Meat rules

“Inner city areas such as Easton have several high-quality butchers selling certified halal meat, which has to be slaughtered and prepared in very precise ways under Islamic law. But what happens if you are new to a city or on your travels and in search of halal food?”

MARK TAYLOR speaks to Bristol entrepreneur Sohail Osman about GoHalal – a website which maps out where to buy halal foods across the UK

As a young Muslim living in a large, multicultural city such as Bristol, finding halal food has always been relatively easy for Sohail Osman. Inner city areas such as Easton have several high-quality butchers selling certified halal meat, which has to be slaughtered and prepared in very precise ways under Islamic law. But what happens if you are new to a city or on your travels and in search of halal food? A work secondment to Devon provided Sohail with the light bulb moment that inspired him to start his own online directory for halal food.

“The idea for GoHalal came about when I had to go to Exeter on a course and live there for five weeks,” explains Sohail. “Because of my religion, I had to find halal food when I was away from home but I went online and was very surprised how hard it was to find it.

“Coming from a city like Bristol, I have never had to worry about finding halal because it’s been around me all my life.

“This time it was different because I was in a city I had never been before, and was away from my friends and family. The first week was hard because I was busy at work I didn’t have time to look around for food.

“The second week. I spotted a Muslim woman and she guided me to a local mosque and it was there that I found out where I could get halal food locally but that gave me the idea for an online directory.

“I realised that there needed to be something online for people like me who only eat halal meat, who want to pray in a mosque and who use the web for information. That’s when the idea became solid.”

With help from his friend Andre Chapman, who had previous experience of bringing website ideas to market, he formed a partnership and GoHalal was born. One year on and his GoHalal website is attracting more than 1,000 visitors each day and is fast becoming the UK’s number one online halal directory. Sohail says the website is aimed at Muslims predominately because their diet is very specific and strict but that’s not to say non-Muslims aren’t welcome to use it.

“Non-Muslims are equally important and are more than welcome. In fact, we have a listing that caters for vegetarians and a lot of people use that whether they are Muslim or not.”

A recent development for GoHalal was agreeing a deal with the fast-growing Just Eat website that enables people to order takeaways online from 17,000 outlets across the UK.

“This deal allows our visitors, Muslims and non-Muslims, to choose a takeaway or restaurant and now order directly through GoHalal. Now, the non-Muslims who want to have a curry on a Friday or Saturday night can now do so directly from our website and click the “Order Halal” logo.

“We encourage people to utilise the Just Eat delivery service and we partnered with them because they had a lot of customers who weren’t sure if the eateries on the their site were halal and that’s where we come in. We authenticate the establishment to be halal and that gives customers the peace of mind. This service can be a huge benefit to locals, people visiting the city and also new and existing students coming into the city.”

GoHalal is growing in size and now lists more than 600 businesses, which include takeaways, restaurants, butchers, supermarkets and also local mosques. Sohail says the aim is for GoHalal to have over 1,000 listed businesses by the end of this year.

The website also allows you to write reviews and rate your experiences at the listed establishments, much as you might on Tripadvisor or similar user-generated sites. In order for you to do that you have to be a member, which is free, and by becoming a member you can also choose to receive GoHalal’s weekly newsletter, get inside access to the GoHalal forum and also get exclusive member offers.

With the global halal market currently valued at over US$2.3 trillion and rising, the launch of the Bristol-based directory is timely and, not surprisingly, more and more businesses are paying to advertise on the site to reach their target audience. Sohail says:

“More businesses are paying for premium listings to get more exposure in the halal market and we have helped many small businesses grow and gain stability in what is a very competitive sector.”

The Muslim population in the UK accounts for 12% of total meat sales and 51% of all UK education authorities now require halal meat. And then there’s the global halal market, which is now estimated to account for 16% of world trade and growing each year. Sohail says:

“The reaction has been amazing so far. Everyone recognises the need for this website, particularly young Muslims, who are travelling around the country and using their smartphones and tablets to get up-to-date information about where to eat. People have been very warm and welcoming and that just shows the need for GoHalal online. The feedback has been very positive and encouraging – most users want us to produce an app and we are working on that right now.”

What is halal?
Meaning ‘lawful’ or ‘permissible’ in Arabic, the term ‘halal’ covers not only food and drink, but also non-food consumer goods such as cosmetics and clothing.

To qualify as halal meat, animals have to be slaughtered according to Islamic law and not prepared, processed or manufactured using equipment or utensils that are not free from impurities as defined by Islamic law.

The slaughter must be performed by a Muslim, who must precede the slaughter by invoking the name of Allah, most commonly by saying “Bismillah” (“In the name of Allah”). The animal must be slaughtered with a sharp knife (so the animal does not feel pain, as it quickens the death) by cutting the throat, windpipe and the blood vessels in the neck, causing the animal’s death without cutting the spinal cord. Lastly, the blood from the veins must be drained to ensure that there are no blood clots or bacteria so it’s ‘clean’ to be eaten.