Sunday, September 18, 2016

In China, Fears of ‘Creeping Sharia’ Proliferate Online

The country’s Muslim minorities want more regulation for halal food. Opponents say it's a gateway to extremism.     

By Matthew S. Erie    

FOREIGN POLICY - September 15, 2016

Over the past six months, Chinese social media outlets have been electrified by Chinese Muslim calls for a statute to regulate halal food production. On social media platform Weibo, some Chinese grassroots netizens and even scholars have equated the effort to an exercise in terrorism and linked it to Chinese Muslim radicalization. The ugly rhetoric says far more about the state of Islamophobia in China than it does about the merits of halal regulation.
The halal push comes primarily from the Hui, China’s largest Muslim group, who number at least 10 million and are far more culturally Chinese than Uighurs, another minority Muslim group with whom the majority Han have a particularly fraught history. Observant Muslims in China and elsewhere follow dietary laws that specify how meat should be prepared and which foods can and cannot be eaten. Foods that comport with these rules are “halal.” In an age of industrial mass production, labeling pre-packaged food products as halal helps Muslim consumers know which products to buy, and can expand a company’s consumer base. Similarly, a restaurant that markets itself as halal can attract a greater number of customers. But the lack of an enforced national standard in China on the production and sale of halal food has resulted in widespread suspicion that some unscrupulous enterprises are selling non-halal food, especially food that includes porcine products, as halal. That’s why Chinese Muslims, particularly the Hui, have pushed for a nationwide truth-in-labeling law on halal food since 2002.