By Selma Djukic
When it comes matters of health, the consensus among Muslim scholars is unequivocal – God has ordained that in situations of life versus death – life reigns supreme. But has this divine privilege led to a sense of complacency with regard to the responsibility that is mandated in the faith to continuously search for ways of ensuring that products available for consumption are pure and wholesome (also referred to as Halal and Tayyib)? Furthermore, what definitions are implied when the terms ‘pure’ and ‘wholesome’ are used in discussions surrounding healthcare-related products?
More than 25 years ago, Muslims and non-Muslims alike called for the availability of alcohol-free medications. From a religious perspective, alcohol consumption is forbidden within the Islamic tradition. For others, such as those suffering from or struggling with addiction, the option of alcohol-free medications provided mechanisms for treating ailments without fear of triggering possible relapses into addiction. Still others, such as diabetic individuals for whom alcohol consumption could cause decreases in glucose levels (and increase their risk of hypoglycemia), the availability of such products would alleviate an additional worry.
In short, pharmaceutical and natural health companies have responded. The result has been a surge of products commercially available products with profitable sales revenues to match, satisfying both consumers and corporations.
However, the story does not and cannot end here.
The first word of revelation of the Qur’an, is the command of “Iqra” or “Read!” followed by continuous reminders throughout the text of Islam being a religion for those who ‘think’ and who ‘contemplate’. Believers are encouraged to seek out ways of nurturing the soul, the body and the environment in a way that minimizes harm and maximizes harmony. This mandate is not selective and should be applied across all sciences – including those that fall within the realms of healthcare (such as pharmaceutical, biotechnological, natural health, cosmeceuticals and homeopathy products). So, what constitutes healthcare products that are pure and wholesome (or Halal and Tayyib)?
First, the obvious criteria are that the products themselves should not contain pork and / or alcohol components. This can be verified by reading the labels of products or their product inserts.
For many, this is an acceptable standard for qualifying a health product as being Halal and Tayyib. However, an increasing proportion of the global population is beginning to realize that such a simplistic characterization is really the tip of an iceberg. The real challenge of pure and wholesome has significant depth and obvious opportunity for health, environment, society and, coincidentally, corporate revenue generation.
Below are aspects that should be taken into consideration to fulfill the true spirit of Halal and Tayyib; each deserving of more independent analysis.
Raw Materials and Final Products – Development and Manufacturing
Raw materials used in the formulation of products should be derived from sources that are themselves, Halal and Tayyib. For example, food-grade L-cysteine is typically synthesized from human hair – a non-Halal source. In these cases, efforts need to be made in researching and developing new methods of production. Also, possible contaminants that are resultant from production processes or pathways should at minimum be quantified, preferably, identified, and at levels that will not harm to the body. For ‘natural’ or plant-based products, great care should be taken to follow organic standards; if none are present, then they should be developed.
Development and production of raw materials and final products should be well documented and follow current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP). Corporations who advertise as such should be amenable to inspections to provide further proof of adherence to domestic and internationalstandards.
Testing comes in a multitude of forms, the most obvious being testing of raw material and final products. It should be performed according to current Good Laboratory Practice (cGLP).
In health products, animal testing is considered an integral part of research. Hence, the ethical treatment of animals is imperative. True innovation, however, lies in establishing mechanisms and testing methodologies that can mimic the work currently performed on animals, thereby reducing the need for their use.
Human clinical trials are another key component in the development of new products and represent the largest proportion of development cost, with later staged trials (commonly known as Phase III trials) costing upwards of tens of millions of dollars. A myriad of opportunities lie in ensuring that such trials are performed transparently and ethically, using product that has been developed, produced and tested in a manner that is Halal and Tayyib.
Product labeling should be clear, easily understood and truthful. Potentially misleading statements should not be made, and information provided on the labels should adhere to governmental regulations.
Sales and Marketing
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was known and respected for his truthfulness and sincere honesty. During his younger years, it is well documented that these characteristics were key contributors to his success in trade. The same should hold for individuals or companies involved in the sales and marketing of health-related products. Such transparency and openness allows the consumer to be informed when making health-related decisions.
By definition, a product cannot be considered pure and wholesome without its environmental impact being considered. Dumping of waste in waterways, landfills or soil and, thus, contaminating the planet runs contrary to the spirit of Halal and Tayyib. Hence, corporations should endeavour to implement ‘green’ initiatives throughout their operations.
Corporate Business Structure and Social Responsibility
Within Islamic tradition, there lies an acute sense of responsibility toward others. While not against earning wealth, Islamic philosophy dictates that the mechanisms involved must be ethical and legal. For example, it would be contradictory for a product labeled Halal to be manufactured under ‘sweat shop’ conditions. Furthermore, accumulation of riches denotes a responsibility of disbursement towards those less fortunate. Thus, companies involved in products that are Halal and Tayyib should employ a socially responsible model within their framework.
What does this all mean for both the consumer and the corporation? For the growing number of people seeking pure and wholesome healthcare products, availability offers the reassurance that their choices are not imposing a hurt on others – whether human, animal and / or environmental. For corporations to gain a competitive edge and maintain an ethical conscience, they must seize opportunities for creative approaches in healthcare industries desperate for innovation. With an estimated annual global market value for Halal and Tayyib healthcare products reported to be at least US $500 billion, such opportunities would be difficult to ignore.
Selma Djukic is the owner of White Owl Global Services Ltd., a pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and natural health products consultant. Email her at email@example.com