Halal & Haram

Today’s post is on Halal and Haram food. If you are unfamiliar with the terms, Halal translates to “permissible” or “lawful” from Arabic and is used by Muslims to denote items and practices, particularly food, that are allowed. Haram is the opposite and denotes items, practices or food that are prohibited or unlawful to Muslims. You have probably heard of Kosher rules and guidelines, which are a similar set of laws followed by Jews.

Why did I decide to write this post? Something you might not know about me is that I grew up in an Islamic household. Muslim culture is one that is very food-centric and where my fascination with it comes from. Many of my family conversations are centered around food and what each other is eating. Meals serve as a sign of hospitality, togetherness, and community. The ritual and tradition surrounding food is part of being Muslim, and by extension, part of my identity.

I learned a ton about Food Science during my undergrad studies. It came naturally to me, because I was so used to reading ingredient labels. Growing up in Ohio, there were few products available that were certified as Halal. Being vegetarian, vegan, or having dietary restrictions wasn’t very common, let alone being Muslim and requesting Halal food. Reading ingredient labels was the major way to find out if a food product was allowed according to Islamic law.

This is because there are no federal regulations in the U.S. regarding halal labeling, though some states have passed laws prohibiting mislabeling and false representations of halal food. It has, however, become a lot easier recently. Halal certified food has become more common than ever, taking guesswork and time out of the equation for practicing Muslims. You can even buy frozen meals that are certified Halal, like Saffron Road, at most major grocery stores.

Who does the certification? One third-party organization is the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of North America (IFANCA), a nonprofit headquartered in Chicago. You can see a list of their certified products here or look for the Crescent M symbol (pictured below). Another is the Halal Food Council USA (HFC), headquartered in Maryland (pictured below). HFC’s symbol is also pictured below. There are some other websites and apps geared toward Muslims that offer information based on user reviews, but I’m not linking any that don’t offer verification.

Crescent M symbol from Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of North America (IFANCA) used to certify halal food
Cresent M symbol from Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of North America (IFANCA)
Seal from Halal Food Council USA (HFC) used to certify halal food
Seal from the Halal Food Council USA (HFC)

What does Halal food consists of? These dietary guidelines largely apply to meat and animal products. Fruits, vegetables, and ingredients derived from plants are automatically Halal. So is most seafood. Most commonly consumed meats are allowed in Islam, however some are completely prohibited or Haram:

  • Pork
  • Dogs
  • Snakes
  • Monkeys
  • Carnivorous animals such as lions and bears
  • Birds of prey such as eagles and vultures
  • Pests such as rats and scorpions
  • Ants, bees, and woodpeckers
  • Animals which are considered repulsive like lice, flies, and maggots
  • Animals that live both on land and in water such as frogs and crocodiles
  • Mules and donkeys
  • Poisonous and hazardous aquatic animals

Other prohibited items include:

  • Blood
  • Alcohol
  • Intoxicating beverages or plants if the toxin or hazard can’t be removed

Aside from prohibiting certain animals from consumption, Halal rules also specify how an animal must be slaughtered:

  • The slaughterer should be a sane Muslim adult
  • The animal must be alive
  • The phrase “Bismillah” (In the name of God) should be recited before slaughter
  • The animal must be killed by a single continuous motion of a sharp knife to the throat
  • The trachea, oesophagus and main arteries and veins of the neck should be severed
  • The spinal cord must not be cut
  • Animals must be well-treated
  • Animals must not see other animals being slaughtered
  • The knife must not be sharpened in the animal’s presence
  • The animal must not be in an uncomfortable position
  • The animal must be allowed to bleed out completely before further processing

What if you aren’t sure whether a given food is Halal or Haram? Especially if it contains preservatives, artificial ingredients, or fillers, it can take some digging to find out where these ingredients come from. Unless a company specifies, you might not know for sure. It would be considered Mushbooh, which means suspected or doubtful. If the Halal or Haram status of a food is unknown, a practicing Muslim abstains from consuming it.

Remember that label reading I mentioned earlier in the post? It was followed-up with phone calls asking companies the source of things like gelatin and diglycerides. At the time, most companies wouldn’t readily give an answer. However, because American consumers are becoming more health conscious and dietary restrictions are becoming more of the norm, it is easier to find out. If you are Muslim and looking for Halal food, don’t hesitate to ask your favorite companies if their products fall under the guidelines, or better yet, for certification.

If you are familiar with Kosher guidelines, you’ll notice that many of these are similar. In some instances, Kosher rules are more strict than Halal rules, and many Muslims will eat Kosher meat or food when Halal is not available. This is considered acceptable, because Muslims are allowed to eat food from “People of the Book” or those of other monotheistic faiths. This allows Muslims to live and coexist peacefully with others around the world.

I hope this helps you understand the world of Halal food a little bit more. If you have any Halal favorites, let me know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored or endorsed by anyone listed or linked to above. All opinions are my own.

Image by: Shivam Garg

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