The tenets of halal are followed all across the globe by Muslims, who make up a quarter of the world’s population. Halal is more than just dietary laws: it is a way of life which provides guidance and certainty in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.
Today, the system encompassing halal food, halal products, Islamic finance, and other areas governed by halal is known as the ‘halal economy’. Coined at the World Halal Forum in Kuala Lumpur in 2011, the halal economy is currently worth an estimated US$3 trillion – and is projected to grow to US$5 trillion by 2025.
This is in tandem with the anticipated increase in the number of Muslims to nearly three billion by 2060 from 1.8 billion currently, according to the Pew Research Center. Consequently, a third of the world population will be Muslim, up from around 24.1 per cent currently.
Thus, the main draw for companies seeking to participate in the halal economy is its burgeoning size. With its high Muslim population, the Asia-Pacific region is one of the largest potential markets for halal food products. It does not then come as a surprise that the demand for halal products in this part of the world has grown exponentially over the last decade.
As a major centre for agricultural production, along with rising per capita incomes and higher levels of education, this region is slowly turning to a hub for halal produce. Indonesia is the largest halal market in Asia-Pacific (and also the most populous Muslim country) with more than 260 million Muslims.
Technology and Halal
When people think about halal, technology isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The halal creed was passed down more than a millennium ago – a person transported to the modern era from that age will find the world an unrecognizable place.
However, technology has also allowed halal to stay in step with the modern world. More accurately, it allows Muslims to ensure that the tenets of halal can be adhered to, despite the complexity of today’s environment.
Speaking at the WIEF-SEACO Foundation Roundtable 2019 in Dhaka, Prof. Dr. Irwand Jaswir, Adviser to the Halal Lifestyle Center in Indonesia said that among the main uses for technology in the halal context is food safety. Using chemical analysis, halal laboratories are able to certify that a certain food product does not contain porcine material or alcohol. Thus, the tested food product can be said to be halal if it is free from these ingredients.
In this regard, halal laboratories are in great demand by firms looking to get their products certified. Manufacturers from non-Muslim majority countries – China and Japan in particular – are keen to export their products to the growing halal market, hence the need for halal certification. Laboratories in Malaysia, Thailand, and Korea are able to certify as halal products ranging from food to skincare and pharmaceuticals.
Further advances in technology such as blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) can also aid in traceability, ensuring the end product on consumers’ plates is halal from farm to fork.
In addition, smartphone apps specific to halal are very common, from helping Muslim travellers find halal eateries, mosques and kiblat (the direction facing Mecca for prayers), to cross-check halal certificate validation and verification such as the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia’s (JAKIM) Verify Halal app.
A Virtuous Life
Traceability and food safety are not just the only uses of technology in halal. As Dr Barbara Ruiz-Bejarano, Director of International Relations at the Halal Institute of Spain, explains, “Technology in a halal context has so much potential. For example, in halal tourism, you can have virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) Muslim experiences. If you travel to Spain, our Islamic heritage dates back to the 12th century. There is no longer a living Muslim community, but with VR, you can see the present transformed into what it was like during the heyday of Islam in Spain. By using your smartphone, you are able to see a different world and pick up historical cues from there.”
As a lifestyle, halal encompasses more than just eating ‘clean’ foods. It is also about living a virtuous life; practicing honesty, kindness, and forgiveness is also part of halal. Apart from food, media is also another area where halal and technology can be applicable. Dr Ruiz-Bejarano explains, “We put a lot of emphasis on education. Not just Muslims, but other religions as well. Take modern media for example – a lot of it is focused on gratuitous violence and does not have educational value. But I would say that edutainment, which combines education and entertainment, is a big and upcoming market with Muslims. For example, a Saudi Arabian company is starting a joint venture with a Japanese studio to create a feature anime film focused on Islamic values. I think it will be a hit with Muslim millennials, who grew up with such media – but never before has it been combined in such a manner.”
But if a product is not a good product, it will not be accepted by consumers, halal or otherwise. Tipu Munshi, Minister of Commerce for Bangladesh, stated, “For our exports, we must first upgrade our quality to compete with those from other countries. It doesn’t matter if we get the halal certification, but our products are inferior to products that are not halal certified. From my experience, even Muslims will buy the non-certified products because at the end of the day, consumers are looking for value for money.”
On the flip side, non-Muslim consumers will buy halal products if the price and quality is comparable. Dr Ruiz-Bejarano says, “Halal is opposed to inferior quality, fraudulent practices, etc. Halal is not only excluding pork and alcohol; it also means that the company is practicing what is popularly known as fair trade. If we can make consumers relate halal to the values promoted by fair trade like social responsibility, economic and social justice, animal welfare, sustainable practices and so on, halal will gather interest beyond just religious compliance.”
It is interesting to note that technology and halal can be used for Muslims to lead a virtuous life. Beyond food and media, Islamic financing is also growing in popularity for its ethical principles. There is massive potential ahead for other technology uses in halal – and it is limited only by our imagination.