The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) Commission has been flooded with letters from Christians complaining that most food and beverages in well-known supermarkets are certified halaal, with some saying they don’t want to eat or drink anything “sacrificed to idols”.
Complaints received by the CRL against supermarkets and Muslim halaal-certification authorities show some Christians are furious about the prevalence of halaal-certified food in grocery stores and restaurants, claiming it violates their right to freedom of choice.
Documents City Press obtained show that some Christian consumers have laid complaints with the commission against supermarkets, including Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Checkers, Woolworths and Food Lovers Market, food manufacturers and restaurants, as well as the SA National Halaal Authority (Sanha), National Independent Halaal Trust (NIHT), Islamic Council of SA and the Muslim Judicial Council.
Christian consumers complain they are forced to buy halaal goods and are “manipulated” into funding Islam.
Some complainants charged that buying halaal-certified foods indirectly forces Christians to adhere to sharia law, pay for the persecution of other Christians in Muslim countries, fund the building of mosques and even contribute financially to terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State and Hamas.
The complaints are being investigated by the commission’s lawyers.
But one halaal-certification body has hit back at the “Islamophobic” claims that it funds terror groups and Christian persecution, slamming them as “untrue, a fabrication” and saying they “should be treated with the contempt they deserve”.
Stats SA figures from 2016 show that South Africa is home to 892 685 Muslims, 43.4 million Christians, 5.9 million people who claim to have no religious affiliation or belief, 2.4 million who follow traditional African religion, 561 268 Hindus, 52 598 atheists, 49 470 Jews and 32 944 agnostics.
The halaal industry is estimated to be worth R45bn and it is estimated that up to 90% of all food products in the country are halaal certified.
A complainant from Kouga in the Eastern Cape charged in a letter to the commission that halaal-certification bodies violate the Consumer Protection Act “which protects consumers against discriminatory marketing”.
“Currently 2% to 3% of the South African population is Muslim, while the majority of South Africans associate themselves with the Christian faith, yet consumers are forced to buy Islamic-labelled products ... We view this as an unfair practice based on religious beliefs.”
Another from Riversdale, Western Cape, wrote: “They don’t give us a choice. As a Christian believer I’m forced to buy products from a culture group that makes up only 2.6% of our population. I therefore have to finance a system that I do not support and I also do not know how the money is spent.”
A complainant from Laudium, Pretoria, wrote: “My right to purchase groceries according to my own religious beliefs has been violated. The majority of food items available on the shelves are halaal certified ... I am deeply offended by the fact that I, as a Christian, don’t have a choice.
“I’ve been eating Kellogg’s Corn Flakes since I was a child, but now I’m forced to eat halaal-certified Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, because that is all that’s available at my supermarket.”
Complainants claim they are made to pay for certified food which forces them to “contribute financially to the Islamic community”.
A complainant from Bruma, Johannesburg, wrote that while the right of religious communities to observe their own dietary laws was not in dispute, measures taken for the practical convenience of those adherents must not be at the expense of, or offensive to, those of other religions.
“Islam is overtly and actively anti-Christian. Whereas South Africa enjoys a high degree of tolerance among various religious groups and we value the cordial relations that exist between adherents of various faiths, it is deeply offensive to the conscience of any person to be forced to support a religion that is directly and fundamentally opposed to his own.”
Other petitioners charged that they were forced to eat food “sacrificed to idols”, fund the persecution of Christians and Jews in Muslim countries, subscribe to sharia law and even fund terrorism.
A Durbanville, Cape Town, resident complained that he couldn’t find non-halaal takeaways in a local shopping centre and that besides meat and chicken, “even sweets, frozen vegetables, milk, butter, bread, juice, ice cream, and pasta are halaal certified”.
"No foods are dedicated to any gods"
But NIHT chairperson Hafez Moorad Booley said the halaal-certification process simply “oversees the entire programme of production and ensures that no non-halaal products are used, or that halaal products are contaminated with pork, insects, urine, alcohol, animal waste, blood, certain genetically modified organisms and harmful supplements and colourants”.
“We must stress that absolutely no foods are dedicated to any gods, as has been alleged. That concept is alien to Islam and it is totally forbidden. A great misconception is that halaal means a bunch of priests chanting and changing normal foods to halaal foods. That is untrue. The halaal process is merely to ensure that forbidden ingredients are not used in the production of these products.”
Booley said the cost of halaal certification is minimal and not carried by the consumer. The input costs of halaal and non-halaal foods is the same, he said, otherwise producers would not make halaal products.
Booley said allegations that they funded terrorist organisations was “totally unfounded”.
“It is untrue, a fabrication and should be treated with the contempt it deserves,” he said.
“The NIHT is a registered nonprofit organisation with the SA Revenue Service, department of trade and industry, the SA Meat Industry Company and Consumer Goods Council of SA, and our financials are audited annually by reputable auditing firms.
“Our opposition and total rejection of rogue, so-called Islamic, organisations, such as the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, is well documented both locally and internationally,” said Booley.
Sanha spokesperson Ebi Lockhat said: “Muslims do not believe in the Holy Trinity. Our faith is monotheistic and our belief is in one God, the Almighty who is referred to as Allah. Our food is not dedicated to any triune god or idols.”
CRL chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva confirmed receiving numerous complaints from Christians about halaal products in stores and said she would look into kosher organisations as well.
To avoid eating halaal-certified foods, some Christians said they buy imported goods and avoid supermarkets such as Pick n Pay, Checkers and Shoprite, whose branded products are certified halaal. They are also demanding bolder and larger halaal symbols on food products so they can spot them better and clear warning signs at restaurants and fast food outlets that serve halaal meat.
“South Africans should start asking food manufactures difficult questions, for instance, how much money they are paying for the halaal and kosher emblems on food products,” she said.
“People should know what it means to them to promote other religions as far as their own beliefs are concerned, because they are indirectly promoting something else.
“Are Jewish and Muslim organisations trying to recruit more Christians to become Muslims or Jewish and is it in the best interest of people from different religious groups?”
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said even bottled water was certified halaal or kosher.
“If I purchase kosher- or halaal-certified products, it means that I am subsidising another religion. I am paying indirectly for something that is not my belief.
“We have raised this concern with the Muslim Judicial Council to determine how much money it collects on halaal-certificated foods. We had conversations with the Consumer Council and we need to follow up on these issues,” she said.
National Consumer Commission spokesperson Trevor Hattingh said they were unaware of the complaints and that there was no empirical evidence to prove that consumers were being forced to buy halaal-certified food.
Shoprite and Woolworths referred media inquiries to the Consumer Goods Council of SA, which said it was unaware of the complaints. Food Lovers Market declined to comment.
A Pick n Pay spokesperson said that halaal “certification costs are negligible and there is no charge passed on to our customers. Customers who do not wish to buy food that has been certified for religious purposes can find alternatives in our stores.”
“The majority of our non-Muslim customers are not offended in any way by halaal certification.
“The only difference is that halaal meat receives a blessing. The cost of this blessing is negligible. Most customers have no objection to halaal or kosher certification symbols on the products they buy.”
Kosher-certification head Rabbi Dovi Goldstein said he runs a non-profit organisation and the certification does not increase the price of food.