As if it has nothing better to do with its time, the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry is considering whether or not to compel supermarkets to provide halal and non-halal trolleys. Remarkably, this move apparently has the support of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) and the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia (PPIM).
It is claimed that many Muslims are pleased with the idea because “the trolleys will prevent contamination by non-halal items.”
Has anyone given any serious thought to what we might end up with if this move is allowed? It will encourage segregation in other areas of life.
Might we soon see separate supermarket queues for male and female patrons? Will consumers demand halal and non-halal check-out counters? Might we see separate rows of seats for men and women in buses and other forms of public transport? Will there be separate health clinics for men and women? And what about schools and universities?
So, will common sense prevail?
All supermarket items, halal or not, are packaged in plastic, glass or metal containers. So where’s the danger of contamination? Did the idea of segregated trolleys in fact come from a crony hoping to conquer the market with his supply of trolleys marked halal and non-halal to replace the ones currently in use?
One should be more worried about the serviceability of trolleys used in supermarkets. As many will agree, one of the most frustrating things about shopping is having to push a supermarket trolley which does not move smoothly.
Another thing to consider is the cleanliness of the inside of the trolleys.
If such a regulation were to be introduced, then it would have to be enforced fairly, which means it cannot be restricted to supermarkets. For example, it must be enforced as well at the duty-free outlets at our airports.
There must be non-halal trolleys for duty free alcohol and food items which may not be halal, such as foie gras.
Isn’t our paranoia about halal and non-halal products being fed by the authorities?
Why make a fuss over halal and non-halal trolleys when there are more important issues for the authorities to work on, such as the high rate of drug addiction among Malay youth, the high rate of teenage pregnancies, the high rate of baby dumping and the high rate of divorce? Surely these are more pressing issues than the halal status of trolleys – if there is indeed such a thing.
We are probably focusing too much on ritual rather than the true teachings of Islam. If the ministry manages to push through the idea of segregated trolleys, then all Malaysians regardless of religion will suffer. Think, for instance, of the small sundry shop where space is too limited to allow for two kinds of trolleys.
We are in danger of starting an unhealthy trend. Once we have laws to regulate trolley use and to separate the sexes in public transport, clinics and schools, it’s only a matter of time before we have laws to regulate how we think.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist
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