As Al Safa grows so does opposition to it
Controversy and opposition continue to dog non-Muslim owned meat company Al Safa.
Al Safa is a Canada based meat company owned by a non-Muslim. Its products receive Halal certification from the Chicago-based Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA).
The company, along with five partners, was awarded funding last year (of $1.2 million, according to one source) by the Ontario Ministry of agriculture under its Rural Job Strategy Fund to develop and market of a new line of "Al Safa Brand" poultry, Fish & Pizza Products. These will add to the company's existing line of frozen beef products introduced two years ago and will be targeted towards Muslim consumers in Canada and the United States (please see http://www.gov.on.ca:80/OMAFRA/english/rural/jobstrat/july_dec1999.html. Scroll to the fifth project description). This funding is in addition to the $2.3 million which MGI, the parent company of Al Safa, was given to start this business in November 1996.
The steadily growing opposition to Al Safa focuses on non-Muslims taking over the Muslim meat market and the consequences of that for the North American Muslim community.
Is this non-Muslim owned company deceiving Muslims?
The issue is not just whether Al Safa's meat passes Islamic standards. Some Muslims argue that the company is deceiving the Muslim community.
Al Safa's Muslim name, Muslim employees, an Arabic-English logo with a picture of a date palm tree and a Masjid, slick flyers announcing its Halal food products and Muslim public relations people give the impression that this is a 100 percent Muslim company.
For some Muslims, this smacks of deception, since in reality, Al Safa is owned completely by a non-Muslim named David Muller, according to Dr. Munir Chaudry, President of IFANCA.
"They (Al Safa) are using this deceptive technique because they know if they reveal their true identity, Muslims will not buy from them" says Dr. Aslam Abdullah, editor of the Detroit-based weekly, Muslim Observer.
"That a company is pretending to be Islamic and Muslim in order to capture the market of Muslim consumers without revealing its identity, that in my view is a dangerous trend," he adds.
But Chaudry argues that Al Safa's owners are not hiding anything. During a 1994 meeting with Muller and his father Henry Muller, Chaudry notes that, "they were very open that Henry Muller was of Jewish faith. We discussed Judaism and Islam." They talked about common things "rather than bringing up political things. Like what's happening in the Middle East, for example," says Chaudry.
"I do not believe it is an issue of deception," he adds. "Henry Muller and David Muller are very up front. They don't hide that they are practicing Jewish people."
The question of non-Muslim ownership
While there is no prohibition in Islam regarding Muslim-non-Muslim business transactions, there is, however, an objection to Halal meat products aimed almost exclusively at Muslims being owned by non-Muslims. Should Muslims support such a venture?
For IFANCA's Chaudry, the issue of non-Muslim ownership is a non-issue. "We discussed it with our religious authorities. Our Imams did not have any problem endorsing Al Safa," he explains. "A Jew [David Muller] is making us open our eyes by bringing Halal to the forefront to the supermarket," adds Chaudry. "If Al Safa succeeds and Halal becomes a mainstay at the supermarket, the ultimate beneficiary of that are going to be Muslims."
No profit for Al Safa yet
Al Safa has not really shown much profit since its establishment, despite a well financed, sophisticated, sustained media campaign aimed at Muslims.
Muller, reached at his office in Kitchener, Ontario, by Sound Vision, explained the lack of profit by saying, "most companies lose money when they get started." He says he hopes business will pick up soon.
Is Halal just a business?
"For them, (Henry and David Muller) it's a business opportunity," says Chaudry about Al Safa. This, however, does not sit well with a number of people.
"The business of Halal meat cannot be just business.' Religion is primary, business is secondary. It's like Kosher," explains M. H. Hojjatian, general manager of Misom Halal Food Products, which produces, wholesales and distributes products like Halal sausages, burgers and pizza. They are also based in Ontario, Canada.
"In this transaction, there are certain values involved," says Dr. Abdullah. "Halal and Haram. That is the issue that is involved there. That is an issue exclusively for Muslims. Others do not believe in that notion."
He notes that the objection is not to business with non-Muslims per se. Rather, it is that this Muslim-catered business is being run by non-Muslims.
Shutting out the competition
From a business perspective Al Safa, according to Hojjatian of Misom Halal, has also tried to cut Muslim competition.
"If someone from Bell Canada calls you and says switch to me, then someone from Sprint calls me and says switch to me, they may have the same price but you as a customer have the right to choose. But Al Safa cut the wire and cut our supplier," she tells Sound Vision.
Here's what happened: as of February 1, 2000, MD Poultry, one of Misom's former wiener suppliers can no longer provide services to Misom. Why? Hojjatian claims that one of the company's owners signed a contract exclusively reserving its services for Al Safa. This happened despite the fact that Misom had been doing business with MD Poultry for close to two years. Hojjatian claims this deal was made by Al Safa's Muller to cut her supplier.
As well, she says when she asked MD Poultry if they had such an exclusivity contract for their non-Halal food production (which makes up 70 percent of its business), they said no.
When asked about this issue, Muller simply said: "I know nothing about it. "
What feed is being given to Al Safa animals?
But the issue of is Al Safa Halal?' becomes more complex when the problem of meat feed is factored in.
Abu Omar, an Illinois-based Muslim private citizen is concerned that most "Halal" meat that is sold is really not Halal because animals are fed feed mixed with meat (for an article on this topic, please see http://www.soundvision.com/halalhealthy/madcow.asp). This renders the animal non-edible for Muslims from an Islamic perspective.
"I have nothing personal (against) Al Safa but I'm investigating what's Halal and Healthy for Muslims," he explains in an interview with Sound Vision from his home in Illinois.
"The animals here (in the US) they are fed on animal protein from day one," says Abu Omar, so they are Jallalah and Haram accordingly. "If you bring a pig or Jallalah and slaughter it the Islamic way, does it make it Halal?"
Jallalah refers to an animal that Muslims can consume, but which eats the waste or flesh of other animals (i.e. camels, cows, sheep, chickens, geese).
Chaudry says he has already asked IFANCA-certified companies to give them full disclosure of their feed and IFANCA will be auditing some of the feed lots where the animals are kept.
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