Halal is an Arabic term for “permitted” and its opposite, “haram” refers to forbidden. Within an Islamic context, these two terms cover a broad range of actions, deeds and speech. However, they are most commonly used in the context of food- what is allowed and what is forbidden.

In all the Abrahamic religions, there are specific rules about  halal and haram food, and Islam is no exception. As the list of permitted food is so extensive, it is easier to elucidate what is not  permitted.

Muslim are not permitted to ingest the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Intoxicants of any other kind including tobacco
  • Carnivorous animals and birds of prey
  • Pigs
  • Meat or any products from animals not slaughtered in the correct Islamic way.

To be considered halal, the animal being slaughtered must

  • Be facing Mecca
  • Be sacrificed by a Muslim who dedicates the animal to Allah
  • Be healthy and alive- animals stunned prior to slaughter cannot be considered halal
  • Have the carotid artery, jugular vein, and windpipe severed in a single swipe of a sharp knife
  • Have all the blood drained of the carcass

Muslims who follow halal guidelines strictly, usually check even food items which have no meat, to make sure it is halal. For example, many brands of yogurt use gelatin, an animal derivative, as one of the ingredients. It is common to find gelatin in common food items such cookies, cakes, marshmallows, food coloring and flavors, several medicines including over-the-counter vitamin supplements, as well as hard cheese, to name just a few. Beef gelatin and even porcine gelatin are used in the mass production of the above food items, rendering them haram for Muslim consumers. The same holds true for alcohol, which is found in everyday items, such as mouth washes, cakes, and chocolate.

Contrary to popular belief, food that is kosher, or permissible for Jewish people to eat, is also halal for Muslims. This is because the religiously sanctioned food regulations that are observed by practicing Jewish people, are also acceptable under Islamic regulations.

In recent months, the slaughtering of animals in the halal way has elicited criticism and even a ban by several governments, due to the belief that the halal method of slaughtering animals is cruel and causes unnecessary suffering. However, the pre-stunning of animals prior to slaughter is not acceptable for either the Jewish ‘kosher’ or Muslim ‘halal’ practices. European countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Holland have banned the religious slaughter of animals without pre-stunning. England has enforced regulations making it necessary to label meat as pre-stunned halal or not.  Australia, a major exported of meat to Muslim countries, is also facing opposition to halal slaughtering of animals.

The foregoing was a summary of the concept of halal food in Islam. As this is such an  important issue in the practise of Islam, it will be dealt with in more detail in upcoming articles.