Allah is the Arabic word for God, and Muslims believe in all the Prophets including Jesus, Moses, Abraham and others including Muhammad, peace be upon them. According to Islamic law, Halal (permissible) is a term designating any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in. It is the opposite of haram (unlawful). The term is used to designate food seen as not permissible according to Islamic law.
What is Halal?
Halal is an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. In reference to food, it is the dietary standard, as prescribed in the Qur’an (the Muslim scripture).
“He has forbidden you carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, and what was offered to other than God. But whoever is compelled by necessity—neither driven by desire nor excess—he commits no sin. God is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Quran Chapter 2; Verse 173).
The opposite of halal is haram, which means unlawful or prohibited. Halal and haram are universal terms that apply to all facets of life. These terms are commonly used in relation to food products, meat products, cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, food ingredients, and food contact materials. While many things are clearly halal or haram, there are some things which are not clear. Further information is needed to categorize them as halal or haram. Such items are often referred to as mashbooh, which means doubtful or questionable.
In general every food is considered halal in Islam unless it is specially prohibited by the Qur’an or the Hadith. By official definition, halal foods are those that are:
i) Free from any component that Muslims are prohibited from consuming according to Islamic law (Shariah).
ii) Processed, made, produced, manufactured and/or stored using utensils, equipment and/or machinery that have been cleansed according to Islamic law.
Muslims eat to maintain a strong and healthy physique in order to be able to contribute their knowledge and effort for the welfare of the society. Muslims are supposed to make an effort to obtain the best quality nutrition. It is mentioned in a Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be upon Him) that the prayer of a person is rejected by Allah (God) if the food consumed is prohibited (haram). All foods are considered halal except the following (which are haram):
- Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants
- Non-Halal Animal Fat
- Enzymes* (Microbial Enzymes are permissible)
- Gelatine* – from non-Halal source (fish gelatine is Halal)
- L-cysteine (if from human hair)
- Lipase* (only animal lipase need be avoided)
- Non-Halal Animal Shortening
- Pork, Bacon / Ham and anything from pigs
- Unspecified Meat Broth
- Rennet* (All forms should be avoided except for plant / microbial /
- synthetic – rennet obtained from halal slaughtered animal is permissible).
- Stock* (a blend of mix species broth or meat stock)
- Tallow* (non-Halal species)
- Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and certain other animals
- Foods contaminated with any of the above products
(*May be consumed if derived from Halal animals.)
Foods containing ingredients such as gelatin, enzymes, emulsifiers, and flavours are questionable because the origin of these ingredients is not known. In the meat and poultry food industry, animals such as cows, veal, lamb, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, ducks, game birds, bison, venison, etc, are considered halal, but they must be prepared according to Islamic laws in order for their meat to be suitable for consumption (see below). Fish and seafood (except for crocodiles, alligators and frogs) are generally acceptable for Muslims but as always check first, as there may be a personal dietary preference or allergy. The preparation of the fish or seafood should not include alcohol (ie batter or wine, or anything considered haram). In cases of necessity, prohibited things may become permissible (halal) for the duration of the emergency or need, as Islam puts a priority on life over death.
Islamic Halal Meat Preparation and Supervision
In South Africa, the Muslim Judicial Council Halaal Trust [MJCHT] certifies and trains Muslim slaughtermen for the meat and poultry industry. Halal products are derived from animals and/or poultry that have been prepared according to Islamic law under the following statement, “In the name of God – God is the Greatest/Bismillahi Allahu Akbar”. Halal products and production are properly separated and clearly identified from non-halal products.
Life is sacred
Islam places great emphasis on the way in which an animal’s life ends, which has to be in accordance with Islamic regulations. Life is a sacred blessing from God to creation, animal life as well as human life. If an animal’s life has to be ended for human survival, then its life should only be taken in the name of God. Hence, the phrase bismillah (‘in the name of God’) must be uttered just before slaughtering an animal. Muslims cannot consume the meat of animals that are sacrificed in a name other than God. Any animal slaughtered in the name of a person alive or dead, any deity or idol will be considered as haram and therefore it is not permissible for Muslims to consume that meat.
Muslims are only allowed to eat meat that has been prepared according to Islamic law. This method is often challenged by animal rights activists as ‘causing unnecessary suffering to the animal’. Muslims disagree and say that Islamic law on killing animals is designed to reduce the pain and distress that the animal suffers. MJCHT has strict rules with regards to Islamic slaughter. These rules state:
- The slaughterer must be a sane adult Muslim.
- The slaughterer must say the name of God before making the cut.
- The name of God is said in order to emphasise the sanctity of life and that the animal is being killed for food with God’s consent.
- The animal must be killed by cutting the throat with one continuous motion of a sharp knife.
- The cut must sever at least three of the trachea, oesophagus, and the two blood vessels on either side of the throat.
- The spinal cord must not be cut.
- Animals must be well treated before being killed.
- Animals must not see other animals being killed.
- The knife must not be sharpened in the animal’s presence.
- The knife blade must be free of blemishes that might tear the wound.
- The animal must not be in an uncomfortable position.
- The animal must be allowed to bleed out and be dead before further processing.
Some experts say that the animal killed in this way does not suffer if the cut is made quickly and cleanly, because it loses consciousness before the brain can perceive any pain: “the Islamic way of slaughtering is the most humane method of slaughter and that captive bolt stunning, practiced in the West, causes 3 severe pain to the animal” Schulze W, Schultze-Petzold H, Hazem AS, Gross R. Experiments for the objectification of pain and consciousness during conventional (captive bolt stunning) and religiously mandated (“ritual cutting”) slaughter procedures for sheep and calves. Deutsche Tierärztliche Wochenschrift 1978 Feb 5;85(2):62-6. The argument that halal slaughter is inhumane because animals are allowed to bleed to death is scientifically untrue. An animal’s throat is cut in one swift motion with a razor-sharp knife. Unconsciousness is achieved within seconds and death occurs due to cerebral hypoxia not blood loss.
Islam is not only a religion it is a way of life with protocols, rules, and manners governing every facet of life. Since food is an important part of daily life, food laws carry a special significance. Muslims are expected to eat for survival, to maintain good health, and not to live for eating. In Islam, eating is considered to be a matter of worship of God like prayer, fasting, alms-giving, and other religious activities.