Halal and other dietary laws in Islam
When it comes to Islamic dietary laws, there is a clear distinction between two terms, halal and haram.
The term halal literally translates from the Arabic language as “permissible, legal” while the term Haram translates as “forbidden”. Haram, being the opposite of halal, is all which is clearly forbidden in Quran and Sunnah (The Practice of the Prophet).
There are few more terms we come across such as mashbooh which is used to label the food we’re not certain about. It literally translates as “doubtful” from Arabic, but mashbooh label is more about putting accent on the fact this food is not checked thoroughly and may or may not be halal for all we know.
Another term you’ll come across is makruh which translates as abominable or detestable and is used to label something which is not approved but is also not strictly forbidden. In other words, this is a shady area, which opens rom for personal decision on the matter.
The last term you ought to know is najis which translates as “unclean”. In Islam, there are two types of najis. The first one is the one that cannot be cleaned, and is unclean in its essence, while the second one becomes unclean when in contact with something that is unclean in its essence.
Halal is all that was endorsed during the time of the Prophet. However, if there the product didn’t exist at the time of the prophet, then the opinions differ from madhhab to madhhab. Later, we’ll explain what madhhabs and a whole lot of other things are. When it comes to term halal, it’s important to signify the fact halal is not strictly bound to food. Halal can also be found in the daily guidelines, and in its core, halal shares a deep connection with health maintenance as health maintenance plays a major role in Islamic lifestyle.
For Muslims, complying their lives to halal ways is not only about their connection to the Creator, but also about physical and mental balance they aim to achieve before they take things to a new level in spiritual way. Halal is also about community given it derives from Quran and Sunnah
The main sources used to establish halal are Quran and Sunnah. In Quran you’ll find precise guidelines concerning slaughter of the animal and the kind of meat allowed, but in Sunnah (Practice of the Prophet); you’ll find the reasons behind some rules, or the through explanation of the same.
However, since not everything is covered in Quran and Sunnah, such as the question on whether GMO food is halal or not, we turn to qiyas, better known as principle of analogy. Qiyas is analogical inference, and can only be proclaimed by Islamic Scholar.
Similar to qiyas, there is also ijma, which is usually not food-related, but still good to know if you’re looking out to understand how the laws are established. In short, ijma is a reached agreement on a religious matter by Islamic community.
While all these require scholars, there is also ijtihad, which is basically a rational conclusion based on the main sources (Quran and Sunnah). Ijtihad allows for personal decision, but also requires you have a certain knowledge on the matter.
Now, concerning the dietary laws in Islam, the fact is that a specific set of laws dictate the lifestyle of practicing Muslim, from the food he eats to the clothes he wears. It may look like a lot to handle, but in its core, each law carries an explanation which comes back to honoring the life as a gift from the Creator. The idea behind the rituals and strict notations which ensure food such as animal flesh is halal comes from a strong Islamic belief that each life is sacred individually.
The accent is surely on the nutrition, but you’ll find that the mention of halal products comes up in each sphere of life, with a distinct categorization to ensure absolute health maintenance. While the majority of Islamic scholars agree that when it comes to life-threatening situation everything including certain haram ingredients is permitted, when it comes to food we consume, religious sources such as Hadith and Quran verses are taken as guidelines. Even though it may seem like a long list, the truth is that most of the haram animals or products had been avoided by the human race since the beginning of time.
However, when discussing terms of whether a product is halal or not, it all comes back to the health. Living as fast as we live today, the institution of halal products gained on its importance among the Muslim communities, for solemn reason of taking care after oneself. The strict classification makes it easy to maintain balance in your life, and that’s what halal and haram is all about. Even though the distinction between the halal and haram is clear, Islam still allows for exceptions in extreme cases of starvation, which means that all of the laws contain the exception.
To make things clear, we’ll start off with basics, in order to provide you with an insight in the Islamic dietary laws, covering the concept of halal and haram as seen today.
The background for the establishment of the Islamic dietary law
The simplicity of following the rules for a practicing Muslim comes from the fact that most of these laws can be found in six Quran verses, allowing you to easily memorize what is haram, given the list comprised isn’t as long, which means that apart from the mentioned, everything else is halal. When not certain whether something is halal or not, relying on a common sense and logic is always the solution.
Here are verses are taken as a cornerstone for Islamic dietary law.
“He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah . But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (Quran, 2:173)
Notation: The verse explains “the law of necessity”, which allows eating the haram food in order to survive, and if there is no other option available. However, the scholars argue whether it only applies to periods of starvation or it covers the cases of extreme poverty, war and natural disasters. Most of the Muslims will agree that it depends on a situation, and that is an individual choice you make in the time of need.
“Prohibited to you are dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah, and [those animals] killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a head-long fall or by the goring of horns, and those from which a wild animal has eaten, except what you [are able to] slaughter [before its death], and those which are sacrificed on stone altars, and [prohibited is] that you seek decision through divining arrows. That is grave disobedience. This day those who disbelieve have despaired of [defeating] your religion; so fear them not, but fear Me. This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. But whoever is forced by severe hunger with no inclination to sin – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Quran 5:3)
Notation: The verse focuses on the keynotes considering animal slaughter and the brutal practice which was common for Arabian society during that era. Today, the verse is taken as an argument to avoid the usage of machines in mass food production, as Islam considers animals should to be treated with respect, which is why Dhabibihah ritual is taken seriously.
“Verily Allah has prescribed proficiency in all things. Thus, if you kill, kill well; and if you slaughter, slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters” (Prophet Muhammad).
Notation: While Quran verses are the law explained clearly, hadiths- sayings of a prophet Muhammad give us the reason on why is the proper act of killing the animal is of such importance to the community. Here we have a hadith précising the way animal is to be killed, and an accent is on the compassion, which is there to ensure animal as God’s creation doesn’t suffer a lot in the process.
A brief overview of the strictly forbidden food
All things considered, there is a unified opinion when it comes to what is haram. You’ve probably heard of pork and alcohol being forbidden, but there is also quite a few things to pay attention to as well. Here is a brief overview of strictly forbidden food in Islam based on the Quran verses and the verified hadiths (sayings of the Prophet).
- Pork (this also includes any pork products as in Islam, pork is considered the unclean animal, and therefore cannot be consumed.)
- Donkey (according to the verified hadith, Prophet prohibited consumption of donkey due to it being one of the domestic animals.)
- Dogs, cats, mice (these three are prohibited due to the fact that they are unclean, as well as due to their nutrition and the fact they are usually part of the household, even though only cats are allowed in the house.)
- Predators (also backed up with the hadith, all animals with canine teeth, including birds with claws, are prohibited. In general, the law is based on the fact that Muslims aren’t allowed to eat the meat of an animal who feeds on other animals, which means only vegetarian animals are allowed. )
- Insects and reptiles (insects are not allowed with the exception of locust, whilst the reptiles are completely forbidden. The reason is their nutritional value is not nearly enough to make them a regular dish, and their sometimes intense taste often causes nausea. )
- Snakes, scorpions (these two are also prohibited due to the venom in their organism.)
- Carrion (the animals that died on their own are not allowed to be eaten. This also applies to the fish which dies in water. The reason behind it is they are often damaged and may affect our health in negative way.)
- Gelatin (given that it’s usually a product derived from pork, gelatin is forbidden unless derived from cow which had been slaughtered and processed accordingly or fish.)
- Rennet (same as with the gelatin, rennet is only allowed if it is derived from halal slaughtered calf or a microbiological source)
- Blood (Dhabihah requires blood to be drained instantly in the process, as it is impure and may be used to infect us with illness)
When it comes to alcohol, most of the Islamic scholars agree that even the tiniest amount is forbidden, unless used as a medicine or a cleaning product. This also means that the food additives such as vanilla or mint extract containing alcohol are forbidden. However, the synthetic additions or aromas that are not intoxicating are allowed, which is the basis for it being haram in the first place.
Madhabs, interpretations among Imams
Madhabs are Islamic schools of thoughts which became institutions through the history. Sunnis have four madhabs (Shafi’i Madhab, Hanbali Madhab, Maliki Madhab and Hanafi Madhab) whilst Shias have two madhabs (Jafari Madhhab and Zaidi Madhab). All madhabs carry the name of their founders, great Imams who started in-depth analysis of Quran and Sunnah in order to make it to understand for common folk. When it comes to their views on terms of halal and haram, difference is in the interpretations, even though they all agree on the source.
Even though there is a unified opinion on haram food, there are still a few surprising variations in madhabs, and here are the most interesting ones.
The ritual of animal slaughter (Dhabibihah)
Even though the ritual of animal slaughter looks like a complicated process, the concept is an easy one o grasp. Here, we provide you the answers to the most common questions concerning dhabihah.
Why is dhabihah necessary?
If executed correctly, the animal dies before feeling extreme pain, which is more humane than using any other method. Furthermore, even though it was originally questioned and disregarded, it was proved this is definitely the most painless method even though the animal is left to bleed out on its own, given the death occurs not as a result of a blood loss, but rather as a result of cerebral hypoxia. In spiritual manner, this ritual is also about honoring the creation of God by being merciful.
Who can perform it?
Dhabihah can be performed by any sane Muslim adult. Even though, a practicing Muslim would be a preferable choice for the job.
How it needs to be done?
While there is a long list of physical requirements, spiritual preparation is an easy part. The butcher slaughters with the prayer, honoring the life created by pronouncing “In the name of God” before cutting the throat, and that’s pretty much it as far as the actual spiritual part of the ritual goes.
What are the main acceptability requirements of dhabihah?
- The butcher must be a sane Muslim adult.
- The blade must be serrated and cleaned so an animal cannot sense the blood from the previous animal.
- The animal must be in a comfortable position and well treated, and should not see another animal being butchered.
- The blade is not to be serrated in front of the animal.
- The animal is slaughtered by cutting the throat in one motion which is to instantly sever the trachea, esophagus, and the two blood vessels on either side of the throat.
- Once it’s done, the animal is left to bleed out before anything else.