Two of the biggest names in Japanese home appliances were awarded what must rank as one of the oddest of halal certifications: for products.
In guaranteeing that their goods have not come into contact with pork or alcohol, Panasonic Corp. and Sharp Corp. are moving to gain a foothold in the growing, more affluent Muslim market.
But obtaining the prized credential was no easy feat.
To get it, the companies must pass screenings to meet strict halal standards that even covered the materials of the gloves worn by workers.
Panasonic obtained certification for its water purifiers and water ionizers for the Malaysian market.
The company said it was the first Japanese home appliance maker to secure halal certification under the Malaysian government-affiliated system.
Sharp also gained certification for its refrigerators manufactured at plants in Indonesia and Thailand last year.
More than 200 halal certification organizations are said to exist worldwide, yet there are no unified standards for the certification.
Though certification screeners found no problems with Panasonic's home appliance parts at its plant in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, they asked the company to review certain manufacturing procedures.
To conform to standards considered halal, "workers must remove their wristwatches because (according to Islamic law) they could be regarded as unpure," a Panasonic representative said.
This is done to ensure any traces of pork or alcohol that workers may have come in contact with outside the plant are not transferred to products being manufactured.
Panasonic introduced a halal production line at its Hikone plant and carefully examined the ingredients of gloves and brushes to confirm they were not derived from pork products.
The company also replaced the plant's cleaning tools and asked staff to wash their hands seven times a day to abide by Islamic law, using a halal cleaning agent.
In November, Panasonic started shipping alkaline ionized water conditioners and water purifiers with halal labels to Malaysia, where Muslims account for two-thirds of the population, and local consumers have become more health-conscious.
Panasonic does brisk sales among Malaysia's non-Muslim population, and is hoping that by tweaking its goods to attract Muslim customers it can double Malaysian sales within five years.
The move to gain certification by Japanese businesses first spread among restaurant operators to better respond to the recent influx of foreign visitors to Japan.
Japan's medical and cosmetics companies then jumped on the bandwagon, fine-tuning their products toward the Muslim market, making it impossible for electronics makers to ignore the trend as their products dovetail on diet-related issues such as water purifiers and refrigerators.
The aggressive pursuit of halal certification by rival South Korean companies is another major factor behind the race by Japanese manufacturers to gain certification.
To expand its business in ASEAN member states, Sharp got rid of materials associated with pork or alcohol from materials and production processes at its refrigerator plants.
Both of Sharp's factories are targeting consumers in Indonesia, where 90 percent of the population are Muslim, making it the world's largest Muslim nation.
"The certification offers another reason for consumers to choose our fridge," said a Sharp representative.
The official said certification has paid off in higher fridge sales for the company.