THE Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) moved to do damage control yesterday, after a television programme sparked calls from some Muslims to boycott products certified by it.
Tuesday’s episode of eTV’s 3rd Degree revolved around the relabelling by a Cape-based company of non-halaal products, including pork, as fit for Muslim consumption.
In terms of Islamic law, the consumption of pork is forbidden and adherents to the faith may only eat other meat and poultry products if certain slaughtering procedures are adhered to.
In South Africa, these processes are meant to be overseen by a handful of Muslim bodies, including the MJC, which then issues the relevant companies with a “halaal” (permissible) certificate.
On Tuesday, eTV’s Debora Patta interviewed two former employees of Orion Cold Storage, who alleged that the company was guilty of deliberately relabelling imported products as “halaal”.
The employees secretly captured cell phone footage to support their claims that pork hearts were sold as sheep and veal, and animal feed relabelled as skim milk fit for human consumption.
When news of the scandal first surfaced in the Muslim community late last year, the MJC immediately withdrew its halaal certification of Orion.
When Patta visited the MJC’s premises to establish how Orion’s alleged misdemeanours had originally slipped past the organisation and what its audit procedures were, she was told that both the president and deputy president were ill and could not speak to her.
She claimed that repeated previous attempts to contact them had proven unsuccessful and that during her visit, the president was on the premises in his office.
Minutes after the programme was aired, calls for a boycott of MJC certified products and restaurants began to do their rounds on social networking sites and mobile phone chat applications like Blackberry Messenger. “I’m absolutely angry,” social media activist Fareed Kaloo told The Witness.
Through the years there have been accusations levelled against halaal certification bodies, that they were more business orientated as opposed to being there to serve the needs of the community.
“So when these types of issues come up we demand an immediate response from them. The MJC handled this incorrectly and their credibility has been tainted.
“I won’t consume any product bearing their name on it. It boils down to a matter of trust and that trust has been broken.”
Attempts by The Witness to reach the MJC for comment proved unsuccessful.
However, MJC president, Ihsaan Hendriks, later released a general statement to the media titled “Restoring the Integrity of Halaal” in which he said the organisation had legitimate reasons for not agreeing to Patta’s request for an interview.
“We fully understand the uncertainty created in our community due to the screening of last night’s 3rd Degree programme.
“Your concerns expressed via the radio and social networks are acknowledged and we hereby wish to inform our community that the 3rd Degree programme was extremely biased as it failed to portray the facts accurately.”
The MJC was in the process of compiling a detailed response comprising statements and video clips which would be released within the next few days, he said.