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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Specific labels for Muslim-produced goods?


“Bigotry does not consort easily with free trade.”
- Peter Ackroyd, ‘Venice: Pure City’
COMMENT Would you label specific goods as being produced by Muslims? Only in Malaysia are such questions asked.
Some time ago, someone asked me why the non-Muslims/Malays in Malaysia “mocked” Islam.
Mind you, the person asking the question was the kind of Muslim who defined “mocked” as any discussion whatsoever on Islam except of course the rhetoric describing of the plight of the Palestinians or any Muslim population that were oppressed by the “West”.
Of course, any discussion on how Islamic regimes oppress their populations is considered “mocking Islam”.
My answer, when you claim ownership of your religion or consent to the state claiming authority on your personal beliefs, you open your religion to ridicule by allowing a theocracy, or worse a bureaucracy, to make proclamations on how your faith is observed.
By taking religion out of the personal sphere and making it a public issue, you invite comment.
This whole idea of new halal certification for Muslim-produced products is just another example of how Islam, as practised here in Malaysia and other parts of the world, attempts to segregate NOT the non-Muslim populations but rather the Muslim population from the mainstream.
The overt religious argument is that it keeps the ‘purity’ of the faith, but the underlying motive is merely hegemonic control of populations through religious indoctrination.
While I consider ideas like ‘halal’, ‘kosher’ or whatever dietary religious restrictions, part of a greater religious identity that some feel, this idea of ‘Muslim’-produced products is odious and a determined attempt to subvert the principles of secularism that are gnawing at the fabric of the state’s religious domination.
Note that I have eschewed the use of the term Umno State because this is not solely Umno’s fault but rather the deliberate attempts by political cabals, establishment and opposition, to court the Malay Muslims by legitimising ideas that are anathema to democratic ideals.
‘Halal’ certification are processes (based on religious dogma), that are open to all and part of an emerging lucrative trend in global trade. For those who participate in this economy, it offers profit by catering to a global Muslim diaspora concerned with the proper way to observe their religious beliefs.
‘Halal’ certification or whatever the international equivalents are is not supposed to be a form of legally-sanctioned bigotry to assuage whatever fears Muslims communities have of the rest of people living with them.
Mohamed Shaani Abdullah, the former deputy president of consumer group Fomca,cautioned the Malaysian International Institute of Islamic Cooperation (Ikiam) and the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (Risda) to contact the Malaysian Islamic Development Development (Jakim) because their proposed certification logo would run afoul of whatever regulations that govern such things.
Meanwhile, Jakim released its response to this proposed new logo: “If Ikiam or Risda intends to continue with issuing the new halal logo for products produced by Risda’s Muslim smallholders, then it is against the Trade Description (Definition of Halal Order 2011) which stipulates that only Jakim, the Departments of State Religious Affairs (Jain) and State Islamic Religious Councils (Main) being the only competent authority to issue halal certifications.”
Sounds more like a turf war
This sounds more like a turf war, rather than sanctioning so-called non-governmental agencies from coming up with their own ways to profit from religion.
Moreover, I say so-called because reading through the website or blog of Ikiam, it seems more interested in supporting Umno policy and courting Umno benefice than engaging in a nonpartisan manner with the Muslim polity it claims to represent.
If you think this idea of this logo is dodgy, then would you feel the same way of Ikiam’s suggestion to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to form a Muslim Brigade in defence of Gaza in Palestine against the Israeli occupation, quoting religious reasons.
Not to mention Ikiam also approved of the so-called syariah police squad proposal mooted in 2013 by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
While this preoccupation with Islam is not surprising from the cottage industry Umno has spawned, what is extremely troubling is in the overt manner in which the state, through Jakim, is sanctioning the idea of legalised religious bigotry.
While this is nothing new in Malaysia, we have to pay attention to history. Whenever there is an economic collapse in Muslim majoritarian countries, what replaces those regimes are not secular states but rather theocracies.
Every time the state pushes the edges of what is acceptable when it comes to social cohesion by coddling interests such as these and it goes unnoticed by the so-called silent majority or voices of change in this country, we draw closer to a failed state that would be the logical outcome, if and when we collapse economically.
If that sounds like paranoia or hyperbole, so be it.
Of course, what is really hilarious about this whole logo fiasco is that in the beginning of this month, Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was complaining that Jakim’s halal certification was too stringent and a burden on small industries run by Muslims.
Ismail went so far as to propose that “Jakim should make its requirements less stringent to assist small enterprises, especially those owned by Malays or bumiputera.”
In other words, this Umno minister wanted the standards to be lowered because of race. He wanted so-called processes based on religious dogma to be lowered for the Malays.
He also made the rather ludicrous statement that “procedures for the certification should be less stringent for Malay-owned firms with 100 percent Muslims workers, since the firms would already be practising halal methods “
I am confused. Is the proposal for lowering halal certification for Malay-owned business, a right or a privilege? What if a Chinese or Indian family owns the business but all their employees are Malays?
Would that play a factor in it? What if that Chinese or Indian is also Muslim? Will converts be given the same consideration?
Moreover, why the assumption that Malay business are already practising halal methods? Muslims are constantly told that only scholars have any idea what Islam is about. Surely the latest up-to-date methods on the ‘halal’ process are not something the average Muslim is aware of.
For instance, Rashidah Halim, who was part of a Malaysiakini survey, said “Everything must be halal, but Jakim only looks at food production. We should also look into the production of food packaging, for example. It must all be halal.”
I have no idea if Jakim only looks at food production and not packaging and I will wager that your average Malay businessperson does not know either. Which just goes to demonstrate how ridiculous all this is.
By the way, my writing will never pass any kind of halal certifications because my writings are not kosher.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. -Mkini

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