The government’s halal authority today said the use of “Merry Christmas” on products would invalidate their halal certification, in a statement that is likely to reignite a debate on policies seen as regressive to Malaysia’s multicultural identity.
A spokesman for the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) confirmed to MalaysiaNow the existence of such a condition before a company is awarded halal certification, following an incident reported by a member of the public.
MalaysiaNow earlier reported about a bakery which could not fulfil a customer’s request for “Merry Christmas” to be written on a cake he had ordered for delivery to a friend.
Instead, the cake was delivered with the words “Happy Holidays”.
The bakery owner said it was because he had to abide by the rules set by Jakim as part of the application process for getting halal certification.
“The bakery was not wrong as it is part of the regulations,” an officer from Jakim’s communications unit told MalaysiaNow.
He cited a labelling rule stated in Jakim’s manual on the procedures leading towards halal certification.
“Labelling and advertising of products and services should not involve the use of any religious or spiritual passage, symbol or noun such as the names of Allah, sunnah, idols and the like,” according to the document sighted by MalaysiaNow.
The “Merry Christmas” greeting has been a subject of debate in Malaysia, with some Muslim preachers claiming Muslims are prohibited from using the expression as it is a veneration of Christ.
But this is the first time it has emerged that the greeting could also affect a product’s official halal status.
Earlier, the customer, who declined to be named, said it was the first time he had encountered such a problem.
“But the management apologised to me saying it is part of the conditions during the audit process,” he added.
Jakim is legally empowered as the sole authority to issue halal certification for food and goods as well as eateries nationwide.
In the past, critics had questioned several conditions imposed by the department on food manufacturers and franchises seeking halal certification, including prohibiting certain names from being used on the product.
Popular pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s and fast food franchise A&W were forced to rename their popular products due to a requirement by Jakim that words such as “dog” and “beer” are not used on their menu.
Auntie Anne’s renamed its “pretzel dog” as “pretzel sausage”, while A&W was forced to change the names of two popular dishes for which it is known worldwide: Coney Dog and Root Beer, which were renamed as Chicken (or Beef) Coney and RB.