PARIS - Defying political debates raged by Elysee hopefuls, producers at Paris annual Muslim food fair are confident that the anti-Muslim rhetoric would bring nothing to their businesses but more profits.
"It was a lot of noise for nothing," Aissa Osmane, who sells Shari`ah-compliant spaghetti sauces with halal beef in the bolognese and smoked poultry cubes for bacon in the carbonara, told Reuters.
Over the past years, a growing halal market in France managed to reach an estimate of 5.5 billion euros with about 10 percent annual growth
Aspiring for a share of the flourishing market, businessmen were confident about making more probits the more French Muslim community integrates into French life.
"Muslims live in today's world like everybody else," Ali, a businessman from the Paris suburb of Villetaneuse, said.
They're busy and want ready-made foods.
Halal meat has become a central issue in electoral campaigns by Elysee hopefuls ahead of the April-May election.
Far-right National Front leader Martine Le Pen said last February that all meat in Paris was halal, a claim denied by abattoirs.
The issue caught hold with President Nicolas Sarkozy calling for labeling all halal meat in France.
Sarkozy, who seeks re-election, also toughened tone on immigration, ringing defense of French civilization and secularism -- code words implying some of the five million Muslims here did not share these values.
Sarkozy's interior minister Claude Gueant warned last week that giving immigrants the right to vote in municipal elections, as the Socialist want, would lead to Muslims forming majorities on local councils and imposing halal meat in school canteens.
The anti-Muslim rhetoric has also intensified following the killing of seven people, including three Muslim soldiers and three Jewish children, by an Al-Qaeda-inspired gunman in Toulouse last month.
French Muslims accused politicians of putting the six-million minority under the claws of presidential election tactics to attract far-right voters and avoid real financial problems.
"The politicians are just looking for votes," said Rached Abssi, sales director for the Kenza Halal processed meat company in the same northern Paris suburb.
"We're just an excuse for them not to talk about the financial crisis."
At Paris annual Muslim food fair, Muslim and non-Muslim producers were trying to get their share of the growing market.
"There's more variety and openness to new foods here," Ali, who displayed everything from ready-made dinners to baby food and chocolate-covered dates, told Reuters.
The taste for local cuisine among French Muslims has also prompted some French producers of non-meat products to get halal certification.
"French Muslims are very into cuisine and see it as an art. In the UK, they're more closed."
Gilles Amand, a caterer from Morlaix in Brittany, was one of the producers trying to get their share of profit from the growing market of halal food.
Producing fish-and-vegetable terrines for several years, he decided to get a halal certificate to reassure Muslim clients.
All fish are halal, or permissible, by nature, but Muslims in France shy away from unmarked fish terrines because there could be gelatin made from pork in it.
Amand said the certificate proved his terrines only had vegetable-based gelatin in them.
"This reassures them about the quality," he said.
Despite anti-halal campaigns, Muslims said that the growing market was barely meeting the needs of Muslim demand.
"The market is playing catch-up to the demand," Dawood Ali, director of Gem Foods in Coventry, England, told Reuters.
"It's getting bigger because people are now trying to meet that demand."
The concept of halal -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net