The Irony of Food Waste Amongst Muslims
Based on Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) reports, there are three seasons where food waste among Malaysians is more rampant than what we think or perceive. Two of these are festive seasons associated with Muslims namely the month of Ramadan and Hari Raya Puasa. The other one is the Chinese New Year.
In a joint research project conducted by SWCorp, University of Tsukuba, University of Technology Malaysia (UTM), Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) and Greentech Malaysia, the study reveals that 16,650 tonnes of food are wasted daily by Malaysians. Out of this figure, 3,330 tonnes are food that are still edible or untouched i.e. in good condition and safe to be eaten.
In a separate study, SWCorp was reported to have made a statement that throughout the month of Ramadan 2018, the estimated food wasted nationwide reached 615,000 metric tonnes. Forty-three per cent or 270,000 metric tonnes of the quantity was food that could still be consumed.
This means that on each day of Ramadan, a total of 9,00 tonnes of good food is thrown into rubbish bins and ended up in landfills where it creates harmful effects on Mother Nature. By comparison, during each day of Ramadan, there was a rise in food waste of 5,670 tonnes as compared to normal days. Had the waste not accumulated, it could be fed three times a day to 6.5 million individuals.
This shameful increase is mainly attributed to the culture adopted by Malaysians where hotels and eateries compete to offer Ramadan buffets for breakfast and Ramadan bazaars mushroom all over the country which offer “food galore” for some quarters to treat themselves with good food. Besides, there is a tendency among households to prepare excessive foods for Ramadan breaking fast assuming that they could finish the meals prepared whereas in reality this is rarely the case.
This worrying situation raises a tricky question especially when it comes to the matter of food, Muslims are very concerned about the “halalness” of food and drink they consume. For Muslims can only eat halal food i.e. food and drink and/or their ingredient permitted under the Shariah law; and being prepared, processed and handled according to Shariah law.
However, many do not realise that food which is bought using illicit proceeds such as gambling, bribery, fraud, theft or larceny is considered non halal even though the food itself is made and processed according to Shariah guidelines.
Similarly, many may not be aware that some of our consumption behaviours are not in line with what Islam propagates. For instance, if a person eats halal food that he purchases with halal income but fails to clean his plate, he actually has committed a sin for disobeying Allah and going against His command i.e. the commandment to avoid waste and extravagance.
As a complete way of life, Islam does not see things from a narrow perspective. The “pick and choose rule” does not apply in Islam as all Shariah provisions should be scrupulously observed. Hence, in the case of the food waste scenario in Malaysia, there exist ironies and contradictions between Islamic teachings and the reality happening in Muslim society.
The first irony is about the halal (the lawful) and haram (the unlawful) principle in Islam. Both have their own perimeter and they are mutually exclusive. Muslims therefore should only adhere to what is permissible under the Shariah law and abstain from haram practices or actions. The paradox happens when halal and haram coincide and create a contradictory phenomenon. It appears when Muslims observe halal rule in their diet and at the same time indulge in haram and prohibited acts i.e. being wasteful and extravagant in eating.
There are Quranic verses and prophetic traditions that prohibit Muslims from being wasteful, extravagant and improper use of Allah’s bounties. For instance in surah al-A’raaf verse 31, Allah Almighty says to the effect: O children of Adam! Attend to your embellishments at every time of prayer, and eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant.
The second irony is that despite abundance of food being wasted, many Malaysians are going hungry and children are suffering from undernourishment and malnutrition. The prevalence of homelessness has become a clear expression of inequality and poverty in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur. Many of these homeless communities rely on the generosity from the public in getting food and basic necessities. In the meantime, the UNICEF Malaysia’s report “Children without: A study of urban child poverty and deprivation in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur” reveals that many children in low cost flats in Kuala Lumpur are malnourished—which is manifested by being stunted and underweight.
In a general prohibition of the practice of waste, Allah Almighty says to the effect in surah al-Isra’ verses 26 and 27: And give to the near of kin his due and (to) the needy and the wayfarer, and do not squander wastefully . Surely the squanderers are the fellows of the Shaitans and the Shaitan is ever ungrateful to his Lord .
Unlike verse 31 of surah al-A’raaf which Allah specifically prohibits the wastage of food, in surah al-Isra’,the prohibition of being wasteful is in a general context and it covers all aspects of life including spending and utilising other resources. Interestingly, it starts with an encouragement that we should contribute or give charity to relatives and those in need. In case of food waste, it would be much better if we could share food or anything beyond our needs to those in need. This is certainly much more meaningful than just throwing it away into the rubbish bins.
Indeed, Ramadhan is a platform to train individuals to be more God-conscious and become obedient Muslims. Hence, it is highly ironic if we persist in doing things which are not in tandem with the values and teachings of Islam during the fasting month, and what is worse, it is more prevalent than the other months. Nevertheless, we hope the situation will improve and we gradually start to consume ethically and sustainably as enjoined by Islam.