Why the anti-Halal movement has to be driven by the people?

Vishwa Bhaarath
Representative Image(Image Source: Swarajya Magazine)
Representative Image(Image Source: Swarajya Magazine)
For the governments, businesses, and organizations to take cognizance of the anti-halal campaign, the sporadic outbursts of outrage against Halal need to be consolidated into a sustained and robust people’s movement, uncompromising in its demands and immune to the vicissitudes of time.

The last few days have seen an intense debate over the validity of the imposition of the Islamic practice of halal on unsuspecting non-Muslims. While this debate is not new, like any other Islamist edict, it evoked polarising reactions from both, the proponents as well as the opponents of the said practice. 

Social media websites were rife with posts that called for the popularisation of ‘jhatka’ meat in place of Halal, describing the latter as religiously discriminatory against non-Muslims. Calls for boycott of companies that promote Halal-certified products were made. Pharmaceutical company Himalaya found itself at the center of a social media storm with the #BoycottHimalayaProducts hashtag trending on the microblogging app Twitter. This came after a social media post went viral about the ‘Halal policy’ of Himalaya.

Before long, apologists of Halal jumped in the fray, passionately defending the practice and proffering misleading and dishonest arguments to undermine legitimate concerns raised by the critics. Instead of discussing the problematic aspects of Halal certification and how it discriminated against non-Muslims, the supporters of Halal came up with meretricious arguments that Himalaya is being specifically targeted because it is a company controlled by Muslims and that are other organizations who adhere to Halal certification.

Still, others contended that organizations, by their nature, are profit-driven and since the Halal food industry is too big to be ignored, they comply with the requirements that are critical for their survival and penetration in markets where Halal certification is sine-qua-non. 

While there is some merit in the argument that businesses are driven by profitability and market requirements, what the apologists studiously gloss over or rather try to paper over is the controversial aspects that entail the Halal practice. 

What is Halal and how it is a religiously discriminatory practice?

Though its supporters try to downplay Halal as a mere dietary preference along the lines of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food, it is much more than that. It is explicitly religious discrimination, meted out against non-Muslims. 

Halal can only be performed by a Muslim man. Thus, non-Muslims are automatically denied employment at a Halal firm. There are certain other conditions that must be fulfilled that make it quite clear that it is intrinsically an Islamic practice. Guidelines are available on the official website of a certification authority of Halal in India which makes it clear that non-Muslim employees cannot be employed in any part of the slaughtering process.
Guidelines to Islamic Slaughtering as per Halal India website
Guidelines to Islamic Slaughtering as per Halal India website
Throughout the document that lists the guidelines for Islamic slaughtering, care is taken to mention the religion of the employees involved. It makes it abundantly clear that only Muslim employees are allowed to participate in the entire process at every stage. Even the labeling of meat can be done by Muslims only.

The Department of Halal Certification of the European Union makes it even more clear that employment opportunities at a Halal firm will be exclusively available to Muslims. It says, “Slaughtering must be done by a sane adult Muslim. Animals slaughtered by a Non-Muslim will not be Halal.” It states further, “The name of Allah must be invoked (mentioned) at the time of slaughtering by saying: Bismillah Allahu Akbar. (In the Name of Allah; Allah is the Greatest.) If at the time of slaughtering the name of anyone else other than Allah is invoked (i.e. animal sacrificed for him/her), then the meat becomes Haram “unlawful.”
Source: Department of Halal Certification EU
Source: Department of Halal Certification EU
Thus, it’s quite apparent that when a person demands that he be served only Halal meat, he isn’t merely exercising a diet preference but he is also playing a part in deciding who is involved in the process of slaughtering the animal and labeling it. Furthermore, Muslims are barred by their scriptures from consuming non-halal food. Thus, when a Muslim specifically demands Halal meat, it’s an explicit instance of them demanding a service that can only be performed by Muslims. The obvious implication is that a Muslim denies service from a non-Muslim due to his religious identity.

In addition to this, Halal certification has gradually crept into other sectors as well and is not just limited to the meat industry alone. Even vegetarian products are now being issued Halal certificates, signifying how the Halal lobby is insidiously spreading its tentacles to businesses and sectors hitherto untouched. 

Proponents of Halal turn a blind eye to its problematic aspects, deviously term opposition to it as “Islamophobic” and “bigoted”

In the light of these developments, the rumblings against the religiously discriminatory practice of Halal assume greater significance. The discontent among the public is not because an organization’s higher leadership are followers of Islam, as the apologists would have us believe. Rather, it is against the very practice of imposing Halal-certified products on unsuspecting non-Muslims who are not obligated by their religion to comply with a decree that is patently discriminatory against adherents of other religions. At present, consumers who want to consume non-Halal meat or non-Halal products have limited options as companies and businesses continue to offer only Halal-certified products, not providing an alternative to the consumers.

However, for the left-leaning liberals who have been enthusiastically supporting Halal, there exist no discrimination. They continue to cast opposition to Halal as religiously motivated, with many branding it ‘Islamophobic’—a trick that has been employed lately to suppress genuine criticism by referring to it as religious bigotry.

Earlier in March 2022, trusts of many temples in Karnataka ordered that only Hindu vendors will be allowed to set up stalls in the temple precincts for the upcoming annual festival. Many detractors, who are now passionately supporting Halal certification, had then deemed orders by temple trusts as discriminatory and prejudicial against the interests of non-Hindu shopkeepers.

However, the same breed of apologists of Islamism conveniently turns a blind eye to the religious discrimination that embodies Halal certification, which can be performed by Muslims only and the name of “Allah” is to be invoked at the time of slaughtering an animal. Therefore, no Hindu or non-Muslim can take part in such an exercise. But for the apologists, there is no discrimination as far as Halal certification is concerned. Such unabashed hypocrisy is why these “intellectuals” are seldom taken seriously and concerns raised by them are often flagged as motivated propaganda. 

How Halal certification infringes upon the right of freedom of choice to consumers

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the anti-halal movement that is taking root among the collective conscience of the country is not to oppose the Halal practice per se, but it is against the lack of choice offered to those who are not comfortable with products that are certified by a practice that is inherently discriminatory against their religion. The critics claim Halal certification can continue business-as-usual but organizations and governments must provide choices to the consumers who prefer ‘Jhatka’ meat or are simply uncomfortable patronizing a practice that endorses discrimination against their co-religionists. 

One of the reasons why Halal established its monopoly over the meat industry is because its supporters have been uncompromising in their demands to consume only Halal-certified products. By contrast, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Christians, or for that matter any other non-Muslim is not religiously obligated to consume meat or use products that abide by a specific set of instructions. This is why ‘Jhatka’ did not become as popular as Halal because non-Muslims were not fully aware of the implications that Halal-certified products had on them and their general lack of concern about the type of meat they consumed. 

This indifference towards the type of meat they consumed and laissez-faire attitude is what led organizations and businesses to focus on providing only Halal-certified products, doing away with the cost of maintaining a separate line of non-halal products. As a consequence, non-Muslims were, wittingly or unwittingly, enlisted in the process of perpetuating the discriminatory practice of Halal as organizations and businesses focused on maximizing their profits by having to maintain only Halal-certified products and not ‘Jhatka’ meat or non-Halal products. This is one of the primary reasons why ‘Jhatka’ lost to Halal.

Why the anti-halal movement has to be people-driven for governments and businesses to take cognizance of

However, as the awareness about the true implications of Halal certification has risen, more and more people have joined the chorus demanding companies and businesses to offer choices to them instead of foisting Halal-certified products on them. Even so, the governments and organizations can do little as far as Halal certification or popularisation of Jhatka is concerned unless the intermittent outbursts of outrage on social media coalesce into a robust and sustainable movement, forcing them to reconsider their stand on the issue. 

As such, in a democratic country with a free-market economy, changes in any domain of life, be it social or food consumption is brought about only by popular will and always driven by public demand. It is always the resilience and the determination of the people that compels governments, organizations, and multinationals to reevaluate their existing outlook and accommodate the demands of the people. 

Politicians, like businesses, would respond to such demands only when they see the electoral benefit in meeting the demand of the people (the demand is about the establishment and popularisation of Jhatka), just like businesses would respond to demands of ‘Jhatka’ or ‘non-Halal’ certified products when they see a potent market segment emerging that would provide them with sustainable profitability.

For the governments, businesses, and organizations to take cognizance of the anti-halal campaign, the sporadic outbursts of outrage against Halal need to be consolidated into a sustained and robust people’s movement, uncompromising in its demands and immune to the vicissitudes of time. For it to bring a lasting change in the attitude of the government and businesses toward offering alternatives to Halal-certified products to consumers, the anti-halal movement cannot afford to remain confined to the realm of social media, it has to spiral out of the digital world into the real-life, unrelenting and ceaseless in its nature until its objectives are met.

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