KFC has apologised after withdrawing wet wipes from a Leicester branch, in the mistaken belief that the alcohol they contained would offend its Muslim customers.
The chain is trialling halal food in 100 or its outlets, including the St George's retail park, Leicester branch. But staff there went one step further, telling customer Graham Noakes that it no longer offered the wipes because alcohol was banned by the Islamic religion. They might offend other customers, they said.
"I've never experienced anything like this before, I couldn't believe it. Why shouldn't I be allowed a wipe for my hands?" he told the Leicester Mercury.
"They use wipes in hospital, what happens when we start being told we can't have wipes there? I just can't understand it."
But alcohol has long been used for medical purposes in Islam, with even Saudi Arabia introducing alcohol handrub in hospitals in 2003 without opposition. Local Muslim leaders said there was no reason to ban the wipes.
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Misplace cultural sensitivity
"Using alcohol doesn't mean you're consuming it," pointed out Suleman Nagdi, spokesman for the Leicester-based Federation of Muslim Organisations. "I've never come across anything like this before. KFC have made a commercial decision to do this, and now the Muslim community will face backlash."
The decision appears to have been made out of misplaced cultural sensitivity.
"Our alcohol-based hand wipes are approved for use in all our restaurants, including those who are part of the halal trial," a spokesperson explained. "There was a misunderstanding at the store in question, but the wipes are now being used again. We're sorry for the customer's experience."
However, a certain amount of damage appears to have been done, with right-wing group Britain First calling for a boycott of the restaurant chain in a Facebook post that has over 9,000 Likes.
Part of the problem is that there can be big differences in how Islamic doctrine is interpreted. For example, while some devout Muslims working in shops are happy to sell alcohol and non-halal meat, others have refused. Marks & Spencer, Asda and Morrisons allow Muslim staff to opt out; Sainsbury's and Tesco do not.
With many people concerned over whether halal methods of slaughter are truly humane, halal meat has also become a contentious issue.
Downing Street warned earlier this year that the meat industry needed to be more transparent about labelling, although prime minister David Cameron commented that he hoped to avoid introducing a national labelling scheme.
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