The Prophetic or Sunnah-based Food a.k.a. "Makanan Sunnah" Advertising Dilemma and How to Fix It


To those unfamiliar with the term, the word Sunnah is usually a reference made to our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ - be it his sayings, actions (including his approvals), and practices. Hence, when it is used in association with the term 'food' (i.e. "makanan Sunnah"), it can lead to diverse interpretations and unintended use. 

Thankfully, a few academicians have already attempted to raise this issue and unravel the possible meanings of "makanan Sunnah", especially from the community context1 - from where the term was "coined", and they are:
  • All food that is derived and mentioned in al-Qur'an and al-Hadith (Prophetic traditions) - this context and meaning has been the primary understanding amongst the Muslim masses in Malaysia;

  • All food that brings goodness and maslahah2 (brings benefits and wards off harm) to mankind whether it has been mentioned in al-Qur'an, al-Hadith, or in neither of them. This definition, no doubt, is derived from the perceptive understanding amongst scholars based on the following Qur'anic reference:

    "O humanity! Eat from what is lawful and good on the earth and do not follow Satan’s footsteps. He is truly your sworn enemy."

    [Surah Al-Baqarah: 2: 168]

  • Specific types of food that are considered Sunnah such as dates, pomegranate, honey, raisins, and Habbatus-Sawda' - those holding this view are often those who blindly accept "Makanan Sunnah" to only be as such due to their limited knowledge that could have been obtained solely from a certain source;

  • Food that has been made and whose manufacturing is aligned with Sunnah practices such as maintaining wudhu' (ablution) for workers, throughout the manufacturing process, while covering the 'awrah and turning on the recitation of al-Qur'an.
So, once upon a time, the term, "Makanan Sunnah" became the epitome of food and supplements related to the Prophet ﷺ, one way or another. A mere mention or a glimpse in either al-Qur'an or al-Hadith was enough to qualify as the Sunnah food. 

Which seemed fine at first. 

However, when the trend grew and "Makanan Sunnah" began to attract consumers nationwide (and the World Wide Web), the commercials promoting "Makanan Sunnah" sounded like they were hitting the wrong notes. Instead of promoting what is realistic/nutrition-ally good about their products, they emphasize the Sunnah-ness of the product, as if to imply that such products contain sacred and holy ingredients - or were conditioned under the recitation of not just thirty, but thirty-one juzu' from al-Qur'an! Yes, you read it right, thirty-one, okay! Hence, because it is very Sunnah, one should not question its effectiveness because it will be very effective indeed (sarcasm).

The Dangers & Risks of Promoting What Is Not

  • Misleading Consumers:
    When sellers emphasize the Sunnah (or rather, exploit it inappropriately) and neglect the actual benefits of the products, consumers may make misguided or guilty choices based on faith alone. This act fails to address the nutritional aspect, leading individuals to overlook important dietary considerations.

  • Exploitation and Counterfeit Products:
    Frauds may exploit the emotional attachment individuals have towards such Sunnah-based food by selling counterfeit products, capitalizing on the unverified sacred claims. This unethical practice undermines consumer trust and can harm their health.

  • Health Consequences:
    When the emphasis is solely on the "sacred nature" of the food, consumers may consume these products in excessive amounts, disregarding any potential negative health effects. Oversupplying the body with certain nutrients can lead to imbalances or other health issues.
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Suggestions for Sellers When Advertising "Makanan Sunnah" or Any Other Consumables Thereof

  • Complete Nutritional Analysis:
    Sellers must highlight the nutritional value of the products they advertise, including their vitamins, minerals, and health benefits. Mention specific scripture references, linking the Sunnah food to the referenced source (if relevant), to instill trust and authenticity.

  • Collaboration with Nutritionists and Scholars:
    Seek the advice and guidance of nutritionists and Islamic scholars to validate the health benefits of the food product. This collaboration will ensure accurate information and avoid misunderstandings.

  • Clear Labels and Certifications:
    Employ transparent labeling practices, displaying comprehensive nutritional information, ingredients, and certifications obtained from reputable organizations. This adds credibility to the product and helps consumers make informed choices.

  • Genuine Testimonials and Expert Endorsements:
    Encourage customers who have benefited from the food product to provide genuine testimonials. Highlight individual experiences within the context of a balanced diet and lifestyle. Additionally, seek endorsements from renowned nutritionists or scholars, providing expert opinions on the significance and advantages of incorporating the food product concerned.

  • Educate, Empower, and Encourage Moderation:
    Promote a holistic approach to incorporating "Makanan Sunnah", emphasizing that they are just one facet of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Encourage customers to consult healthcare professionals or nutritionists to determine the appropriate quantity and manner of consumption based on individual needs.

While we have only referred to the discussion of "Makanan Sunnah" by Khadher et. al. (2015), other researchers have extended the matter and followed suit. Regardless of whichever meaning or criteria one may adhere to for "Makanan Sunnah", it is important that the "Sunnah" itself is not being tainted exploitatively for commercial gains. Advertising "Makanan Sunnah" should always be about promoting both the spiritual significance and health benefits that the food offers.  By providing comprehensive information, collaborating with experts, avoiding exploitative tactics, and encouraging moderation, sellers can empower consumers to make informed choices that align with Sunnah and their own current well-being.

Let us collectively contribute to fostering a culture of transparency, education, and consumer empowerment in the promotion of "Makanan Sunnah".

References:

  1. Ahmad, Khadher & Yusoff, Zulkifli & Abd Razzak, Munirah & Binti Izham, Siti & Md Ariffin, Mohd. (2015). Salah Faham Terhadap Istilah “Makanan Sunnah” Dalam Kalangan Masyarakat Islam Di Malaysia: Satu Analisis. URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283348890_Salah_Faham_Terhadap_Istilah_Makanan_Sunnah_Dalam_Kalangan_Masyarakat_Islam_Di_Malaysia_Satu_Analisis

  2. Referred and translated from Muhammad Fahmi Rusli. (2018). "Pengertian Maslahah" from Irsyah Usul Al-Feqh Siri ke-21: Undang-udang Jalan Raya dan Kaitan dengan Dalil Maslahah Mursalah. URL: https://muftiwp.gov.my/ms/artikel/irsyad-usul-fiqh/2335-irsyad-usul-al-feqh-siri-ke-21-undang-undang-jalan-raya-dan-kaitan-dengan-dalil-maslahah-mursalah#_ftnref1

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