It’s not haha-laal! Muslim comic faces legal action

2013-10-16 13:55

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A young stand-up comic has evoked the anger of a halaal authority over the use of its logo. Charl Blignaut reports

Strictly Makrooh is the name of emerging comedian Simmi Areff’s debut solo stand-up show. Scheduled for November, he had just begun with online marketing for it when it hit a storm.

On Monday, Areff received a strongly worded letter from the SA National Halaal Authority (Sanha) instructing him to hand over his promotional material so that it can be destroyed.

The problem has to do with Areff’s satirical use of Sanha’s logo on the poster.

Above an image of the comedian having his chin shaved is an adaptation of the halaal stamp of approval.

The poster for Strictly Makrooh

Instead of it declaring that his comedy product is halaal, Areff has changed the logo to read “haha-laal” and underneath it, “Simmi Areff National HAHA-laal Authority”. The Arabic has also been changed to read “haha-laal”.

Sanha’s lawyer, Michael Jackson of Cox Yeats Attorneys, wrote in the letter: “Your utilisation of part of our client’s logo is unlawful.” He writes that Sanha has the right to inderdict the comedian.

Sanha requires a written undertaking that Areff will “immediately cease the use of the trademark” and that all of his poster materials “be delivered to our client, care of ourselves, for destruction”. Sanha also wants to know the name of the layout designer and the printer of the promotional material. They are asking for damages, which will depend on the extent to which he has distributed the material.

Areff said he was “shocked and mildly traumatised” when he received the letter. “I’ve never gotten a legal letter in my life,” he told City Press.

He has decided to fight the action on the grounds of his freedom of expression and in light of the precedent-setting 2005 Constitutional Court ruling against SAB and in favour of Laugh It Off’s satirical Black Label T-shirts reading “Black labour white guilt”.

Sanha stressed to City Press the seriousness of the concept of “halaal” (food prepared as prescribed by Muslim law).

Areff responds by saying that “halaal is an important concept to the Muslim community. However, Sanha nor any other halaal ‘authority’ own the Arabic word ‘halaal’. What I did was a parody of their logo. Not a parody of the concept of halaal. I’m a comedian. I make jokes. This is one of them. They really shouldn’t take me so seriously … If I thought it was offensive I would never have put it on. They never said it was offensive, just that I must stop using their trademark.”

However, when contacted by City Press, Sanha’s public relations officer, EBI Lockhat, made it clear the authority – one of four in the country – felt offended.

Said Lockhat: “It is a case of Islam and the dignity of its adherents being attacked through abuse and derision of the halaal logo and its institution, which the community will find deeply offensive to its values.”

Areff, who is one of the producers of a popular satirical radio show and has appeared on Comedy Central, has been opening for his friend and mentor Riaad Moosa’s national tour of Doctor’s Orders.

In the process, he has grown a significant enough following to launch a solo show.

One of Moosa’s recent one-man shows was called Strictly Halaal. In response to that, Areff has named his debut solo show Strictly Makrooh.

Makrooh is defined as a disliked or offensive act. Though it is not haram (sinful), a person who abstains from this act will be rewarded.

The name of his show is all part of the joke, says Areff.

Asked whether he was worried about losing part of his audience owing to the legal drama, he said: “I don’t want these super super holy people coming to my show ’cos I’m 25 years old. I see things differently than a 45-year-old. I have more of an open mind. I have strong Islamic principles, but I don’t wanna use the word ‘modern’ to describe myself ’cos I live in 2013 and don’t grow a beard … I am so tired of Muslim organisations who feel they can make rulings just because their beards are longer than mine.”

Strictly Makrooh, says Areff, is a mixture of jokes, not all Muslim.

“There’s an Oscar Pistorius joke, a Muslim-on-Masterchef joke, there are social media gags and certain other Muslim jokes.” Like about being Muslim at an airport or fasting at work and the ignorance of his boss.

He has a joke about the halaal authority – written before they took action – which he’ll now be including in the show. “They blocked me on Twitter. It was after they announced that poppy seeds are now halaal. This is not an issue. I always assumed they were halaal. I mean, they’re not carrion or swine. So I sent them a tweet saying, “Just bought some envelopes. I love licking envelopes but now I’m worried they’re not halaal ’cause the stationery shop doesn’t have a halaal certificate.”

When asked about the impact of the Laugh It Off ruling on Sanha’s case, Lockhat responded by saying, “We do not see the relevance of this ruling to the matter on hand.”

The Constitutional Court ruled that the T-shirts had not hurt SAB commercially and that freedom of expression has to be weighed up against commercial interests. Both SAB and Sanha’s cases cite Section 34(3) of the Trade Marks Act of 1993.

Areff’s lawyers will no doubt be taking the same line of defence as Laugh It Off did.

Sanha has given Areff until Saturday to respond. If he doesn’t, their lawyers have been “instructed to make an application to the high court”.

“I believe – and I tell everyone – that I’m a Muslim. I’m the best halaal certificate I can be. My show doesn’t require a halaal stamp. I did it as a gag,” Areff said.

When asked for comment, Moosa, a celebrated stand-up and the star of the film Material said: “Some people take satire literally. In an ideal world, they would see it as a joke. However, it’s not unreasonable for the object of the satire to retaliate. These reactions are a by-product of what we do as comedians and social commentators.”

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