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TAPAI, or fermented sticky rice, is a traditional dessert served during weddings and festivities. The process of making tapai includes sprinkling a special yeast on top of the sticky rice to ferment it. After the fermentation process is complete, the tapai will release a distinctive smell and liquid.

“The liquid formed from the fermentation process contains a very low alcohol level after a few days. However, if the process is prolonged, the alcohol content will increase.

Before you know it, what is halal

(permissible) for Muslims to consume, becomes haram (prohibited),” said Kolej Genius Insan Form Four student Wan Nur Alya Nabihah Mazli.

“In Islam, Muslims are not allowed to consume alcoholic food and drinks. Since tapai is a popular dish in our society, especially among Malays and Muslims, it is important for us to be equipped with this kind of knowledge and not blindly consume food that is prohibited ,” she added.

This bit of insight was among the many Wan Nur Alya had received as participant of the National Halal Action for Young Scientist Camp held at Kolej Genius Insan in Nilai, Negri Sembilan.

The camp, which marries science and technology with Islamic knowledge, was organised by Kolej Genius Insan in collaboration with the Institute of Halal Research and Management (IHRAM), Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia.

It aimed to foster students’ interest in the field of halal research through the rapid development of the halal food industry worldwide.

Wan Nur Alya Nabihah Mazli (standing, third from left), Dr Nurdalila A’wani Abd Aziz (standing, eighth from left) and Muhammad Adzriel Azief Abdul Shukor (front row, fifth from left) with other participants of the National Halal Action for Young Scientist camp.

Twenty-five participants aged 13 to 16 from different schools took part in activities such as halal slaughtering, DNA identification, self-exploration, scientific visits, research, and project assignments during the three-day camp.

Joining the camp made Wan Nur Alya realise the importance of observing the things Muslims consume and their practices in everyday lives.

“For food products especially, halal is more than just labels. Requirements such as the ingredients listed and manufacturing process must comply with Islamic guidelines for the food to be permissible.

We, as Muslims, must be mindful of what we eat, whether the food is store-bought or street food,” she said.

Another participant, Muhammad Adzriel Azief Abdul Shukor of Sekolah Menengah Agama Persekutuan in Seremban, described the camp as one of a kind.

“It is unlike the other programmes that I have joined. The camp enables me to learn science and integrate Islamic knowledge into it. At the same time, I am able to reflect on myself as a Muslim.”

He added that the concept of halal did not only apply to food, but also the way Muslims do things.

“People tend to overlook this, but in order for raw meat to be permissible for Muslims, the animals must be slaughtered in a certain manner.

"According to Islamic law, halal slaughter includes a few special requirements and steps. For example, the animals must be alive and healthy and they have to be slaughtered using a sharp knife.

“We were lucky to be given the chance to do our own chicken slaughtering during this camp. This is my first time demonstrating a slaughter, with step-by-step guidance from the committee members.

Muhammad Adzriel Azief Abdul Shukor getting ready to do halal slaughtering as one of the activities at the camp.

"Later that night, we threw a barbecue dinner, followed by a stargazing session. It is an experience I will always treasure since I can perform my own slaughtering in the future,” he said.

“Another activity that I found interesting was identifying and verifying halal or haram meat through its DNA.

"For this task, we were given two types of sausages, made from pork and beef respectively.

Then, the sausages were ground and put into a quantitative polymerase chain reaction machine to determine which sausage contained porcine and which contained beef DNA.

“We were guided by facilitators, who are former students of Kolej Genius Insan in this experiment. They were helpful in explaining the process and results of the experiment to the participants.

"I was so excited to learn about the use of these laboratory apparatus and machines. We were able to handle all the equipment firsthand ourselves,” said Muhammad Adzriel.

Kolej Genius Insan, which is located in Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, is an institution under the Ministry of Education's GENIUS division. It offers advanced education to gifted and talented Form One to Five students, with emphasis on the integration of Science and Technology with the Quran and Sunnah.

Its students are tasked to carry out research while learning additional modules, such as self development and Quran memorisation.

Wan Nur Alya added that joining the camp had sharpened her teamwork, communication and public speaking skills.

“At one of the sessions, we were divided into groups where we needed to brainstorm.

"We came out with a new product as an environmental solution. In order to reduce paper usage, we thought of using waffles as a substitute for cupcake paper cups.

"Later, we were required to present our idea in front of the other participants.

“Although we had only known each other for a short time, we still managed to have a meaningful discussion,” she said.

Programme coordinator Dr Nurdalila A’wani Abd Aziz said that the camp provided students with the opportunity to learn different things outside of the school environment.

“We want to expose the participants with as much hands-on activities as possible. The camp also focuses on cultivating students’ interest in research.

“Apart from that, personal development of students through the application of critical and creative thinking, communication, social and leadership skills are also stressed."

She added: “Most of the participants say they aspire to be doctors. I can see why they are enthusiastic about putting on their white lab coats when using the DNA extraction kit.

"I am glad that participants from other schools had the opportunity to conduct experiments using the facilities and advanced laboratory apparatus provided by Kolej Genius Insan.

“As for our future plans, we hope to continue our efforts by gathering more participants.”

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