British Christian Group Raises Concerns About Shari’a-Compliant Food

December 3, 2010 - 4:54 AM

halal

Operation Nehemiah says it does not object to Muslims following their own religious practices but that non-Muslims must be free not to do so. (Logo: Operation Nehemiah/Barnabas Fund)

(CNSNews.com) – A Christian organization in Britain has launched a petition campaign aimed at defending the right of those who for religious, moral or other reasons do not want to eat meat slaughtered according to Islamic law (shari’a).

Operation Nehemiah says it has no objection to Muslims having the freedom to follow their own religious practices and being catered to by the food industry, but it objects to non-Muslims having little or no choice in the matter.

It argues that the mainstreaming of halal across the world constitutes part of a global Islamization drive. A Malaysia-based body called the World Halal Forum held a European-focused meeting in London in November, under the theme “Halal Products and Services – Going Mainstream.”

The issue made headlines in Britain last month when it was learned that restaurants at the House of Commons had been serving halal poultry without lawmakers’ knowledge.

Conservative lawmaker Greg Knight, who has been campaigning on food labeling matters unrelated to the halal issue, called for legislation.

“This underlines the need to have proper labeling in place so people actually know what they are eating,” he was quoted as saying. “It seems to me that there has been this drive in the food industry to do everything halal so it doesn’t offend people.”

Operation Nehemiah cites similar cases where Britons are not being informed that the meat and poultry they are getting at schools, hospitals, restaurants and sporting venues is shari’a-compliant – even in areas where Muslim communities are relatively small.

“I am concerned about the lack of informed choice for consumers in supermarkets, restaurants etc. and call upon the food industry to ensure that halal does not become the general default option in non-Muslim countries,” the petition wording says. (https://barnabasfund.org/Halal-petition/)

halal

The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America certifies more than 23,000 products and ingredients available, labeling them with a symbol featuring an “M” and a crescent.

The term halal, Arabic for “permitted” or “lawful,” applies not only to food but also to other products such as cosmetics, and even services like banking.

In order to be certified halal by a qualified authority, meat must be free from exposure to forbidden (“haram”) substances such as pork. Shari’a calls for the animal to be slaughtered in a ritual that involves the invoking of Allah’s name and the slitting of its throat in such a way as to ensure complete drainage of blood.

Some Islamic schools of thought permit stunning of the animal before death and mechanical slaughter; others are adamantly opposed to any form of stunning and insist that a Muslim must slaughter the animal by hand.

Operation Nehemiah describes itself as a project that aims to “rebuild [Britain’s] Christian foundations.” It is part of the Barnabas Fund, an international charity working among Christians living in Islamic societies.

“We believe that Christians and other non-Muslims should have the freedom to make an informed choice about whether or not to eat meat that has been religiously slaughtered according to shari’a,” Barnabas Fund international director Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo said in a statement.

“We are recommending that halal food should always be labeled as such, and that non-halal alternatives should always be available to consumers.”

A British tabloid newspaper investigation last September found that major British supermarkets as well as popular fast-food chains such as Domino’s and Pizza Hut were selling halal food without informing customers.

In some major meat exporting countries, notably New Zealand and Australia, much of the meat shipped abroad is halal, whatever its destination.

A paper presented at a Meat Industry Association of New Zealand conference in October noted that the fast-growing halal food market worldwide is now estimated to be worth more than US$640 billion a year ($67 billion in Europe and $13 billion in the U.S.) – around 16 percent of the entire food industry.

Although more than half of the lamb exported by New Zealand goes to markets in Europe and North America, a much bigger proportion than that is halal-compliant. A 2009 study by two Muslim academics said this was “partly the result of companies finding it easier and more cost effective to shift their production processes to 100 percent halal.”

‘Denial of choice’

Earlier this year the fried chicken chain KFC launched a trial project in which around 100 branches in Britain were halal-certified by the country’s Halal Food Authority. Because haram products are not allowed anywhere near halal food, this meant that customers visiting those stores had no choice but to eat halal chicken.

“For our chicken to be Halal accredited, a verse is recited from the Qur’an by an appropriate person at the point of slaughter,” KFC U.K. said in a fact sheet at the time. “All non-Halal products will be removed from the relevant restaurants. This includes pork products, bacon will not be served in our Halal trial stores.”

In a detailed explanatory paper the Operation Nehemiah campaign highlights what it says are four key reasons for concern about the increased presence of halal products in Western societies:

-- Denial of choice, unless products are labeled and alternatives offered

-- The imposition of Islamic practices on non-Muslims

-- Animal welfare concerns relating to halal slaughter

-- “For Christians in particular, the Biblical teaching on the eating of foods associated with non-Christian religious practice and its spiritual and social effects within the Christian community.”

Zabihah.org, an online international guide to halal eateries, lists more than 3,300 halal restaurants in the U.S., ranging from 655 in California to none in Montana, Wyoming and Puerto Rico.

The leading halal-food certifier in North America, the Chicago-based Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, says it certifies more than 23,000 products and ingredients ranging from meat and poultry to pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

The products are labeled with a symbol featuring an “M” and a crescent.