A lot of non-Muslim people, and even some folks that have newly reverted to Islam, know very little about what truly constitutes the ‘halal’ description of foodstuff or beverages. Simply put, the term ‘halal’ is Arabic for ‘lawful’, ‘allowed’ or ‘permitted’. In a nutshell, it is basically whatever food or beverage that is ‘permissible’ as per Islamic Law, which is closely detailed in the Quran.
Being one of five Islamic commandments that helped to govern the daily lives of the faithful (‘Al-ahkam al-khamsah’) it is comparable to the Judaic dietary laws called ‘kashrut’, which deems foodstuffs as ‘kosher’(‘fit’) or ‘treyf’ (‘torn’). Foodstuffs and beverages which are considered not halal are called ‘haram’ (‘sinful’ or ‘forbidden’).
What Makes Food Halal?
Knowing what foods are halal may be difficult for those new to the Quran. It’s common knowledge that Muslims are absolutely forbidden to eat pork, but what most people miss out on is that there are other foodstuffs besides pork that devout Muslims are forbidden to consume. In fact, even foods that are deemed ‘halal’, if prepared improperly, will be rendered haram and therefore unfit for consumption.
What is halal food?
In a nutshell, foodstuffs which are deemed halal are beef, poultry, fish that have scales, some species of mollusks and crustaceans (although not all sects of Islam consider mollusks or crustaceans halal), and a select number of avian species (barring birds of prey and carrion feeders). However, food derived or sourced from the above-stated animals does not immediately make them haram, as there is a special form of ritual ‘slaughter’ called ‘dhabihah’, which must be undertaken in order for food to be considered halal.
As per Islamic Law, food is deemed halal if it meets the following criterion of dhabihah:
1. The animal to be slaughtered must be in perfect health and free from any mar, disease, or physical deformity.
2. That upon slaughtering, the animal must be sequestered so that it is not seen by any other animal of its species to prevent any degree of discomfort or emotional pain towards other animals.
3. That the animal be killed swiftly, without causing undue pain, by a quick, deep thrust of a very sharp non-serrated single-edged or double-edged knife (similar to the Jewish ‘hallaf’ or ‘sakin’ through the throat, severing the carotid artery, the windpipe, and the jugular veins, but without decapitating or severing the head from the body.
4. That the blood of the animal be drained from its body and returned to the earth. The blood of the animal must ‘never’ be consumed.
5. That the animal to be slaughtered with proper prayers, invoking the Name of Allah. The prayer generally constitutes the Bismillah, or the more complete phrase ‘Bismillah al-Rahim, al-Rahman’ (‘In the Name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful’), followed by a threefold exhortation of ‘Allahu akbar!’ (‘God is the Greatest!’)
6. In some orthodox sects, the animal to be slaughtered must be facing the Qiblah – the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca.
A little-known fact is that Muslims can freely partake of foodstuffs prepared by observant Jews and Christians , provided that food prepared by the latter is not sourced from, or contain products derived from swine, since these two religions are considered ‘Ahl al-Kitab’ (‘People of the Book’), and therefore deemed ‘siblings’ of Muslims.
For more information about allowable Muslim foods, you can find more on halal online here.