The term “halal” references the group of practices allowed by the Muslim religion. Although the term itself covers all sorts of practices, it is most commonly associated with acceptable foods according to the Islamic law or “sharia”. The opposite term, that which references “forbidden” or harmful for your health, is “haram”. The uses of the word halal vary significantly among Arab speaking communities and around the world as well. In Muslim countries, the term is used to describe all permissible practices according to Islamic law. This includes everything related to behavior, language, dressing, manners and diet. However, in non-Arab speaking countries, the term is reduced in most cases to Islamic nutrition laws, especially when talking about meat and birds, although it used in more common meanings. This concept of halal has a great similitude with the Hebrew term, kosher. To determine which foods are considered halal or haram, people usually look up the words in the Quran. There is a variety of substances considered as harmful (haram) for human consumption and, therefore, forbidden according to the Quran:
Pork, bacon, ham and anything from pigs.
Sacrificed animals in the name of anyone but God. Anything dedicated or offered in sacrifice to an idolater altar, a saint or a person considered as “divine”.
Any animal that has been strangled, beaten (to death), death by falling, horned or if it was attacked by a prey animal.
Foods from animals that, during their sacrifice, the name of Allah was not pronounced.
Alcohol drinks and intoxicants.
Non-halal animal fat
Not all additives come from pork. Parts of these additives come from other animals like cow skin, fish fat, animal bones, cow’s milk, etc.
Halal and Ramadan
During the month of Ramadan, for 30 days, Muslims who choose to fast will neither eat nor drink during daylight hours. At night, when they break their fast, many will only choose foods that are considered permissible under Islamic law or halal. To clarify, most foods do come under the category of halal for Muslims. However, under Islamic law, the following are not considered permissible: blood, alcohol and other intoxicants, pork, meat of carnivorous animals like wolves or coyotes, birds of prey such as vultures, amphibians, snakes, and animals that live on land and water like frogs. Meat and poultry are considered halal only if the animals are conscious when slaughtered and bleed out before they die. To determine which foods are halal, Islamic countries look up to three religious sources: passages in the Quran, the sayings and customs of the Prophet Muhammad, which were written down by his followers and are called “Hadith”, and rulings by recognized religious scholars. Ramadan is a time set aside to celebrate and reflect on one’s relationship with Allah. For almost all Muslims, this also refers to respecting the Islamic law by ensuring that halal foods will be waiting for them when they finish each days of fasting.
Foods that contain ingredients like gelatin, enzymes, and artificial flavors are sometimes questionable, for the reason that where these ingredients come from is unknown. In the meat business, animals like cows, lamb, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, ducks, bison, venison, etc., are all considered to be halal, however they have to be prepared in accordance to Islamic laws so that their meat is suitable for human consumption. Fish and seafood (with the exception of reptiles and amphibians) are most generally satisfactory for Muslims but as always they must check first, as there may be a personal preference or aversion. The preparation of the fish or seafood should not include alcohol (batter or wine, or anything considered haram). Halal products usually come from animals that have been prepared in accordance to Islamic law. These products and their production are appropriately alienated and most clearly recognized from non-halal products.
Sacredness of Life
Islam emphasizes in how an animal’s life ends, that has to be in accordance to Islamic law. Life, for Muslims, is a sacred blessing of Allah. If the life of an animal must be ended so that humans survive, then its life must only be taken in the name of Allah. Therefore, the phrase bismillah (in the name of Allah) hast to be stated just before killing an animal. Muslims are not allowed to consume the meat of animals that are slaughtered in a name other than Allah. Any animal that was killed in the name of a person alive or dead, any deity or idol will most likely be considered “haram” and thus it is not allowed to be consumed by Muslims. Muslims are only permitted to eat meat that has been prepared in accordance to Islamic law. This method is often challenged by animal rights activists as it causes unnecessary suffering to the animal. Most Muslims debate about this and state that Islamic law on slaughtering animals is meant to minimize the pain and suffering of said animals. Some erudite say that the creature slaughtered in this way most likely does not suffer if the cut is made swiftly and efficiently, since it will lose consciousness before the brain can recognize the pain. The argument that halal slaughter is not humane since animals are allowed to bleed to death is not true. An animal’s throat is cut in one swift motion with an incredibly razor sharp knife. Unconsciousness is achieved within seconds and death occurs due to cerebral hypoxia (lack of oxygen), not blood loss. Some people say that the Islamic way of killing animals for consumption is the most humane method of slaughter and that the other methods like captive bolt stunning, practiced in Western countries, causes three times more pain and stress to the animal.
Islam is not only a religion, but 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 (Halal/haram). Muslims are meant to eat just to survive, to sustain a healthy life and not to live just for eating. In the Islamic religion, eating is thought to be a way of worshiping Allah like prayer, fasting and many other religious activities.