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HALAL DIETARY LAWS – GENERALLY ACCEPTED PRINCIPLES PERTAINING TO HALAL & HARAM

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Halal dietary laws determine which foods are lawful or permitted for Muslims. These laws are found in the Quran and the books of hadith (the traditions of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.). Islamic law is referred to as Shari’ah and has been interpreted by Muslim scholars over the years. The basic principles of Islamic laws remain definite and unaltered. However, their interpretation and application might change according to time, place, and circumstances. Some of the issues Muslim scholars are dealing with include biotechnology, unconventional sources of ingredients, synthetic materials, and innovations in animal slaughter and meat processing.

Although many Muslims purchase kosher food in the U.S., these foods, as we will see later, do not always meet the needs of Muslim consumers. The most common areas of concern for Muslim consumers when considering purchasing kosher products are the use of various questionable gelatins in products produced by more lenient kosher supervisions and the use of alcohol in cooking food and as a carrier for flavors.

Halal dietary laws deal with the following five issues; all except one are in the animal kingdom:

Prohibited animals

Prohibition of blood

Method of slaughtering and blessing

Prohibition of carrion

Prohibition of intoxicants

Islamic dietary laws are derived from the Quran, a revealed book; the hadith, the traditions of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.; and through extrapolation of and deduction from the Quran and the hadith by Muslim jurists. The Quran states:

Forbidden Unto you (for food) are carrion and blood and swine-flesh, and that which hath been dedicated unto any other than Allah, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which hath been killed by (the goring of) horns, and the devoured of wild beasts, saving that which ye make lawful (by the death-stroke), and that which hath been immolated unto idols. And (forbidden is it) that ye swear by the divining arrows. This is an abomination. This day are those who disbelieve in despair of (ever harming) your religion; so fear them not, fear Me! This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed my favor unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL-ISLAM. Whoso is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin: (for him) Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
Chapter V, Verse 3
The Quran also states:

O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you, and render thanks to Allah, if it is (indeed) He whom you worship.
Chapter II, Verse 172
Eleven generally accepted principles pertaining to halal (permitted) and haram (prohibited) in Islam provide guidance to Muslims in their customary practices:

The basic principle is that all things created by Allah are permitted, with a few exceptions that are prohibited. Those exceptions include pork, blood, meat of animals that died of causes other than proper slaughtering, food that has been dedicated or immolated to someone other than Allah SWT, alcohol, and intoxicants.

To make lawful and unlawful is the right of Allah alone. No human being, no matter how pious or powerful, may take it into his or her own hands to change things.

Prohibiting what is permitted and permitting what is prohibited is similar to ascribing human partners to Allah. This is a sin of the highest degree that makes one fall out of the sphere of Islam.

The basic reasons for the prohibition of things are impurity and harmfulness. A Muslim is not supposed to question exactly why or how something is unclean or harmful in what Allah SWT has prohibited. There might be obvious reasons and there might be obscure reasons. To a person of scientific mind, some of the obvious reasons can be as follows:

Carrion and dead animals are unfit for human consumption because the decay process leads to the formation of chemicals harmful to humans (1).

Blood that is drained from an animal contains harmful bacteria, products of metabolism, and toxins (2).

Swine serves as a vector for pathogenic worms to enter the human body. Infections by Trichinella spiralis and Traenia solium are not uncommon (3).

The fatty acid composition of pork fat has been mentioned as incompatible with human fat and human biochemical systems (4).

Intoxicants are considered harmful for the nervous system, affecting the senses and human judgment, leading to social and family problems, and might even lead to death (5).

These reasons and other similar explanations may sound reasonable to a layperson but become more questionable under scientific scrutiny. If meat of dead animal were prohibited due to harmful chemicals in decaying meat, then dead fish would have been prohibited. If pork contains Trichinae, beef might contain E. coli. If pork fat is bad, so are trans fatty acids. The underlying principle, it seems, behind the prohibitions is not scientific reasons but the divine order “forbidden unto you are….”

  1. What is permitted is sufficient and what is prohibited is then superfluous. Allah prohibited only things that are unnecessary or dispensable, while providing better alternatives. People can survive and live better without consuming unhealthful carrion, unhealthful pork, unhealthful blood, and the root of many vices — alcohol.
  2. Whatever is conducive to the prohibited is in itself prohibited. If something is prohibited, anything leading to it is also prohibited.
  3. Falsely representing unlawful as lawful is prohibited. It is unlawful to make flimsy excuses, to consume something that is prohibited, such as drinking alcohol for supposedly medical reasons.
  4. Good intentions do not make the unlawful acceptable. Whenever any permissible action of the believer is accompanied by a good intention, his action becomes an act of worship. In the case of haram, it remains haram, no matter how good the intention or how honorable the purpose. Islam does not endorse employing a haram means to achieve a praiseworthy end. Islam indeed insists that not only the goal be honorable, but also the means chosen to achieve it be lawful and proper. Islamic laws demand that right should be secured through just means only.
  5. Doubtful things should be avoided. There is a gray area between clearly lawful and clearly unlawful. This is the area of “what is doubtful.” Islam considers it an act of piety for the Muslims to avoid doubtful things, for them to stay clear of unlawful. Prophet Muhammad said: “The halal is clear and the haram is clear. Between the two there are doubtful matters concerning which people do not know whether they are halal or haram. One who avoids them in order to safeguard his religion and his honor is safe, while if someone engages in a part of them, he may be doing something haram.”
  6. Unlawful things are prohibited to everyone alike. Islamic laws are universally applicable to all races, creeds, and sexes. There is no favored treatment of a privileged class. Actually, in Islam, there are no privileged classes; hence, the question of preferential treatment does not arise. This principle applies not only among Muslims, but between Muslims and non-Muslims as well.
  7. Necessity dictates exceptions. The range of prohibited things in Islam is quite limited, but emphasis on observing these prohibitions is very strong. At the same time, Islam is not oblivious to the exigencies of life, to their magnitude, or to human weakness and capacity to face them. A Muslim is permitted, under the compulsion of necessity, to eat a prohibited food in quantities sufficient to remove the necessity and thereby survive (6).

Reference:

Awan, J.A. 1988. Islamic food laws: philosophy of the prohibition of unlawful foods, Sci. Technol. Islam. World, 6(3), 151.

Hussaini, M.M. and Sakr, A.H. 1983. Islamic Dietary Laws and Practices, Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, Bedford Park, IL.

Awan, J.A. 1988. Islamic food laws: philosophy of the prohibition of unlawful foods, Sci. Technol. Islam. World, 6(3), 151.

Sakr, A.H. 1991. Pork: Possible Reasons for its Prohibition, Foundation for Islamic Knowledge, Lombard, IL.

Al-Qaradawi, Y. 1984. The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, The Holy Quran Publishing House, Beirut, Lebanon. Awan, J.A. 1988. Islamic food laws: philosophy of the prohibition of unlawful foods, Sci. Technol. Islam. World, 6(3), 151.

Regenstein, J.M. and Chaudry, M. 2001. A brief introduction to some of the practical aspects of kosher and halal laws for the poultry industry, in Poultry Meat Processing, Sams, A.R., ed., CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. Riaz, M.N. 1999a. Halal food processing and marketing, in 10th World Congress of Food Science and Technology, Book of Abstracts, Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology, Sydney, p. 44.

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