Lucy Bushill-Matthews, whose biography I bungled while introducing her, at Islamic Relief’s Sisters of the Deen event in Mayfair yesterday regaled the 500-strong audience with her typically witty observations of the idiosyncracies of Muslim life in South Africa. Her first brush with Muslim life in South Africa, she recalled, was the conclusion of a meal at Nando’s. She was taken aback to see halal insignia proudly emblazoned, on the back of an unassuming wet-wipe. As far as South African Muslim life goes, much of it is spent lusting after a McDonalds happy meal while your conscience twists in agony over whether it really is halal. We are consumed with issues of halal and haraam when it pertains to how many insects’ legs were used to shine our chocolates yet we neglect to count how many feet we trample to climb the ladder of self-righteousness. And as the audience guffawed with laughter at Lucy’s joke, a backstage volunteer at the event, a recent convert to Islam, poked me in the ribs and asked me to explain what the joke was. And as I explained our penchant to stamp everything from toothpicks to a shoulder of lamb with halal, she looked at me exasperatedly and said, ‘But how else will we know what’s halal then?’
A post on Indigo Jo Blogs this morning responds to an article that appeared in that great standard for journalism, the British press, boldly informing the British public that entertainment venues like Wembley Stadium and Royal Ascot are serving halal meat. The article I take it, is meant to paint a picture of, ‘Even the meat in our posh schools are halal, them Moslems are taking over!’ Without delving into the issue of stunning animals before slaughtering them, and how halal or haraam that is (which was the ostensible argument against halal meat) or speculating on whether our heavily meat-ridden diet is at all halaal, I’d like to point out instead that during the Fifa World Cup™ earlier this year, each stadium was equipped with a halal food kiosk, and though the very, very large contingent of local Muslims who formed substantial numbers at the stadiums complained bitterly about the standard of that halal food, we didn’t rate a headline.
allah-hu-taala het gesê innie koran
djulle moet djulle bekke hou
preek die imam innie smokkelhuis;
hoek me allah
djkr hy by die jintoe
wat net halaal kos iet
toe excommunicate die jamma hom.
maa’ allah ken mos betere
wan’ die man het hom mos geremember
ennie woord gespread tussen innie mense
en toe stuur allah hom straight heaven toe
met n’ borrel dop
(allah the highest said in the qur’an
you must keep your mouth shut
the imam preaches in the shebeen
he chants at the harlot
who only eats halaal food.
so the community excommunicated him
but allah knows much better
because the man remembered him
and spread the word in-between the people.
and so allah sent him, straight to heaven
with a bottle of booze)
Translation by Mphutlane wa Bofelo
Our self-serving hypocrisies quite aside, it takes just a mention of ‘Majlis’, ‘Rainbow Chickens’ or more recently, ‘Woolworths croissants’ to a Muslim in Johannesburg to realise the severity of our problems with halal certification in South Africa. And these are problems that must be resolved within ourselves for the betterment (and sanity) of the community. Woolworths are not feeding us porcine lard in their croissants as part of an obscure Zionist campaign. And I assure you, when I first heard of the Woolworths confectionery being ‘not halal‘ I was incensed because they appeared to be perfectly halal in Cape Town. It seemed to me that Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal air rendered it not precisely ‘haraam‘ but just, ‘not halal‘. I’ve spoken to the big people at Woolworths themselves since, speculating on how different a Cape Town recipe could be to a Pretoria one. My email to them was angry enough to induce their people to actually call me with a response instead of offering me lame platitudes over email. It turns out the factories preparing confectionery for Woolworths in regions besides the Western Cape can not guarantee that your croissants have not been mangled with pork or alcohol in the preparation process. While these factories have been requested to open facilities especially for Woolworths products that will be sanitised of any porcine or alcoholic influences, they are yet to comply. I was still skeptical but what finally swayed me was my interlocutor’s unlfinching honesty. I asked him, if he as a Muslim (he had a Muslim sounding name and had offered me salaam) and a Woolworths employee would eat those croissants should he find himself in Jo’burg. Without missing a beat he said he would not.
We cannot rely on the presence or absence of halal insignia at the expense of common sense.