FaithWorld

Table Talk: French halal restaurants try gourmet cuisine

foie gras

A cook dices foie gras, 8 June 2009/Karoly Arvai

In a stylishly decorated restaurant in the heart of Paris, tucked between Bastille and Place de la Nation, Sophia Tabet is perusing a typical French menu, including foie gras, beef fillet and duck confit. But unlike other French eateries, this one offers no wine list, and all food is prepared strictly in accordance with Islamic sharia law.

“We all eat halal food. It’s nice to have a change, to be able to eat French gastronomy that’s halal,” said Tabet, 29, a customer adviser at a large financial services company.

Tabet is on a girls’ night out with work colleagues at Les Enfants Terribles, one of a new breed of up-market halal restaurants that have sprung up in and around Paris, catering to a growing population of young Muslim professionals. Another new halal eatery is Le Wok Saint Germain, a chic Thai restaurant run by Frenchman Dhieb Lagnab.

Born and educated in France, these young French Muslims have similar culinary tastes and social lives to their non-Muslim counterparts, but eating out can be a disappointing experience, restricted to cheap fast food outlets, or the vegetarian option on the menu.

“Before, eating halal in Paris, you were pretty much limited to pizzerias or kebab shops,” said Kamel Saidi, 32, who opened Les Enfants Terribles two years ago with his brother. “I was born in France, I grew up in France and I was frustrated because I wasn’t able to enjoy good traditional French food,” he said.

Halal food going mainstream in Europe – Nestlé

halal-parisThe business of selling food that is halal, or acceptable to Muslims, is set to grow rapidly in Europe in coming years as more supermarket chains target the sector. Frits van Dijk, executive vice president at the world’s biggest food group Nestlé, told Reuters at the World Halal Forum Europe in The Hague that he expected the halal food business in Europe to grow by 20 to 25 percent within the next decade.
(Photo: Halal hamburger restaurant in Paris suburb, 10 Aug 2005/Jacky Naegelen)

The total European halal food market is currently valued at about $66 billion, including meat, fresh food and packed food, while the global market is worth about $634 billion.“We are starting to see that these products are not just in speciality shops but are also starting to get into the mainstream of modern retailers,” said Van Dijk, pointing to Britain’s Tesco and France’s Carrefour, which stock halal goods.Milk powder, cooking aids, seasoning and sauces are among the most popular halal products in Europe at the moment, while Nestlé has recently started selling a range of meat-based and frozen food halal products in France, Van Dijk said.Read the whole story here.

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World halal standard would help $2 trillion industry, Malaysia says

halalMalaysia hopes that Muslim countries can agree on which goods and products are halal, or acceptable to Muslims, a move that would boost the $2 trillion industry, although politics and interpretation of islamic law may complicate the task.
(Photo: Halal label at Kuala Lumpur restaurant, 8 April 2005/Bazuki Muhammad)

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is working on a single standard to be applied in its 57 member countries.  Agreement to regulate the halal industry, which ranges from financial institutions to cosmetics and meat, would help trade and speed up the certification for makers of halal products.“Malaysia’s halal certification is recognised worldwide so perhaps we can play an important role in creating a global standard,” Malaysia’s religious affairs minister Jamil Khir Baharom said in an interview on Thursday. “We need a halal certification that everyone can use easily.”Muslim jurists do not always agree on what is halal. Islam prohibits the consumption of pork and prescribes how animals must be slaughtered, but there has been debate on the acceptability of non-alcoholic beer, collagen and vinegar.See the full story here.

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French, U.S. imams talk about being Muslim military chaplains

imams-threeBoth are Muslims. Both are chaplains. Both are in the military. But one is French and one is American. That alone ensured there would be enough to talk about when Mohamed-Ali Bouharb and Abu- hena Saifulislam met in Paris to discuss their work with chaplains and academics from the United States.
(Photo: Bouharb (l) and Saifulislam with CIEE’s Hannah Taieb. Note the Islamic crescents on Bouharb’s cap and Saifulislam’s sleeves, 7 June 2009/Tom Heneghan)

Muslim chaplaincies are relatively new additions to the armed forces in Europe and North America. Establishing their place alongside the traditional Catholic, Protestant and Jewish offices of religious services has not always been easy, even though both imams reported the top brass in their countries strongly supported the effort. While they tend to the spiritual needs of their co-religionists in the ranks, as other chaplains do, these imams also spend much time explaining their religion and its practices to their non-Muslim superiors.Both spoke of the obvious issues such as getting halal food or having time and space for Muslim prayers. Both had encountered questions from both within the forces and outside in the Muslim community asking why they had agreed to work as imams in the military. Their presentations were part of a seminar entitled “Religious Diversity in Everyday Life in France” organised by the U.S.-based Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and the Institute for the Study of Islam and the Societies of the Muslim World in Paris.Bouharb, 32, is a French-born Muslim with Tunisian roots who studied Islam at a private Muslim institute in Paris and graduated from a special training course for imams at the Catholic Institute here. He is chaplain to the National Gendarmerie, which comes under the Defence Ministry. France only launched its Muslim chaplain corps in 2005 and it is still finding its way. “I first got a two-year contract. It’s just been extended by four years. Nothing is certain. We’ll see the results in 20 years,” he told the meeting on Sunday. Bouhard stressed how tricky the issues he faces can be as he discussed the delicate bridge function he has to play with the example of five French Muslim soldiers who refused to go to Afghanistan:

“If a Muslim soldier doesn’t want to go to Afghanistan for religious reasons, that’s his right. My role is not to convince him. But if he doesn’t want to go, he shouldn’t be in the army. That’s not a religious opinion. Sometimes the Muslim chaplain has to put aside his religious role and deconstruct what is religious and what is not. What I do is go see the soldier and ask him about his vision of Islam. I can help him to understand things better, but not to make a decision… If a soldier’s not clear in his mind (about shooting at Taliban), he might hesitate for a moment. That could endanger the troops around him…“To the commanders, I say I’m not the representative of a Muslim soldiers’ trade union. When those five refused to go, people said the Muslim chaplains weren’t doing their jobs. It was all over the media. But the chaplain’s duty is not to ensure the cohesion of the troops. (The doubting soldier) could endanger others. My religious duty is not to put those others in danger… We Muslim chaplains asked for a right to reply to the media but the Defence Ministry press office said it was not worth the effort… They were right. A few weeks later, all was forgotten.”

Another issue was whether Muslim soldiers due for commando training had to fast if the session occurred during Ramadan. “They get up at 3 a.m. and march for 25 kms with backpacks weighing 25 kilos. It’s very difficult to fast,” he said. Muslim soldiers asked him what to do. “I told them that, if you signed up to do this training, you have to respect that contract. You can stop your fast and catch up on those days after Ramadan is over.” Ten Qatari soldiers in France for advanced training could not understand why the session was not rescheduled, as it would be in their majority Muslim society, but Bouharb said it could not be and the Muslim soldiers had to adjust. “There is only one Islam, but there are many ways of expressing it,” he said.imams-twoSaifulislam, who emigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 1989 and became a U.S. Navy imam 10 years later, had a slightly different approach. “If there is special training during Ramadan, I ask the commander if it can be moved to another date,” he said, stressing he was giving his personal opinion and not speaking in an official capacity. “I tell the Muslims that they’re away from home while on training so they can not fast and make it up later. It’s his or her call. I provide the counsel.”
(Photo: Bouharb and Saifulislam, 7 June 2009/Tom Heneghan)

He said there were about a dozen imams in the U.S. armed forces, which appointed their first Muslim chaplain in 1993. That compares to over 800 Christian and Jewish chaplains in the Navy alone, he said. “They don’t necessarily need us for the number of Muslim soldiers but to advise them on religious inclusiveness, like about how Islamic practices can affect a mission, before they deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. They get training in cultural sensitivity.”Possibly because imams have served in the U.S. military for longer than in the French, the American Muslim chaplains seemed more integrated into the overall chaplain corps. Saifulislam said:

Ninety-nine percent of the people who come to me for counselling are from another faith. They come to you with issues, it could be about family, stress or violence. People can get more religious in boot camp, also in prison. I’ve also been trained in suicide prevention, PTSD recognition and crisis management. We also do grief counselling, regardless of the religion. Of course, we don’t perform services for other religions. You’re not going to see me baptise a baby! But we facilitate things. If someone comes to me as a Wiccan and asks for a place to pray, I help them. The Department of Defense recognises over 290 different religions and denominations. If a Muslim asks one of the other chaplains to help him get a copy of the Koran, he has to help him.”

If swine flu isn’t kosher in Israel, is it halal in the Muslim world?

Our Jerusalem bureau had this interesting little story today about the swine flu outbreak:

Swine flu not kosher in Israel
JERUSALEM, April 27 (Reuters) – Swine flu? Not in the Jewish state.

“We will call it Mexico flu. We won’t call it swine flu,” Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a black-garbed Orthodox Jew, told a news conference on Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.