Muslim majority or not, halal food is gaining ground in countries around Asia and the world. With most restaurants and food brands in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia boasting of halal certifications, it is a way of life in South-east Asia. But the recent controversy and outburst of Chinese social media fanatics over a halal delivery service says otherwise. While there are 22 million Muslims in China that account for only 2% of the population, the increasing popularity of halal food in China has been a debated issue for more than two years now.
While there are 22 million Muslims in China that account for only 2% of the population, the increasing popularity of halal food in China has been a debated issue for over two years now.
Meituan, a popular food delivery app in China, introduced a “halal” button on its app in July this year, offering a special delivery service by keeping halal-marked food in “separate boxes” to gain the halal customer’s confidence. Founded in 2010 in Beijing, Meituan started in the wake of the discount coupon craze. In 2015, it merged with restaurant reviews app Dianping and came to be known as Meituan-Dianping. It claims to be the world’s largest on-demand delivery platform, receiving up to 10 million orders every day.
Meituan couriers on bikes nowcarry two delivery boxes, a normal one for non-halal food and a smaller one for halal food, the company announced recently. Many people saw this preferential treatment as a threat to the unified society in China and an impetus to the growth of Islam. Many condemned it as an act of positive discrimination and deleted the app from their phones, at once.
One of the Weibo posts read: “Respecting them as a minority is all right, but don’t forget we are the majority. Why does Meituan give them exclusive service now?”
The line used by Meituan to promote its new services, “make people eat more safely” (Literally: “Using separate boxes for halal food will put your mind at ease”) and the image of Meituan’s promotional campaign for halal food that went viral reportedly sparked anger on social media channels. The topic Is Meituan Going Bankrupt? received more than 3.7 million views on Weibo and stayed a topic of discussion under various hashtags, thus reiterating the people’s anger.
One of the Weibo threads on this topic crossed over 50,000 comments. Other Weibo users also questioned why the company was discriminating against the Han people or Buddhists by not offering special boxes for them. “I don’t like to eat lamb, can I have my own separate delivery box as well?” asked another Weibo user. One comment did question if it does really affect anyone or their rights? As nothing changes for non-halal customers, anyway.
Muslim majority or not, halal food is gaining ground in countries around Asia and the world. With most restaurants and food brands in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia boasting of halal certifications, it is a way of life in Southeast Asia.
The controversy over halal delivery boxes is a manifestation of the ethnic fears among Chinese netizens against Muslims. Although the halal option on the app is available only in selected parts of mainland China, many do not see Islam and its laws fit in the atheist philosophy of China.
There was a similar debate when Chinese officials called for national standards on halal food in 2016. In Chinese, the word for ‘halal’ is qīngzhēn 清真, which also means Islamic and Muslim. The two characters the word is composed of (清 and 真) literally mean ‘clean’ and ‘pure’.
The one-word multiple meaning may imply a lot more than just protest against halal food. The confusing identities of the words makes halal food seem as the rise of Islam in China. On the other hand, as the literal characters mean pure and clean, it also gives the impression that nonhalal food is not clean.
On Weibo, there are some accounts that oppose the spread of halal food in China such as ‘No Halal’, which has more than 143,500 followers, and ‘No Halal Web’ with nearly 90,000 fans. They regularly post about halal products in Chinese shops and restaurants and link it to the spread of the Islamic religion in China.
When imam Li Haiyang from Henan posted Raising Awareness about Islamic Dietary Law on Weibo, his post was shared more than 500 times but it was also met with opposition. One comment read: “China is a secular country ruled by an atheist party, and firmly boycotts Islamic laws!”
Nevertheless, there are other accounts on Weibo such as China Halal Food Web and Halal Cuisine Web that continue to spread knowledge about halal food among the Muslim minority in China. Most Chinese food ordering apps also have a special halal section, while supermarkets stock halal-certified products too. There are also ample halal restaurants in Chinese cities.
Many netizens feel that this development deters national integrity,
and what has started with separate boxes may go to separate seating in the future and more — thus disintegrating the country. However, despite the opposition on Chinese social media against Weibo’s special halal service, businesses do claim there is a market for halal products in China.