Monday, 22 February 2010

Monsieur Sarkozy: neither the niqab nor bacon burgers are halal!

One of the reasons I enjoyed staying at luxury hotels were the sumptuous breakfasts. Crispy slices of bacon tasted delicious.
Slightly older, possibly wiser, I now give the (high cholesterol!) bacon a miss. However, sometimes I may still be found hovering suspiciously close to the bacon counter in order to savour delectable whiffs of blasphemous pig's meat!

For many, halal food is not as simple as asking 'does it contain pig meat or not?' The French, at least in the Northern town of Roubaix, are asking a different question. Where's the bacon?
Quick, a French fast-food chain has made some of its French outlets 'Muslim friendly.' The outlets will serve halal food and the bacon burger has been removed from the menu.
The chain is not a neighbourhood restaurant operated by North African immigrants. In 2008, Quick's restaurants racked up sales of almost 900 million Euros (USD 1.2 billion). Quick's decision is a reflection of the growing halal food market. One study suggested that just in France the halal meat market is worth 5.5 billion Euros (double the size of the organic food market).  
The halal food industry is big business. Not surprising given that the world's Muslim population is approximately 1.5 billion. Couple the population with a global trend of increasing Islamic self-awareness and one has a market for halal food worth USD 635 billion and growing.
Despite its size, the industry remains fragmented. There exist an estimated 150 – 200 global halal certification bodies, including Singapore's own Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.
The certification bodies maintain varied standards which are sometimes incompatible with each other. For example, Malaysia has authorized 45 halal certification bodies while Indonesia accepts 40. Of these, only 24 certifications are accepted by both countries (July 2009).
While Islamic jurisprudence debates the finer points of defining halal food, the socialist run town council of Roubaix is taking legal action against Quick for "subordinating the supply of a good, the hamburger, to belonging or not belonging to a particular religion." The French Agriculture Minister alleges that the move encourages ethnically based thinking (race classifications anyone?) and is "contrary to the principles and spirit of the republic".
No doubt, the mayor is correct to suggest that the venerable hamburger must be freely available to members of all religions.
However, mandating menu options of private establishments is against the grain of personal freedoms. I hope that the French courts uphold basic economic freedoms which are a prerequisite for any successful social economy.
If a Christian storeowner decided she no longer wanted to carry pornography in her magazine section then can the government force her to carry Penthouse. Will carrying pornographic magazines ensure the 'Spirit of the French Republic' is kept alive?
The niqab, or full face veil, as seen on the streets of Monterey, California

By all means, ban the niqab. Not only will I support the ban but even encourage its implementation. However, I draw the line when it comes to forcing private sector businesses to sell particular products by force of law.
The economic realities of the marketplace tend to be more powerful than legislation. Let businesses decide what fills up their warehouses and what moves quickly.


  1. Dear Imran,

    The problem with going halal in Singapore is that very often, going halal means inferior ingredients. For example, when Pizza Hut went halal, the ham was replaced by 'chicken roll' which is highly processed and probably made out of mechanically recovered chicken rubbish. I also once had halal siew mai which was the worst siew mai I ever ate in my life. It was made of surimi, a cheap and vastly inferior product rather than the prawns it should have contained!

    Here in the UK, some branches of Nando's use halal chicken. I have eaten at both halal and non-halal Nando's and I can honestly say there is no discernible difference. I guess it makes a difference if the product can be 'naturally' halal.

    I regularly patronise a neighbourhood deli run by Muslims. It only sells halal meat products, as well as products which do not contain pork or alcohol. Crucially, it only sells quality products, so for example, it stocks the widest range of Ben and Jerry's around. It's also where I go to get Greek sesame breadsticks, Turkish yogurt, and the best lamb samosas I have ever tasted.

  2. Hi b,

    Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to post a comment.

    As you suggest, for good food it is best to stick with the original recipes and ingredients. I guess 'going halal' implies considerations from both the consumer and the business - for the business it is a commercial decision based on demographics, etc.

    Separately, if you are interested in decent Pakistani food please check out Tayyab's (I believe they have a website) located in the Aldgate area. Their food is exceptional and almost as good as anything one can eat in Pakistan.

    Kind regards,


  3. I'm not surprised by your comments.
    I kind of guessed that the only people with Muslim sounding names that hated the dress of the wives of the Prophet pbh were pork lovers.

  4. Hi Anonymous,

    Thank you for visiting and taking the time to post a comment.

    While I am not sure about the motivation and origin of your comment, I will state the following:

    1. Religion and the religious journey is a personal experience. Each individual takes their own path. There is no room for compulsion in enforcing religious beliefs.

    2. The (recently deceased) Mufti of Al-Azhar University, one of the most respected seats of Islamic learning, has come out strongly against the practice of the niqab among Muslim women. He repeatedly stated that the niqab has no basis in Islamic teachings. (Please note the distinction between the niqab and the hijab.)

    I hope you will continue to visit my blog and challenge those opinions with which you do not agree. I hope that we can agree on the concept of intellectual discourse being a part of the Islamic tradition?

    Kind regards,