With the recent boom of the halal market across the world, halal products have become increasingly in demand. From halal meat, to halal cosmetics, and even nail polish, the rising demands of Muslim consumers for these products has been met with businesses producing a variety of options and innovations. Along with this increase in product production, there is also a growing demand for halal certifying services to provide their stamp of approval on halal products. However, with over 1.8 billion Muslims around the world (approximately 24% of the world’s population), there are numerous Islamic cultures, traditions, and schools of thought to which people adhere to. Thus, when it comes to establishing any type of regulatory body for the purposes of halal certification, the problem of such variation arises, and hence there is a lack of an international unified committee or organization that has established official parameters and requirements for halal certification.
When it comes to the halal cosmetics market, there is generally a consensus about permissible ingredients that are allowed in cosmetics, but there still remains some disagreement among the agencies with particular ingredients or chemicals. Carmine (which is a dye extracted from an insect) is a good example of such an ingredient. (Check out this article on Carmine for more information on whether it is halal or not). Whereas some halal certifying organizations will declare it halal or permissible, others will not. Another common area of debate is with the permisibility of halal nail polish. The continued debate of whether or not “breathable” nail polish is in fact halal still continues to create mixed opinions amongst scholars.
Some of the halal certifying bodies have declared that because the ingredients of breathable polish are free of animal or pork products, it can be declared halal. Whereas other agencies have said that the functionality of the product is what determines whether or not the nail polish should be deemed halal. After all, if the purposes of the nail polish is to be “wudhu friendly” (allow water to pass through while performing ablution) then the functionality factor makes more sense. What’s even more distressing is that many companies have simply handed over large “donations” to Islamic organizations in return for a halal certification based on vague criteria, and functionality tests that have little to know scientific validity.
So when it comes to halal cosmetics, is there a better way to create a common consensus on these products? The answer may lie in basic scientific facts, rather than just Islamic law and jurisprudence. If we were to look back into Islamic history, we see that scientific discovery and invention has been one of the cornerstones of Islam’s religious and cultural identity. In fact, one of the earliest inventors of cosmetics was a Muslim by the name of Al-Zahrawi who lived in the middle ages. So you would think that with this timed tradition, science would be an integral part of halal certification around the world. However, the unfortunate truth is that very few of the Imams and religious scholars involved in the certifying process are educated in the sciences. And when it comes to discussions of halal nail polish and its permisibility, they often dismiss the idea simply on the basis of “if you’re not sure, then avoid it”. Although this “better safe than sorry” ideology seems like a reasonable approach, the underlying message stems from the fear of being held responsible for a potentially incorrect decision due to a lack of scientific knowledge and understanding of the products and functionality in question. And for the millions of Muslim female consumers worldwide, this type of dismissive attitude towards innovation can be very disheartening.
From our personal experience in the halal cosmetics business, one of the greatest joys we get is when we have women who have reverted to Islam tell us how thrilled they were to be able to wear nail polish and makeup again. It’s also interesting to note that the majority of Islamic scholars who make up the halal certifying bodies are men. Hence, when it comes to the topic of halal cosmetics, they are often at a disadvantage because they are unable to fully understand the complexity of the design, function, and pleasure that cosmetics provide to women on a very personal level.
The good news however is that a new generation of Islamic scholars is emerging in response to this change in product innovation. Individuals educated in chemistry, biology, physics, and fields of engineering bring their scientific expertise and Islamic knowledge to the table and are better equipped to understand the needs of consumers and of businesses in the development process. ISNA Canada is an example of such an organization, whose coordinator of halal certification holds a strong background in chemistry and thus examines applications for halal certification with both religious and scientific perspective.
But it’s also important for us in the cosmetology and science community to reach out to communities in need of more information. We need to not only make our products and their development process more transparent, but also be able to explain the mechanics of their function in a way that’s easy for both consumers and scholars to understand. At Tuesday in Love we believe that sharing innovative ideas and creating communication channels is an integral part of growing as a company. In a world where high end cosmetics and corporate culture have swindled millions of consumers with buzz words and underhanded marketing tactics, we believe that educating people with both scientific evidence and authentic religious context, we can truly create a meaningful brand that offers real options and celebrates diversity and inclusivity.