The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) which has governed local Islamic affairs since 1945, came out fighting yesterday amid calls for it to be scrapped.
The MJC, which came under fire after it was linked to the Orion Cold Storage company that allegedly sold halaal-labelled pork, is battling to restore its shattered credibility among Cape Town’s Muslims – some of whom are now calling for government intervention in setting up a halaal certification body.
Pork is forbidden to Muslims, while certifying something as halaal (permissible) means having stringent regulations in place.
Orion imported 18 consignments of poultry last year which was cleared as halaal. It then allegedly sold pork labelled as halaal meat. Orion, however, has not claimed responsibility for selling pork labelled as halaal.
The MJC has on various occasions been blamed for negligence and for issuing halaal certificates as a means to profiteer. Businesses that want to sell halaal products need to pay a fee and register with the MJC.
At a press briefing yesterday, Sheikh Moosa Titus, senior halaal consultant with the MJC Halaal Trust, said Orion had paid a R16 000 service fee to have the 18 consignments cleared as halaal. It also paid a R1 700 registration fee to the Halaal Trust.
MJC president Moulana Ihsaan Hendricks deferred the blame entirely on Orion, saying it was the “epicentre where this criminal act and fraudulent process took place”.
“We are not here to speak in defence of Orion,” he said.
Hendricks said that 75 percent of the Halaal Trust’s profits were ploughed into MJC projects.
MJC spokeswoman Nabeweya Malick said its Halaal Trust “had never certified pork meat or any product derived from pork”.
“It is a fundamental principle and one adhered to diligently by the Halaal Trust throughout its history of service to the community,” she said.
Malick said Orion was registered as an importer of halaal poultry and meat “on a consignment basis”.
“The labels printed during the fraudulent, criminal process, were not Halaal Trust-authorised or MJC labels,” she said.
A local TV station last week fuelled the fire when it alleged the MJC did not want to answer its questions on whether it cleared pork as halaal.
Malick dismissed calls within the local Muslim community for the MJC to be scrapped.
Farid Esack, head of religion studies at the University of Johannesburg, said that the MJC’s “credibility in the Muslim community has been dented”. Esack is a Muslim scholar from Cape Town, who has written extensively on the Muslim community.
“On the surface, it seems that pork products have been branded as halaal with MJC labels. The MJC’s response can at best be described as a public relations disaster,” he said.
Esack said that halaal certification “doesn’t allow things to fall through the cracks”.
“You have Muslims who will flagrantly disobey every single tenet of Islamic law, but the line of pork consumption is not crossed for those Muslims. Pork is involved in this case and that has caused severe damage for the MJC,” he said.
Esack said the MJC would bounce back, though, because the dissidents were “inconsequential”.
“The MJC has a deeply-rooted history in the Muslim community. Every competing organisation has challenged its authority and it has emerged from all those challenges strengthened.
“This is like the ANC. No matter how many blunders, it occupies just too large a space in the imagination of the Muslim community.”
Meanwhile, outside MJC’s offices, an anti-MJC picket was held. Protesters were from the People against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) and the National Consumer Forum (NCF).
Imraahn Mukaddam, chairman of the Western Cape branch of the NCF, called the protest the “occupation of Cashel Avenue”, where the MJC’s offices are based in Crawford. The NCF aims to protect consumer rights.
Some of the protesters had a short scuffle with MJC security guards, although no actual violence took place.
The MJC had contacted the police, who made no arrests but monitored the scene. Mukaddam said the scuffle occurred when “one of our people asked for water and they were threatened at the gate”.
“We are asking for one halaal authority under the government. We are endorsing a campaign against all products certified halaal by the MJC. We will be writing to all companies to withdraw products with MJC labels,” Mukaddam said.
“We are asking for a commission of inquiry into halaal certification and we are asking for government intervention.”
Pagad representative Ihgsaan Bester said that the MJC “lacks transparency”.
“We call for the removal of the MJC,” Bester said.
Meanwhile SMSes creating more doubt about the MJC’s legitimacy have also been circulating. One read that the MJC has “now announced and officially withdrawn certification from all Nando’s outlets countrywide as it was undoubtedly proven that Orion is the main supplier of chicken to all stores”.
“It is your duty as a Muslim not to support these stores until the matter is resolved,” the SMS says.
The MJC said yesterday that this was a hoax and that Nando’s remained halaal.