When you think of hotdogs, root beer or ginger beer, does your mind drift to actually biting into processed canine meat, or are actually imbibing in alcoholic drinks for the latter two? Certainly not, but Muslims in Malaysia are being protected by JAKIM, the country’s halal division of the Department of Islamic Development, from being confused or misled by some of the names found on food menus.
The latest debacle arose when US pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s did apply for halal certification across the board for all of its 45 outlets in Malaysia, only to have its application rejected by JAKIM. One of the factors for the rejection was due to administration issues, as JAKIM required Auntie Anne’s to reapply for the halal certification for all of its outlets based on zones. Of course, the other issue which raised eyebrows was the fact that the halal certification application was rejected because of the word ‘dog’ found on one of Auntie Anne’s menu items -- the ‘Pretzel Dog’.
Sirajuddin Suhaimee, director of the halal division of the Department of Islamic Development, claimed that the stringent reading of any menu was implemented due to a number of complaints that tourists who hail from other Muslim had lodged in the past, taking the name literally in the process. Suhaimee did not provide the exact number of complaints filed as well as the period of time. However, he said, “Any halal products that make consumers confused, we have to change. 'In Islam, dogs are considered unclean and the name cannot be related to halal certification.”
In the latest u-turn of this drama, however, Jamil Khir Baharom, who is a minister in the Prime Minister's Department, said, “If (an establishment) wants to protect a name, compromises can be made in that sense as well." One does wonder at just where the buck stops -- with a minister now contradicting what the Department of Islamic Development’s guidelines have already laid out.
This particular halal certification ruling would also mean that other canine-related food names such as cheesedog or chilli dog would not make an appearance on any halal-certified menu anytime soon. We are more inclined that Mr. Baharom is wrong on the issue, and that a “proposal” was not what was offered. After all, if this was the case, Malaysia’s A&W would not have yanked off the well loved Coney Dog item from the menu, calling it “Chicken Coney” and “Beef Coney” now. Not only that, A&W’s extremely popular “Root Beer” has been renamed to simply “RB” on their menus in Malaysia -- as evident by the website alone.
Does the halal certification for a particular company also include the name of the URL? A&W Malaysia's URL has been changed from www.rootbeer.com.my to http://www.anwmalaysia.com.my. It certainly does not make any sense to change a URL that has been working just fine, and it is not as though a quick Google search is unable to point one to the right direction.
With what has happened to Auntie Anne's halal certification process as mentioned above, one cannot help but wonder for how long such covert and creeping Islamization of Malaysia has happened. Pro-Islam groups claim that it is not Malaysian Muslims shedding their once moderate image for a more conservative Islamic outlook, but it is more a case of Muslims in Malaysia being better educated and are now more knowledgeable about their own religion.