Muslim gastronomy woes: Halal 101 (2)

Allow me to continue educating our non-Muslim readers.

The Holy Quran or Koran is categorical about prohibiting Muslims from eating pork. It is a mortal sin. No ifs no buts. The scripture leaves no doubt about it: “Prohibited for you are… the flesh of swine” (Chapter 5, verse 3). For meat to be considered halal or permissible to be eaten by Muslims, a special ritual and certain process must be observed like reciting the words “bismillah” or invoking the name of Allah SWT at the time of the slaughter and saving the animal from unnecessary cruel pain while being slaughtered.

What is in pork that makes it an abhorrent animal? Why is it specially mentioned in the Holy Koran as prohibited for consumption by Muslims? For one, it is considered one of the dirtiest animals which thrive in filth and unsanitary environment. Pig is considered garbage and waste eliminators… “which eat its own feces, as well as dead carcasses of sick animals, including their own young.”

The scientific reasoning is that “Swine serves as a vector for pathogenic worms to enter the human body. Infections by Trichinella spiralis and taenia solium are not uncommon. Fatty acids and composition of pork fat have been mentioned as incompatible with human fat and biochemical systems.” In other words, the strong underlying reason for this religious prescription is its damaging effect on humans which could cause a variety of medical issues like “increased cancer risk” and many health problems. It is for this reason that Islam is not the only religion that bans pork from its adherents.

Other religious sects like the Seventh Day Adventists, the United Church of God, the Orthodox Jewish Kosher, etc., prohibit pork consumption. In an article by Dr. Josh Axe he mentioned that “in the Old Testament, God warned us that the pig was an unclean animal. Why? Because pig is a scavenger and not meant for human consumption.”

In deference to the religious sensibilities of Muslims, states which have a considerable number of Muslim citizens have provided measures to protect them from violating the Islamic ban. Western countries like the United States, Australia, and some European countries have created a body or agency they call Halal Certification body that screens, examines, and vets foods whether they and their preparation conform with Islamic tenets. This agency after vetting certifies that the foods being served to Muslims are “halal” or have undergone the rituals required by Islam. This state action, for a while, triggered a legal firestorm in the face of the constitutional restriction against the state’s support of a particular religion. One of the bedrock of western democracy is the separation of church and state and critics saw the protection afforded to Muslims as indirect support of their sect.

The Philippines has provided more protective measures. It has institutionalized the certification of “halal” foods thru legislation. While the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos is already mandated under Republic Act 9997 of 2010 to “accredit halal certifying bodies,” Congress passed the Halal Act of 2016 which regulates the halal certification of goods not only for local consumption but those for export. The Department of Trade Industry is the sole agency “which deals with the accreditation of halal-certification bodies, inspection bodies, and testing and calibration laboratories.” There are bodies already established and accredited for halal certification like the Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines, Philippine Ulama Congress Organization Inc., etc.

With all these state-initiated safeguards in place, are Muslims safely protected from committing a sin thru the consumption of pork and its derivatives? Hardly.

There are serious concerns about irregularities and corruption interjecting in the process of vetting and accrediting halal-certifying bodies. The issue was highlighted recently in a front-page story of a major daily. We will tackle these concerns in the next episode of this narrative. (To be continued)

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