Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Storm in a Soup Cup | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The subject is simple, but like many things these days it has been transformed into a scene of division and political and ideological debate. It seems that a company in Canada wanted to benefit from the expanding markets in many Western countries, with regards to the presence of a Muslim community, by producing Halal-certified products; that is to say foodstuffs that have been deemed permissible in accordance with the teachings of Islamic Shariaa Law.

The product in question this time, according to a report in the “Washington Post” is a special range of Campbell’s soup that has been certified by the Islamic Society of North America [ISNA] as being Halal. Considering that there is no particular Islamic requirement with regard to eating tomatoes, or “Bandura” as they are called in Syria and Lebanon, it is likely that this soup will contain – and this is merely an assumption – some meat or chicken, on the grounds that these products have specific Islamic Shariaa requirements in how they are slaughtered.

In any case, the issue is not with regards this range of soups, but as a result of an internet campaign calling for a boycott of the Campbell Soup company. The campaign organizers say that they are not against the idea of Halal Islamic products per se, but rather are against Campbell Soup Company’s products being Halal-certified by ISNA, an organization that the campaign accuse of having ties with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood; accusations that ISNA denies.

Cases such as this in which Muslims – in one way or another – are a party to the conflict, whether willingly or unwillingly, have been recurrent recently, especially following the 9/11 attacks. This is what some like to call a “clash of civilizations” or the phenomenon of Islamophobia, however in reality this is more the symptoms of different civilizations and worlds overlapping or integrating with one another as a result of the phenomenon of globalization and migration, and the extensive travel undertaken by hundreds of millions of people each year. These are things that people in the first part of the twentieth century, and previous centuries, could not even have dreamed of.

Different beliefs, ideas and traditions have existed since the beginning of human civilization to this day, and there is nothing new in that. However the difference these days is the revolution in communication and the ease of travel and migration, especially from Islamic countries, which perhaps places ideas, traditions, and civilizations in confrontation with one another on a daily basis, in the street, in school, and in other public places. In the past, the responsibility for dealing with other civilizations and cultures was allocated to travelers, intellectuals, and the political and cultural elite; however this is now part of daily life and the life of the ordinary man in the street.

This is a phenomenon that is not just related to Muslims. The issue of migration and integration is one that affects many countries and people, whether this is Asian, African, or Latin American countries. Even within a single continent such as Europe, there is overlap and integration following an influx of Eastern European communities competing in the labour market. Without the phenomenon of terrorism, takfirism, and extremism, that is being led by groups that claim to be Islamic and follow deviant ideology, and had the 9/11 attacks never taken place, there would never have been a basis or grounds for this Islamophobia. In general, this [integration] process will take time, and more importantly, it will require wisdom, and a lack of provocation from all sides.

As for the issue of the Halal-certified range of soups, this is something that proves that the market and the economy are stronger than ideologies. So long as there is a market for a particular product and profits to be made, companies will not hesitate to ignore ideology or certain ideas in order to get a foothold in this market and make profit. The proof of this is that Halal-certified products have appeared on the shelves in most of the giant supermarket chains in Western capitals, side by side with kosher products that follow the requirements of Jewish law.