An embrace between cultures
“Halal” is an Arab term which means “lawful“, namely everything that is allowed according to Muslim law; what is forbidden is called “Haram“.
People usually think that Muslim laws only applies to food, but Islam is a religion which regulates every sphere of any practicing Muslim’s life. In fact, many goods and services can be Halal certified: apart from the food market, also clothing, tourism, banking, insurance, transport, logistics, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics can get Halal certifications. The latter, consisting of skincare, bodycare, haircare, make-up and perfumes, together with the pharma segment, constitutes a consistent portion of Halal consumption, with a turnover of 156 billion dollars.
The Islamic world
Islam is a monotheistic religion originated in the city of La Mecca in the VII century of the Christian era, thanks to the last Prophet Muhammad. The name of this religion can be translated into “submission, total surrender” intended as of oneself to God; from the religious point of view, this concept means “entering into a state of peace and security with God through submission and surrender to him“.
This religion is essentially based on five irrefutable values to be followed by every practicing believer, the so-called Pillars of Islam, some sort of obligations that every observant Muslim is required to respect in order to please and bow down to God Allah: the testimonies of Faith, the five ritual daily prayers, the gift of purification through almsgiving, fasting in the month of Ramadan and the pilgrimage to La Mecca at least once in a lifetime.
The behavior code of the believer towards his God, himself and the community, derives from the main canonical sources of Islam: the Koran, the Sunna, the tradition of the companions of the prophet and the opinions of the wise men of Islam, the Ulema, who determines what is Halal and what is Haram.
The Koran is the holy text of the Islamic religion, through which the God Allah dictates the rules of worship, behaviors and social coexistence; it is the written representation of the message revealed by God, through the Prophet Muhammad, to every human on Earth. The Sunna is the collection of behaviors that the Prophet has manifested on different occasions and that have become examples from which to draw inspiration to face everyday life. The Hadith, that is the tradition of the companions of the Prophet, is a short anecdote about Muhammad’s life, considered the best interpreter of the divine will. The Ulema are the heirs of the Prophets. These ones “did not bequeath gold or silver coins, but knowledge. Whoever acquires it, acquires a great fortune“: they are therefore the experts of Islamic religious sciences. They issue the Fatwa that is a legal opinion / judgment / decree on the normative status of a particular case. In the process of Halal certification, the issuing of a Fatwa therefore determines the status of the product in subject: its being Halal (lawful) rather than Haram (unlawful) according to the opinion of scholars and wise men of the religion, with the support of technicians specialized in the matter.
Geography and Business
Islam is the second largest religion in the world, boasting approximately two billion followers, and over 23% of the world’s population. Globalization and migration processes are factors that strongly contributed to the establishment of numerous Muslim communities in the West side of the world.
Imagining the market as a cake, the Islamic “slice” is actually full-bodied and intriguing, so much to push more and more companies to consider Halal certification as a real opportunity to take advantage of: it represents a way to quickly expand the business and increase sales in large potential markets, like those with a predominantly Muslim population. According to the findings of the Global Islamic Economy Report, the turnover of Halal products amounts to the exorbitant figure of 2.3 trillion dollars, including all goods not only intended for Muslim people; in fact, the consumption of Halal certified goods is allowed and recommended to any individual, Islamic believer or not, as Halal represents a guarantee of controlled production processes and high quality standards.
From this point of view Halal certification differs from mere religiosity but assumes an ethical value of integration, the possibility of mutual understanding and, as the title of this article states, an embrace between Eastern and Western cultures. To be Halal certified for a company therefore means establishing good operating practices, becoming aware of the religious dimension of others, acquiring the necessary skills to interact with Muslim customers and opening up to new markets with different needs.
Halal certification in the cosmetic industry
As previously mentioned, the concept of Halal fully involves the lifestyle of every Muslim believer and the application of these principles deeply influences the cosmetics sector which, in combination with the pharmaceutical market, constitutes a considerable portion of Halal consumption, with a turnover of about 156 billion dollars.
Beauty is a human need and in our society, in which the aesthetic appearance has a decisive role, cosmetic products could be defined as a “must-have” not only for women but also for many men. The cosmetic product therefore takes on a very important role to improve every person’s appearance, which is a real business card. Not only as a mean to correct imperfections and therefore a tool to increase “self-confidence“, cosmetics are also considered as primary need to protect the skin from UV radiation, environmental pollutants and free radicals and, not least, to slow down the aging process, reasons why the demand and the consequent consumption of this kind of products increases exponentially from year to year. In addition, cosmetics are extremely important to the Muslim public because, according to the principles of Islamic law, the body has been gifted by God to the person; therefore it is necessary to take care of and protect it through the use of the right products – those Halal certified -.
Globalization, research and technological innovation have introduced new raw materials and new production processes, so it has emerged the need to ensure the Muslim consumer that the product intended for consumption, its components and its production process are in accordance with all religious dictates, hence the need to certify the entire product chain. Halal certification therefore plays an extremely important role, as it certifies that the product meets the standards and guidelines in force at the certifying Islamic organization.
The growth of this market segment is due to the increase in consumers’ interest in the used ingredients, fueled considerably by social networks and the millions of web-influencers who every day dispense pills and advices (more or less professional). It is important to underline that Halal cosmetics has clearly taken hold even among non-Muslim consumers who are constantly looking for organic, natural and cruelty-free products (see the principles of clean beauty and green chemistry) to satisfy their lifestyle or perhaps, more simply, to adapt to the green and healthy trends of the moment.
Requirements of an Halal certified cosmetic
The requirements set by the Islamic law regarding a cosmetic product, aimed at ascertaining its purity, safety of use and quality, are the following:
- Do not include animals or parts thereof that are not permitted by Islam. Meats derived from pork, boar, donkey, dog, horse and mule are considered impure;
- Do not include Halal animals or parts of them thereof that have not been slaughtered according to the Islamic law criteria. Ritual slaughter involves the severing of the esophagus and trachea of the animal, which must absolutely be in a state of total unconsciousness, without breaking its spine;
- Do not include ethyl alcohol, intoxicants and other substances considered harmful to health;
- Do not include substances from genetically modified organisms;
- Do not include any Najs components, i.e., impure;
- Do not include human flesh and blood;
- Manufacture, processing, storage and transportation must be done in a clean place and using equipment that has not been adulterated by Najs elements;
- During the production chain, the product must be separated from any other element that does not meet the standards and requirements defined by Islamic law.
Steps for obtaining the certification
Accreditation of Halal certification bodies is a formal declaration that a specific certification body is accredited and therefore competent to certify Halal services and products, especially to ensure their compliance for international exportation. Among the various certification bodies and accreditation bodies there are mutual recognition agreements, which are fundamental to ensure that the certifications issued are recognized and valid all over the world.
There are several steps involved in obtaining Halal certification. It starts by drawing up an estimate that includes a fixed fee, which depends on the size of the company, the complexity of the product and the involved production processes, and a variable fee related to the quantity of products to be certified and the number of plants to be inspected. This quote is valid for a limited period of time and beyond this period it can change; once confirmed, the certification contract is stipulated and must be completed within the deadline set by the body, otherwise it will become invalid. This step is followed by the delivery of a number of documents, including the ingredients matrix, to be filled in with the data related to the components of the products to be certified, the documentation concerning the finished products to be certified and the production methods. Once the “technical” process has been completed, it is possible to proceed with the planning of the audit, i.e. with the on-site inspection, at the end of which, if the company is found to be suitable, the Main Certificate is issued. It contains the list of all the Halal certified products, their code, the main data related to the company and the validity of this document. It is important to specify that the holder of the certificate assumes full responsibility for the use and legitimacy of the statements concerning the certificate issued by the body, as well as the correct application and advertising.
It is possible to proceed with requests for additional certifications through the extension procedure, which will result in the issue of an additional certificate. Three months after the expiry of the certificate, a surveillance procedure is carried out in order to verify the compliance with the certification requirements and proceed with any renewal.
With the term Halal we indicate what is permissible according to the imperative canons of the Islamic religion; Haram is instead what is not allowed. Here comes the need for a certification that guarantees to the consumer of Muslim Faith the safe consumption or use a product / good / service, without the danger to commit a sin against Allah: Halal certification guarantees to the faithful Muslim that a reliable certification body has verified the conformity of the product in question throughout the entire chain.
The Halal market, with an estimated value of around 2.3 billion dollars and an annual growth rate of 20% – destined to increase exponentially -, is not confined only to food products but includes a variety of sectors such as marketing, logistics, financial services, electronics and, last but not least, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The huge demand for certified beauty products is mainly due to the young demographic of the Muslim population, proud of their religion, with high purchasing power and always with an eye on the trends that are emerging on the web.
Halal is not only a religious certification but a global symbol of quality assurance that attracts not only the Islamic faithful, as it promotes ethics, social responsibility and the welfare of the environment and animals, essential values for the trade of the new millennium; in fact, nowadays consumers are increasingly attracted by all that is green and environmentally sustainable. This certification is therefore essential for the expansion of a company’s business and to increase the chances to gain share in potential foreign markets. Taking up the title of this article, Halal certification therefore allows an embrace between Eastern and Western cultures… The only embrace we can afford during the pandemic.
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About the author
Carolina Confalonieri, 26 years old, graduated in Pharmacy in 2018, recently obtained the Master Degree in Cosmetological Sciences at the University of Pavia. After the working experience in Pharmacy, she is now Technical and Regulatory Affairs at Gale & Cosm.