by Sakinah Noor
It’s baffling how the religious authorities in our country believe Muslims can be so easily confused these days.
After eons of ordering “Hot Dog satu, adik!” from roadside stalls manned by Malays, it’s mind boggling how Pretzel Dogs can be confused all of a sudden as dog meat, mixed into dough, twisted and baked for human consumption by a trusted and well-loved international pretzel chain.
Yet, that is precisely what the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) was concerned over when they refused halal certification for Auntie Anne’s recently.
While members of the public voiced their bewilderment at this move, the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca) stepped right in to support Jakim, saying the decision was in line with the teachings of Islam and the word “dog” in the menu, was inappropriate.
Was this also why the religious authorities yanked beef bacon and turkey ham off the menus of local restaurants? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “bacon” is a noun meaning “Cured meat from the back or sides of a pig” and “ham” is a noun meaning: “Salted or smoked meat from the upper part of a pig’s leg.” Going by these definitions, it was therefore an oxymoron to have any such dish that claimed to be “beef bacon” or “turkey ham” unless the two actually mated in some open field unsupervised and produced a freak of nature.
Therefore, Jakim’s controversial directive on Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Dog is just one of many instances when the names of popular food and beverages that were lapped up by all and sundry before, have suddenly taken on a sinister meaning, confusing Muslims as to what its contents in reality are.
Back in 2009, the much-loved A&W Root Beer was dealt a deadly blow when Jakim refused to certify any product with the word “beer” in its name, even if it was non-alcoholic. Yes, we do know beer, which is an alcoholic beverage, is prohibited in Islam, but we also do know there is no alcohol in Root Beer. All the same, the popular drink was renamed “A&W Sarsaparilla” so its halal certificate could be renewed. Its restaurant chains across Malaysia meanwhile began calling its root beer, “RB” in 2013 – and no, not Rhythm and Blues, in case music lovers got confused and started grooving at the counter while placing their orders.
The same fate befell good old Ginger Beer sold in cans that also underwent a name change to “Ginger Ade” (we’ve heard of ale, but ade?) so that the word “beer” could be obliterated, effectively putting an end to any confusion regarding its halal status.
Out of curiosity, will this obsession with all things halal, have a spill-over effect on other merchandise that we happily purchase?
Will a popular brand of shoes have to call itself Hush, My Little Kitty in order to keep selling its merchandise undisturbed by the religious authorities? Or will Jakim know better and let sleeping dogs lie?
Already, a string of movies have faced the ban in our cinemas, simply because its posters either featured a pig, or its storyline dealt with God or his prophets, who took on a human form.
In 1995, the movie Babe, essentially a feel-good movie targeted to families with kids, was banned because it featured the antics of a pig, and the very word “Babe” could be easily mispronounced in Malay as “Babi”, meaning well… err… pig, an animal prohibited for consumption in Islam. I hope Miss Piggy too does not feel slighted that she has been downgraded to non-halal status.
In 2014, the movie Noah was banned on grounds it went against the prohibition in Islam to visually depict Muslim prophets.
But here’s the thing – does not religion, any religion for that matter, place importance on seeking knowledge? For sifting for truth among the clutter of misinformation lurking out there and using one’s capabilities to rationalise and argue and finally judge what is right and what is wrong?
While Jakim’s (and Fomca’s) intentions are well placed, they are making a mockery of the religion by taking way too many things way too literally.
The “Pork-free”, “No Pork” signs that caused so much debate and anger earlier this year is a case in point. Once again, the argument that such signs were confusing to Muslims was used to great effect and the issue of “halal” and “not halal” made into a national issue once again.
Maybe it’s time we respected people more by treating them like thinking adults instead of unsuspecting sheep led to slaughter.