Halal… inclusion or seclusion?

NETHERLANDS. Riding the wave of the expanding global halal market industry – estimated to have reached a worth of US$ 580 billion in 2008 – communication arts company KasehDia will hold this November the first World Halal Forum in Europe.

As location for the Forum, which is themed ‘Halal Potential – A Regional Focus’, the organizers opted for the Dutch city of The Hague.

Choosing the Netherlands to host this big event didn’t come spontaneously, given that Holland provides a strategic location to serve markets within Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as being known as the gateway for the whole European market through which most of the halal products are channelled.

Considering Netherlands as one of the few countries to develop a halal standard for its nearly one million Muslims, it becomes a perfect location for hosting the event, especially when you know that the Dutch government supports and promotes the development of the halal industry. The country of tulips and windmills also boasts the first ever facility of halal storage and warehousing in the world and its significant multiculturalism, liberalism and openness make it a very successful choice.

But… does everyone know what halal food is?

“Excuse me?!”, “I don’t know what it is”, “part of religion but difficult to find it in Holland”, “there should be more restaurants that offer halal food because we have many Muslims”, “it’s like kosher”. These were some of the answers we got from people in the streets when they were asked about halal food.

But what is halal? Muslims define halal as “permissible” according to their Islamic teachings and haram for the “unpermissible”. Yet, there is no consensus among Muslims themselves on what is halal due to different interpretations of the Muslims’ holy book Qur’an. However, the main arguments lie within food, lifestyle (as in clothing) and to some extent technology. There’s even a halal journal that reports about business, food and lifestyle.

“Some Muslims regard halal food as anything but pork. Like the Turks, for them it doesn’t matter in which way the animals get slaughtered and this is a real problem”, says Sheikh Sami, the owner of an Islamic butchery. This Muslim segment bases its philosophy upon a Qur’anic verse that says “And the food (meat) of the people of the book is lawful for you” (Surah 5 Verse 5). Sheikh Sami agrees, but only in necessities, whereas in Holland, Muslims can easily find halal food.  “Muslims can eat at non-Muslims’, it’s important to build stronger relationships but at least there should be kosher food”, Abd el-Fattah, Islamic Auditor from Halal Correct, says.

Apart from Islamic butcheries, shops and restaurants, there are also Dutch butcheries and supermarket chains that have a special section for halal food. In Amsterdam, the biggest Islamic slaughterhouse is Abattoir Amsterdam, which is owned by a Dutch non-Muslim. There are ten Islamic slaughterhouses in Holland, only three owned by Muslims. Large supermarket chains like Albert Heijn (main branches) and Vomar now depend on halal meat supplies from Wahid Ramadan, a Kurdish Muslim businessman from Rotterdam.

There are many conditions for food to be halal. It means that animals must be slaughtered according to Islamic rituals by the words “Bismillah Allahu Akbar” (By the name of God. God is great) with sharp knives avoiding stunning the animals or subjecting them to electric shocks. No pork, blood, alcohol or gelatine is allowed either.

“Halal meat is healthier because all the blood comes out from the animal when slaughtered, hence the bacteria come out and the meat becomes pure”, Sheikh Sami adds. Halal meat tastes better, lasts longer and is even cheaper than other meat if bought by kilos and this is what makes non-Muslims in some cases look for it. “More than 20% of my customers are non-Muslims”, Sheikh Sami notes.

Candy and search engines

Some Critics see the whole halal and haram picture as an exclusion of Muslims from Dutch society, but Sheikh Sami says “Muslims are integrated but are preserving their own identity. Integration doesn’t mean assimilation, or else vegetarians and Jews would also be excluded from society for not eating meat or for eating kosher food.” Some Dutch prisons have already been serving halal food for the prisoners.

Another aspect of halal food is candy and sweets that have no alcohol or gelatine in it. Marhaba Food is a perfect example of that. Erik, product manager of the halal candy manufacturer from Amersfoort, says that only a few Muslims in Holland are after halal sweets “either because they don’t know that the gelatine substance is there and that it’s haram or it’s because they don’t mind.”

Erik thinks the halal candy business has a big future in store. However, it’s very difficult to find a purchaser, like supermarkets, because they don’t have halal candies listed, even those who sell halal stuff only do halal meat.

Exploring the internet or adapting to technology also has a halal form since you can get lots of inappropriate pictures or texts while doing your search. For that reason, some Dutch Muslims launched a special ‘halal search engine’ called I’mHalal.com. The site is designed to filter web content so that searchers don’t get ‘haram results’ linked to sex, porn, gay content, or even Dutch anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders and terrorism. Yet, it just gives a 3-level warning and doesn’t block content, leaving the searcher the option to continue with his search on that word if he thinks the results will be clean. Only the third level, the most haram, is an exception.

A similar search engine targeting Jewish web users was launched in June. Religious Jews who do not want to be confronted by un-kosher words or search results can safely surf using Israel-based koogle.co.il. As Erik from Marhaba Food puts it “let the halal candies be a bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims.”


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