If you’re interested at all in the world of halal certification, or simply finding out how the foods we eat are given the halal seal of approval, there are several organizations in the United States one can research to find out more about the process by which it is done.
Organizations such as IFANCA and the Muslim Consumer Group have been around for many years, serving the Muslim community with information about the concept of halal within the varying schools of thought, or madahib. For example, IFANCA works with companies who wish to comply with halal standards to ensure they understand what it takes to get approval and ensures that halal guidelines are met within a product’s ingredients as well as the production process for that product. Muslim Consumer Group strives to educate the public about various products that are halal by conducting research on companies and communicating those findings on their website and in books.
There’s a new halal certification organization on the block these days and they’re doing things a bit differently than the others, but perfectly willing and eager to work with any of those groups or individuals who are just as passionate about making sure halal food products truly are what they claim to be. Meet Halal Advocates (site coming soon, insha’allah) Director, Abdullah Nana, in the interview below to learn about what his organization is doing and why.
I hope everyone will take the time to read through the extensive information presented, as there’s much to learn about the importance of ensuring integrity in the halal food industry just from following the discussion.
MHK: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became involved in the halal food industry.
NANA: With regards to my involvement in the halal industry, I am compelled to say that arose more out of necessity than choice.
During my study days and visits to America while attending Islamic University, I noticed the great confusion and turmoil in the halal industry in America. It was near impossible for the masses to verify the halal status of halal stores, restaurants, and products on their own. One could not distinguish which products were stunned, machine-slaughtered, slaughtered by a non-Muslim, etc. I felt that this verification process was not being adequately addressed by the halal organizations, scholars, and certifiers in America. Therefore, I felt that action needed to be taken and an organized effort needed to be initiated. I spent time learning with one of the most reputable halal organizations in the World, the South African National Halal Association (SANHA) during my student days and started learning the system. I also personally contacted Mufti Taqi Usmani asking permission to translate a book on the laws of slaughter in the modern context to English. This book was published in Pakistan around 2006.
I learned greatly during my translation experience and conducted extensive research on modern halal issues. To gain a better understanding on the theory, I would regularly visit SANHA to discuss the ‘practice’ in the industry. This allowed me to combine both theory and practice.
MHK: How was Halal Advocates formed? Where did the idea begin and how did it eventually become a reality?
NANA: After returning to America at the end of my studies, I was now thrown completely off the deep end into the turbulent ocean of the halal industry in America. It was difficult to find truly 100% halal places to eat. I started conducting research on halal meat suppliers and began visiting halal meat plants all over the country. Along with this, I continued to have discussions with concerned individuals, scholars, and halal organizations. I traveled throughout the country and met with Muslims to discuss halal issues. Many friends supported my work and expressed the desire for this research to be codified more formally at an organizational level. We felt that there was much to be desired in the current halal verification system implemented by halal organizations. A minimal percentage of halal products were certified as halal by a credible organization. A group of concerned scholars and individuals from Washington, Illinois, and California met in early 2009 and discussed the model for a grass-roots national halal advocacy organization to revive halal integrity in America. This led to the formation of the Halal Advocates of America and the Halal Food Standards Alliance of America in 2009 as a non-for-profit organization.
MHK: What is the intention or the mission behind the organization?
NANA: The Halal Advocates Mission Statement is “To establish the advocacy, integrity, and verification of universal Halal standards throughout the United States and actively promoting the “Best of the Best” in Halal Suppliers and an “Honesty in Halal” standard for Stores and Restaurants.
• Provide the best leadership direction to all halal supplier channels in the United States
• Enhance the integrity of halal stores or restaurants in the United States
• Build the public’s confidence and trust in purchasing & consuming the best Halal products or menus
• Raise Halal awareness and standards in all business and consumer channels
• Effectively join legal and religious experts in understanding the US Halal Standard Laws
• Create and run a national fact-finding, halal campaign that correlates the three angles of the Halal Industry: Suppliers, Meat Stores and Restaurants.
• Extensively develop an Online Halal Portal which actively promotes and publicizes the “best of the best” Suppliers and presents Stores and Restaurants following an “Honesty in Halal” Standard
• Develop and present halal quality and honesty improvement recommendations for all suppliers, stores, restaurants.
• Create halal awareness sessions which teach Universal Halal Standards for Suppliers and certifies them afterwards. This will be part of their “Goals Met to Exceed Expectations.”
• Create Halal awareness sessions for restaurants and stores which encourage “Honesty in Halal” values and certify them afterwards. This will be part of their “Goals Met to Exceed Expectations”
• Create Halal awareness campaigns and mediums which educate the consumer on Universal Halal Standards
• Establish a forum of legal and religious experts dedicated to understanding, strengthening, and implementing Universal Halal Standard laws across the United States.
In summary, our goal is to create awareness of authentic halal, establish transparent halal standards, work to implement those standards in the halal supplier chain, verify the status of halal food products, and establish integrity in the halal industry.
MHK: Can you describe your professional role within Halal Advocates?
NANA: My official position within the organization is of director. We do have an executive board which supports me and helps me run the organization. I do my best to lead by example to motivate others to participate and get involved. I work closely with our management board and correspond regularly with them. We have representatives and chapters throughout the country, and it is a daunting task to coordinate halal efforts nationally. I do my best to activate local advocacy initiatives by traveling throughout the country and conducting programs in cities. I look at myself as an ‘activator’ whose job is to get others to participate and help. There is only so much I can do as an individual, and true leadership is to communicate one’s vision and transfer it to others so they participate willingly as people who believe in the cause. At the same time, I do not want any of the ‘perks’ which are associated with a company president such as special treatment, the highest salary, special privileges, etc. I have made a pledge to myself that I will never take one dollar for my contribution to the halal cause and will work strictly as a volunteer.
I do my best to consult with the board for important decisions and to ensure that they are behind me before making a decision. I do my best to let them make the decision themselves and agree to something rather than force it . I have made halal advocacy my passion and cause with the hopes of someday making a change and possibly a halal revolution. This can only become a reality if I can pass this vision to others.
MHK: Does Halal Advocates serve the American halal consumer or a global halal consumer? Can you give us an example of the ways the organization advocates for consumers in general?
NANA: Our primary focus is to serve the American Halal consumer. Our organization is based out of the United States which makes it our first target market. At the same time, the global halal industry has become increasingly connected and interlinked with the advent of technology and huge industry of halal meat exports. We have previously traveled to many countries including Canada, England, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia to conduct research on halal exporters to America and learn more about their halal process. Our main objective in visiting these countries has been to work on setting our own house straight by verifying the halal status of American meat imports, but we do hope that this will help create change in the halal industry globally. There is an increased need for halal integrity in the halal supply chain throughout the world. People worldwide will see the change in America and will hopefully ask for the same in their own countries. America is a world leader in many fields. , and we hope to make it a world leader in halal integrity as well. It is possible that we may take our halal advocacy to other countries once there is some success in the model in America.
MHK: There are several prominent halal-certification agencies in the U.S. and abroad. How is your organization similar and also quite different from them? Do you see the possibility of a natural collaborative effort with them in any areas?
NANA: Our organization is unique in that we are a grassroots national halal advocacy initiative whose focus is not financial gain. We are not only a one-man show or a pure industry facing organization. We do not focus only on meat but work with food ingredients and products as well. Along with this, we are an organization which represents over 100 religious scholars in America and our board consists of scholars. We have representatives, chapters, supporters, and Imams working with us throughout the country. Our organization is growing day by day and so is our support. We are doing our best to garner support from all Muslim communities from all backgrounds and schools of thought including converts, Asians, people from the subcontinent, Arabs, etc. We both represent the young and the old. Many of our members are young and in a position to harness social media and new technologies. One online petition for hand slaughtered halal organic chicken generated over 5,600 signatures. We are dedicated to a change and bring religious knowledge along with industry knowledge including food science. Many prominent halal leaders including the secretary general of ISNA and others have publicly praised our work.
MHK: You have a team of other very dedicated people working with you, masha’allah. Please tell us a bit more about those people and what their roles are in shaping the organization and expanding its efforts to ensure our foods are truly halal.
Our organization firmly believes in building bridges and working with others to create change. We do our best to put ourselves above ‘halal politics’ and have a working relationship with almost every large halal company and certifier in America. We do believe there is some scope in working with other halal organizations towards a common goal and are well respected by other organizations. Our organization regularly meets with other halal institutes and corresponds with them.
We have established a relationship with many halal companies and thereafter conducted audits to verify halal integrity of those products. There is a need for collaboration on drafting halal standards and establishing a halal accreditation and auditing system. We are currently conducting discussions in this regard and hope to make this into a reality. We are open to working with others and encouraging them to promote halal integrity in their practices. Our organization regularly attends Islamic conferences, food shows, and Halal Forums to promote our vision and interact with others.
MHK: Where would you like to see Halal Advocates as an organization in the next few years? What kind of small and large successes do you hope to have accomplished as a group?
NANA: There are two aspects of our Halal Advocacy; education/awareness and halal verification. With regards to the former, there is a great need to educate Muslims about the importance of consuming halal and practical issues with regards to the halal integrity of products in America. Unfortunately, a good percentage of Muslims in America are not concerned about eating halal products and are not aware of the key issues including hand slaughter, contamination, etc. We are conducting halal programs throughout the country in order to create awareness and drive a halal revolution. We have even had programs translated into other languages such as Bosnian in an effort to get through to people of all communities and backgrounds. Our organization firmly believes that the greatest change will come when the public wakes up to the Halal fraud and demands authentic verified halal products. If we are not united and apathy exists, then halal advocacy will not go far. Our scholars have been delivering Friday sermons and lectures throughout the country in an effort to educate and have been meeting with halal companies, restaurants, and suppliers as well. In a few years, we hope that there will be an increased demand for authentic halal products and more awareness on halal issues.
There is an urgent need in America for a reliable and trustworthy halal certification organization dedicated to the ‘gold standard’ of halal. Unfortunately, almost all of the current halal organizations accept the controversial halal slaughter method of machine slaughter. To meet this need, the Halal Advocates of America are working with a sister organization which is simultaneously working on a halal verification system to identify and promote authentic halal products to the community. The name of this organization is the Halal Food Standards Alliance of America (HFSAA). The goal of HFSAA is to goal of establishing an integrated halal verification system which ensures the halal integrity of a product from farm to fork. This organization works on overseeing and monitoring the halal process from the rearing of the animal to the slaughter process and all the way down the supply chain to the customer-facing food outlet. There are two parts of this verification system. The first is to set up a certification system involving a legal agreement, oversight, and halal certificates as is currently in vogue in America. We hope to make this a model for halal integrity, trust, and quality in halal. HFSAA are currently working with a number of companies for certification.
The second part of our verification system is endorsement through halal audits. This involves the audit of other halal companies and/or certifiers to ensure through a third party that halal standards are met. We are working with a number of companies and organizations in this regard as well.
Along with the halal slaughter process, there is a need to promote the Islamic concept of ‘tayyib‘ or pure and wholesome food products. This is very much in line with the trend of organic and natural food products. The halal process in reality starts with the rearing, treatment, and feeding of the animal. The Halal Advocates are working to promote this concept of pure halal products and were even mentioned the popular Islamic book, Green Deen on pg. 149.
MHK: Is there anything else you would like to share with readers about Halal Advocates and the work you’re doing? Where can they find out more information? How can they utilize your services?
Our organization is working on a website at www.halaladvocates.org (site coming soon, insha’allah). We do have a partnership with the famous website, zabihah.com and our certified establishments are currently listed on the site. We are open to discussing issues and answering questions for the public. The Halal Advocates are working throughout the country to promote integrity in halal establishments and provide more options for authentic halal products. Many Muslims throughout the country refer their halal questions to the representatives and scholars of the halal advocates. We have a Facebook group and a Twitter account as well.
Special thanks to Abdullah Nana for taking so much time out of a busy schedule to extensively explain the mission, goals and work of Halal Advocates with My Halal Kitchen readers.
We’d love to hear from YOU!
What do you think of the work Halal Advocates is doing?
Any other questions you’d like to ask them? Any suggestions you’d like to make?
What’s your position as to the importance of the integrity and authenticity behind ‘halal’ products?
To see a presentation by Halal Advocates which discusses their mission and objectives and provides a general awareness of what they are doing, click on this link.
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