Halal site guides hungry Muslims
A website called zabihah.com is helping Muslims find markets and restaurants with halal products, prepared according to Islamic dietary law.
Shahed Amanullah is strolling through the isles of Halalco, a supermarket in Falls Church, Virginia, that specialises in halal products.
At the checkout, cashiers ring up groceries from across the Muslim world.
"I'm looking for things that sort of meet my very broad palate," says Mr Amanullah.
"I've got halal-spiced sausage. I've got Persian yogurt drink, and I've got Indian chutney."
Mr Amanullah's family is originally from southern India but he was raised in California.
Growing up, there were few halal markets near his home. But he watched as the Muslim community in the US expanded over the years.
"About five or six years ago, establishments started popping up that were catering to the Muslim community," he says.
"And several friends of mine and I started to try to hunt them down, and look at them, and we were really excited when something would come up, and we would tell our friends about it.
"So I decided, wouldn't it be a great idea to establish a website to tell people about them."
The result is zabihah.com, a free, searchable listing of halal markets and restaurants.
Zabihah is the Arabic word for "slaughtered" in the Islamic fashion.
Meat and poultry especially must be prepared in a particular way, to conform to Islamic law.
Halal products cannot contain pork or alcohol of any kind. Animals also have to be slaughtered by a mature and pious Muslim.
The main goal of halal butchering is to avoid any cruel or unnecessary suffering on the part of the animal.
On zabihah.com, Mr Amanullah invites readers not just to rate halal establishments, but to verify their authenticity.
People who post on the site have often gone so far as to speak with a restaurant's suppliers.
"I want my readers to be the eyes and ears for all the rest of us," he says.
"Before the site, people used to just take it for granted that things were done in the proper way, but consumer tastes are becoming more discerning.
"They're demanding quality and cleanliness, they want to know if you've passed health inspections, all different kinds of things."
Mr Amanullah does get angry e-mails from owners of halal markets and restaurants, who complain about bad reviews, and sometimes they even threaten lawsuits.
But zabihah.com has proven popular with Muslim consumers, and not just here in the US.
The website now features listings from Muslim communities across Western Europe.
"The Muslim community in the West is a very internet-savvy community, and that's enabled them and empowered them to take the market into their own hands and make the best of it," says Mr Amanullah.
Mr Amanullah's currently running his website as a non-profit concern. He makes just enough off of advertising to pay to keep zabihah.com going.
But he is now in business school, pursuing a Masters degree. He wants to expand his website by adding more products and services, not to mention more countries.
BBC News, December 16, 2004 (Click here to listen - Windows Media Player required)
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