(Please play the video if you prefer to listen to this post instead)
I found my mother diving deep into the lists of JAKIM halal certified bakery products on the Halal Malaysia Official Portal (www.halal.gov.my) and when I asked her what she was up to, she told me about a professional Muslim baker she found online who was showing off their preferred brand of butter. When asked if the butter was halal, the baker assured that it was, even though it was missing any sort of halal approval logo. Just to be sure, my mother searched through the directory of JAKIM certified halal bakery ingredients and even looked up other products that we had been using, which do display the approval logo, just for comparison and the butter that the baker was displaying was nowhere on the directory.
Just imagine the thousands of Muslims who watches their video and took them at their word that the butter is indeed halal and may buy them for their own personal consumption. Imagine hundreds more who have bought and consumed the baker’s products, sweet goods sold by a Muslim entrepreneur , who probably only consider halal to be anything that doesn’t say ‘pork’ on it. And this baker is not the only one.
I wrote about Halal labelling more than 10 years ago but I think in the new age of online entrepreneurship and social media, this topic deserves to be revisited from a different angle. While in the past, what you consume is probably only going to affect yourself, your family and your close social circle; with everyone sharing their food on Facebook and Instagram and the ease of setting up a business online, your decisions now could affect thousands, both directly and indirectly. Someone may be tempted by your recipe; buy your food; had their curiosity perked by a new, untried ingredient or simply share the post to someone else and extending the chain of influence to hundreds more.
Your careless decision could negatively affect a lot more people than you may realise.
I remember a man who sold spices and processed food at the pasar tani (farmer’s market) we used to go to every week, who would give my mother a long and detailed answer on each of his products whenever my mother asked him if something was halal. He told mom that as the middle man, he would thoroughly check if the product he sells is truly halal especially if they were prepared at small informal and unregistered home factories. He even visited their homes where they prepared the products before he would be satisfied enough to sell them. This is the kind of commendable attitude that all responsible Muslim sellers should strive to own.
However, the responsibility is not just limited to the provider. We, as the consumers, should also take the matter seriously and not to simply assume that something is halal because “A Muslim sold it”. We could check the labels to make sure that a trusted body is regulating and monitoring the halal status of a product and that they had given their approval. We could try talking and discussing with small sellers to see how conscious they are of using halal ingredients in their food. We could raise attention and concern by pointing out questionable halal status of food that is advertised or displayed online, in a proper and polite manner, to educate and warn each other.
It is important to remember that halal does not simply stop at ‘anything that isn’t pork’. Food additives, which are present in basically everything these days, could be derived from bones of various animals which are not slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines. Eggs could be coated with fecal material which are not properly washed off during food preparation. Plates and cooking utensils used to cook pork may not be properly cleaned before they are used to serve food for us. And a lot of these things are hard to be properly observed because they are done behind closed doors, which is why approval by a regulating body can be a blessing, but it doesn’t mean that we should trust anyone who just say ‘oh yes, my food is definitely halal’.
As Muslims, making sure that our food is permissible in Islam is such an important matter as we believe that what we eat could affect us in long lasting ways. It is crucial that we take responsibility in checking and monitoring, not just what we eat, but what we prepare for others to the best of our abilities so we would live under His guidance and blessing.