Islamic dietary laws
Islamic dietary laws provide a set of rules as to what Muslims eat in their diet. These rules specify the food that is halal, meaning lawful. They are found in Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, usually detailing what is unlawful, or haram.
There are some more rules added to these in fatwas by Mujtahids with various degrees of strictness, but they are not always held to be authoritative by all.
Islamic law prohibits a Muslim from consuming alcohol, eating or drinking blood and its by-products, and eating the meat of a carnivore or omnivore, such as pork, monkey, dog or cat. For the meat of an animal to be halal it must be properly slaughtered by a Muslim or a Person of the Book (Christian or Jew), while mentioning the name of God (Allah in Arabic); for instance, the animal may not be killed by being boiled or electrocuted, and the carcass should be hung upside down long enough to be blood-free.
The proper Islamic method of slaughtering an animal is called thabiha. According to some fatwas, the animal must be slaughtered only by a Muslim. However, some different fatwas dispute this, and rule from the orthodox Qur'anic position, that according to verse 5:5 of the Qur'an (which declares that the food of the People of the Book to be halal), the slaughter may be done by a Jew or a Christian. Thus, many observant Muslims will accept kosher meat if halal options are not available. Other main references in Qur'an include 2:173, 5:3, 5:5, 6:118, 6:145, 16:115.
In recent years, due to a cultural phenomenon that has encouraged young Muslims to find common ground between Islam & Science, there have been numerous studies undergone to try and find altruistic benefits in living a life in adherence to Islamic dietary laws. One example of this is studies that were done on trichinosis, which can be caught from consuming undercooked pork.
Due to the recent rise in Muslim populations in the United States and Europe , certain organizations have emerged that can certify Halal food products and ingredients for Muslim consumers. The Muslim Consumer Group is an example of an organization that places certification labels such as the H-MCG symbol to identify the Halal status of different edible and non-edible consumer products.
A variety of substances are considered haraam (forbidden), including: pork, blood, animals slaughtered in the name of anyone but God, carrion, carnivorous animals with the exception of most fish and sea animals, and all intoxicants (specifically alcohol). A section of the Muslim community believe that fish which do not carry scales as well as lobsters and crabs are considered haraam, while others believe that only those animals living in "both worlds" (land and water) are considered haraam; for example, frogs. Fish with scales are halaal if they are allowed to die on land (they cannot be beaten to death or cut apart while still swimming).
Dhabiha (method used to slaughter animals)
The method of slaughtering all animals excluding fish and most sea-life is known as Dhabiha , meat prepared in this manner is then considered Halal. Islamically, the prescribed method is to cut through the large arteries in the neck along with the esophagus with one swipe of a nonserrated blade and drain all blood and impurities from the animal, because as noted above, the consumption of blood itself is forbidden. During the draining of the blood, the animal is not handled until it has fully died.
The action of slaughtering an animal is a ritual religious act that is preceded by the words "In the name of God, God is the Greatest Bismillah, Allahu Akbar . The reasoning behind invoking the name of the creator at the moment of sacrifice is stated by some to be the equivalent of acknowledging the right of that creator over all created things, as such this invocation is then a type of permission granted to the one performing the sacrifice and endows a sense of gratitude even prior to partaking in the meat of the animal. The common usage of "Bismillah al Rahman Al Rahim" (In the name of God the Beneficent the Merciful) is not used here, because the act is one of subduement not of mercy, and as such the words Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest) are used to reiterate that the animal was only subdued for consumption by God's divine design and command, and must only be taken then in his name.
It is also common for the words "Praise be upon Him who has made you suitable for slaughter [for the purpose of consumption] ("Subhâna man Hallalaka li 'l-dhabh") to be spoken immediately before slaughter instead, even though this is more of a cultural practice than one of based in Prophetic traditions
Prior to the slaughter, the animal's eyes and ears are checked to ensure that the animal is healthy and suitable for slaughter. If the animal is deemed to be healthy, it is first given water to drink (in order to quench its thirst) and is then pointed towards Mecca to be slaughtered. Muslims consider this method of killing the animal to be cleaner and more merciful to the animal. Some animal rights groups contend that this causes unnecessary pain and suffering to the animal when compared to modern methods of animal slaughter, which involve stunning the animal before killing it. Islamic groups assert that the Islamic method of slaughter is the fastest method and causes the least pain to the animal, since the neck is severed immediately causing the animal not to feel pain afterwards. Electrocution is forbidden in Islam since halaal slaughter requires the animal to be conscious and not contaminated by anaesthetics or intoxicating materials. Mild stunning for the subduement of larger, uncontrollable animals however is one of debate among Muslim Jurists.
Problems facing Muslims in non-Muslim countries
Muslims living in non-Muslim countries face three major problems. The first is obviously the absence, or scarcity, of restaurants and grocery stores that offer halaal food, especially meat (although in Great Britain at least, the amount of halaal foods available has widely increased). A family dinner at a local restaurant becomes a problem when all of the meat available is not halaal. The second is the abundance of pork products used in Western cooking. Finding pork, ham, and bacon on the menu creates a problem. While Muslims will not order a pork dish, they may be concerned about "cross contamination"; for example, using the same kitchen knife to cut up pork and then cut up fish or beef. Pots and pans might be used continuously in a busy kitchen: a chef cooking fried rice with pork might then use the same pan for fried rice with chicken (with only a quick rinse of the pan or none at all). Also, many apparently meat-free recipes, and even desserts, contain pork gelatine. The third concern is the frequent use of alcohol, especially wine, in cooking sauces and cakes, though some contend that this is not a concern so long as the alcohol has been thoroughly burned off. There are also other concerns about food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) that might use enzymes derived from pig fat in the production process. It is very difficult to avoid such food additives as they would not normally be declared on the menu. Often, American Muslims will simply not eat pork or consume alcohol, but eat non-halal beef, chicken, fish, etc.
In very desperate situations, such as when a Muslim faces starvation, some dietary laws can be relaxed or ignored.
Comparison with Kashrut
There are some similarities between the Jewish dietary laws known as Kashrut and Muslim dietary laws. For example, both forbid all pork products, both prescribe certain methods for slaughtering animals and poultry (including the recital of a blessing to God over such animals before slaughter), and both forbid the consumption of blood and mandate that it be drained from animals after slaughter.
On the other hand, there are material differences. Islam forbids alcohol, while alcoholic consumption is allowed in kashrut (although there are strict rules that govern the kosher winemaking process). Muslims are allowed to eat the vast majority of seafood, while in kashrut all shellfish, molluscs, and selected other varieties of fish are forbidden. Any combination of dairy and meat products is forbidden, whereas this is considered halaal.
The Qur'anic verse 5:5 declares that the food of the People of the Book is halaal. Many interpret this reference to imply that the dietary laws are similar enough to (though less restrictive than) those regulating kashrut that Muslims can consume kosher meat and other food products when there are no halaal alternatives. Of course, kosher products that include alcohol among their ingredients are still haraam.
In certain instances, some Islamic authorities have permitted Muslims to rely upon kosher certification (particularly in regard to slaughtering) when halaal food is otherwise unavailable. This view is subject to debate, however, and is rejected by many, for a variety of reasons. Jewish authorities do not allow reliance upon halaal certification as a substitute for kashrut and many Islamic authorities argue the same for kashrut certification. Some Islamic groups advise using Kashrut certification only as a last resort.
Since the turn of the century, there have been efforts to create organizations such as the Muslim Consumer Group that certify food products as Halaal.
Sikhs and Halaal
Sikhism technically forbids Sikhs from eating halaal meat, because they believe the methods used to kill the animal cruel, inefficiently slow and unnecessarily painful. Some historians say that the halal meat boycott was set forth by Sikh Gurus after the killing of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur by Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb.
Different interpretations of the word Halaal
In Hungarian, the word halál means "death," which can result in misunderstandings with food in supermarkets labeled as "halal." However it is pronounced "HOL-ahl," whereas "halaal" is pronouced "ha-LAHL."
In Romanian the word, a neologism taken from Turkish, has two almost contradictory meanings. When used on its own as an interjection (i.e. "Halal!") it means "Nice!" or "Good for you!". When used as an attribute, it actually has a moderate pejorative meaning: "Halal mâncare!" would translate roughly as "And you call this food?".
Halaal & North American Fast Food
In Dearborn , Michigan (where there is a significant Muslim population), there is a McDonald's Restaurant branch that sells halal Chicken McNuggets and McChicken Sandwiches.
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