KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 12 — Several cases of restaurant operators misusing the halal certificate have emerged of late.

Some were found displaying expired certificates while others had the audacity to exhibit certificates that were not validated by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) or the relevant state Islamic department.

On January 31 in Kota Baru, the Kelantan branch of the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry opened an investigation paper on a restaurant for using an expired Jakim logo and Malaysian Halal Verification Certificate.

In Kuantan, Pahang, a Vietnamese eatery was found displaying an uncertified halal logo at its premises and on its food packages during an operation carried out by the Pahang Islamic Religious Department on January 28. If convicted, the restaurant operator faces a fine of up to RM250,000.

In Lukut, Negri Sembilan, a restaurant operator was slapped with a compound after the authorities found him displaying the halal certificate belonging to his supplier that had expired in 2016.

This writer recently “surveyed” a food outlet in Gombak, Selangor, which is believed to be operating in the guise of a Muslim restaurant but does not possess a halal certificate approved by Jakim. What is more, eight out of its 12 workers are non-Muslims.

One of the workers told Bernama that most of the people who patronised the restaurant were Muslims.

This revelation of restaurants misusing the halal logo demands Muslims to be more wary of the halal certification issue. They should be more proactive and do their part to help the relevant authorities to take action against restaurant operators who mislead their customers by using bogus halal logos.

Who is to blame?

Federal Territory and Selangor Malay Muslim Food Operators Association president Ayob Abd Majid said where the halal issue was concerned, both customers and restaurant operators should be held accountable as it was their careless attitude that made the issue difficult to contain.

“I’ve observed that many (Muslim) customers don’t bother to check whether or not the restaurant they are patronising has a valid halal certificate. Some of them assume that as long as there are many people eating at a restaurant, there would be no problems.

“For the restaurant owners, the most important thing is to make a profit. As Malays make up the majority of Malaysians, they (restaurant operators) are exploiting the market by misusing the halal certificate and displaying it at their premises,” he told Bernama.

It is not compulsory for restaurants to obtain a halal certificate from Jakim or the relevant state Islamic department.

All an operator needs in order to run his eatery is a valid business licence from either the Companies Commission of Malaysia or the local authority, while the application for a halal certificate is done strictly on a voluntary basis.

“Since it’s up to the restaurant owner whether or not he wants to apply for a halal certificate from Jakim, many of them are creating their own halal certificates. Some even display certificates that have expired at their premises,” he said.

Ayob advised restaurant operators, particularly the Muslims, to re-evaluate their business intentions and ask themselves if they were only out to reap profits without paying heed to issues like whether their outlets were certified halal and every aspect of their business was halal-compliant and in accordance with the law.

Not something new

Civil servant Imran Nordin told Bernama talk of non-Muslims opening ‘mamak’ restaurants by using the Muslim identity and hiring non-Muslim workers was “nothing new”.

“People also say jokingly that you can eat at a ‘mamak’ restaurant as long as you don’t go into their kitchen!” he said, adding that the joke was in reference to the operators’ lack of emphasis on cleanliness.

Imran said most diners usually would not question a restaurant’s halal status if they see the Arabic script for Allah and Muhammad decorating the wall.

“I’ve observed the ‘mamak’ eateries near my house and if I notice that they are closed during Friday prayers and their workers go to the mosque to pray, then I’ve no doubts about their status.

“When lorries send their supplies to the restaurants concerned, I would find out who their suppliers are and the brands they use,” said Imran, who confessed he frequently patronised ‘mamak’ restaurants.

Taxi driver Rahmad Ariffin, 42, said Muslims should be cautious when eating out.

“My parents had taught me from young to observe carefully first before entering a restaurant. Look at their workers, food and level of cleanliness first,” he added.

Don’t misuse image of Islam

Meanwhile, Selangor Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry enforcement chief Azman Adam warned non-Muslim restaurant operators not to mislead their Muslim customers by any means.

“As long as they don’t possess a valid Malaysian Halal Verification Certificate, they cannot display any Islamic features (such as giving their restaurant a Muslim name or putting up verses from the Quran on their wall) at their premises,” he told Bernama when contacted recently.

Azman said consumers have the power to team up with the authorities to address this issue more aggressively as they can use the various channels available to them to lodge complaints should they come across any errant eatery.

“When we raid a restaurant, it means that the restaurant was either under surveillance by our ministry or we received a complaint from the public,” he added.

Other cases involving misuse of halal logo

For the record, on January 18 Bernama reported that the Perak Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry has taken action against two food premises for displaying expired halal certificates. Both cases will be investigated under Section 16 (1) of the Trade Descriptions Act 2011.

In George Town, Penang, a popular Indian restaurant was issued a compound by the local authority for displaying a halal logo without the permission of Jakim.

Jakim has issued a warning that any corporate body found guilty of trying to mislead customers with their halal status can be fined up to RM5 million.

A Bernama report on January 12 quoted Jakim director-general Datuk Mohamad Nordin Ibrahim as saying that the penalty was provided for under the Trade Descriptions (Halal Definition) Order 2011.

“If an offence is committed by an individual, they can be fined up to RM1 million or jailed for up to three years, or both, upon conviction,” he said. — Bernama