When 'Concerned Bruneian' wrote a letter published in BB, October 3, 2012 titled "How Halal are our ever so popular marshmallows?" asking if marshmallows sold in the supermarkets are halal, the response from the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Religious Affairs was that the Halal Food Control Section faces challenges to fully monitor every food product available due to the human resources currently available and taking into account the abundant influx of food products into the country.
'Mat Baim' did mention in his recent article that just because there are only two officers in the section is not an excuse to not do much more. He further suggested that they could issue a newsletter, even once a month, to inform the public which products are halal rather than the public asking all the time.
I totally agree with Mat Baim that to advise the public to be mindful of what they consume is not the right answer from the Halal-Haram Section because it has an obligation to carry out a "Fardu Kifayah" duty for the nation.
The Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Religious Affairs also Wrote that any products that come with logos from authorities in MABIMS member countries such as Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM), Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura and Majis Ulama Indonesia including products that come from other countries that have been recognised by authorities of MABIMS member countries are generally accepted to be halal.
So I take it we can now bring in chicken from Limbang or Miri as long as they have been certified as halal by their authority? But then I once heard a case where KFC chicken bought in Limbang was asked to be thrown away!
Honestly, I am very disappointed with the response from the Public Relations Officer.
All I can say is that it's easy to talk. Anyone can talk, and it's quite easy for us to get verbal responses.
But then waiting to see some action to be taken can sometimes be quite frustrating.
But to me, the most frustrating thing is to hear people talk with no sense at all.
I just came across a statement made by BKMH (Bahagian Kawalan Makanan Halal-Urusetia Halal MUIB) on F'acebook, warning the public that they could be prosecuted if they circulate the image of a certain food product taken during an exhibition which was recently opened by BKMH to visitors on Tuesday, November 13, 2012, where BKMH themselves have displayed the food products identifying them as dubious in Halalness.
In the BKMH's statement published on their Facebook page, they stated that whoever spread false information or make false statements to create a state of fear (public alarm) among the public is guilty and can be prosecuted and punished with imprisonment up to a period of three years or a fine of $3,000. BKMH claimed that the specified products were marked as products of dubious Halal status, and this does not mean that these products are labelled as prohibited.
What are they trying to tell the public may I ask?
Back in October 2011, the country's Islamic Religious Council declared that Golden Churn Pure Creamery Butter from New Zealand was to be taken off the shelves in supermarkets due to uncertainty of the product's Halalness.
In a press conference held at the Ministry of Religious Affairs following a meeting that took place on October 2, 2011 the Minister of Religious Affairs said that the "Brunei Islamic Religious Council has concluded that the product" is deemed "syubhah" or dubious based on "Hukum Syarak" or Islamic Law.
Now I would like BKMH to explain what about those displayed during the recent exhibition? Is there any other type of" syubhah" that we don't know of? Didn't the Minister of Religious Affairs himself say that "those that are dubious should be renounced"?
It was also mentioned that along with the removal of the product from the local market, the food item "is no longer permitted to be imported into the country" until it procures the Halal Certificate as well as the Brunei Halal Permit in accordance with stipulated procedures.
Again I ask, what is the difference between the 'syubhah' of the Golden Churn butter and those food products displayed as "Product-product yang diragui Kehalalannya" as shown in the photo published in BKMH's Facebook page and that people could go to jail if they distribute the info?
In light of the Nuzul Al-Quran celebration on August 19, 2011, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in a titah stressed that tests are to be carried out on imported food items.
"It is important for us to test all imported food products. It is not wrong, in this instance as an example, if all imported butter brands are tested for certainty. We should not just wait for a controversy to happen for us to hastily set up a laboratory," His Majesty said.
His Majesty also urged Muslims to avoid products that even have the slightest of doubts and said, "Between Haram and Halal, there are matters that are 'Musytabihat', meaning that is still doubtful, uncertain whether it is Halal or Haram. In this situation, Hukum Syarak states that they must be avoided."
The monarch's titah followed the announcement that two ministries - the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources - were in informal talks towards developing a Halal Scientific Lab.
Mat Baim did ask in his recent article "whatever happened to the plan to build a dedicated halal test lab which appeared in the papers soon after the Golden Churn episode around September 2011?"
As mentioned by the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, The Government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has established the Halal Food Control Section under the Syariah Affairs Dept of the Ministry of Religious Affairs to monitor halal food products in the country
To make it clear, the Halal Food Control Section's tasks is also to ensure the 'halalness' of products sold for public consumption and they should therefore be proactive and make every effort to carry out their duty, not giving excuses that they have manpower issues and telling people to take care of themselves.