IT WOULD be so easy to mock Malaysia’s Islamic authorities for withholding a halal certification over the usage of the word dog in a food item, ostensibly due to possible confusion among Muslim consumers.
And that is what most Malaysians have done over social media in response to the Malaysian Islamic Development Department’s (Jakim) recommendation to pretzel franchise Auntie Anne’s to rename its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage” to get a halal certification.
Had extra time on my hands and I don't know what the big deal is about pretzel dogs being a hurdle to getting a halal certification. Soooo 🙃 pic.twitter.com/g2dxKhcYau
— Brandon Ho Wyen Lyon (@itsbrandonho) October 19, 2016
Pretzel Dogs wasn't bequeathed on humanity to be the focal point of a redundant and asinine national debate, Malaysia
— Hider (@HXXIV) October 19, 2016
OK let's get real where are all these easily confused Muslims hiding, I haven't met one who would think a pretzel dog involves actual dogs
— Kapten Kahan (@zarakahan) October 19, 2016
It goes for other fast food franchises such as A&W with their iconic A&W Root Beer (which was renamed in 2009) or Coney Dog (which has also been renamed), and for that matter, food items such as beef bacon or turkey ham.
Imagine the confusion among Muslims, one would say in mock anger.
As did a few religious and consumer activists who cited confusion and the need to be aware of sensitivities among Muslims when it comes to naming food items. Again, these people are reinforcing the view that Muslim are stupid and easily confused, or in other words – sheep.
The popular perception of silliness and stupidity on the part of Malaysian religious authorities masks something else – that these men who licence what is permissible and what isn’t for the community, have far wider influence and powers than we think possible.
Jakim’s halal certification does two things.
One, it allows businesses to expand and sell to the Muslims, who number more than half of Malaysia’s 30 million population. Essentially, Jakim becomes the gatekeeper to the Muslim community and those who want to trade there need their nod, and have to comply with their rules.
Two, Muslims who patronise businesses without halal certification will be seen as lesser and perhaps not even Muslim among the community. You either conform or you are cast out as an infidel.
In short, Jakim has become the arbiters of morals, piety and business in Malaysia. And if you don’t play by their rules, you are excluded from doing business with Muslims because the vast majority of Muslims are brought up to respect, obey and trust whatever Jakim says.
And, other ventures will come up to cater to the Muslims, selling essentially the same items as Auntie Anne’s or A&W such as the rip-off Coca Cola called Mecca Cola a while ago.
It might not be the same but it is akin to beef bacon or turkey ham.
Which ironically, cannot be called such anymore.
There is nothing silly or stupid in what Jakim does, even if it attracts mockery and contempt about broad-minded Muslims who know better than to believe anything named dog or beer isn’t halal.
The halal certificate isn’t for the broad-minded, but it is for those who don’t know any better except to trust the certificate.
So, in letting businesses to trade by its rules and regulations, Jakim is doing what it does best – developing Islam as the only source of laws to live by in Malaysia, and make it an Islamic state as Dr Mahathir Mohamad once said in 2001.
It is sinister, to say the least, because the halal certification has gone beyond the standard of hygienic production to being a tool of dominance and oppression. But it works because it boils down to dollars and cents for Auntie Anne’s 45 outlets and other fast-food franchises going for the bigger Muslim community market.
The only losers are Malaysians – because Jakim has become the gatekeepers of freedom of expression and public morality in what we consume and do in our daily lives – be it Muslims or those of other faiths.
But, we can fight back in a simple way.
Keep asking for hot dogs, root beers and disregard the lack of halal certification. Their powers evaporate when people and businesses ignore them.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent