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Technology Transforms the Halal Industry

Muslims are increasingly able to comfortably consume in non-Muslim societies, thanks to clever start-ups by innovative individuals.

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The development of halal-related products and services is being encouraged in Penang. According to Datuk Abdul Malik Abul Kassim, the state exco in charge of Islamic religious affairs, domestic trade and consumer affairs, “there are already many technological innovations and resources that are useful to the halal industry, and the state government is looking at how to coordinate and synergise all the people and initiatives involved,” he says.

Abdul Malik, who is also the chairman of the Penang International Halal Hub (PIHH), cites Zilzar as a good example of technological innovation in the halal industry. Proclaimed as the world’s first global Business to Business (B2B) halal e-commerce platform, Zilzar hosts, facilitates and monitors an SME-driven ecosystem for the halal consumption of F&B, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fashion, travel, agriculture and others.

“Zilzar puts together the halal eco-system internationally,” says Abdul Malik. “In fact, we have signed a MoU with Zilzar to feature the ‘Made in Penang’ brand on the global stage. This collaboration aims to create jobs, boost exports and draw tourism into Penang on the Zilzar platform”.


Halal Platforms

Earlier this year, Penang – ranked ninth in the Muslim Travel Shopping Index 2015, the world’s leading authority on Muslimfriendly travel – launched a comprehensive Muslim Travel Guide, available in English and Arabic.

For Muslims travelling or studying abroad, looking for halal products is a constant challenge, especially in Muslim-minority countries where, unlike Malaysia, halal logos are not displayed on restaurant walls and food packaging. The only way to find out if something is halal is to call the product company. At restaurants, one may have to ask to check the packaging of ingredients used, which can be time consuming and impractical. Language can be a problem too, of course.

Thankfully, plenty of websites and apps have appeared providing details on halal products and services. These range from sites listing consumable halal products to travel blogs and even crowdsourcing applications where Muslims share reviews and halal food locations with each other.

Technology has indeed become an efficient tool in breaking down the halal barrier.

In 2014 Japan-based Kyushu Lab launched HalalMinds, an app that scans barcodes to see if a product is halal. It won the prestartup award at one of Taiwan’s largest business plan competition events, the Global TiC. Developed by Indonesian Agung Pambudi and launched two years ago it has experienced rapid popularity.

And then there is Halal Navi. This is currently the largest halal food social app in Japan and is aimed at helping Muslims living or travelling in Muslim-minority countries through a network of over 10,000 registered Muslim users sharing information about their favourite halal restaurants. Founded by Malaysians, Halal Navi has since expanded to 11 different countries, including Russia and Germany.

Halal Navi is currently the largest halal food social app in Japan and is aimed at helping Muslims living or travelling in Muslim-minority countries.

“What we offer is the ‘halal status’ of the restaurants with the help of our Muslim users. Most of our users usually clarify with the shop owners before giving out information. Other users will then judge for themselves using the information provided whether they are comfortable dining there or not,” says Aida Nur Ariza, marketing head of Halal Navi.

According to a Malaysian student in Japan, Aiman Ismail, “finding a food product with a halal logo on it always feels like winning the lottery when you’re out here. They are rare, and we appreciate the halal apps and websites a lot.”

In the US, students find zahibah.com indispensable. This is the world’s largest and most comprehensive halal restaurant database. Blogs such as “Have Halal, Will Travel” supply Muslims with the information required for all their travelling needs.

Zabihah Empire is an online business providing high-quality halal groceries at an affordable price. According to its CEO Wan Khalil Ahmad, technology and social media have been crucial to its startup.

In Malaysia, in 2010 the Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC) launched Halal Apps, the world’s first government halal-certified premise locator, on iTunes. The application expanded to the Android platform in 2012, and has enjoyed more than 50,000 downloads. In September this year, HDC received the “Halal Industry Development Award” during the Global Islamic Finance Awards Gala 2016.

Coming up with technological innovations in the halal industry is not without its controversies. The lack of halal certification and system integration means that there are bound to be glitches and people who question its integrity. When barcodes are involved, regular updates are needed, especially in countries like Japan where the ingredients of products are seasonally changed. Occasional failure to keep up with updates hurts the credibility of the application.

Information technology in the halal industry has undoubtedly opened up opportunities for Muslim consumers and producers worldwide. Credibility is a problem that has to be solved along the way.

Be that as it may, Aida and her Malaysian halal start-up colleagues will continue to invest in the halal industry. “We are planning to expand Halal Navi worldwide and become a platform for businesses to connect with Muslim consumers. We will not limit ourselves to only food, but may expand into tourism, beauty products and many more areas.”

A revolution awaits the halal industry. With so many creative minds at work, it won’t be long before the next big thing in halal tech appears.

Azalia Zaharuddin is a part-time writer who graduated from Kagawa University, specialising in Japanese Language. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Translation at Universiti Sains Malaysia so that she and char koay teow never have to be apart again.
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