In Arabic, the word halal means permitted or lawful. Halal foods are foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines. According to these guidelines gathered from the Qu’ran, Muslim followers are forbidden to consume the following:
- Pork nor pork byproducts (Quran 2:173)
- Blood and blood byproducts (Quran 2:173)
- Animals slaughtered in the name of anyone but God. All that has been dedicated or offered in sacrifice to an idolatrous altar or saint or a person considered to be “divine”. (Quran 2:173 and 5:3)
- Carrion (carcasses of dead animals) (Quran 2:173)
- An animal that has been strangled, beaten (to death), killed by a fall, gored (to death), savaged by a beast of prey (unless finished off by a human) (Quran 5:3)
- Food over which God’s name is not pronounced (or at least not in a name other than God) (Quaran 6:121)
- Alcohol (Quran 5:90)
These verses also have information regarding Halal foods: 2:173, 5:5, and 6:118-119, 121. Thus also:
- carnivorous animals
- birds of prey
- land animals without external ears
These prohibited foods and ingredients are called haram, meaning forbidden in Arabic.
Halal, haram and Kosher
Pork and pork related products, which are forbidden in Islam, are consumed by Christians and used widely in food and food products. Yet, in Surah 5:5 of the Quran, it is written: “The food of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] is lawful for you as your food is lawful for them.”
Deuteronomy chapter 14 verse 8 in the Bible says that “Thou shall not eat of the swine nor shall you touch its dead carcasses.” Matthew 15:11, though, notes, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Kosher meats, which are consumed by Jews, are permissible if no halal meat is available. This is due to the similarity between both methods of slaughtering and the similar principles of Kosher meat which are still observed by the orthodox Jews today.
If there is no other food available, then a Muslim is allowed to eat non-halal food. Surah 2:173 states: “If one is forced because there is no other choice, neither craving nor transgressing, there is no sin on him.”
The Most Humane Method of Animal Slaughter
Muslims are taught through the Qu’ran that all animals should be treated with respect and well cared for. When an animal is slaughtered, the jugular vein is cut and the blood is allowed to drain from the animal. As Muslims are prohibited from consuming animal blood. The goal is to slaughter the animal, limiting the amount of pain the animal will endure.
In 1978, a study incorporating EEG (electroencephalograph) with electrodes surgically implanted on the skull of 17 sheep and 15 calves, in Germany, concluded that “the slaughter in the form of a ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to EEG recordings and the missing defensive actions” (of the animals) and that “For sheep, there were in part severe reactions both in bloodletting cut and the pain stimuli” when captive bolt stunning (CBS) was used. This study is cited by the German Constitutional Court in its permitting of dhabiha slaughtering. However, recent studies have countered the Schulze study which is dated and relied on older EEG measurement techniques. Dr. Schulze himself also warned in his report that the stunning technique may not have functioned properly.
In 2003, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), an independent advisory group, concluded that the way halal and kosher meat is produced causes severe suffering to animals. FAWC argued that cattle required up to two minutes to bleed to death when such means are employed. The Chairperson of FAWC at the time, Judy MacArthur Clark, added, “this is a major incision into the animal and to say that it doesn’t suffer is quite ridiculous.”
Halal and kosher butchers deny that their method of killing animals is cruel and expressed anger over the FAWC recommendation. Majid Katme of the Muslim Council of Britain also disagreed, stating that “it’s a sudden and quick haemorrhage. A quick loss of blood pressure and the brain is instantaneously starved of blood and there is no time to start feeling any pain.”
Where to Find Halal Foods
Halal foods can be found in many Middle Eastern grocers. In larger cities, you may be able to find halal butchers. With the growing demand for Halal foods in some areas, some national supermarket chains are carrying halal meats even halal turkeys for Thanksgiving.
Qingzhen – Chinese halal
Within China, which has a sizable Hui Muslim minority population, halal food is known as “Qingzhen” ( 清真; literally “pure truth”). Halal restaurants run by Hui Chinese resemble typical Chinese food, except that they do not serve pork. Dishes specific to Hui Chinese are known as Chinese Islamic cuisine.