Discovering What Halal Really Means

I recently came across an article about an ongoing problem in a town called Colne in the UK.  According to the article, the KFC there has switched to serving halal foods as part of a trial.  A KFC representative said this was done because there have been quite a few requests in the UK for halal restaurants.

So… what does that mean?  The article explained that halal meat is meat that has been prayed over and blessed by a Muslim cleric at the point of slaughter.  Also, for a restaurant to have a halal rating, all food products served in the establishment must be halal, and the establishment can also no longer serve pork products, which were on KFC’s menu previous to this trial.

This has angered a lot of non-Muslim local residents who don’t appreciate having food blessed by another religion forced on them.

The first time I ever ate something that was ‘halal’ was at a Hardee’s on a US military installation in Kuwait.  When I saw the phrase ‘halal certified’ on the outside of the restaurant I thought it was amusing, but didn’t give it a lot of thought.  I assumed that it just had something to do with how the food was prepared but I had no idea that it was being blessed by a Muslim cleric.  Thinking about it now, I suppose that was set up to cater to the Muslim foreign workers that were employed on the camp.

I’ve been living in Singapore for almost two years now and I’ve never given much thought to halal food at all.  I always figured that hey… halal, kosher, whatever.  It’s just prepared a special way and not mixed with what those people find ‘unclean’ right?

Now that I understand the true significance behind the meaning of food being halal… I suppose I still don’t really care all that much.  It does bother me a bit that the food is being blessed by another religion, because it reminds me so much of the rite of Communion, which is considered holy and something only Christians should take part in.  On the other hand, if I’m right and they’re wrong then the blessing isn’t going to amount to anything in the long run, is it?  Besides, halal or not it’s still just a piece of chicken.  A fried chicken leg isn’t going to jump off my plate and try to convert me.

I feel bad for the people in Colne, though, because in switching over the restaurant to halal to suit the needs of the Muslim minority, they’ve effectively alienated the Christian (minority?) who may not want to bend their religious principles to eat food blessed by another religion.  Depending on the size of the town, those people may have just lost their only KFC.  I also feel bad for them because people are labeling them as bigots just for standing up for their religious beliefs.  People from one religion not wanting to eat food blessed or ritually killed by another religion is nothing new.  According to AsianCook.co.uk, sikhs will not eat kosher or halal foods either.

What’s most interesting about the situation to me, though, is KFC’s religious insensitivity in the matter.  When confronted about the issue, they replied that the food they’re serving is “still made from the same great ingredients”, effectively dodging the primary issue.

[Note: Keep in mind that I don’t personally know the people in Colne that are protesting this.  All I know is what’s in the article I read. They may certainly be bigots that are using this as a platform for grandstanding.  Regardless, I believe in letting people believe in whatever they want, without putting undue restrictions on their religious rights, insomuch that it doesn’t cause harm to others.]

24 comments

  1. Brad F. · March 24, 2010

    Good point. Capitalism will prevail. However, I fully support these people expressing their opinion if that's what they want to do.

    I hadn't heard abou the Faroe Island dolphin killings. I looked it up and that's some pretty twisted stuff. Everyone was going nuts over the dolphin hunting in Japan, splashing it all over television, so why haven't we heard about this? Politics…

  2. rowena · March 24, 2010

    You said it best with “halal or not it's still just a piece of chicken”. I mean, WT*? People are starving in the world – if you don't like it, then don't eat it! If KFC (or whatever food corp for that matter) finds that sales are going down, they'll right that problem asap if they want to stay in business. For all I care, blessing food is just a matter of acknowledging a person's religious belief. If a diner isn't there to see the whole blessing process, WHY CARE?

    On another note, have you received any forwarded notices of the whale/dolphin killings in Faroe Islands? It's a gruesome piece of news that I've only heard about recently, but the controversy surrounding it seems all out of whack.

  3. Jen · March 24, 2010

    Oh sorry, I missed out an important point…. The company staff that is in charge of documentations must be a Muslim. I believe this staff also serves as an eye for the bureau to ensure compliances during daily manufacturing processes (since the bureau officers can't be in the factory every day).

  4. Jen · March 24, 2010

    I don't know about the Halal certification process and procedures in Middle East. I reckon, since the company's products are also marketed in Middle East, it shouldn't be wrong.

    Being non-Muslim, I don't question if the official Islamic bureau in Singapore, Malaysia and USA that their requirements for manufacturers to produce Halal products is right or wrong. The Islamic bureau officers visit such factory on regular basis to check that there are no non-compliances throughout the processes and documentations as required. On top of that, every single proudct has to apply through the bureau for Halal certification with the process flow chart, ingredient specification and halal certification of each ingredient used. Any changes in the formula required new application.

  5. Jen · March 24, 2010

    The world will be more peaceful if everyone sees no color, religion or culture, if everyone thinks, feels and reacts the same way. It is natural for one to feel discomfort when exposed to unfamiliarity and/or unknown.

    One may not and need not understand everything. Just learn to respect and adapt…

    About Halal certified foods – although I'm not a Muslim but I had been working in food industry for over 20 years, including production of Halal certified products in Singapore, Malaysia and USA. There is no prayer or whatsoever rituals performed. Sha's explanation tells all (the way the chicken being slaughtered). Ingredients that don't contain any haram contents may be certified as Halal by the official Islamic bureau.

  6. Brad F. · March 14, 2010

    I think the US made a big mistake in never declaring English as the official language, back before everyone became too worried about 'sensitivity'. Now, if the most widely spoken language in the country, and the language that's always been the primary language of the country is made the national language, every immigrant in the country would be up in arms, and liberals would cry that it was unfair.

    Honestly, immigrant children should be forced to learn English, whether they want to or not. If people want to live in the US, they should assimilate into the culture, not expect the culture to become what they came from.

  7. RONW808 · March 14, 2010

    For the record, the US is the most ridiculous nation as far as discouraging assimilation of immigrants who hopped off the boat. When an immigrant's kids enroll in public schools they're assigned to a second-language program, as in, English gets relegated to being the second language. The teacher gives class room instructions and assignments in the foreigner's language, becuz we wouldn't want them youngins to end up uneducated and commit crimes and end up being a bigger expense in the future having to incarcerate them in the prison system. At least that's the entitlement policy for the child's early years. I never quite understood what's so wrong or inhumane with immigrant's kids being denied the privilege of public education if the pupils don't speak the host country's language (public school starts at 5-years of age, here). But that's the way it is. Even our voting ballots are printed in numerous foreign languages.

  8. YUN ZHEN! · March 14, 2010

    I did already acknowledge that you did say that this is an overgeneralisation. However, this is pretty extreme. And in the areas of religion and race, you might want to be more careful about what you say.

    I however can't stop you from saying what you want to say. After all, this is your blog. You have every right to say what you want.

    I'm just trying to point out areas you're missing out on. I'm just trying to say you should be sensitive about the opposite party's feelings and situation too.

    In this case your direct opposite party was Sha herself and knowing she is a Muslim, I don't think the things you said were very appropriate.

    But then why should you be sensitive? I don't know. Maybe it's an Asian thing to be considerate towards the other party's feelings. But I think in a world where people interact with each other, it is a component of communication.

    But do as you see fit. Again, my objective is not to try to make you look like you're saying what you're not, I'm just trying to point out other sides of the issue which you missed and might not want to accept. Are you sure there is no fault? Should I be the one opening up my mind? Am I not thinking?

    If you think you should ban me from commenting on this blog, I can't stop you. If you think banning me will solve this issue, then have it your way.

  9. Brad F. · March 14, 2010

    I just did a test comment and had another person do a test comment. It may have been when I was switching the blog over, or it might have been a temporary bug in Disqus. They seem to be having a shaky week. Should all be working now though.

  10. Brad F. · March 14, 2010

    Hey, thanks for the information about your experience traveling with your pets. I'll be sure to add blankets to the carriers so they have something to hide in. One of my cats is a big sissy already.

  11. sha · March 14, 2010

    Hi brad. This will be very off topic. I can't seem to be able to comment at the cat's donation appeal post. So Im posting it here! Hope you don't mind and may want to look into it. I had a wonderful experience with AirFrance! I stayed in beijing for 7 months and just had to bring my rabbits and guinea pigs along with me. Small animals are allowed onto the cabin. I brought my rabbits along with me but unfortunetly had to keep my cavies on the cargo area as by nature they are very noisy! I did a lot of research and found that cargo area has the same temperature and pressure as passanger cabin but sometimes they change the temperature and pressure. So what I did was to continually and annoyingly inform the airline that my cavies are in the cargo area. I don't want my babies dead when they reach beijing! The thing I was amazed is, the airline not only took the extra effort in making sure the pressure was alright, they went the extra mile and got an air steward to go into the cargo area, pick up my cavies and deliver it to me! I was really impressed! Also you may want to put blankets in as they will be very afraid. My cavies was hiding in the blanket through-out the 6 hr journey and barely ate anything despite being gluttons!

  12. Brad F. · March 14, 2010

    I think you need to learn how to read. At the end of that comment I said it's generalized, which means it doesn't apply to all.

    Here's an idea, if you don't like what you're reading, then don't read it. Stop being so damn sensitive. You don't see me crying every time someone says that Christians launched the Crusades or did something horrible in the past. I just accept it because it's true.

    There are a vast many Muslims that solve their problems through terrorism, and try to settle perceived grievances against the West through terrorism, or feel that they're participating in some sanctioned, ordained Holy War against the West… through terrorism.

    That's reality. Period. If you can't take it, then don't read about it or think about it.

    Again, as I said in the article itself, and again in the comment you're replying to, it's generalized, and obviously doesn't apply to all Muslims any more than my saying “all Americans want to start wars” applies to all Americans.

    Instead of trying to find fault where there is none, you need to open up your mind and think a bit before you comment. If you continue to try to make me look like I'm saying what I'm not, I'll ban you from commenting on this blog.

  13. Brad F. · March 14, 2010

    Why should I be more sensitive? I don't have a fit when someone says that Catholic Christians were hypocritical and launched wars in the name of religion, plundering, slaughtering, and probably raping along the way. Why? Because it was true.

    There are Muslim attacks against Christians almost every single day. There is religious violence almost every single day. Most of it is one way, and when's the last time you heard about a Christian suicide bomber in the Middle East?

    There was no bombing in Colne. I said at the end of that comment that it's an over generalized statement. I know from personal experience that not all Muslims are going to stab me in the face to prove a point.

    However, people in Western nations live in constant fear that Muslims will bomb key infrastructure in outbursts of religious violence against “the West”. That's reality. Like I said, it happens every day, and while not all Muslims are like that, it puts a bad taste in Westerners mouths and gives all Muslims a bad name.

    So, if it doesn't apply to you, don't take it personally. Because, I don't think that every Muslim is like that, like I've said. There are a great many that turn to violence though.

    And, in the case of Switzerland, al Qaeda, a Muslim terrorist organization, has a hit out on a Swiss cartoonist for drawing a cartoon that depicts Mohammad (as in the prophet) in a negative light. It's something like 150k USD. People are continually trying to kill him.

  14. Brad F. · March 14, 2010

    Thanks for reading!

    That's an interesting point. I read that info about Sikhs on more than
    one site. It could be that they bend their religious convictions a bit
    to be able to continue living there. Or perhaps they have special
    stores for their food?

  15. sha · March 14, 2010

    HI brad. I agree with Yun Zhen on this. You should be careful with what you say. Now im not threatening you here. I am just informing you to be more sensative. So are you saying that in the case of KFC in Colne they bomb the town just to make KFC halal there? How come it wasn't reported? Im sorry to say but you are quite ignorant. You are saying that everytime they want something to go their way and they are refused, they will use violence. Then what about the case in Switzerland? The swiss government ban Minarets to be build in mosques in Switzerland. Of course the muslims there was angry. But did they use violence? NO! If what you said was true, that they use violence all the time, how come this time round they did not use violence? How come they did not bomb the swiss parliament? How come they did not use suicide bombers and they just protested peacefully and signed petition? So you see, this is PROVE that muslims in the west can be peaceful when things don't go their way. You know brad, we should meet up. You should learn more about islam. I am not trying to convert you in any manner but I find it sad that many foreigners including you( sad to say ) are very ignorant of Islam. You have lived in Singapore for how long? 2-3 years? Do you really know about all the religion here? If you want to reply, at least be clear and not ignorant. I hope you are not offended with my frankness. Peace!

  16. Jacky · March 14, 2010

    I've been reading your blog for a little while, just never commented. I'm a Malaysian living in the United States, fwiw. If what you said is correct that Sikhs won't eat halal and kosher food… that effectively prohibits Sikhs in Malaysia from eating out in many restaurants or even buying meat from supermarkets! Since many/all supermarkets and mainstream restaurants [chains] will just be halal in Malaysia to serve all Malaysians, maybe this means Sikhs can't eat there? Or maybe Malaysian Sikhs are not picky and just avoid beef, and eat everything else? Something I never thought about before because I haven't heard of this to be an issue.

  17. YUN ZHEN! · March 14, 2010

    I won't comment on you views on this issue this time. But I think you should be careful with what you say.

    Just because a lot of the terrorists now are Muslims, does not mean Muslims who want to practise their religion as it is have the same mindset and intention as terrorists. I don't think Muslims who want to eat halal food are the same as Muslims who want to spread Islam to the whole world and do it through terrorism.

    This is a pretty sensitive issue. So please do be careful with how you label Muslims.

    Would you be happy if somebody said that because Americans went to “stabilize and reconstruct” Afghanistan, all Americans think that the world should be like America?

    Just because some Muslims kill people doesn't mean all Muslims do. Just because some Americans agree with “liberating” Afghanistan through war does not mean all Americans do.

    Even though you did say that not all Muslims are this way, this is pretty extreme stereotyping, even if most Muslims in Western countries are typically terrorists (???)

  18. AZNPride · March 13, 2010

    Well, all the stuff you mentioned, I've heard them all (in worse terms!) from my European ex-gf, so I'm not surprised by them. Basically, the situation is such that in Europe, the governments want immigrants since they do jobs that no locals want to take up, they increase the market size and its also a chance for them to show off how liberal and tolerant their administration is. The business community wants immigrants since they're a source of cheap labor, and when they don't get enough of it, they threaten the government with outsourcing. On the other hand, the middle to lower classes absolutely abhor them since they're in direct competition with these people, and given the larger population numbers of the middle to lower classes, the overall public reaction to immigration from mideast countries (they're some of the most avid migrants to Europe) is indeed sour. Its in a way the governments' fault, since they offer very little follow-up help to the immigrants the moment they're in (some even resort to closing one eye on illegals and human smuggling like the Italians and Greeks!) while at the same time, they couldn't care less what the public thinks. Most immigrants these days are ECONOMIC migrants, not guys who love a country and wanna stay there forever (those are almost always small in number), and being economic migrants, all they want are jobs, jobs and jobs, and they'd be prefectly happy living in enclaves and living life as if they were back in the old country. All this produces a backlash from the locals, and depending on the society's culture, some retaliate with greater effect than others (The Germans terrorize migrants with a complicit police, and thus the smaller numbers of migrants there, whilst the Brits are tamer, attacks are isolated and disorganized, and eversince the migrants started banding together, little has been effected to stem the immigration flow). On top of that, human nature is such that given an inch, people would take a yard whilst goodness goes unrewarded. As soon as they discover a soft liberal government, immigrants would make demands on society that locals resent but can't stop, and for the immigrant who really wants to integrate and adores his adopted country's culture, the locals would be unaccepting and make life as hard as possible for him. In Europe, its pretty obvious now, and this problem will only get worse before it gets better. Don't forget that immigrants can vote eventually, they have large families, and they will also exert an influence politically over time. In the case of Europe, I kinda feel sorry for the locals, but then, they can also get really arrogant, racist and stupid sometimes, so I grin whenever immigrant communities make even more strides in local politics. In Singapore, I'm open to ANYONE who can live in a civilized amicable manner with locals, and given the resentment against rude and boorish foreign here, its something for the government to worry about come election time. If they make it unbearable, I'll just leave and they can keep their beloved FT. In a way, the same is happening in Europe now. A lot of Europeans have gotten so fedup they have gone to Australia, Canada and the US, and if Singapore doesn't watch out, you see the 70s and 80s braindrain all over again. Too bad! 🙂

  19. Brad F. · March 13, 2010

    I think a big problem with the Muslim immigration is that most people don't want it and the people that don't want it definitely don't want to change their eating habits, or their way of life, to accommodate foreigners they didn't ask for.

    As a Singaporean (I think?), you should know better than most how it feels to have an influx of unwanted foreigners in your country. It won't take much imagination to apply that same resentment to this situation. Now assume Singapore had thousands of years of culture, history, and tradition, and imagine those same foreigners came in demanding immediate change to suit their needs, when you didn't even want them here to begin with. Can you get a better idea of why some people are ready to revolt over the issue? It's a slow take-over of these ancient cultures that will end up tarnished and permanently marred if it's allowed to happen. Muslims are doing internally what conquering armies tried to do for ages.

    That's not to say that I don't think change is a good thing. I'm merely pointing out what these people may be feeling, from their perspective.

  20. Brad F. · March 13, 2010

    Thanks for further clarifying what halal means.

    I appreciate your vote of confidence in regards to my being adventurous. I do my share of whining and complaining too, but mostly it's about the weather. ^_^

    I think a lot of Americans would fully agree with what you just said, if your role were reversed. The problem with immigrant groups in the US demanding change, rather than adapting to the current culture, is a hot issue there. I totally agree that immigrants should adapt, or at the least not pressure the public into making sweeping changes to accommodate their wishes.

    I'm not saying they shouldn't have the right to free speech, if the country they immigrate to allows it, but they shouldn't cause significant change in the way the local population lives their lives. At all.

    Like Indiana said, he shouldn't have to stop getting ham with his breakfast because a minority doesn't like it. I cry a little on the inside every time I eat pork substitutes in Singapore. It's just not the same, and pork eaters shouldn't have to give up part of their cuisine and live uncomfortably to make minority immigrants comfortable.

    Sha, I think the difference between how Muslims complain and how Westerners complain is pretty simple. Muslims complain from the safe end of a weapon, or just before blowing themselves up, along with a bus full of kids or an office full of people who happen to work for the system they don't like. Or they use threats of that violence as leverage. Or they kidnap people and threaten to behead them. You see where I'm going with this. Westerners just blog about it, or complain to their friends about it. More often than not they just use the system, and if their opinion isn't the popular opinion and they fail, then they keep campaigning and move on.

    I know that's pretty generalized, and not all Muslims are that way, but when it comes to Muslims in Western countries it typically is.

  21. Brad F. · March 13, 2010

    Thanks for your input. You make a lot of good points.

  22. AZNPride · March 13, 2010

    Personally, I don't care so long as the quality of the food is not affected. On the pro-halal side, I always feel that when there's proper certification, the food SEEMS cleaner and more palatable than anything that's not certified (I know I know, its subjective!). On the flip side, I miss some dishes in fastfood joints here where chicken has substituted pork since their kitchens are halal, and I do think the taste of the food has definitely changed, pork simply doesn't taste like chicken. Its basically a business decision, if the establishment wants more business from customers who are muslim, then its their right to present a menu that caters to that. If it really affects a person that much, he can simply refuse to patronize such an establishment.
    As for the political aspects of halal joints in Europe, it is becoming more poignant since many western Europeans are increasing resentful of changes in their lives due to the huge influx of immigrants from perceived “Islamic” countries. Colne is a place with plenty of Muslim folks, thus the KFC starting a halal kitchen there. In many parts of the world, you will find establishments catering to the majority population in that region, thus you have Kosher dogs in NYC, Russian food in Brighton Beach, authentic HK-styled Chinese food in Toronto etc. Unfortunately, in the UK, the BNP has hijacked very instance of accomodation towards “Muslim” immigrants as a rallying cry for prejudice and hatred against the immigrant community, and they ARE getting more votes regardless of whether labour or conservative like it or not! As an Asian, all I can say to western society (and yes! I'm go on the lecture pulpit here!) is LEARN how to live and let live, stop looking at skin color and calling for a crusade whenever things change a little, but come down hard on stuff that ruins society as a whole like racism, terrorism and crime. In a way, the whole “be like us or go home” slogan doesn't hold water anymore since immigrants have a distinct role to play in modern western societies (doing jobs no one wants for one!), diversity can be a crucible of strength, tolerance and even business opportunities, and much as some immigrants WANT to be British, American, French, Japanese, Italian whatever, so long as society doesn't accomodate them, they will NEVER be considered authentic since their skin color, religion, surnames, family langauge, outlook and general life experience is different from the mainstream society. Its not very encouraging when an immigrant WANTS to be a local, but much as he tries, he'll be met with “Go back to your effing country you insert-your-color-here savage!”, whilst the upper echelons of power refuse to acknowledge his hardships. In that way, Singapore (and many parts of Asia) is so relaxing, there's none of that “we'll kill you all, rape your sisters and burn your towns down coz you did the same to us 100 years back!” stuff, people are more interested in making money, and a red envelope from anyone is STILL a red envelope regardless of whom it came from! Western European society is in for huge problems given the government's inability to apply proper standards for new immigrants and society's backlash in voting for anti-immigrant far-right groups in return, while the problem in the US isn't so much with immigrants from “Muslim” countries, but more to deal with illegals, most hispanics, but therein lies the problem since legal Hispanics are pretty powerful, vocal and protective of themselves too, thus the government's kids gloves approach to the whole issue! Well, to make a long story short, just live and let live, stop assuming that your society. culture and skin color is inantely superior (whitey's hangup-Haha!), focus on making money together and all will be well! 😛

  23. Sha · March 13, 2010

    Hi brad. Im a muslim. The notion of halal is not only what you posted. The animal being slaughtered is a halal way killed in the least painful way than normal methods used for slaughtering. Well to Indiana's comment, I agree with you. However, besides Brad and his wife who try their very best to fit into the community, actively trying new food, I have seen many expats in singapore who simply refuse to learn about singapore's culture and instead complain and whine non-stop on how superior their western culture is and refuse to adapt. Im not saying adopt but adapt. I cannot stand them and many singaporeans are with me on this. Im not being racist. I am not a pious muslim and I have friends from all different races. Christian, Buddism, Jews, you name it. This is just my view. I find it unacceptable that when muslims complain about life in the west, people make a big fuss about it. But what about westerners here who complain non-stop about singapore culture? Do you see people making a big fuss about it in the media? No! So get on with it! *Peace*

  24. Indiana · March 13, 2010

    I totally see where they are coming from. I object that McDonalds advertises their Sausage McMuffin (in Singapore) using the same picture they use in the US but when you order it, it comes as Chicken Sausage. I also object that a menu must be changed and that bacon cannot be included just to appease what is a minority market. The catch is people will label me insensitive for saying that its wrong that I cannot order my breakfast with ham and that I am a bigot if I stand up for my tastebuds and religious beliefs, but no-one labels the Muslims the same for forcing their beliefs on me.

    I think the world is heading for a new religious show-down, Western cultures are getting tired (and the average jo is getting sick) of all this pandering to those who believe that they should be able to “force” others to adhere to their beliefs. If you fled your country for the west because it offered you a better life, wtf are you doing expecting the west then to change and become where you came from…it's simple, go back there.

    I am not being racist or bigoted but if you immigrate to a new country then you want to live in that culture and with the norms of belief that come with that. If you feel that the culture and beliefs that you have are superior to those of the country you are immigrating to then simply don't immigrate.

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