The Islamic Development Department of Malaysia or known by its Malay acronym, JAKIM, recently came under fire by a news portal which claimed to report on analysis on Asia but is registered in California. Their story alleged Jakim’s officers’ misconduct, incompetence, and ill-equipped facilities immediately became viral and were republished by a similar portal that promotes a liberal agenda.
So we contacted the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia for clarification on this issue. The Director-General of Jakim, Datuk Mohamad Nordin Ibrahim gave his rebuttal to all the points alleged by the news portal. You can read his full rebuttal on the allegation purportedly made by unnamed industry figures as claimed in the initial reporting here.
Is Halal Certification A Requirement For Businesses?
The initial report portrayed Jakim officials as people who routinely request cash payments above the statutory fees in order to guarantee registration.
Datuk Nordin said in his statement, “In Malaysia, Halal certification is a voluntary process, i.e. it is the prerogative of the business owners to decide whether to have their products be certified Halal or not. It is a business decision driven by market forces, not law”.
Lacking Halal Testing Labs
Jakim is also portrayed as ill-equipped for not having their own laboratory until today and do not have trained staff.
“In 2015, Jakim has built its own Malaysia Halal Analysis Center (MyHAC) as a dedicated analysis laboratory in Bandar Enstek, Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, which is capable of conducting analysis specifically for the Halal aspects as an enhancement towards the capabilities and expertise of Jakim’s operations”.
The Malaysian halal certificate is more than just about halal or permissibility it is also encompassed “Thoyibb” a concept which exceeds many international standards of hygiene.
Allegations of Corruption
As for the allegations of requesting bribes, the Malaysian halal certification application process has safeguards against such incidents from happening.
The applications process comprises of the following stages :
- documentation audit: ingredients evaluations;
- on-site audit;
- lab analysis (if needed);
- certification decision by panel meetings for approval/rejection;
- certification award; and
- post-certification audit (monitoring and surveillance).
All these stages are carried out by different groups of officers as a control mechanism to maintain the integrity and transparency of Jakim in the execution of the application process
Jakim as well as the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister Department of Malaysia, Fuziah Salleh, have taken these allegations seriously and have challenged the portal as well as the accuser of the bribery allegation to come forward with proofs.
“Anyone can come forward to provide us with information. The identity of the whistleblower will be kept confidential as we want to maintain Jakim’s integrity,” said Fuziah Salleh, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister Department of Malaysia.
Halalop also speaks to a former Journalist with Milenia Muslim, Shahfizal Musa who did in-depth coverage on Muslim issues in Malaysia. He was asked about what he thinks about Jakim officers. He is currently the editor of Halalop.
He said “I remember during a raid by Jakim officers on a factory that falsified the halal logo on its packaging, the owner claimed that it was very difficult to apply for a halal certificate”
“One of the officer-in-charge told the owner if you made an application if there is any hanky panky going on, I will hand in my resignation in 24 hours, the Jakim officer at that time was that serious with their job.”
Just two weeks before these allegations surfaced, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs, Datuk Seri Dr. Mujahid bin Yusof made a press statement saying that there are forces trying to bring down the Malaysian Halal certification industry (see video below – in Malay only).
Halal Applicants Using Consultant or Agent Services
If you dig deeper whenever there is an allegation of corruption, it is always the rogue consultant, putting the blame on Jakim officials. Jakim does not endorse any consultant for its certification process.
While Jakim only charges anything between RM 100 to RM1,000 engaging a consultant you may end-up paying ten times more for consultancy fees.
This is not to say that every Jakim officer is infallible.
Halal Resentment by Non-Muslims
Then there is the issue of resentment of non-Muslims on the halal requirement even though it is not mandatory by Malaysian law. It only makes business sense as Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, hence, some businesses have seen their businesses grew by 400% by having a halal certificate.
The non-Muslim sees as they have no choice to get the halal certificate if they want access to Muslim consumers. They see as they are conforming to a religious requirement. While in actual fact, it is not is more about conforming to hygiene and safety practices. In other non-Muslim majority countries, halal resentments also exist from animal activists as well as just anti-Muslim groups.
Shahfizal said, “If you call the halal certificate with names like GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) or HACCP (Hazard analysis and critical control points), both of which Jakim halal certification exceeds, then it would not become an issue.”
“However, we should not be trying to appease the non-Muslim, we want halal to be regulated either voluntarily or otherwise.”
”We must also remember Halal is a trillion-dollar market and we must ask ourselves who would benefit if Jakim gets discredited? I could think of a few countries who would benefit.”
A Bigger Hidden Agenda At Play?
In Malaysia, there has been a growing trend among Muslim consumers to prioritize purchasing Muslim products from Muslim owners. This came about from campaigns from Muslim-based non-government agencies (NGOs) to promote products owned and produced by Muslims over non-Muslim owned products that have Halal certificates, known as Buy Muslim First (BMF).
The non-Muslims of Malaysia have accused those who support the BMF campaign as a boycott of non-Muslim owned products. The non-Muslim business owners further claim that the BMF campaign is not significant and does not affect them at all. Yet, these same business owners call on the government to intervene on their behalf and change the BMF campaign into a Buy Malaysian First campaign.
Muslim NGOs and overall Muslim consumers in Malaysia do not treat this campaign as a boycott. They would still purchase non-Muslim owned products or purchase from non-Muslim stores if their preferred Muslim brands or stores are not available. Muslim consumers simply want to contribute to creating more successful Muslim entrepreneurs, especially in the current economic climate where the non-Muslim minority earns four times more than the Muslim majority.
What’s interesting is that these allegations have only surfaced now, after the BMF campaign received widespread support amongst Malaysian Muslim consumers. Surely, allegations of bribery are not new in Malaysia, with many prominent politicians facing the same allegations as well as court charges. Yet only now they surface?
Is this another attempt to discredit the Halal certification process part of the overall external hand at play, to counter the BMF movement?
Besides allegations of bribery, the said news portal also alleges a lack of facilities and skillsets of Jakim officers to certify the ‘halalness’ of the products.
Who in Malaysia would benefit from these allegations? Is the timeliness of this so-called exposé a coincidence?
Farah Ishak is a Content Writer at Halalop. She grew up in the United Kingdom where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Management. Later, she completed her MBA and held senior-level positions in Malaysian based MNC. She left the corporate world to be with her young kids. She is passionate about issues concerning Muslim women, Startups and Muslim businesses in general.