When a devout Muslim man discovered that the sandwich he’d been ordering for 12 years contained an undetectable ingredient, he was furious. However, once he heard the CEO’s response, he became even more outraged.
Khalid Qadeer was reading the back of the new label on the Pret A Manger’s tuna baguette sandwich he’d been buying for 12 years only to discover three words that stopped him in his tracks. Much to his horror, the devout Muslim man saw that the sandwich contained “white wine vinegar,” an alcoholic additive that is banned under Islamic law.
Although not everyone follows them, Islam embodies compulsions that extend beyond the reach of religious practices. Everything from hygiene to manner of dress is strictly regulated by Sharia law. Of course, nothing compares to the prohibition of certain haram commodities.
Along with the forbiddance of contact with certain unclean animals, such as dogs and pigs, Muslims must refrain from alcohol either by topical use or consumption. So, when the staunch believer discovered that his go-to lunch item contained one of Islam’s most taboo substances, he was a little more than perturbed.
Qadeer, who works as a tax adviser in London, immediately realized that he’d been consuming minuscule amounts of an alcohol-based ingredient that are far too small to detect by taste or smell. Still, the faithful customer was outraged that he was not aware of the ingredient, which had only recently been added to the new labels.
“Being a Muslim I can’t consume anything with alcohol,” Qadeer told Metro.co.uk. “And there’s probably thousands of Muslims who buy products from Pret. As most people know, some Muslims drink alcohol and the rest, but there is a certain percentage that will have a ‘oh what the f***’ moment here.”
Feeling wronged, Qadeer notified the manager of his situation, complaining that he had unknowingly ingested “alcohol” for over a decade, which is a betrayal of his religious teachings. When he didn’t receive the desired response, he turned to the company’s CEO, Clive Schlee. However, instead of groveling before the outraged customer, Schlee issued a surprising statement:
“We have now established it contains much less than even a trace amount and is certainly well below the labelling threshold. By way of comparison there is much less alcohol than you would find in most orange juices.”
Qadeer later met Schlee in person to discuss his concerns, but he felt like his feelings were “dismissed” by the CEO’s explanation. Qadeer remains upset over the fact that he was not made aware of the minor ingredients, which didn’t register as even being a “trace amount.”
“Our tolerance to alcohol is nil. There’s no margin here,” Qadeer said. “He feels it’s my responsibility to check the ingredients on the website. To some extent it is but to a greater extent he should take responsibility that his Muslim customers have been consuming alcohol.”
Khalid Qadeer was offended at the notion that he is responsible for checking the labels himself, which are located in full on the company’s website. He also compared the voluntary religious compulsion to having a serious medical condition.
“Whether it’s 1% or 0.1%, there is zero tolerance. It’s like a nut allergy,” Qadeer said. “They [people with allergies] have zero tolerance and likewise with staunch Muslims, they would be pretty upset and devastated if they knew.”
However, Pret A Manger reiterated that they never labeled the products he was consuming as “halal-certified,” which should’ve given Qadeer a hint that there may be prohibited ingredients. Additionally, they do offer halal-certified products, which should have been considered the only Islam-safe meals in their stores.
“Whilst we’re very sorry that Mr Qadeer feels he was misled, the food and drink sold at Pret has never been labelled as halal-certified and we have never made any halal product claims,” Pret A Manger said in a statement. “We always encourage anyone with specific dietary needs to speak to a team member or visit our website to check whether a product is suitable for them.”
It’s possible that Qadeer will seek legal action, especially since he didn’t receive the response he feels he deserved. However, there’s no telling whether the company will be held responsible for his mistaken belief that the sandwich was halal.
While it’s true that products labeled as halal-certified should be prepared as advertised, it’s unreasonable for anyone to expect that a product is halal simply because it doesn’t appear to include haram ingredients. For now, the company is defending its decision to dismiss Qadeer’s complaint.