By Ravinder Singh
Jakim gave a lame excuse when it said that “hot dogs” could not be so named in halal menus because that might confuse Muslim tourists. Well, even if the tourists think hot dogs are made of dog meat, where’s the harm? If they are good Muslims, they’ll just avoid eating them. There are so many other lovely dishes in Malaysia.
When the public got hot over the issue, a few high ranking politicians, including PAS’s Nik Abduh Abdul Aziz, came out to say that “halal” was about the food itself and not the name of the food. One even said the ruling was stupid.
The Minister for Islamic Affairs told Parliament that Jakim had only made a proposal and not rejected the name “hot dogs” and that Jakim’s guidelines were mere suggestions. So, in Auntie Anne’s case, it seems that a compromise can be made.
Jakim has had a history of forcing businesses to change the names of their products. For example, A&W’s Coney Dog is now known as “Chicken Coney” or “Beef Coney” and its famous root beer is now simply “RB.”
It would only be fair if the compromise to be made in Auntie Anne’s case is applied retrospectively to all those who have been victimised by Jakim.
Non-Malay food and beverage businesses apply for Jakim’s halal certification to qualify for catering services to government departments that hold functions such as Hari Raya open houses. Their food may be fully halal, but without Jakim’s certificate, they are not fit to supply food to any government department.
So Jakim acts like a bully. It sometimes imposes insensible or unreasonable conditions on those applying for its piece of paper. Does this have something to do with money to be made from issuing halal certificates? The MACC should look into this.
There is a lesson to be learnt from this fiasco and it is hoped the opportunity to do so will not be wasted.
When the trigger-happy defenders of race and religion are not told off for doing things that are inconsistent with the proper teachings of any religion, it encourages more of them to sprout like mushrooms after a rain, and to say or do more things that only create confusion, discontent and ill will among the multiracial people of the country.
Jakim’s officials could not be so naïve as to think that Muslim tourists would be confused over hot dogs. It was an afterthought that came after it received flak over its harassment of Auntie Anne’s. “Muslim tourists” became its scapegoat.
The public cannot be blamed for seeing such harassment as part of a wider agenda involving other Islamic agencies as well. The tactics are seem similar. Remember when the Deputy Mufti of Perak said a local authority had asked for advice on a proposal to construct the statue of an eagle? He said the authority was told that it would be haram. And then, in the next breath, he pronounced that the eagle statue in Langkawi and other monuments must be demolished.
And then there was the story about the mufti who said a Muslim flight attendant on a MAS flight had approached him and cried because she wasn’t allowed to wear a scarf. So he advised MAS to follow the example of Rayani Air, whose flight attendants cover their hair.
If the religious authorities want to impose something difficult on us, they shouldn’t insult us by being apologetic and shifting the blame to imaginary third parties. If they believe they are right, they should be brave and honest enough to say what’s on their minds.
Ravinder Singh is an FMT reader.
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