Times non-story about Muslim eating scruples

Last Friday the Times published a story claiming that “senior Muslim figures” had expressed shock that a number of Walkers crisp products had contained alcohol. The fact was “discovered” by one Besharat Rehman, the owner of a halal supermarket in Bradford, and taken up by the Eastern Eye.

Well, I am surprised that anyone didn’t know that popular commercial food products contain alcohol, since its use as a solvent in food colourings and flavourings has been known of for years. There is a difference in opinion over the issue, with some scholars (particularly Shafi’is, a minority school of thought in the UK but common in south-east Asia, east Africa and parts of the Arab world) regarding alcohol, or ethanol, as impure on the basis of being the common denominator in wine, beer etc., which are themselves impure. Others disagree and regard only purpose-made alcoholic intoxicants to be impure. The chemical alcohol actually occurs naturally, including in fruit.

The bottom line is that if you consider alcohol impure, you simply should not eat commercial processed foods, end of story. (A few companies, like the Thornton’s chocolate company, states on the packet when a product is alcohol-free.) However, rumours about alcohol in small quantities in various commercial food products go round all the time, and when product labels state the presence of “flavourings”, the likelihood is that a solvent has been used, either in their preparation or in their extraction from source. That the Times have made this into news reflects another attempt to throw mud at ordinary Muslims (a point I tried to make on this Times blog entry, but they haven’t got round to moderating it yet, nearly a full day after I submitted it).

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