Islamic marketing opportunities opening up for converters.

Islam - with over 1 billion adherents worldwide - is the fastest growing religion in the Western world. Over 5 million Muslims live in the US alone, worshipping at an estimated 1,300 mosques and Islamic Centers. Concentrated in major American cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston, an estimated two-thirds are either recently arrived immigrants or second and third generation. The remaining one-third are African-Americans.

Similar to Judaism, the Islamic religion has a finely tuned set of dietary rules concerning food and drink. Yet, in contrast to Judaism, there is as yet no regulatory agency in the US that approves packaging material for Islamic use. And, while flex-pack converters must seek (and do seek) rabbinical approval for the use of certain symbols stating that their material is "kosher-approved," no converter operating in the US has yet sought out Islamic approval. By recognizing this emerging market, the knowledgeable converter can not only serve the spiritual needs of the Muslim community in the US but also capture a truly unique position in the industry.

The Koran's word "halal," meaning "that which is lawful," refers generally in Muslim practice to that which is permitted to use, more specifically, in Muslim legal discourse it has come to be applied to rules pertaining to the consumption of food and drink. "Haram" is the term used for forbidden or proscribed foods and/or acts of conduct.

The concept of "halal" in Islam today, as is the case with comparable ideas in other religious traditions such as Judaism, may also be regarded as part of an integral code of ethics and purity. Its perspectives on rules of permissibility, cleanliness and purification relating to food and drink, the body and its functions, rites of passage, rituals of pilgrimage and prayer, and sacred space and times enable Muslims to frame their behavior of Islam as a complete moral code displaying reverence for life in all its forms.

The Koran exhorts believers to eat the good, lawful plants and animals that God has provided for them. This general dispensation is subject to several conditions and prohibitions. Plant foods that are especially valued include dates, the vine, olives, pomegranates and grains. The preferred flesh is that of domestic cattle, sheep, goats and camels. Muslims are expressly forbidden from consuming carrion, spurting blood, pork and food that has been consecrated to any being other than God himself. Each prohibited substance is declared to be extremely defiling, with wine being further distinguished as an instrument of Satan for sowing discord among the faithful.

The lawfulness of meat is largely determined by how it is obtained. Ritual slaughtering and sacrifice (a form of slaughter qualified by intentionality on sacred occasions) are required for domestic cattle, sheep, goats and fowl. The Koran permits fishing and hunting wild animals as long as the quarry is lawful. It prohibits Muslims from eating anything that has been strangled, beaten or gored to death, or animals that have died by falling. A creature that has been partly consumed by predatory beasts is also forbidden, unless it has actually been killed by ritual slaughtering or by a trained hunting animal.

For many immigrants in Europe and the US during the 1980s and 1990s, the rules of slaughtering and the pork taboo became at least as important as the ban on alcohol. In towns where sizable Muslim communities have formed, groceries selling lawful meats have opened. Muslims also go to farms where they purchase and slaughter the animals themselves. Otherwise, they feel secure purchasing kosher foods and rely on information garnered from product labels.

For converters, the potential use of an "halal-approved" seal means that aluminum foil is rolled using only synthetic lubricants. Waxes utilized from tallow would be forbidden. No animal glues can be used. All plasticizers and flexible film additives are subject to investigation. If cellophane is used, the glycerin must be of synthetic origin and not animal-based.

During the Gulf War, Star Foods in Texas was awarded a US government contract to supply retort pouch meals (RTE) to the armed forces serving in Saudi Arabia as well as to the Saudi Arabian forces. The food was all "halal"-approved and kosher-approved as the polyester/foil/polypropylene laminate was deemed acceptable as a "halal" substitute. Specific "halal" approval would have been preferable, however.

At this time, the interested converter should prepare either a kosher approval (rabbinical-approved) certificate or a statement noting that all the ingredients used in the flex-pack manufacture meet "halal." This might be forwarded to the local mosque or Islamic Center for possible seal design and utilization. It's really quite a simple procedure that can certainly result in potential sales increases.


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