Defensive or offensive dining? Halal dining practices among Malay Muslim Singaporeans and their effects on integration


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Anthropologists and sociologists have, in recent years, paid attention to different aspects of halal food production and consumption. However, very few studies have focussed on the impact that halal food, its certification and halal dining practice have on socialisation, particularly for Muslims living in multicultural societies in Southeast Asia. Nasir and Pereira’s study (2008) is one of these exceptions. They studied the attitudes of Singaporean Malay Muslims towards halal food as well as the strategies they adopt when forced to share nonhalal dining environments. These authors have described such strategies as ‘defensive dining’ and have argued that, through them, Muslims in Singapore are able to fully partake in the multicultural life of the city state as well as integrate within the mainstream, mainly Chinese, society. This article discusses how my observations and fieldwork raise some questions about such overtly positive conclusions. Indeed, I suggest that to understand the impact that such ‘dining strategies’ may have on the integration of Singaporean Malay Muslims, we should not only observe the Malay Muslims’ viewpoint but also consider the impact such practices have on non-Muslims, in particular the Chinese majority, as well as the role that stereotypes have in Singapore.