and for export to Muslim countries. There is more fiction than fact that has exacerbated the subject. I'm glad you brought it up.

Bobby said...

Unlike Malinda's usual articles, this is not giving the full picture.

The problem here is that the manufacturers and consumers (the vast majority are Non-Muslims) are blackmailed to pay exorbitant sums of money to a Muslim organisation, who openly claims that the money is used to propagate Islam and other Islamic activities.

I happened to listen to a talk given by a venerable monk belonging to an organisation called Bodu Bala Sena. It seems that they have a valid point. This "Halal label" is not limited only to meat products. Apparently there are now more than 4000 products in Sri Lanka carrying Halal label. About 95% of these are non meat products at all, like yoghurt, tea bags and bottled water. (Even Siddhalepa was carrying this label earlier.) The problem here is that a manufacturer has to pay Rs. 175,000 per product, per year to this Islamic organisation in order to use this label. This Islamic organisation openly says that this money will be used to propagate Islam etc.etc. Naturally the money the manufacturer pays would be passed on to the consumers of whom 92% are non Muslims. Another danger is that the recipe (the ingredients and the method of manufacturing) of the product has to be submitted to this Islamic body. This is absurd. The monks justifiably threaten that if this is not corrected they would request the Sinhalese and even the Tamils to boycott all the products carrying this Halals label. They say that it is perfectly Ok for export products to carry the label but not the products meant for local market. There can be another solution. Let the government appoint a committee (including non-Muslims) to issue this permit and let the money can go to government coffers. The government can then distribute this money among various religions according to percentage of the population and Muslims will get 8%.
If anyone is really interested, better listen to that venerable's talk with an open mind.

You know something? I have already started boycotting products carrying Halal label.

sajic said...

I have just 3 comments to make about the above. Let me state that I am not a Muslim.
1. The term 'blackmail'has been used. If the companies are susceptible to blackmail it is clear they have something to hide. What are the benefits they get from using the 'halal' label?
2. If the Islamic organisation states its objectives openly , why are non-islamic companies using its services at all-ie if they dont agree?
3.The organisation clearly has the right to demand information re recipes and methods of manufacture.
'Halal' has a very definite meaning.

mohamed said...

Being rabid in any religion is despicable.

We have seen it propagated by insecure and bigoted catholics/protestants/muslims/hindus etc. despite all religions teaching peace, goodwill, harmony and tolerance.

Unfortunately bigotry is not as rare as one would like to believe.

This is so even in the great US of A where the neo-conservatives propagate white, right christianity as the basis of global governance and domination.

Sri Lanka belongs to all communities and leaders should preach tolerance and harmony without turning a blind eye to virulent divisive forces.

Making halaal an issue by some dangerous elements appears to smack of a sub-terranean effort to mislead the Sinhalese into post-war 'triumphalism' and domination.

Of course I agree that funds recovered by the Halaal certifying authority should be subject to independent audit to ensure that these are also used in a halaal way!

Let sanity prevail.