Heat over halaal hot cross buns

South African retailer Woolworths’ decision to lure Muslims customers to the tradition of consuming hot cross buns has sparked a furore amongst some Christians. Hot cross buns are associated with the Christian religious period of the Good Friday and Easter Weekend. Like Easter eggs these buns are mostly sold around the Easter period. Retailers around the world stock these and other symbolic items purely for commercial reasons. They do not sell them in order to honour the significance of this weekend but to exploit its economic benefit. In Woolworths’ case they had their buns stamped with the halaal symbol in order for them to be suitable for Muslim consumption. They did not foresee the backlash they would get by doing this because they did not see the irony of having a halaal certification on something associated with one of Christianity’s holiest days.

So serious is this in some people’s minds that they have called for Christians to boycott Woolworths. Other Christian groups disagree with this position. Both the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the South African Council of Churches are quoted in last week’s City Press as distancing themselves from this militant position. Their view is that these buns are not a requirement for salvation and do not represent any biblical signs or sacraments. In fact of 263 polled in City Press on this subject, 52% of respondents said Christians were over-reacting and only 39% said Woolworths was insensitive to Christians. The remaining 9% were in support of Muslims right to consume this confectionary product.

Woolworths has subsequently apologised for offending some Christian sensitivities but I think this is nothing but a storm in a teacup. The consuming of these buns, pickled fish and Easter eggs is not done to honour our Lord but caters to pagan traditions that have been allowed to hijack this period of the Passover. This is similar to Christmas trees and giving of gifts that are associated with the period meant to honour the birth of our Lord. What we have done around these periods has nothing to do with the Lord but everything to do with us and our worldly tendencies.

In the Old Testament we see that God gave the Jews both moral and ceremonial laws. The moral laws govern the relationship between God and His people and also among people themselves. It is in this category that the 10 commandments are found. The ceremonial laws, however, governed things like what people ate, wore, and things related to ceremonial cleansing. In degrees of importance moral laws are more important than ceremonial laws. In other words it is more important to God how you relate to Him and others than how you eat and what you wear. In fact how you eat and what you wear should be influenced by your relationship with Him.

While Muslims eat food that is “halaal”,  Jews are supposed to eat foods that are “kosher.” For food to be kosher it has to satisfy certain requirements which include it not having ingredients derived from non-kosher animals and the slaughter of animals has to be done in a certain ritualistic manner. Similarly for food to qualify as “halaal” it is has to conform to certain Muslim requirements. For instance, animals slaughtered are made to face the Ka’aba which is a shrine in Mecca where there is a black stone and are also slaughtered in the name of Allah. Halaal certification bodies charge a fee to food producers who want this halaal symbol on their products.

You have noticed that almost all the food we consume has this halaal symbol so you can imagine how much money these certification bodies make. I would have expected us to look at things like these in a holistic manner instead of making an issue with hot cross buns that have nothing to do with the cross. Also the moral laws that cover things like the honour of God’s name, the sanctity of marriage and human life should receive more attention from us. How many of these outraged Christians actually spoke out against blasphemy against the Lord, pornography, and abortion, etc.? Which one do you think offends God more? That millions of babies have been aborted in the world or someone has tampered with our much loved but meaningless religious symbols and insignia? 



  1. Thank you for taking the time to air this view. They are my sentiments exactly, only I could not have worded it as well. God bless you. In a few hours time we can proclaim “He is risen!”, an event in History that sets our faith apart from any other.

    • Thanks Mike. We really need to focus on the weightier matters of our faith and hot cross buns is just not one of them.

  2. Anne Fergusson

    Excellent comment. It is worth noting that animals slaughtered in the kosher way cause them the least pain and trauma. It is time South Africans stood up against this Halaal symbol that glorifies a god other than The Almighty, one with a wholly different character. Our Christian money is going to fund another religion against our will for what – so more muslims will buy – how many muslims do you see in supermarkets? Very few because they shop in Muslim stores. I object. Good for the British cleric who is calling for all Christians to wear their crosses every day to stand up against those who are being suspended for doing so. Enough already.

    • Thanks Anne,

      The much vaunted freedom of religion should mean that no one is coerced into someone’s else religious practice without their will. Muslims have every right to require their foods to be certified halaal but I have never felt the same need. Would other religions agreed to purchase food if as Christians we insisted that a cross symbol be put on it? I don’t think so.

  3. Bigotry and intolerance are traits of extremism which unfortunately rears its ugly head now and again. Some individuals are up in arms over the Halaal symbol on “their” buns, claiming this to be a sacrilege and blasphemy against Christianity. In a few social media posts they allege that the buns have been prayed on and accuse the retailer concerned of being insensitive especially during the Easter period.
    Although SANHA does not certify the hot cross buns that created the furore, in the absence of any comment from the certification body concerned, we feel constrained to respond on the principle of the matter.
    SANHA rejects this furore as unwarranted, having no basis or foundation, which only serves to oxygenate the dying embers of extremism and religious intolerance from the era of the past which our leaders liberated us from with great sacrifices.
    The claim that the hot-cross buns are “an association to the death of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour” is factually incorrect. Even mainstream Christian leaders from the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference have confirmed that “hot-cross buns” is not a tenet of Christianity.
    A Halaal mark signifies that the product was produced in a Halaal compliant facilitywhich is free from Pork, alcohol and non-Halaal materials using only permitted ingredients. It is misleading and ludicrous to allege that prayers are read over every hot cross bun.
    We concur with Father Chris Townsend’s (spokesman for the S.A. Catholic Bishops’ Conference) sentiments when he says, “we live in a multicultural society and need more understanding and religious tolerance. There are a lot more weighty issues to deal with in SA than a few hot-cross Christians.”
    The late Pope John Paul II in one of his Vatican documents stated:
    Upon the Muslims, too, the Church looks with esteem. They adore one God, Living and Enduring, Merciful and All Powerful. Maker of heaven and earth and Speaker to men. They strive to submit wholeheartedly even to His inscrutable decrees just as did Abraham, with whom the Islamic faith is pleased to associate itself. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a Prophet. They also honour Mary, his virgin mother. In addition they await the day of judgement when God will give each man his due after raising him up. Consequently, they prize the moral life, and give worship to God, especially through prayer, alms-giving, and fasting.
    Although in the course of centuries many quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this most sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to strive sincerely for mutual understanding. On behalf of all mankind, let them make common cause of safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom.
    We urge right minded people everywhere, irrespective of their faiths to focus on the positive teachings and good works of our religious leaders, to create an environment of mutual respect, understanding and tolerance of each other’s religious values.
    It’s a BUN deal.

    • Thanks for your contribution. And as Afrika notes in his article, our faith as Chistians has nothing to do with buns or Easter eggs. It of course rests in our belief that Jesus is indeed both Saviour and Lord. And on this Easter Sunday we rejoice in the good news that “He is risen indeed!” and offers eternal life to all who believe in Him!!!

      • Hi Andre,

        I am so pleased that articles from Gateway News can be picked up by everyone. This means that this platform is open and accessible. This is the role of media. To inform and educate and it is good for us to create a space for a debate. This country needs that. Thank you.

    • Thank you EBI for your contribution. You seem to be in agreement with me on the main point of my article, that these buns are not a symbol of Christianity. Whether someone declares them Halaal or Khosher compliant was not supossed to upset any believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. It should have been expected, however, that this action from Woolworths would have raffled some people’s feathers. As far as I know Muslims do not care to consume hot cross buns so what logic was there to make them compliant to Islam? City Press quoted Professor Yousuf Dadoo from the department of religious studies at Unisa. Professor Dadoo said, “The hot cross bun enjoys symbolic significance for Christians, that we understand.” Shouldn’t then this loose connection between these buns and Christians played in Woolworths people’s minds when they made this decision? I mean if there was a chance that they will offend some of their Christian customers, shouldn’t they have been wiser? Perhaps even canvassed the oponions of their customers. The majority of people who shop at Woolworths are not Muslims but are forced to adhere to an Islamic regulation and requirement, however noble it is. Would Muslims been happy if everything in their local supermakerts is certified with a Christian or Jewish symbol? Surely religious tolerance should not mean that other religions should usurp their principles upon people of other faiths. It should mean that everyone should be allowed to practice their own faith – their own way. If what I buy from the store is associated with another faith – however loose that association is – it means I am forced to participate or at least to support that faith. So one way or the other, Christians find themselves supporting Islam everytime they go shopping. If the roles were reversed would Muslims be happy with that situation?
      As a country we need to discuss these issues in an honest manner and we should not have a situation where one religion is forced is seat by and watch its basic principles and name its founder denigrated and blasphemed by the rest of society. If there is any intolerance right now in SA it is directed against Christianity. This is why Mr Gay World held recently in our shores was held on Easter Sunday. This was done to deliberately provoke Christians. This insesitivity is what is demonstrated by the actions of retailers like Woolworths and beverage makers like Red Bull. Our Muslim brothers should help us fight this constant attack that is directed at our faith. As for the bun debate, well it is no debate at all. I don’t mind what symbol is on them.

    • That’s great then don’t put halal signs on anything ,muslims are not that concerned,.that’s the gist of all this,the fact that woolworths has stuck halal stickers on their muffins,their custard is halal,soon nothing in their store except for the newspapers wont be halal,I don’t go their anymore let them target the 2% that according to them never asked woolworths to do this.

  4. Thanks Pst Afrika,what you have written is so true.

  5. Christian leaders from different organisations and churches have failed christians in South Africa how come we are subjected to eat haalal food which we christians contribute majority in the country and muslims are less than 10% of the population, is high time as christians we stop acting like sheeps and start boycourting this halaal food, they can produce halaal food for muslims and if they think they are too important but they must just stop feeding use this halaal junk.

    • The problem with us Nicky is that we don’t want to make sacrifices. When there was a call to boycot E-TV because of their proposed porn channel many Christians could not bring themselves to a place where they switch off from their favourite TV programs. We want God but also the pleasures of this world. I agree that it is time for us to stand for what we believe in.

  6. Pingback: Karl Marx and the Halaal hot cross bun debacle - In Other Words