China has dropped a plan to bring a national law regulating halal food following mixed reactions from public and scholars who accused the atheist government of meddling in religious affairs.
The drafting of a law on halal food was not listed in China’s legislative work plan for this year after receiving mixed reactions from the public, including scholars who believe the law would open the door to allowing the secular government to have authority over religious issues, state-run Global Times reported.
The Legal Affairs Office of the State Council (Cabinet) announced in March that China had been studying whether to draft the law, years after the central cabinet first tasked the Ethnic Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) to draft a national regulation on halal food in 2002.
The committee suggested speeding up passage of the legislation in 2012 and 2015, saying it was “reasonable and necessary” as it relates to “national unity and social stability”.
The proposed legislation was opposed by many scholars, including Xi Wuyi, a scholar on Marxism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who said it “violates the principle of separation of State and religion”.
It was not clear whether drafting the law had been rescheduled or withdrawn from consideration by the ruling Communist party.
In May last year, several Muslims destroyed a bakery in Qinghai Province’s Xining after discovering non-halal items such as pork sausages and ham in its delivery van, and hundreds of Muslims in Shaanxi Province’s Xi’an took to the streets to demand a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages at local halal restaurants.
According to an official from the religious affairs department of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region who was quoted in a report by Legal Daily, at least 20 million Chinese from several ethnic minority groups eat halal food, so it is necessary to have national legislation on halal products.
Wei Dedong, Vice Dean of the School of Philosophy at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times the most important solution is not a national law, but rather stronger enforcement of present laws on food safety and other issues that are applicable to the regulation of the halal food market, as many provincial regions including Xinjiang have already implemented local regulations on halal food.
Wei said a unified standard could be issued by religious authorities, instead of by a national law, which would authorise the secular government to define Islam-related issues.