Halal Food Demystified

Last Updated: 10-Jun-2014 11:41 PM

Definition of Halal – "allowed"
Definition of Haram – "not allowed"

This may come to a shock to many, but there are Muslims out there who are completely and utterly unaware of what "Halal" actually is when it comes to food.

I have met many – and I do mean many – Muslims who truly and wholeheartedly believe that simply saying Bismillah before eating anything and everything somehow makes food Halal. They purchase burgers at non-Halal McDonald’s, chicken at non-Halal KFC and even go to the extent of passing this misinformation on to their children.

Halal means "allowed". The rules and regulations for Muslims surrounding what is allowed or not is governed primarily by the Qur'an and secondly by the Hadiths, which is, to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

See the following verses from the Holy Qur'an - 5:3, 2:173, 5:5, 6:118, 6:145, 16:115, 6:121

See also Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 7:27, 1 Samuel 14:33-34 & Deuteronomy 12:23-25.

To ensure food is Halal, 3 main prerequisites must be met:

It should be added that all three of the above requirements have to be fulfilled, as missing out one of them renders the food Haram.

The slaughtering of the animal consists of using a sharpened knife to make one swift and uninterrupted cut of the jugular veins, carotid arteries and windpipe but leaves the spinal cord intact. The reason for this is to avoid damage to the nervous system. As with kosher meat, the idea is that the animal dies immediately and the blood drains away.

Let us examine this point...The slaughter of the animal must be done by a sane (mentally competent) adult Muslim, Jew, or Christian as they are considered "People of the Book".

Does this then allow for Muslims to eat meat bought from a non-Halal butcher? Allah knows best. The advice I follow is simple: If in doubt, leave it out. I try to follow the rule: "Keep everything Halal." Whether it be my earnings, my dress, my spending and my food.

I can understand a situation where a Muslim does not have Halal meat available. Personally, I would choose to go without meat because I have no guarantee that the animal was (a) slaughtered by a Jew or Christian; (b) slaughtered with the Name of Allah mentioned and (c) slaughtered in a manner that is befitting the rights of said animal.

Just a question…how many times do we hear of cruelty to animals in the West?

A Myth: Eating food cooked by a non-Muslim is Haram

A number of Muslims believe that eating food cooked by non-Muslims is Haram. Similarly, they do not eat at non-Halal restaurants for the same reason. This belief is incorrect. The Prophet (pbuh) permitted Muslims to "…wash their utensils and eat out of it." See Sahih Bukhari - Volume 7, Book 67, Number 387

I do understand the concern about the possibility of contamination of vegetarian food by non-vegetarian food, for example. Similarly, a restaurant that cooks pork and fish may use the same pots and pans for cooking both dishes. We can only assume that they washed the pots and pans after cooking the pork and before cooking the fish. Without getting into this discussion too much, my best guess would be to leave this type of decision to each individual, and let each one of us judge to the best of our ability. Before becoming a Muslim, by default, I used to avoid restaurants that do not look clean. Needless to say, as a Muslim, I use the same rule.

A Myth: Halal is cruel

Recently the UK (and many other countries in Europe) has seen a popular resurgence of non-Muslim’s expressing their disgust at being served Halal food without their knowledge. On 20 September 2010, the BBC News website had this story.

This was followed by a lengthy public debate in the media regarding people’s right to know whether the meat they were buying and being served in restaurants was Halal or not.

I fully agree with the outcry. In the same way that Muslims want assurances that the meat they are buying is Halal, non-Muslims also have the right to refuse to eat Halal meat; it is their choice. Being unwittingly served food which is forbidden (in the case of Muslims), and not wanted, for various reasons, (in the case of non-Muslims) is surely grounds for the vocal response given by the general public in the UK. It can be guaranteed that Muslims will be just as vocal if they were being sold non-Halal meat which was labelled as Halal.

It needs to be remembered too that, to non-Muslims, the word "Halal" is a foreign one, and one they do not possibly understand. That said, as I have noted above, many Muslims themselves are unaware of what denotes Halal in terms of the food they are consuming.

The reasons for non-Muslims refusing to eat Halal meat are various but the most common reason was that many of them believed that the Halal method of slaughter was unnecessarily cruel to the animals. I am of the firm opinion that such misconceptions enter the mainstream thinking due to two reasons: The first is due to pure ignorance and the second is the subjective reporting by media outlets.

There are currently various movements everywhere around the world campaigning for an end to the Halal method of slaughtering animals. See this Facebook page. A Google search for the words "halal slaughter cruel" set for only the past month will return 15,000+ pages.

There are numerous UK government petitions asking for the Halal slaughter process to be banned. At the time of writing this article, the petition only had 11 signatures, but the debate will no doubt resurface again in the near future.

The last time this debate went mainstream was in late 2010, where there were incidents of children being served Halal meat at schools in the UK - Dailystar. My favourite line from this news article is: "The controversial technique involves unstunned animals bleeding to death after having their throats cut."

So much for unbiased reporting! It took me only a few minutes to dig out the RSPCA report [PDF] on how 90% of the animals slaughtered using the Halal process in the UK (as far back as 2004) have in fact being stunned. If the RSPCA’s report cannot be taken as conclusive (they are THE animal rights gatekeeper in the UK) then who do we listen to? Based on the Daily Star’s report – and they have a large audience – all Halal meat is from unstunned animals. This type of irresponsible reporting is unfortunately taken as fact by most readers of the Daily Star and other similar so-called newspapers.

In conclusion, many Muslims themselves seem to be unaware of what denotes Halal and Haram with regards to the foods they are eating. Many non-Muslims prefer to eat non-Halal meat, mainly because they incorrectly believe that the Halal slaughtering process is unjustifiably cruel to the animal. The main authority on animal welfare in the UK, the RSPCA, issued a report in February 2009, containing statistics on the Halal slaughter process. According to their findings, as far back as 2004, 90% of all animals slaughtered following the Halal method were in fact pre-stunned.

I am of the firm belief that, in general, responsible, objective news reporting in the UK does not exist. Sensationalism has always sold newspapers and will continue to do so. I urge Muslims everywhere to strongly defend their beliefs and Islamic culture by engaging in dialogue with non-Muslims, as this is often best to dispel myths about the Islamic faith.

Allahu Alaam (Allah knows best).

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