Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Halal Bill sparks debate in Indonesia

Taken from the original source: The Malaysian Insider / The Straits Times

Muslim legislators in Indonesia are pushing for the quick approval of a controversial Bill that will require halal labelling of a wide range of products possibly as early as next week, despite concerns raised that it smacks of “Islamising” the state.

Items for which such labelling would be required by law range from food and beverages to cosmetics, medicine, and genetically-altered products.

Muslim members of Parliament who support the legislation argue that it is necessary to protect the faithful. But their Christian and secular-minded colleagues have opposed the move.

“They are rushing for the Bill to be endorsed as a sort of Lebaran gift for the community,” Tiurlan Basaria Hutagaol of the Christian-based Peace and Prosperity Party (PDS).

“We are not comfortable with the draft law because it is very divisive as it is based on an Islamic ruling. Our laws should not be based on the doctrine of any particular religion.

She said: “The decision — halal or permissible in Islam — is a religious issue. The government should be neutral.”

Said Abdullah, a Muslim MP from the secular and nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), also described the halal Bill as unconstitutional as it is “based on the religion of one community”.

The Bill, however, has the support of Muslim legislators from the other two major secular parties, Golkar and the Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as well as Islamic-based parties.

Legislator Badriyah Fayumi of the Islamic-based National Awakening Party (PKB) said non-Muslims should not feel threatened by the Bill, saying that the state was obliged to help its citizens practise syariah.

“The halal matter is very much one of principle for Muslims,” she said. It would provide a stronger legal basis for sanctions against companies that lie about the contents of their products, she said. “The Bill will stipulate sanctions if there is forgery or mixing of halal and non-halal foods.”

Under the proposed legislation, offenders face stiff penalties ranging from a two-year jail term with one billion rupiah fine to an eight-year jail term and six billion rupiah fine.

At present, local producers of food items apply voluntarily for halal certificates from the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), the highest Islamic authority in Indonesia, to widen their customer base.

The council’s affiliate, Institute for the Assessment of Food, Drugs and Cosmetics, also issues halal labels for medicines, including herbs, and cosmetic products.

If the Bill is passed, an independent body would issue halal licences to companies and restaurants for a fee of between 500,000 rupiah and 2 million rupiah.

MUI has also expressed reservations over the Bill because it would lose its right to issue halal licences, while businesses have warned that costs could rise.