COLOMBO – Sri Lanka is unable to take advantage of the ever expanding trillion dollar global halal market because of its failure to address the anti-Muslim and anti-halal sentiments being spread by racial Buddhist groups.
First, the Muslim community in the island nation is suffering discrimination, according to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Second, although Sri Lanka wants to tap into the $2.3 trillion worth halal market along with other Asian countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and South Korea, hard-core Buddhist groups like the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force) are running a campaign against the move.
Fearing a backlash, some companies who were eyeing the halal market have suspended their plans.
“Certain manufacturers don’t want to get involved in the halal fiasco and will do without the certification,” Ali Fatharally, chief executive officer of the Halal Accreditation Council (HAC) in Sri Lanka, said to Asia Times.
HAC has given accreditation to several top export-oriented companies who want to cater to the halal market and are conscious of its great growth potential. Halal is related not just to meat and beverages but also everything from medicines to cosmetics. The industry is growing fast along with the global Muslim population.
Halal, which means ‘permissible’ in Arabic, is any object or action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic Shariah law. It is one of five Ahkam (provisions) — fard (compulsory), mustahabb (recommended), halal (allowed), makruh (disliked), and haram (forbidden) — that define the morality of human action in Islam.
Within one year after its formation, HAC had granted accreditation to at least 140 companies after a grueling process to ensure that local restaurants as well as products ranging from consumer goods to poultry are halal compliant and fit for consumption by Muslims across the world, Fatharally said.
Since 2013, especially during the rule of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka has been witnessing campaigns against Muslim women too for their traditional dress code and for following halal dietary guidelines.
Bodu Bala Sena’s (BBS) general secretary, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, a Buddhist monk, said such lifestyles are attempts by Muslims to implement Sharia in Sri Lanka which is a Buddhist country. The BBS even demanded the removal of halal logo which appeared on certain food products.
With Maithripala Sirisena being elected President and a new government led by Ranil Wickremesinghe taking over last year, there was a let-up in anti-Muslim campaigns. However in mid-June this year, BBS threatened to start riots against Muslims similar to the one they staged in 2014 in Buddhist-dominated areas of Aluthgama and Beruwela that left three people killed and scores injured and displaced.
Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL), said that although extremist monks laid low after the regime change in January last year, some groups have renewed their hate campaign against Muslims.
“Complaints made at various police stations have not been inquired into. Bodu Bala Sena’s Ven. Gnanasara made a public statement in Mahiyanganaya that he will repeat the Aluthgama destruction. Despite several complaints and video evidence, no action has been taken by the police or government machinery,” Ahamed told Asia Times.
CERD said despite the new government’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in Sri Lanka, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, in particular against the Muslim community, is continuing.
Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, member of the CERD and Country Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, has urged the Sri Lankan Government to look into the issue.
“It is important to take lessons from the past in order to avert such incidents,” he said referring to Aluthgama and Beruwela during a discussion in Geneva.
Even though President Sirisena and the Muslim community’s representatives held talks recently, the administration has failed to tackle hate campaigns against Muslims and their beliefs.
“There is an urgent need to address these issues at the earliest,” Ahamed said.
Munza Mushtaq is a journalist based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She is the former news editor of two leading Sri Lankan newspapers; The Nation and the Sunday Leader. She writes extensively on Sri Lankan current affairs with special focus on politics, human rights and business issues. She is currently the Colombo-based correspondent for International News Services, the Los Angeles Times and the Nikkei Asian Review.