Hew Wai Weng takes a look at what constitutes halal in contemporary Malaysia — a certification that today is less about faith and more about the commercialisation of Islam.
In recent years, halal controversies on everything from meatballs to chocolates, and from hot dogs to cakes, have made headlines in Malaysia. A few months ago, it was reported that the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) had suggested that a pretzel chain, Auntie Anne’s, should rename its ‘pretzel dog’ to ‘pretzel sausage’ to get a halal certification.
According to the Jakim-issued Manual Procedure for Malaysia Halal Certification 2014, halal means more than no pork and no alcohol. One of Jakim’s many guidelines is that halal certification could be denied for food products that have in their names ‘confusing’ terms such as ‘ham’, ‘rum’, ‘beer’, ‘bacon’, ‘char siew’ and ‘bak kut teh’.
In 2014, I joined a seminar about halal certification in Kuala Lumpur. At the seminar, an ustaz (religious teacher) representing Jakim even recommended that popular Indonesian dishes such as bakmi (meat noodle) and bakso (meat ball) should be renamed in order to be certified halal, because according to him, ‘bak’ (a hokkien term) implies pork (even though it literally means meat), and therefore could be confusing to Muslim consumers. In fact, such foods have been always considered halal and consumed by many Indonesian Muslims. Read more