The halal economy represents a new field of investigation for scholars willing to question Islam and its modern developments. In December 2020, the journal Sociology of Islam addressed the special issue “Halal markets in non-Muslim Secular Societies”. Edited by Michael Brose and Rano Turaeva, this collection of eight articles analyses the halal economy developments in post-Soviet societies, from Ukraine to Kirghizstan, as well as in South Africa, Turkey and China. The topic is first introduced by the editors’ highlight on the issues of halal global industry. Brose and Turaeva discuss how halal is defined; they outline the social, moral and rational implications at work behind the halal certification market.
The halal certification industry in Russia and Ukraine is depicted as a battlefield by both Silvia Serrano and Denys Brylov. It seems to be an instrument of influence on the international and domestic public spheres. For Brylov, the halal label has been a tool for the muftiyyats (an institution inherited from the imperial and Soviet periods, in charge of managing local Muslims’ daily lives) to spread their own definition of orthodoxy. Moreover, Serrano argues that the religious market, while representing an opportunity for pious authorities to bypass the state support, thanks to its economic outcome, is dependent on the secular power to generate the trust and legitimacy of its own existence.
The importance of authority is stressed by Aisalkyn Botoeva’s research on halal in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Indeed, the halal business and its labels can be an instrument to define ‘True Islam’. Certifiers and producers are involved in a relationship where one’s legitimacy depends on the others. Yana Pak’s article on halal in Southern Kazakhstan describes the halal market as a space for sociability, network and the diffusion of values. This author analyses how halal, influenced by both Soviet and Islamic heritages, offers a specific framework for socioeconomic organisation.
The three remaining articles give us a point of comparison with the developments at work in the post-Soviet space. Shaheeb Tayob explores the limits of the halal certification industry in South Africa. Confronted to local practices and the importance of trust in a minority context, labels seem to fail at imposing one standardised definition. Nurcan Atalan-Helicke considers the tensions between the notions of clean, good, healthy food and the perception of halal products in Turkey. Focusing on women, she questions the process of food consumption in a modern context. Finally, Guangtian Ha gives an insight into the halal economy in China. Her article discusses how this religious industry, initially supported by the local government as a source of wealth, came to be perceived as a religious, ethnic and political threat.
This collection of articles raises questions on the definition and diffusion of eco-religious norms. The diversity of case studies as well as the different approaches adopted by the authors during their fieldwork, from a focus on institutions to a perspective centred on entrepreneurs and consumers perceptions, is probably the biggest strength of this publication. Nevertheless, this variety can also raise difficulties for the reader, to whom more detailed descriptions of local contexts would have been useful – as well as elements of history on the appearance of lawfulness concerns in a wide range of modern Muslim communities. These reserves notwithstanding, the combined approaches proposed in the volume pave the way to a more complex understanding of the structuration and development of halal industries and markets, thanks notably to the inclusion of post-Soviet polities into the emerging social sciences of ‘Islamic’ economy.