It used to be that ‘halal’ simply meant your food was safe to eat or an activity was permissible to undertake. But in today’s increasingly ethical and environmentally conscious world, the term has taken on a much deeper meaning. By Amal Awad.
When Inglot, a Polish cosmetics company, recently launched ‘halal’ nail polish, its validity was widely questioned and a global online debate erupted (to put it somewhat lightly). On one side of the fence sat the very excited women who now had a permission slip to wear nail polish at any time of year, without fear of invalidating their wudhu.
On the other were the more sceptical Muslims who questioned the claim that nail polish could be halal. Some went so far as to argue that nail polish, at any time, is not permissible (but that’s another subject entirely).
For the most part, the focus was on the porousness of the nail polish – it was deemed ‘breathable’ and ‘wudhu-friendly’. In some way, this innocuous beauty staple was changing the conversation around Muslim women’s relationship to beauty products.
‘Halal’ essentially meant that water could penetrate the polish to reach the fingernails below. But a quick search online revealed not only that several other allegedly ‘halal’ nail polishes existed, but also that other considerations were at play.
Other brands were offering water-based products that were also pitched as vegan-friendly. The ‘halal’ tag was applied based on the absence of standard chemicals and their ‘permeable’ nature. But there were also ethical and health components factored in.
An absence of chemicals? Vegan? Not tested on animals? All of the above are in line with Islamic principles. Yet while an emphasis on natural ingredients and ethical beauty is appealing to Muslims, does this make it halal?
It appears so. ‘Halal certified’ now widely extends beyond food. There’s a fair amount of research that shows a rising attachment to natural and organic beauty and personal care products in Muslim countries.
The halal trend
While recent focus has been on nail polish, ‘halal-friendly’ cosmetics are already big business in some parts of the world. Dr Murray Hunter, an associate professor at the University of Malaysia Perlis, cites estimates that put the value of the global halal cosmetics and personal care market at US$5–14 billion annually.
In his article The Emerging Halal Cosmetic and Personal Care Market: Integrating the organization towards the philosophy of Tawhid, he examines the international halal cosmetics and personal care market.
‘At a time when many markets are reaching saturation point Muslims are becoming much more concerned consumers, creating some of the fastest growing consumer segments in the World,’ he writes.
According to Murray, halal or Islamic cosmetics are widely available through channels as diverse as inflight sales on Saudi Airlines, supermarkets (including in the US and Europe), specialty halal shops and online.
He emphasises, however, that companies entering the market have to label their products as halal and align themselves with Tawhid principles.
‘Tawhid is the Islamic way of life, the fundamental of all Islamic civilization, which is process, means and end together … Tawhid implies both the mission and morality of humankind in both social and spiritual contexts.’
And it’s not solely the marketplace of majority-Muslim nations. Rose Brown of Birmingham, England launched Pure Halal Beauty in 2010 to offer products with natural ingredients.
Writing on UK-based entrepreneur website Startups, Rose, who is not Muslim, explains that her products come in eco-friendly packaging and are handmade in the UK using organic ingredients.
‘The products are free from alcohol, animal ingredients and harsh chemicals and they are never tested on animals,’ she says.
‘Halal certification and Vegan Society registration supports this ethical ethos.’
The ethical consumer
Perhaps interesting, then, is Murray’s argument that the concept of ‘halal’ is becoming much more sophisticated in the Middle East and some Asian countries.
‘Muslim consumer halal awareness has widened from being concerned with meat based products a decade ago to a wide range of products today. Muslim consumers are seeking halal integrity of processed foods, beverages, pharmaceuticals, insurance, travel, leather products, and even entertainment,’ he writes.
Halal is evolving into something holistic
According to a number of sources, a product must fulfil a few requirements to become halal-certified: it must not contain alcohol, fragrances, ingredients from unlawful animals or ingredients from lawful animals not slaughtered Islamically. The ethical component comes with a guarantee that no animal testing has been conducted.
Meanwhile, food and beverage website FoodNavigator-USA queried the influence of halal and kosher meat in addressing ethical consumers’ needs. In a 2009 article they cited an industry report, MarketTrend: Kosher- and Halal-Certified Foods in the US, which predicted that the rising interest in ethical consumerism would boost halal and kosher meat sales. In other words, people are becoming more concerned with animal welfare and keep it in mind during trips to their local supermarkets.
A 2011 article on Patheos, a religion website, argues that ‘today’s ethical consumer trends are making the industry take a second look at what halal really means’.
Citing recent studies, writer Yvonne Maffei says American Muslim consumers have become focused more on brands and less on price than in the past.
‘As their identities gel, over 80 percent want to buy brands that support their Muslim or cultural identity. At the same time, 75 percent want brands that make them feel part of a wider community, not a marginal one.’
Islamic principles meet Western standards. More particularly, halal is evolving into something holistic – it’s not trained solely on how something is done, but also on the end consumer, and very importantly, how he or she embraces an Earth-consciousness that seemed absent in the past.
Now it’s all about organic and natural ingredients, ethical and sustainable farming practices, social responsibility, and environmental awareness.
Halal is not just how you’d like your meat. It means that you’re an environmentally conscious consumer.
The Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, in its National Halal Standard, advises companies to consider corporate social responsibility, saying they ‘should plan activities that strengthen social responsibility obviously according to the way of Islamic law’.
Regarding packaging, the committee says it should not be made from ‘haram raw materials’, as well as ‘not prepared, processed or manufactured using equipment that is contaminated with haram things’.
‘The packaging material does not contain any raw materials that are considered hazardous to human health’.
All of these suggest that the halal label draws on a range of significant factors. Being organic, chemical-free or sustainably farmed are not yet necessities, but companies are advised to produce goods in a conscionable manner.
Consumers, it seems, won’t accept anything less.
Source: Aquila Style