Hal;-! Standardization and Actual Situation in Japan

Identities are not simply given. One chooses and constructs one’s own identity. The global situation is continually changing and accordingly so is the constitution of identities. According to Yagi, today, Muslim identity is critically confronted with mass-produced goods, because self-aware Muslims should make choices very carefully.[1] On the one hand, she indicates a kind of apparent ‘necessity’ for standardization or the ‘positive side’ of the homogeneous systematization of the halal issue. The universal, standardized guidelines such as the single authority regarding halal, facilitate life, because one does not need any due care or effort when purchasing or consuming. In the standardization of halal products, she accepts such a facile solution, which renders uniform the halal consciousness of consumers. Consumers need to only follow the halal mark of the producers’ judgement.

This is not the primar_y Muslim way, but today in the global context, the halal mark has become the target of global business. Nakata goes further and his representation of anti-neoliberalism forms the establishment of Muslim identity, which should be actualized as the self-decision of halal consciousness in today’s globalized situation. He denounced the production of the halal mark as ‘idolatry’, since producers and consumers forget halal-ness and pursue the halal mark.[2] His view not only incorporates theological jurisprudential factors, but also a kind of criticism of neoliberalism, which offers standardized production and robs people of the chance to think about halal- ness. The multiplicity of opinion and interpretation is, in Nakata’s Islam, closely connected to consumers’ halal consciousness. Before we review his identity construction as halal consciousness, we need to have a look at the halal standardization in Japan.

At the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, food and other products were confirmed as halal by the fifth Imam, leader of the Tokyo Mosque, Ainan Muhammad Safa (1898—1984).[3] Abd al-Rahim Gawahi (1944—), the first Iranian ambassador to Japan after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, told me that in the 1980s Muslims bought halal meat in the Indian Embassy in Japan.[4] Today, there is a well-known ‘legal opinion’ (fatwa) that Muslims can take halal products made in Christian countries or made by monotheists.[5] So, Muslims in Japan consider foodstuffs imported from such countries as halal. Historically, there has not been an institution for halal (food) on a local or global level, and even today systems such as halal certification are not well known among the Muslims in Egypt. Yagi reports that Egyptian Muslims do not check the halal mark on imported foods.[6]

The standardization of halal began with the first institutionalization in Malaysia in 1994. Malaysia and Indonesia both have one single official organization for halal food standards, but Japan, the USA, and European countries each_ have several organizations. While these organizations are specialized in authorizing halal products, the institutions in Egypt and other Arabic countries also have other tasks.

The majority of Muslims in the world live in Southeast Asia, but they live next to non-Muslim groups such as Hindus and non-Muslim Chinese. Along with economic development, many Muslims, who previously lived in the countryside, have moved to urban centres in Southeast Asia, requiring authorized halal products. In this process, they developed a form of halal standardization which has spread worldwide. Today, there are many organizations in Japan such as the NPO (NonProfit Organization) Japan Halal Association.[7] The first Muslim association in Japan, the Japan Muslim Association, established in 1968, authorizes products as halal on the request of Japanese enterprises, wanting to export their products to Muslim countries. The members of the committee are Muslim specialists who studied Islamic studies and law (sharfa) in Muslim countries, and who are able to judge and certify halal-ness.[8]

Many debaters and intellectuals recognize the merits of standardization, although they appreciate that economic logic requires it and that it is the result of globalization. Japan’s halal food industry is considered to have great potential for worldwide business opportunities.[9] As a service to Muslim overseas students, halal lunch boxes served in Japanese university canteens are an examiple of such new developments.[10] The Japanese government further announces campaigns to attract Muslim tourists from Southeast Asia, creating high expectations for restaurants and the food industry.[11] Many Japanese cities such as Tokyo,[12] Kobe,[13] and Okinawa,[14] provide handbooks and guidelines on halal when non-Muslim Japanese receive Muslim visitors. All halal-ness is standardized in these cases. And once halal codes are standardized and abstracted from concrete situations and contexts, the principle of situational and personal judgement of halal is beyond the range of consideration. _

Yagi evaluates halal standardization which secures the Muslim identity and way of life.[15] However, she is clearly aware that Islamic law affords only codes of conduct and the judgement of the same act is changeable depending on the person and situation. Standardization of halal-ness changes this principle and the main character of Islamic law. In the same context, Nakata, who belongs to ‘ulama’,[16] regards the standardization of halal as a ‘clearly anti-Islamic act’ (akirakani han-isuramuteki na koi)[17] and he argues as follows: ‘[I]n Islam nothing is acknowledged as authority except God. Only God may judge what food is halal.’[18] Therefore, when an organization passes judgement on what is co_nsidered the right food, this organization takes the authority and right of judgement away from God. Believers are able to stand in the presence of God only by their own decision and by taking responsibility for it. Holding themselves responsible for their decision proves their belief in God.[19] In this eschatological view of the world, God judges whether the believers’ acts are permissible, and they have to leave the judgement to God. In the context of this aspect of Muslim belief which is actualized as halal consciousness, the intake of food functions as the corporeal interpretation or embodiment of sacredness.

  • [1] Yagi, Jihibukaki kami, 89—96.
  • [2] Nakata, Isuramu no ronri, 140—145.
  • [3] Tanada, Nihon no mosuku, 98—99.
  • [4] I am extremely thankful to Dr. Gawahi for his indications. My thanks also go to Dr. BahmanZakipur (Komazawa University).
  • [5] Yagi, Jihibukaki kami, 80. It is quite possible that the ‘legal opinion’ is ignored, because it is justan opinion or advice expressed by some learned person, and it is up to the person concerned whichopinion he follows.
  • [6] Ibid, 102.
  • [7] http://www.jhalal.com.
  • [8] http://jmaweb.net/free/halal.
  • [9] http://www.suikei.co.jp/gyoshoku/%E3%80%8C%E3%83%8F%E3%83%A9%E3%83%AB%E8%AA%8D%E8%A8%BC%E3%80%8D%E5%8F%96%E5%BE%97%E3%81%A7%E3%80%81%E3%82%A4%E3%82%B9%E3%83%A9%E3%83%A0%E5%9C%8F%E3%81%AB%E6%97%A5%E6%9C%AC%E3%81%AE%E9%AD%9A%E9%A3%9F/; http://mainichi.jp/articles/20160215/k00/00e/040/079000c.
  • [10] http://withnews.jp/article/f0150427002qq000000000000000G0010801qq000011929A.
  • [11] http://diamond.jp/articles/-/59569.
  • [12] http://www.sangyo-rodo.metro.tokyo.jp/tourism/kakusyu/handbook/.
  • [13] http://www.feel-kobe.jp/_en/muslim/omotenashi/about.html.
  • [14] https://www.visitokinawa.jp/oin/manual/552.
  • [15] Yagi, Jihibukaki kami, 101—102.
  • [16] Scholars, specialists, or intellectuals are called in Arabic ‘ulama’ (sg. ‘alim), who are trained intraditional Islamic sciences and are regarded to be able to offer professional legal advice. Today,this term is also known as ulama in English.
  • [17] Nakata, Watashi wa naze, 64.
  • [18] Ibid.
  • [19] See footnote 21.
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