COMMENTARY: Galvanize Halal Advocacy: Seize a Slice of USD 580 billion?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 05 May) — Online statistics varies as to quantifying the Global Halal Consumer Market’s worth in terms of US dollars. One estimates it at more than 580 billion dollars today or two more years from now while another projects it to rocket up to $2.6 trillion dollars by 2020!

Government economic interest is understandably to seize that slice of the more than 500 billion dollars worth Global Halal pie. On the other hand, local Muslims stakeholders’ interest is to fill the need for faith-inspired Halal consumerism market with full involvement of local Ulama such as the Darul Iftah Council as a non-government agency with a substantive right to invoke separation of State and Church constitutional limitation.

On the expediency of technical aspects of Halal, yes,  the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) should be in charge but in the aspect of ensuring Shariah compliance, the authority rests intrinsically upon the Ulama and Darul Iftah Council.

This is utterly relevant if our government – as the only Catholic dominated nation in Asia – is truly serious in improving its Halal credibility amongst Muslim nations of the world and its capacity to meet or fulfill Halal global demand not only in export.

I concur with Atty. Mehol Sadain, former secretary at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) that “the government thrust in giving the chairmanship to DTI on account mainly of the export facet of the venture is self-defeating. How will Muslim countries react to a Halal accreditation Board whose Muslim composition is not even assured?”

Indeed, it is imperative for all multi-stakeholders-Muslim or not- to proactively support the government to solve problems as they arise, and to advocate for a genuine reform agenda to make our halal industry globally competitive.

Three major challenging Halal issues were commonly shared by government lead agencies, local business entrepreneurs, including an international Halal Certifier CEO based in Dubai last March 23, 2018 during the event organized by the Mindanao Islamic Chamber of Commerce Inc, (MICCI), DOT and DTI dubbed “Halal Business Opportunities in Trade & Tourism Forum” held at the Ballroom of Marco Polo Hotel, Davao City.

The Philippines as the only Catholic-dominated country in Asia is bent on competing to seize a slice of the Global Halal Market pie but sad to say World Halal Conferences, Summits, Fora in the offing ultimately winded up cancelled or withdrawn due to our lack of capacity to provide Halal foods and services; and that we do not have Halal Credibility based on International Halal Market Perception.

Halal Certified Establishments are very rare and if there are any it is just Certified Muslim Friendlyhotels and restaurants. As a Muslim, I believe that Halal does not begin and end with the logo because Halal is Islam- it is a way of life- and is not merely about not consuming pork or just not imbibing liquor and drugs. Halal is encompassing for every practicing Muslim.

Nonetheless, halal being holistic in conceptual approach and fundamental principles is indeed universal. Why not promote halal awareness and practice in the context of universal health goals not restricted to religion?

One would be surprised to know that the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems intended to ensure the safety of food, chemicals and pharmaceuticals are practically compatible with the principles and concept of halal which essentially entails thoyyib– with a holistic approach on halal as a comprehensive way of life. Thoyyibrefers to good quality which means pure, fresh, safe, and good (not hazardous) to one’s well-being.

“O you people! Eat what is on earth, lawful (Halal) good (Thoyyib)…..” (2:168 Qur’an)

In the Philippines, there was a time (but now not anymore) that I have seen food chain restaurants such as KFC, Greenwich, and McDonald’s with Halal certification from authorized certifying bodies. However, what we have now are certified “Muslim Friendly Hotels and Restaurants.”

But Muslims still worry if it is ensured that the products used from farm or point of origin until they reach the table are indeed halal or merely hiding in either alphanumeric codes of haram agents and derivatives or in the halal logo itself.

That is why the Halal Standards alongside with the Halal Assurance System (HAS) Management must be sustained all throughout the entirety of handling, process, and practice even after acquiring Halal logo or certification.

Be part of proactive solution and NOT of destructive problem: Galvanize Halal Advocacy. Harness RDPC Muslims Towards Social Enterprise Via Waqf.

Can we harness and implement Global Halal tourism as a unicorn business opportunity in order to boost Philippine economy considering that the total Muslim population is only more than 12 million (but PSA reports it is only 5.16 million)? It reminds me that Muslims have become a minority in the Philippine archipelago (but not in their own domain) of 103,821,858 total population (World Population Review 2017).

Yes, we can! Let us trust competent Muslims in the HAS management of Halal. Why not empower Muslim SMEs to galvanize Halal market? Employ! Involve! and immerse untapped potential Muslims in halal certification, in halal establishments and faith-based farming and fishing.

I say that we harness RPDC Muslims as well! “RPDC Muslims” refers to RICH and Resilient, Passionate, Dedicated, and Committed Muslims who desire for Allah’s sake to take action to proactively create structural change peacefully-specifically on the daunting issues of marginalization, graft and corruption, dangerous drugs, and environmental issues as well.

When we say rich, it is not limited to material wealth but includes potential, intellectual, and Islamic wealth. RPDC Muslims believe in Halal Social Enterprise via Waqf because they understand and take to heart that charity does not decrease one’s wealth. Halal Social Enterprise means “Doing Charity while Doing Halal Business” and not “Doing Halal Business while Doing Charity!”

Why? In this milieu, it is most important to prioritize social impact over profits. The Halal MVG must nurture Islamic heritage, creativity, innovation and resourcefulness to help build resilient, adaptable communities that will positively engage the disadvantaged. That is the essence of sadaqah and zakat.

Why not strengthen and improve RPDC Muslims’, Ulama’s, and Civil Society’s synergistic collaborative participation in Halal policy reforms?
Why not develop a HALAL environment conducive to decent work, job creation, and SME (smalla and medium enterprises) development via halal social enterprise and Waqf in the context of empowering the socially and economically marginalized?

Why not empower and train Muslim fledgling SMEs to become established by training them in the aspects of business management strategies and skills such as MYOB software for one?

In this age of interconnectivity, strategic relations and partnerships opportunities could lead to productivity via peace initiatives such as Halal social enterprises only if there is integrity, credibility and sincerity. Indeed, this laudable campaign must be visibly resonated by social and mainstream media both online or offline.

Thus, the lead conveners and organizers, Riwaya and MS3 Agri-ventures mutually came up initially with the RTD Forum: Harnessing RPDC Muslims Towards HaLaL Social Enterprise Via Waqf last Saturday afternoon 31st March 2018 at Lispher Inn Conference Room. Due to non-availability of the majority of panel of reactors, the conveners forego with the forum and just proceeded with a fruitful RTD.

In collaboration with Darussalam Bookshop proprietor Ustadz Ismael Español and CEO Neil Abdul Kareem Santillan of MS3 Agriventures, Inc., and this writer, some Halal programs of action were discussed.

Ustadz Español shared invaluable insights on the spiritual and moral responsibility of Halal in Islam-that it is more than just strengthening the economic aspect of Muslims’ lives but also the totality of their well-being. He stressed the clarity of halal and the clarity of haram as well and exhorted that Allah enjoined Muslims to abandon doubtful matters so that you would not have cause to doubt anymore. He advocated for Halal tarbiyah and raising the consciousness of Holistic Halal for Muslims foremost so as not to weaken their resolve to abandon haram in their daily lives but to strengthen their faith in Allah.

CEO Santillan proposed to advocate policy change and institutional response via the feasible creation of Halal Economic Zone Authority in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Bangsamoro regional communities in collaboration and partnership with DTI-PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority. He lauded the propelling efforts by Ms Marilou Ampuan in actively promoting Halal advocacy campaign. Ampuan is the president of the Universal Islamic Center Foundation (UICF) and she holds a key position in the MICCI in Davao City.

I advocated for the creation of a Halal Entrepreneurs Advocacy Cooperative and to build a world-class Waqf-based Halal Hotel and Convention Center with food and cultural heritage showcasing the 13 ethnolinguistic groups of indigenous Muslim Filipinos plus the Lumads in the Philippines. A waqf that will give back to madaris, hospitals, masaajid, the marginalized yateem (orphans), poor (masakeen) and destitute (fuqara).

Perhaps, after her World Street Food Congress 2017 sting, #Makansutraguru Chef Kf Setoh with Philippine Tourism Promotions Board – MICE Department and the Tourism Promotions Board (formerly Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation), along with SM Supermalls  and Department of Tourism (DOT)can help us come up with the first ever World Halal Heritage Food Congress 2018 event in Davao City, Philippines! In shaa ALLAH! Yes, former DOT Director Robby Alabado, thank you for inspiring me-why not?

This is a call resonating from Davao City in its bid to become a Halal model city in the Philippines: Be Part of Proactive Solution and NOT of Destructive Problem: Galvanize Halal Advocacy. Harness RDPC Muslims Towards Social Enterprise Via Waqf.

Thus, multistakeholders’ engagement and partnership will be conducted soon with Muslim SMEs in Davao City, Madaris, Darul Iftah Council, at MICCI as well as with government lead agencies (including of the ARMM) NCMF, DTI-PEZA, DOT, DTI, DOST, and Davao City Halal Industry Development Council (EO 2 S.2017) chaired by Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio, with the MICCI President as vice chair.

Nonetheless, in galvanizing Halal advocacy, let us take heed from the sensible advice of Muslim Tausug scholar Ustaza Nur-Ainee Lim who sincerely encouraged: “study the bottlenecks encountered by past initiatives, so we may find a way to avoid loopholes, or improve access and sustainability of our program.”

I perfectly concur with her that there is no need to reinvent the wheel, the government just has to unlearn and understand the practical wisdom behind Thailand’s success as a major reputable halal exporter despite of the fact that it is a non-Muslim country. Now, I know why I prefer to use halal glutinous rice powder made in Thailand even if I have to buy it all the way from Zamboanga City to Davao!

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Warina Sushil Jukuy of Alhamdulillah Satti Tausug Catering Serivce is a correspondent of Riwaya)