Monday, October 18, 2010

Halal Makeup

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah
Readers of this blog probably will all know that “halal” means “lawful” or “permitted” in Islam, and that it’s a very general term; its opposite is “haram” (religiously forbidden or unlawful). But if you ask people who live in the west, including some Muslims perhaps, they will say “it means meat from slaughtered animals”. So now we have “halal” restaurants from China to the US, including non-Muslim fast-food chains that have opened “halal” branches. (In a previous piece, I had discussed the “religion, science, and politics” of “halal”.)
Many readers, including probably many non-Muslims, will also be familiar with “Sharia-compliant products”, an expression which entered our cultural landscape in the past decade or two regarding financial transactions and other related matters, e.g. loans, sales of certain kinds, real estate markets, capitalization, etc. Many western banks (including Citibank, HSBC, and others) now propose “Sharia-compliant” money schemes for Muslims who have various transactions and needs.
But the idea of “Sharia-compliance” has now become so attractive (think of the purchasing power of Muslims in the west, in the Gulf, and in other places) that every company of every kind is now looking to take advantage of the “Muslim market”.
And so now we have at least two companies proposing “halal makeup”. What, you may ask (as I did when I came across this), makes a makeup product halal or haram? In the article titled “Redefining beauty care products for Muslims”, one learns that the company OnePure now offers “a range of beauty cosmetics and skin care products that are certified Halal”, which is defined as “using no haram products or alcohol”. When I read that, I jumped, talking to the article: “you mean the cologne I put on in the morning (or evenings) is haram??” After all, it’s loaded with alcohol! But I thought that alcohol was haram only for drinking… And I know for certain that even when it’s part of a medicine, it is not considered haram to swallow it! The article, however, goes on to explain that even the fluids used to clean the equipment in the manufacturing process must not contain alcohol or pork or animal bi-products! Indeed, the article further explains that this is important for Muslims, who “must be clean and pure before [praying]…” If “haram ingredients are in your body”, we are told, “your prayers will not be accepted”! Ooh, I better go check all the shampoos, conditioners, and whatever my wife puts in the bathroom (and I don’t even want to get to the products she buys for herself) and make sure they are “clean and pure”…

The creator of OnePure (a woman) tells us that her company’s products are not just halal; they are “third-party certified halal”! She is “proud for setting a new standard in Halal certified beauty”, with thirteen products, and “many more to come, focusing on whitening and anti-aging…” These products are now sold not just on Saudi Airlines, which one would expect, but in the famous Parisian chic megastore Galleries Lafayette! We are thus warned that “the consumer now has a choice whether or not they want to risk using Haram ingredients on their bodies.”
Now, if this were a lone case, I wouldn’t worry too much, although once something like this reaches the Galleries Lafayette, it is certainly an international social phenomenon. Unfortunately, this kind of “pure, halal beauty” commerce is fast multiplying: the brand “Pure Make up” has now appeared in the UK, certified by the Halal Certification Authority in Australia. We are told that its products “are not only popular with Muslim women [not men??] but also with vegans and vegetarians belonging to other faiths.”
And if this halal business trend doesn’t disturb you too much, perhaps I should mention (just briefly) that there are now “Shariah-approved sex aids” for Muslims, a website based in Holland…


Ali said...

I saw a small clip of the Amsterdam store on CNN. It is so funny, I thought. It is not like anything I imagined. :)

A bigger issue for me is if we are to be using 100 percent halal stuff, all the time, then much needs to be done. This also means there is a lot of potential that prospective businesses can even experiment on.

I have never been to Saudi Arabia but I wonder whether they use surgical spirit in their hospitals they way it is used in most hospitals. I don't think '100 percent halal' can be practised at least in hospitals. We can make creams and lotions for general use without alcohol, but to completely avoid it in pharmaceutical prodcuts used for medical purposes is I think impossible.

ohmygod said...

If God created the entire universe, why did he make somethings clean and some dirty? If he expected humans to follow only clean things, he should have made everything clean and halal in the first place. And now that all the non-halal people take so much pain to create their own clean stuff, why are they still bad in the eyes of God? All this defies logic. I think this halal make-up business is an insult to all those who use other (non-halal and) perfectly clean materials. But any way, I think the religion and the market are together making a fast buck this way.

Ali said...

@ ohmygod

"If he expected humans to follow only clean things, he should have made everything clean and halal in the first place."

Have you even tried ONCE to imagine what that would be like?

For me it appears that you are talking of an impossibility.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

Thanks for your comments. For surgical tools, I am sure that the Saudis (or any ultra-conservative scholars) will justify using alcohol (for sterilization) on "necessity" grounds.

@ ohmygod,
You've raised several issues:
1/ Why is there something unclean or non-halal? This is the old "why is there bad/evil stuff in the world; why doesn't God prevent the (very) ugly stuff from happening, including big disasters, etc."? There are many possible answers to this, including what Ali said, namely that the world would be boring or perhaps not exist at all (if anything "bad" is removed, then everything is equal and static). Another answer is "because God gave us reason and wants to see us use it well and on our own"; if he makes everything perfect, then what's the point of us going through it at all? And other arguments like this.
2/ Can we try to go "clean" without following this "halal" route? Good question. That goes to the heart of defining "halal" in the first place, and of course of defining "clean"...
3/ Isn't this all a big-buck enterprise that we are being fooled to follow? In this particular case, yes indeed, I would certain say so...

ohmygod said...

@ Ali, yes I am talking of an impossibility. I very well know that ugly and clean will always co-exist, and the world can never be perfectly "clean". We have make an effort to remain clean, but then whose definition of clean should we follow? What is haram for me can be halal for you and vice-a versa. When the "non-halal" people with all their good intentions create their beauty products, they also go through the chemical tests etc. to ensure that everything is perfectly clean and safe for the skin. So why should they be considered "haram" in the eyes of God.

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