KUALA LUMPUR • Food outlets in Muslim-majority Malaysia must rename hot dogs or risk being refused halal certification, a government religious authority has said.
The ruling, which also includes other food items whose name includes the word "dog", has garnered much ridicule on social media. It follows complaints by Muslim tourists from overseas, said Mr Sirajuddin Suhaimee, director of the halal division from the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), a powerful government agency.
"Any (halal) products that make consumers confused, we have to change," he said on Tuesday.
"In Islam, dogs are considered unclean and the name cannot be related to halal certification," he added, referring to food permissible for consumption by Muslims.
Numerous street vendors and halal restaurants sell hot dogs in Malaysia, with no complaint from Muslims.
But Mr Sirajuddin said checks would be made "step-by-step" when these outlets renew their two-year halal certification with the department to ensure compliance.
The issue blew up this week in Malaysia after US pretzel chain Auntie Anne's, which has 45 outlets in Malaysia, was told to rename its "pretzel dogs" - sausages wrapped with pretzels - to "pretzel sausages" following advice from Jakim.
"It's a minor issue. We are fine with changing the name and are still working on it," said Auntie Anne's Malaysia executive Farhatul Kamilah Mohamed Sazali.
Mr Sirajuddin said Aunty Anne's halal certification application is being considered.
Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz jumped into the controversy yesterday, saying the fuss is ridiculous.
"Hot dogs have always been known to be Western food and comes from the English language. Please do not make us seem stupid and backward," he told reporters.
"This is done by people who are ignoramuses. They are not living in the real world," Datuk Seri Nazri added.
Among the many critics on social media, one Facebook user remarked: "Please stick to religion... don't be an English language adviser." Another posted: "Pet shops, please rename your dogs as sau- sages."
Mr Sirajuddin dismissed the online criticism as a "normal reaction". "We are doing our job, by the law," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK