CAIRO - A large, diverse American Muslim community is facing growing problems over inconsistent halal standards that left halal consumers vulnerable to fraudulent merchants and suspicious about the sources of the products they are buying.
There is a lot of cheating, Syed Rasheeduddin Ahmed, founder of the Muslim Consumer Group, a halal certification and educational group in Huntley, Illinois, told Huffington Post.
I am glad McDonald's stopped the so-called halal chicken because they are not real halal.
In a booming market, thousands of halal-compliant food industry businesses were catering to millions of American Muslims.Yet, a series of recent events has shaken Muslim trust in halal-compliant food industry businesses.
Earlier this week, McDonald's announced it would discontinue the sale of halal chicken nuggets and chicken sandwiches at two restaurants in Dearborn, Mich.
The decision follows a 2011 lawsuit alleging McDonald's falsely advertised non-halal chicken as halal.
In January, McDonald's paid $700,000 to settle the suit, but denied any wrongdoing.
Another settlement took place in 2011 when the Orange County, Calif., district attorney obtained a $527,000 settlement against the Super King Market in Anaheim, alleging the store falsely advertised generic and mixed meat as halal.
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.
Although there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to between 6-8 Muslims.
Catering to a large sector of millions of American Muslims, halal food businesses were aspiring for a share of the halal pie in the American market, estimated by $11 billion in 2011.
It's a big market share, said Timothy Abu Mounir Hyatt, managing director of Islamic Services of America, a halal certification group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
We have a lot of customers who understand the importance of complying.
Over the past few decades, the number of US grocers with halal products has mushroomed from 10 in 1970 to more than 2,300 in 2012.
The number of restaurants serving halal food has also exceeded 6,900, according to the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, a halal certification and education group in Park Ridge, Ill.
Halal food is usually inspected by organizations that certify products as halal and send inspectors into slaughterhouses and manufacturing plants to verify that the work is done according to Islamic law.
But, halal certifiers have usually lacked the manpower to inspect every individual restaurant and grocer.
To protect Muslims from fraudulent businesses, few states, including California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and Virginia, have passed laws penalizing businesses for false advertising of halal products.
With a few legal protections for Muslim consumers, some merchants may try and take advantage of their religiosity to pass off products that aren't halal.
So long as there are few legal protections, there are often unscrupulous merchants that get away with it, said Shahed Amanullah, founder of zabihah.com, a website with listings and customer reviews of halal restaurants and grocers around the world, including several thousand in the United States.
In the absence of universally accepted and verified halal standards, halal consumers should feel free to ask for verification of sources of halal meat so they can make up their own mind, said Amanullah.
Businesses committed to serving this market will be happy to oblige.