What is Halal?

Halal (حلال) is an Arabic term in Islam which means “permissible”, or “allowed”. Its antonym is Haram (حرام). As an extension to the dietary rules of Islam, Halal refers to the foods that are fit for Muslim consumption. Generally, Muslims are allowed to eat the meat of the following animals: domesticated birds, camels, cattle, sheep, goats, deer, rabbits, fish.

With the exception of fish, Muslims are generally allowed to consume the meat of the aforementioned animals if:

  1. They are slaughtered by a believer in Allah.
  2. At the time of slaughter the slaughterer recites, “I begin with Allah’s name and Allah is the Greatest,” or at the very least, “I begin with Allah’s name.” This is to serve as a reminder that we do not have the right to take the animal’s life except by the permission of God to meet our need for food.
  3. With a very sharp knife the slaughterer manually swiftly cuts the esophagus, trachea and the two jugular veins of the animal in a single cut. In the event of the slaughterer being unable to cut all four, at least any three of them should be cut.

Generally, Muslims are not allowed to eat the meat of the following animals: pigs, animals that were slaughtered without being blessed, animals that were dead prior to slaughter, carnivores, birds of prey, reptiles, rodents, insects, domesticated donkeys. Muslims are also not allowed to have any intoxicants such as alcohol, nor any blood.

Why is Halal food important to Muslims?

In simplified terms, for issues surrounding daily living, generally Muslims follow the mandate that “everything is Halal except what is proven Haram.” However, in some issues, such as the issue of food consumption, scholars mention the concept is in reverse, “everything is Haram until proven Halal.” In order to consider food “Halal”, this means an individual goes to lengths to prove the “Halal-ness” of food until the heart is content.

Halal food is important to Muslims because it is a divine dictate.  For examples, Allah has issued the following orders in the Holy Qurʾān:

  • “Mankind, eat whatever on the earth is lawful and good, and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is a clear enemy to you.” (2:168)
  • “Messengers, eat from the good foods [We have provided you] and perform righteous deeds.” (23:51)
  • “You who believe, eat from the good things We have provided you and be grateful to Allah […].” (2:172)
  • “So eat of that [meat] upon which Allah’s name has been taken, if you are believers in His verses.” (6:118)
  • “And do not eat of that [meat] upon which Allah’s name has not been taken, for indeed, it is a grave sin.” (6:121)

To Muslims, compromising the dietary laws of Islam yields serious spiritual drawbacks. To illustrate, this is made clear in the following narrations:

  • Abu Hurayrah reported, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) made mention of a man who undergoes a lengthy journey, dishevelled and dusty. He extends his hands to the sky [calling], ‘My Master, my Master.’ However his food is unlawful, his drink is unlawful, his clothes are unlawful, and he has been nourished with unlawful [foods]. So how will he be answered?” (Sahih Muslim)
  • Saʿd reported, “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, ‘Saʿd, make sure your food is pure. [By doing so] you will become one whose prayers are [always] answered. I swear by the Being in whose hands my soul lies, verily, [when] a servant [of Allah] throws down a haram morsel into his stomach, no deed of his is accepted [by Allah] for forty days.’” (Tabarani)
  • Abu Bakr reported that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, ‘That body will not enter paradise that has been nourished with haram.’” (Bayhaqī)