For many non-Muslims, the term halal conjures images of food products prepared as prescribed by Islamic law where the absence of alcohol and pork products is seen as the main feature.
While this is partly true, the concept of the Islamic principle of halal has a much wider meaning than food and drinks.
It essentially refers to permissible practices which Muslims are allowed to engage in.
Islam is a complete way of life and requires Muslim to practice all aspects of their life in a “halal” manner-ensuring that whatever they consume or engage in as part of their day-to-day activities falls within the parameters of Islam.
In contrast to halal, matters that not adhere to Islamic principles are referred to as haram (not permissible).
The concept of halal governs the lifestyle of a Muslim in decision making process in banking and finance, investment and tourism, eating and drinking, pharmaceutical and cosmetics.
Further, halal matters have become much more encompassing and extend to personal care products, biotechnology, logistics and shipping among other areas.
In banking, for instance, interest transactions (riba) are strictly prohibited and this remains the key differences between Islamic and conventional banking.
In an interest-free transaction, instead of a home loan, an Islamic bank will buy a property and resell it to a buyer at profit, with the buyer paying the bank in instalments.
Food must not contain ingredients deemed to be sourced from non-halal products. In the murky world of the food industry, where insects, human hair and feathers can be part of the ingredients, halal comes in to guide Muslims in the consumption of such products.
Even though meat for consumption by Muslims has to be derived from animals which are slaughtered according to Islamic law, the mode of transportation and storage can render the meat to be haram (not permissible) for consumption by Muslims.
Halal travel is now an established concept in the tourism industry where services are provided in adherence to Muslim beliefs and practices.
Hotels in such destinations do not serve alcohol and have separate swimming pools, spa and gym facilities for men and women.
As the Muslim global population grows, so the demand for halal products and this has pushed businesses, hotels and service providers across the world to cater for the needs of Muslim clients. Interestingly, in some countries like Malaysia non-Muslims are among key players in the growth of the halal economy.
To ensure compliance to halal standards, the halal certification industry has evolved in the last few decades.
Halal certification ensures that products and services offered to Muslims conform to the requirements of Islamic faith giving assurance to Muslim consumers that products and services they engage in do not contravene their religious practices.
Locally, the Kenya Bureau of Halal Certification (KBHC) which is affiliated to the World Halal Council has certified over 100 companies.
With its international recognition, its services have also been sought after in neighbouring Tanzania and the West African nations of Ghana and Ivory Coast.
The growing interest in Islamic finance has seen the halal economy getting good traction in the country.
The launch of two fully fledged Islamic banks, First Community Bank and Gulf African Bank in 2008 placed Kenya in the lead as the regional hub for Islamic finance in the region.
To tap into the growing needs of Muslim consumers, a number of conventional banks followed suit by opening Islamic banking windows.
In the insurance sector, Takaful Insurance of Africa has for the last five years remained the key player in the provision of Islamic insurance in the country and the region.
In a move to further buttress Kenya as the regional halal hub, a major halal expo will be held in Nairobi in November this year where more than 100 companies from within and outside the country are expected to showcase their products and services.
Organised by Kijani Communications and Maahad Da’wa Organisation, the Halal Trade Expo Kenya—the first of its kind in the region—will showcase the emerging dynamic halal products and services thereby contributing to the promotion of the industry considered to be among the fastest growing sectors in the world economy.
*Abu Ayman is the editor of Friday Bulletin, a weekly publication of the Jamia Mosque Committee, Nairobi