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Hardline Buddhists Drive Sri Lanka to Drop Muslim Halal Labeling

Islamic clerics facing massive protests from militant Buddhists in Sri Lanka have put an end to the island's widespread halal labeling system for food.

New Sinhalese Buddahist group Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Strength Force) staged large rallies throughout February 2013 calling for the abolition of the Muslim halal system of certifying that foods and other goods follow Islamic dietary guidelines.

Food manufacturers in Sri Lanka, especially those who export to Middle Eastern countries, have long made all their products using halal methods to avoid the costs of two separate production lines. The products were labeled with the halal certificate, issued by Islamic body All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU).

But protesters argued that it was unfair that Muslims, less than 10 percent of the Sri Lankan population, should force the majority Buddhist population to eat food prepared according to Islamic law.

Halal Logo. Image courtesy Groundviews

Halal Logo. Image courtesy Groundviews

In an effort to quash rising religious tensions, All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama announced on March 11, 2013 that “in the interests of peace” it would stop issuing its certificate locally.

Twitter user “MajlisW1″ (@majlisW1) published ACJU President Al Shaikh Rizvi Mufti's statement:

@majlisW1: Those days Halal logo was a Must, now due to tense situation, the logo will not be compulsory but the companies can print it or leave it – Rizvi Mufti

Officials from the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce said in a press briefing that after consultations with Buddhist and Islamic clergy, the decision was made that all Sri Lankan producers would drop the halal logo immediately.

News blog dbsjeyaraj.com reported that according to the Bodu Bala Sana, authorities have since promised to set up special police units to inspect shops still selling halal products.

Religious violence in Sri Lanka is on the rise. The conflict with the Tamil Tigers may have ended but more and more hardliner Buddhist attacks on Muslims and Christians are being reported.

Shenali Waduge made the argument on community news site Lanka Web why non-Muslims should not have to accept halal products:

Most eating houses, restaurants never fail to display “halal certified, no pork” boards. Whilst the cow is a sacred animal for both Buddhist and Hindus, how can it be acceptable to eat beef but not pork? Why is it that only the religious preferences of just one ethnic community decides for the rest of the population when [the Buddhist] population is over 70%?

[…]

In any case there should not be any fee charged for Halal certification and no non–Muslim should be charged one cent or coerced to pay from his hard earned money to produce a benefit that accrues only to Muslims.

But citizen journalism website Ground Views noted that the protests against halal food have more to do with rise in anti-Muslim sentiment by Sinhala Buddhist nationalists than fairness:

In recent months there has been an increased outpouring of virulent anti-Muslim sentiment by persons claiming to speak for all Sinhala Buddhists. Organized groups led by Buddhist monks have held public meetings, distributed pamphlets, and made press statements. Articles in mainstream Sinhala and English newspapers have propagated ethnic and religious hatred. […] The attacks on Muslims have been directed at everything: the certification of food products as halal; the practice of hijab, abhaya and nikab among Muslim women; the beard worn by Muslim men; the azaan or call for prayer from the mosques; the Muslims’ practice of closing businesses for Friday prayers; the prevalence of certain sectarian differences among Muslims;and the ongoing debate regarding methods of slaughter for the consumption of meat.

Citizen journalist Riza Yehiya wrote extreme Buddhists are hijacking the Buddhist community, souring Buddhist-Muslim relations:

This threat to the Muslim community is a challenge to this nation. This is not from the mainstream Buddhist community that has a time tested relationship with Muslims. It is from purpose made Buddhist extremist groups working as mercenaries to prop up failing political elites, consciously or unconsciously serving foreign interests than the hallowed purpose of protecting Buddhism.

Blogger R.M.B. Senanayake accused Sinhalese nationalists, including some Buddhist monks, of carrying out a hate campaign against Muslims publicly and on social media, chronicling recent incidents on his website.

Image courtesy Say No To Halal Facebook Page

Image courtesy Say No To Halal Facebook Page

Political blogger Indi Samarajiva wrote on his website Indi.ca that opposition party United National Party has contributed to the halal controversy, also calling for an end to the halal logo “in line with racist Sinhalese interests.”

There is no Muslim conspiracy to take over Sri Lanka with halal food, citizen journalist Hejaaz Hizbullah noted. Businesses have made their decisions when it comes to halal:

It’s certainly not the Muslim consumer but the businesses that crave for halaal recognition.

He continued:

What does worry many Muslims is how this ‘non-issue’ is being banged about by a fringe few and made into a national problem. What we see is not an ‘issue’ but an agenda and a campaign of hate with ‘halaal certification’ merely an excuse. They are waiting to pick a fight and so they pick on anything.

Blogger Patta Pal Baru opines that the campaign against ‘halal’ was unnecessary.

Kasun Adikari urged Buddhists to practice tolerance with fellow Muslims:

As Buddhists, we must know how to regard other religions and their practices as we belong to the religious group that accepts and appreciates the reasonable teachings of every religion. Buddhists can also tolerate the practices of other religious, cultural traditions and customs, although they may not necessarily wish to emulate them.

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