When you’re in Malaysia, it’s easy to look for the halal logos on restaurants and food items, certified by JAKIM.
We’re fortunate over here; Malaysia’s take on the halal industry has actually been emulated worldwide and according to the Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, Malaysia has been assisting other countries and worked with their halal bodies in terms of getting halal certification.
But what about when you’re in a foreign country?
In America itself, non-Muslims are opening up to the idea of halal food through the halal food trucks that they have there.
But until the concept of halal takes a more global place (and let’s be real, they’ll probably have to overcome the stigma of Islamophobia first), there is a real need for Muslims overseas to have more accessible halal food.
And to put a dent in that problem, HalalBuddy is a Malaysian-developed app that scans through the food’s ingredients to tell if the food is suitable for consumption.
Halal Is More Than A Cert
For one thing, those apps are developed to check if the food or restaurant is halal-certified. Meanwhile HalalBuddy is intended to scan food that doesn’t have a halal certification but may still be completely halal for Muslims to eat.
Founder and CEO Suhail Azmi says that he came up with the idea for HalalBuddy thanks to his sister’s own struggles while she was studying in Glasgow.
“During her years there, she had to struggle a lot in finding halal products especially whenever she went out shopping at the local malls.”
“It is almost impossible to find halal-certified products near her campus. Therefore, in order for her to find products which are halal, she had to check the halal status of ingredients of the products, especially food, one-by-one through Google. She also had to seek for help from her friends just to ensure that the products she was about to purchase were confidently halal.”
As it happens, Suhail himself was working on his Masters in Computer Vision.
“At that time, I was doing my research on Optical Character Recognition (OCR), a CV technique to extract text from images. Therefore, upon seeing my sister’s struggles, I was later on inspired to utilise the knowledge into something that perhaps could actually provide convenience for Muslims who are staying abroad in future.”
But he only really started to work on HalalBuddy after he had worked in Petronas for 3 years and realised that no one else was going to work on it if he didn’t. So he tendered his resignation, went to pitch the idea and won a grant from Skim Permulaan Usahawan Bumiputera (SUPERB) 2015 Q3.
Honestly It’s Pretty Straightforward
The app is simple enough that the tutorial for it on the platform only takes three short lines. And it’s pretty intuitive too.
- Since you have to manually type in all of those confusing ingredient names (Monosodium Glutamate, anyone?), the app auto-suggests ingredients while you type.
- You can separate multiple ingredients in a single search with commas.
- Once you’ve determined whether something is halal or not, you can even save your search in the HalalBuddy app itself.
And that’s it for version 2.0 of the free app. The premium version allows you to get a brief description of the ingredient in-app (and no ads) though the free version will still display the Wikipedia description of the ingredient for your own edification.
Halal Buddy has a claim to fame of being the largest database of halal ingredients and the app auto-updates weekly with their new additions so that any unknown ingredients today may already be listed tomorrow.
The Future: Taking The Word ‘Buddy’ To New Heights
For version 3.0 of the Halal Buddy app, slated for a June release, the team has some big plans in sight. The team aims to add gamification and social network integrations, turning the halal-checking process into a more crowdsourced ecosystem.
This will make it possible for users to like, comment on, and report their halal discoveries. The team is also planning to expand HalalBuddy to cover things like:
- Halal cosmetics
- Dangerous substances
Because halal isn’t just about food. Halal is also about cleanliness and safety of everything from cosmetics to leather. Basically, anything consumable or even things that will touch your skin.
Thanks to the team’s efforts, the Korean Muslim Federation has shown interest in collaborating to penetrate their app in Korea’s market. Japan has also sent them invitations that they plan to fulfill.
For this, they say that the biggest challenge is the difference from English characters, so they are researching the translation aspect of it all. They previously attempt to use the Google API, but this didn’t pan out for them.
There were even talks about an augmented reality version of the app, where no typing is required at all. Only snap a picture and the app will tell you whether the ingredients and product are halal or not.
HalalBuddy also aims to build a massive wiki of halal ingredients. However, the team is still working out the kinks behind the unstructured formatting of ingredient-listing on products and they say that they hope to be able to release 4.0 sometime before the end of this year.
As big as their dreams may be, they’ve gained some attention locally too. They were invited to join TV Alhijrah’s Assalamualaikum Program on 13 March 2017 for the segment, ‘Applikasi Pilihan’. The Google Playstore has also indicated that their downloads range from 1,000-5,000 right now.
We’ll be looking forward to the augmented reality version of the app, but as of now, it is nice to see that besides just clothes, even the concept of halal food has been enjoying some technological growth over time. Suhail rightly pointed out that adoption might be difficult.
“It is really hard for halal startups like us to thrive in Malaysia as this industry has been heavily regulated by the same players over the years. Thus, this causes the environment to become resistant to new changes. However, we believe that we could definitely make a difference to this. By working together, we could actually strive powerfully to bring contemporary changes into the industry.”