Let the diners decide

SOME time ago Indian banana leaf restaurants were warned by religious authorities to take down pictures of Hindu deities placed on an altar behind the cashier. Despite following the directive some of these restaurants do not have the Malaysian Islamic Development Department's (Jakim) precious halal certification.

Now Chinese restaurants that advertise that they do not serve pork or include pork as an ingredient are being bullied by the Domestic Trade, Consumerism and Co-operatives Ministry that they will be penalised for "trying to confuse Muslims" according to enforcement director Mohd Roslan Mahayudin.

He cites Sections 28 and 29 of the Trade Description Act 2011 for attempting to confuse Muslims through Quranic verses and objects.

How does declaring one has no pork breach the Trade Description Act? In fact by being honest about what they have or do not have in their dishes, these restaurants are abiding by the Act. "No pork" does not mean "I am halal certified".

There are many non-Muslims, including many of my Hindu friends and relatives, who do not eat pork and look out for such "no pork" restaurants when they go out to dine.

In fact these restaurants, by their declaration actually may end up losing customers such as yours truly who feels "siew yoke" should be classified as a food group.

If I was one of these operators, the likes of Mohd Roslan and the ministry would be getting notices from my lawyers for intimidation and perhaps even a visit from the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) – with whom as previous columns have indicated I have a choppy relationship – for abuse of power.

Now one does not dismiss the fact that such advertising – though not false – could be a clever way of attracting the patronage of other communities to consume the delicacies served at these outlets "tanpa was was".

But should not the onus be on these patrons to ask the operators the requisite questions before dining?

Another mind-boggling justification from Mohd Roslan for training his sights on these restaurants (as quoted in a news article) is this: "The chef must be clean from all dirt. A restaurant is not necessarily halal just because it doesn't serve pork."

I would like to take Mohd Roslan for lunch to some of these halal-certified restaurants to give him the opportunity to broaden and perhaps change his view.

And how often does Jakim reach out to outlets run by non-Muslims on the benefits of having halal certification? Perhaps the rigid and sometimes arbitrary rules discourage one from even thinking about making their outlets more Muslim-friendly?

A popular kopitiam franchise in the south was undergoing a cleansing ritual (samak) as part of its halal certificate application process. Part of the requirement is that it replaces all cutlery and utensils.

The outlet complied at great cost but instead of allowing the old cutlery to be donated to temples and charitable homes, the operators were forced to destroy them. At the end, the state religious officers supervised the destruction of 6,000 glasses, cups, plates, saucers, bowls and dishes at a landfill. I doubt any religion will condone not just wastage but denying the less fortunate from benefiting from giveaways.

With Malaysia being promoted as a halal hub and even countries in the West realising the economic benefits of the kosher business, Jakim should be at the forefront of educating the masses about why halal is best and expanding the halal appeal to non-Muslim establishments.

The operators of the kopitiam mentioned earlier even admit that the quality of their food has improved following adherence to halal guidelines.

Jakim along with civil servants like Mohd Roslan continue to be a reminder that the main obstacles to economic progress and even the prime minister's One Malaysia vision are within his own administration.

Terence is sincere in his offer to the enforcement director and hopes he will take it up. Who knows, the latter may cause the former to change his view instead! Feedback: letters@thesundaily.com