Vol. 3    Issue 10   01-15 October 2008
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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
The Holy Quran A Pictorial Gallery
Muslim Minorities in Non-Islamic Milieus
Virtual Museum of Islamic Arts and Culture

Halal pastry: Made in Switzerland

Switzerland, famous for its breath-taking landscape, is the largest producer of processed halal food in the world with annual sales of $3.5 billion. Swiss companies which produce halal food make sure that their products are tested, regularly checked and certified by Islamic experts. Nestle, the world's largest food corporation with $94 billion in sales in 2007, adheres to halal food requirements in 75 of its 480 factories worldwide. For the past two years Nestle has eliminated pork, alcohol and blood from its production process in seven of its European factories, including a sausage plant in France, a Nescafe plant in Germany and a powdered milk plant in Spain.

In 1938 a small-time Swiss baker set up a bakery for producing cake dough and puff pastry in Wangen bei Olten, a small town in Switzerland. The business soon picked up and his puff pastry became very popular in the country as well as in other parts of Europe. Realising the growing demand for puff pastry among Muslims living in Europe, Nestle decided to buy the plant to produce puff pastry with halal methods. Though the ingredients of the commonly available puff pastry and the halal variety-flour, margarine, butter, water and salt-are the same, the former is preserved with alcohol and the other with potassium sorbate. The Nestle factory at Wangen bei Olten produces more than 41,000 tonnes of freshly made dough a year, of which a substantial amount is of the halal variety. Most of the halal puff pastry is sold to France, home to Europe's largest Muslim population.

Halal food in a globalising world

Muslims everywhere observe the dietary rules prescribed by Islam, which forbid the consumption of alcohol, pork and blood and of foods that contain traces of substances like gelatine and lard. Until quite recently, Muslims living in Western countries and in Australia and New Zealand found it difficult to identify forbidden food items and to have access to halal food. Many processed food items in Western countries contain forbidden substances. Sugar candy often contains gelatine, which is made from animal carcasses. Haribo candy, which is very popular across Europe, has been found to have traces of pig DNA, which is unacceptable to Muslims and Jews.

In recent years there has come about a greater awareness and concern for halal food among Muslims living in Western countries. The easy availability of halal food products in most cities, the entry of global food companies in the halal food business, global tourism and international halal food festivals in Malaysia and Dubai have made halal food a conspicuous feature of Muslim culture in large parts of the world. The current global market for halal food is estimated at over $580 billion annually. According to JWT, an American advertising agency, food, finance and packaged goods are the three consumer markets most affected by Islamic law. In the absence of halal options in some parts of the US and Canada, many Muslims turn to kosher. In the US an estimated 16% of sales in the $100 million kosher industry comes from Muslim customers.

Most European countries allow Muslims to slaughter animals according to their religious ritual. In response to petitions filed by Muslim organizations, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court decreed in 2002 that Muslims should be allowed to slaughter animals according to their religious rituals. Earlier, they had to import halal meat from Belgium, France, Britain and other European countries.

About three million tonnes of halal meat are consumed annually in Europe. The growing worldwide demand for halal food has prompted global food giants like McDonald's as well as supermarket chains in Europe and North America to enter the halal food segment. The British supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury's have separate shelves for halal food products. Tesco launched halal products in 2004 and distributes halal chocolates in six of its stores in London. Rotterdam Port, one of the world's largest ports, has built a huge warehouse of halal products and is set to become "the halal gateway to Europe".

In April 2007, when McDonald's opened its first European restaurant with halal burgers and chicken nuggets on the menu in Southall in west London, sales rose dramatically. Halal chicken nuggets introduced by McDonald's in Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of the largest Arab populations in the US, are immensely popular with local Muslims. Two of McDonald's restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney offer halal meals. All McDonald's restaurants in Pakistan, Malaysia, South Africa, Singapore and India are halal certified.

In the UK, hundreds of outlets serving halal fried chicken, such as Chicken Cottage, have sprung up in recent years. Los Angeles has a Chinese Islamic restaurant and a Thai Islamic restaurant where only halal food is served. A restaurant called McHalal has been serving halal burgers for years outside the French city of Lyon. A newly-opened fast-food restaurant in Paris called Clichy-sous-Bois offers Beurger King Muslim halal hamburgers and fries. A Pakistani Muslim has opened a string of halal chicken sandwich stands in Britain and France. KFC, a popular global food chain, serves halal fried chicken in many of its outlets.

In Australia, where the Muslim population is estimated at over 340,000, the halal market is booming and is currently at around $1 billion. The export of Australia's halal meat products to Muslim countries earned $3.7 billion in five years from 2001-02. Australia was the first non-Muslim country to place halal certification under legislation. A growing number of Australian producers and manufacturers are embracing halal and kosher certification. Australia's famous Old Colonial Cookie Company is now producing gluten-free shortbread.

Many European companies are showing greater sensitivity towards the religious requirements of their diverse customers. Some of the prominent candy producers in Europe, like Haribo and Van Melle, now substitute their meat-produced gelatine with alternative halal substances acceptable to Muslims and Jews.

International tourism and global sports events have provided a boost to the halal food industry. Phuket in Thailand welcomes a hundred thousand Arab tourists each year. In order to cater to the requirements and tastes of an increasing number of Muslim tourists, five restaurants serve halal food, duly certified by Thailand's Halal Standard Institute. The country's Central Islamic Committee visits the halal restaurants once a week to ensure that the selection of ingredients and cooking methods are in keeping with Islamic prescriptions. The halal food kitchens in these restaurants are required to be separated from the normal kitchen.

On the occasion of the 22nd South East Asian Games held in Vietnam in December 2003, the local restaurateurs introduced specialities from Muslim countries to cater to the tastes of Muslim guests and sportspersons. Some of them served distinctive Vietnamese cuisine such as "cha gio" or spring rolls, using halal meat.

International halal food and trade festivals have significantly contributed to the growing salience and popularity of halal food products. Since 2004 Malaysia has been organising the International Halal Showcase, the world's largest international halal trade fair. The fair is regarded as the largest annual gathering of halal industry players in the effort to ease the sourcing and selling of global quality halal products and services. Global food giants such as Nestle, McDonald's, Rotterdam Post and Tesco were also invited to participate in the fair. In May 2006 the first World Halal Forum was organised in Kuala Lumpur. China held a four-day international halal food festival on September 10-13 this year in the Ningxia Autonomous Region. The 2nd Halal Expo 2008 will be held in Dubai from November 24 to 26 this year. It is designed to provide a gateway to the expanding global halal market and a networking platform which will bring together halal associations, halal certification agencies and suppliers and buyers of halal products.

Modern information and communication technologies, the engines of globalisation, are playing an important role in disseminating information about halal food products and in facilitating interaction and networking among the promoters of halal food. Zabihah, the world's largest online guide to halal restaurants and food products, lists 5128 halal restaurants around the world, 1488 halal markets and 89 halal products. The US-based Muslim Consumer Group for Food Products has published A Comprehensive List of Halal Food Products in US and Canadian Supermarkets, written by Syed Rasheeduddin Ahmed, which has been reprinted seven times. The Halal Journal, a bi-monthly magazine published from Kuala Lumpur, provides extensive information about halal markets, food products and restaurants around the world. The popular youth portal YouTube has several videos on halal food products.

Confronting racism and xenophobia

On 20 September, 2008, about 200 far-right activists from different parts of Europe descended on the German city of Cologne to hold a rally against what they called "the Islamization of Europe". The rally was organised by the local Pro Cologne group, set up to protest against the construction of a mosque in the city, and was joined by prominent members and leaders of Europe's far-right political parties such as Belgium's Vlaams Belang and the UK's British National Party. A few days ago Cologne's City Council had given the formal permission for the construction of the mosque in the city's Ehrenfeld district.

The organisers and participants in the rally had not anticipated that they would be confronted and blocked by the city's residents. An estimated 40,000 protesters turned up in Cologne's downtown Heumarkt area to disrupt the rally. They blocked urban trains to keep participants in the rally away and raided a tourist boat where the far-right group was hoping to hold a press conference. Some demonstrators flung paint bombs at the organisers. Police cancelled the rally after 45 minutes. Pro Cologne organisers had to dismantle microphones and other equipment in Heumarkt.

There was widespread resentment among the residents of Cologne against the anti-Islam rally. Taxi drivers refused to reach the far-right delegates to their destination and hotel owners cancelled room bookings. The city's bars hung huge banners declaring "No Kolsch for Nazis", refusing to serve beer to the organisers and participants. The demonstrators comprised all sections of Cologne's population, including Christian Democrats, trade unionists, Muslim groups, Left-Party members and students, writers and intellectuals, and Christian groups. The hugely successful demonstration in the heart of the city sent a clear message to the far-right groups in the country and across Europe that the people of Cologne would not tolerate racist ideologies and outbursts in their city.

Gabriele Hermani, a spokesman for the German interior ministry, condemned the anti-Islam conference saying, "We believe that such an event organised by populists and extremists in Cologne is damaging to the good co-operation between the city and its Muslim citizens".

Outlawing hate crimes

The Western world considers itself an ardent and uncompromising advocate of freedom of expression. In practice, however, a great deal of hypocrisy and doublespeak surrounds the issue.

No country, including those of Europe, allows complete, unfettered freedom of expression, as the two recent instances cited in the foregoing testify. Freedom of expression in nearly all countries is restricted by prohibitions against defamation, libel, blasphemy (as in the UK and Denmark), obscenity, national security, incitement to hatred, and judicial and parliamentary privilege. The European Convention on Human Rights, while recognizing that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, allows European nations to impose restrictions "in interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others."

Denial of the Holocaust is a punishable offence in several European countries, including France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Spain. In a recent case, the British historian David Irving spent 13 months in a jail in Austria for challenging the Holocaust.

A Spanish court in November 2007 convicted Manel Fontdevila, cartoon editor of the popular satirical weekly magazine El Jueves, and cartoonist "Guillermo" on charges of "damaging the prestige of the crown." The journalists, who were fined 3,000 euros, had published a cartoon in July 2007 which made fun of Prince Filipe, heir to the Spanish crown, and of the government's scheme to encourage women to have more babies. Within a few hours of the cartoons' appearance, the court ordered the confiscation of all copies of the magazine.

In France, a newspaper report during this year's presidential election campaign revealed that Cecilia Sarkozy (the former wife of the French president) did not cast her vote. The journalist who wrote the story was sacked on orders from the newspaper's owner, a close associate of the president.

A recently released survey of media freedom in 20 European countries entitled Goodbye to Freedom?, published by the independent Association of European Journalists, found that within the past year alone, journalists in 18 out of 20 European countries have faced criminal prosecution, or been jailed for breaking various laws involving libel or secrecy.

European countries are trying to reconcile the conflicting pressures of safeguarding freedom of speech and protecting citizens from racist and hate crimes. On April 19, 2007 the European Union approved the draft of a Europe-wide legislation that would make hate crimes punishable by jail sentences. The legislation called for jail terms for "intentional conduct" that incites violence or hatred against a person's race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin. The same punishment would apply to those who incite violence by "denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes".

Curiously, the legislation states that the constitutional protection of freedom of speech in individual European countries would be upheld. In other words, publishing the derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad would not constitute an offence in any European country because it would be protected by the provision of freedom of speech.

On 30 September 2005, Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, published a series of 12 highly derogatory cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. In one of them he was shown wearing a bomb-shaped turban, portraying him as a terrorist. It is interesting to note that Jyllands-Posten had earlier refused to print cartoons of Jesus Christ because it involved the risk of hurting the religious sentiments of Christians.

On October 14, some 5,000 Muslims held a protest demonstration against the sacrilegious cartoons. In early February 2006, several newspapers in 22 European countries, including Spain's Catalan daily El Periodico, republished the cartoons. The publication of these cartoons generated an enormous amount of anger and resentment among Muslims across the world and led to massive protests in several Muslim countries. Danish embassies in Iran, Beirut, Syria and Libya were attacked and vandalized. By and large, European writers and intellectuals and the media justified the publication of these cartoons in the name of freedom of expression.

It is an open secret that racism and xenophobia are deeply entrenched in the cultural consciousness of European countries. In 2005, Luxembourg tried to push through Europe-wide anti-racism legislation during its presidency of the European Union, but it was blocked by Italy's centre-right government on the grounds that it threatened freedom of speech.

The critics of the anti-hate legislation accuse the European Union of having double standards in that while it protects established Christian religions against blasphemy and outlaws anti-Semitism, it does nothing to protect Muslims against demonization and Islamophobia.

The right to freedom of expression needs to be tempered with social responsibility and sensitivity towards the beliefs and sentiments of others. An unbridled right to freedom of expression is fraught with socially disruptive consequences. A recent report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia points out that freedom of expression is not an absolute right. International law and the legal order of EU Member States lay down certain limits that democratic societies consider important and necessary in order to protect other fundamental rights. The report adds that freedom of expression and the protection against racist and xenophobic language can, and have to, go hand-in-hand.

Persecution of minorities in China

Chinese society is characterized by substantial diversity in respect of ethnicity, language, religion and cultural traditions. In China, there are 55 distinct ethnic groups, officially designated as nationalities or national minorities, which comprise nearly 120 million people and constitute about 10% of the country's population. Ten of the 55 national minorities follow Islam.

The most important among Muslim minority groups are Hui (9 million), Uighur (9 million), Kazakh (1.3 million) and Kirgiz (160,000). The Hui, who comprise about half of the Muslim population in China, are spread over 97% of China's provinces. They are the descendants of Arab, Central Asian and Persian merchants who began arriving and settling in China since the 7th century. They married local Chinese women, which resulted in their gradual assimilation into Chinese society. The other Muslim communities are Uzbek, Tatar, Salar, Bonan, Tajik and Dongxiang. The Uighur, Kazakh and Kirghiz Muslims have substantially retained their original languages and cultural traditions. Their largest concentration is in the Xinjiang province, which shares borders with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakstan and Afghanistan and where the country's nuclear test sites are located. They speak variants of Turkic languages and share substantial cultural and oral traditions with the Muslims of Central Asia.

Tibetans, who generally follow Buddhism, are concentrated in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Other ethnic minorities, like Yi, Dai, Miao and Yao, live in the southern provinces of Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and Ynnan.

Though China describes itself as a "united socialist multiethnic state", the Han Chinese-who constitute about 92% of the national population-dominate the national scenario and the power structure. They form a majority even in minority "autonomous" regions. By and large, China's minorities are faced with discrimination, exclusion and persecution.

China's booming economy, its expanding cities and an emerging consumerist culture have adversely impacted the minorities and undermined their distinctive identities. The nomadic way of life, which has existed in Inner Mongolia and Qinghai for centuries, is being replaced by sedentary populations. Shepherds are giving up their traditional occupation of livestock farming. The pressure of assimilation into the dominant Han culture has increased.

Muslims living in Xinjiang have borne the brunt of Chinese repression for a long time and have been seething with resentment and anger. There have been periodic outbursts of violent protests against the Chinese authorities. In 2005, 18,000 local Muslims were imprisoned for participating in an agitation against the government.

On the eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government sought to project the multiethnic and multicultural legacy of the country. An open air ethnic museum-showcasing Tibetan mud-brick and half-timbered dwellings, wooden houses with carved roof beams and Mongolian yurts-was set up along the perimeter of the massive sports complex in order to portray China as a glorious mosaic of different nationalities and cultures. Beijing's 13-storey Cultural Palace of Nationalities was projected as "a microcosm of the great family of various peoples that make up China".

On August 10, the fist weekend of the Beijing Olympics, a police station in Kuqa in southern Xinjiang was attacked with bombs, killing a security guard and ten of the suspected attackers. Less than a week earlier, two Uighur Muslims rammed a truck into a group of paramilitary officers in the city of Kashgar and attacked them with explosives and knives. Sixteen officers were killed and several more were wounded. The Chinese authorities have accused the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of plotting terrorist attacks against the Olympics.

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