While retailer Woolworths has come under fire from some Christians for putting the halaal certification mark on hot cross bun packaging, (Father) Chris Townsend of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference has labelled the issue “nothing more than a storm in a baking pan”.
E-mails on the issue made the rounds of SA on Wednesday and also featured on Twitter and Facebook social networking sites. In the messages some members of the Christian community complained that hot cross buns had special significance for Christians. Thus the halaal symbol should not be used.
Halaal certification is used to signify foods that are allowed to be eaten by Muslims.
Tony Seifart tweeted: “Woolworths SA clearly has no respect for the Christian Faith to make hot cross buns halaal.”
Another Tweet read: “It’s not about the ingredients – it’s the act of taking something tied to my beliefs and stamping it with a Halaal symbol.”
Tanya Kovarsk tweeted: “Getting @saulkza hot cross buns from WOOLWORTHS_SA. All the Halaal talk has made him hungry for them.”
But Oresti Patricios disagreed. He tweeted: “Not about choice; it’s about stupidity. It’s only a hot cross bun, why can’t anyone eat it?”
Townsend said it was all an “overreaction by some members of the Christian community” and that people needed to be more understanding.
“We live in a multicultural society and need more understanding and religious tolerance… Hot cross buns are only a symbol and not a central tenet of Christianity. There are a lot more weighty issues to deal with in SA than a few ‘hot cross Christians’,” he said.
“Woolworths is not being insensitive to Christians. In fact, they are being sensitive to the food certification requirement to accommodate all communities by including the halaal and kosher marks.
“Christians don’t have the same food marking requirements, so I don’t have a problem with the issue. The halaal stamp does not mean the food was prayed for by Muslims, but that it is okay for Muslims to eat,” Townsend said.
Responding to e-mailed questions from The Mercury, sister newspaper of the Cape Times, Woolworths said it had received complaints from some Christian customers.
“They were unhappy about us selling hot cross buns with a halaal certification over the Easter period. We apologise and assure our customers that no offence was intended… Going forward our next Easter offer will have both non-Halaal certified hot cross buns and Halaal certified spiced buns,” it said.
“Woolworths sells hot cross buns throughout the year. They are produced in a facility that is Halaal certified. Our desire was to offer this well-loved product on an all-inclusive basis that would not exclude any of our customers from enjoying them. All our customers are very important to us and we take all their feedback seriously,” added the store.
Woolworths said hot cross buns had been sold in shops under the current labelling for several years.
“The halaal logo on hot cross buns did not mean a prayer was said on the buns, it simply means that the ingredients are suitable for consumption by Muslims,” said Nabeweya Malick, spokeswoman for the Muslim Judicial Council.
“We live in a multicultural and pluralistic society that values respect, harmony and good relations with different religious groups. We are neighbours of one another and care for each other irrespective of the religious affiliation. We therefore find these complaints to be destructive and shortsighted,” she said.