There have been calls within Australia to ban products with halal certification. I understand the feelings of some but I do not share their view. Most of the opposition to certification revolves around how monies paid to certifiers are being spent. There have been suggestions that some certifiers are funding terrorists. I cannot comment on this. I don’t know the truth, but I trust that authorities do and act appropriately.
As a Christian I feel that such calls to ban halal certification are extremely problematic on 2 levels.
1. It ostracises Muslims from being open to the Gospel.
One of the problems I have is how this outcry affects the Islamic community. If I try to put myself in their shoes, I think I would feel like an outcast. When this offence is caused by Christians, even if well meaning, it creates a barrier to the gospel. Simply put, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils see such attempts as being motivated by anti-Muslim feelings. A ban on halal certification may change our supermarket shelves but at what cost.For people who already feel Christians have anti-Islamic sentiments, they will not be open when we share the gospel of Jesus with them.
2. It misunderstands the Gospel of Jesus.
I suspect when Christians call for bans on halal certification they don’t not think about what it means to be a Christian. I’m not surprised or critical of this but I think it reflects the society we live in. The whole idea of halal is that it determines what is lawful or unlawful to eat. Laws about food is something that our society, and us as Christians, have never had to consider. This wasn’t always the case. The New Testament has repeated debates about what it means to be a Christian. Specifically the debate at the time was whether a Christian must first become Jewish and therefore subject to Jewish religious law. This included the stringent dietary laws.Basically what was decided was that the message of Jesus brought freedom from such requirements. It wasn’t that these things were bad but simply through Jesus people didn’t need to strive to be in relationship with God.In other words, what Jesus was interested in was people’s hearts rather than their compliance to laws. This was one of his criticisms of the Pharisees when he said they were clean on the outside but inwardly unclean. The message of Jesus was radical in that it focused on the grace of God rather than people’s attempts to meet a standard. He came to bring freedom from sanctimoniously religious rules.
Why is all of this important?
As Christians we are called to share the message of Jesus. Part of this means meeting people where they are at. This includes the religious and the irreligious and our approach will vary. But it seems to me that halal foods is an area where we are able to meet Muslims where they are. However well-intentioned, if calls for banning halal is perceived as being anti-Islamic then we shut the door of bringing the Gospel. This only results in Islamic people feeling condemned. Surely this is a bad thing. But we also have the opportunity to show how Jesus came to bring freedom from religious laws. In this we can lovingly lead people to a place of being liberated by the Gospel of Jesus.