Malaysians may soon find the familiar Pretzel Dogs removed from the menu of US fast food chain Auntie Anne’s. But that change is likely in name only.
The decision was made by local Islamic authorities concerned that Muslim customers may not realize that Pretzel Dogs contain no dog meat, so they can actually consume the dish without running afoul of Islamic dietary laws. To obtain the official halal certification (meaning "legal" under Islamic law), a standard that helps Muslim consumers identify if the food was prepared according to Islamic dietary laws, the restaurant will have to remove "dog" from the name and maybe replace it with "sausage."
"In Islam, dogs are considered unclean and the name cannot be related to halal certification," Sirajuddin Suhaimee, director of the religious government body Malaysian Islamic Development Department told the BBC.
While Mr. Suhaimee claims that the ruling was a result of complaints from Muslim tourists, some Malaysian citizens and politicians see the move as "backward." Muslim-majority Malaysia has always prided itself as practicing a moderate form of the religion, but conservative attitudes have been on the rise in the past few years, reflecting a struggle between modern and traditional interpretations of the religion.
"Hot dog has always been known to be a western food. It comes from the English language. It is a western food. Please do not make us seem stupid and backward," Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said, as reported by local paper The Malay Mail Online. "Hot dog is hot dog la. Even in Malay it’s called hot dog. It’s been around for so many years. I’m a Muslim and I’m not offended. I’m not offended at all."
Other Malaysians took to social media and complained that the ruling made them "look stupid" and Marina Mahathir, daughter of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, joked on Facebook that "we poor easily confused Muslims who have never heard of hot dogs before" and will "have no choice but to buy one if one was on the menu."
The Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations and Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association, however, stand by the ruling, stating that restaurateurs and food producers should be "mindful of sensitivities of Muslims," and avoid certain words, as reported by local paper Free Malaysia Today.
Other Western food products that have received similar treatment in the country include A&W’s famous root beers. Muslims are prohibited from consuming alcohol. The popular soda was renamed "RB" in 2013 to avoid confusion even though root beers do not contain alcohol. Products ranging from mineral water to Internet browsers have also been advertised as halal to appeal to the nation’s Muslim population and tourists, especially as Malaysia is a popular vacation destination for Muslims.
But Malaysia is not the only country facing this dilemma. In the United States, McDonald’s decided in 2013 to stop offering an alternative menu for observant Muslims, limiting the service to only two stores in Dearborn, Mich., that has a large Arab American population. As The Christian Science Monitor previously reported, the decision was partially motivated by the lack of clear guidelines about what exactly is halal food in the US.
Other more prickly situations arose in staunchly secular France, where eight out of 362 Quick burger joints in 2010 went "pork-less" to serve the local Muslim populations, eliciting criticism from anti-immigrant political parties.
The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ruffled feathers last year when he became the first leader of an Islamic Republic to visit Europe in a decade. He refused to dine at the Paris presidential palace if wine was served. It touched a nerve, since serving French wine at dinner is a cherished cultural tradition. A compromise was made: The leaders had a face-to-face chat.