By Ameer Ali –
The Arabic word halal simply means permissible and is the direct opposite of haram meaning prohibited. In between these two extremes there are several shades of permissibility and prohibition, and in none of which, including the two extremities, there is unanimity of opinion among Muslim religious scholars. (I know one instance where a Muslim lady in Australia asked an imam whether food bought from Kentucky Fried was halal or not. The imam told her to mention the name of Allah before eating and that would make it halal. This position is not acceptable to a majority of scholars.) This categorization in cover not only the narrow field of food and drinks but also the vast terrain of personal and societal behaviour and actions, such as economic transactions, social interaction, national governance, and so on. There are a number of contradictory and conflicting fatwas or religious rulings in relation to each of them. However, the bottom line is that they are all meant for Muslims and to Muslims only. Even in Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia non-Muslims are not compelled to consume halal food. For example, the Chinese in these countries are allowed to produce, consume, and trade in pork and pork related products even though such products are declared haram in Islam and even though some extremist Muslim groups would prefer them to be prohibited in the name of shariah laws. Hence, in Sri Lanka or anywhere else if any one forces a Buddhist or a Hindu or a Christian to eat halal food that action itself will tantamount to haram.
Apart from religion it is the economics of halal that is important in the global context. Even in the narrow field of food and drinks the halal-stamped products are a multi-billion dollar business in today’s global market. According to one estimate the total value of global the halal food industry amounted to $1.2 trillion. Let us look at some hard facts about the size of this market. To start with, the financially affluent Middle East, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has a population of roughly 38 million. There are another 30 million or so Muslims living in the West the vast majority of whom are halal food consumers. The emerging economies of Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia account for a further 335 million. In South Asia, Pakistan and Bangladesh have a total of roughly 350 million Muslims. Thus, the total Muslim population of just these countries alone amounts to 753 million. Assuming a conservative t