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What is Halal and Haram?

Halal (sometimes spelled as Halaal) is an Arabic word that means legal, permissible, lawful and allowed. The opposite of Halal is Haram (sometimes spelled as Haraam), which means unlawful or prohibited. In broader terms, Haram refers to any act or deed which is prohibited by Allah and will incur His punishment. In Quran, the words Halal and Haram are used in different perspectives (e.g. marriage, inheritance, food etc), however, in this blog, I will only focus on the food and dietary aspect of these terms.

Halal and Haram food in Quran:

Quran has referenced the food being Halal or Haram in multiple places. Some of these references are:

Surah 5. Al-Maida, Ayah 3-5

Surah 2. Al-Baqara, Ayah 172-173

Surah 6. Al-An’am, Ayah 118-121

Surah 6. Al-An’am, Ayah 145-147

Surah 16. Al-Nahl, Ayah 114-117

 

I have personally liked the tafsir (explanation) of Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi (Tafhim al-Qur’an), and will share the tafsir of Surah Al-Maida, Ayah 3-5 here. You can find the entire tafsir at www.englishtafsir.com.

 

Surah 5. Al-Maida, Ayah 3-5

 

You are forbidden carrion(1) and blood, the flesh of swine and of that animal which has been slaughtered in any other name than that of Allah(2), and of the strangled animal, and of that beaten to death or killed by a fall or gored to death or mangled by a beast of prey -save of that you duly slaughtered while it was still alive(3) -and of that which is slaughtered at (un-godly) shrines. (4), (5) It is also unlawful for you to try to find your fortune by means of divining devices, for all these things are sinful acts, Today the disbelievers have despaired of (vanquishing) your religion; therefore, do not fear them but fear Me. Today I have perfected your religion for you and completed My blessing on you and approved Islam as the way of life for you,(6) if, however, one, dying of hunger, eats of any of these forbidden things, provided that he is not inclined towards sin, he will find Allah Forgiving and Compassionate. (7)

They ask you what has been made lawful for them. Say, “All the good and pure things have been made lawful for you.(8) You may also eat of what the hunting animals, which you have trained to hunt in accordance with the knowledge Allah has given you, catch and hold for you,(9) you should, however, mention Allah’s name over it,(10) and fear to violate the Law of Allah. for Allah is swift at reckoning.”

All the good and pure things have today been made lawful for you; the food of the people of the Book is lawful for you, and your food for them,(11) Likewise you are permitted to marry chaste believing women or chaste women from among the people who were given the Scripture before you provided that you give them their dowries and become their protectors in wedlock; this permission is not for sensual license or secret illicit relations; whoever rejects the way of Faith, all the deeds of his life shall become vain and he shall be a bankrupt in the Hereafter.

(1)    That is, the flesh of the animal that dies a natural death.

(2)   That is, the flesh of the animal which has been slaughtered in the name of another than Allah or has been slaughtered with the intention of dedicating. it to a saint or a god or a goddess etc.

(3)   That is, “If an animal falls a victim to any of these accidents but is still alive and is duly slaughtered, it is lawful to eat its flesh”. This also implies that the flesh of a clean animal becomes lawful only when it is slaughtered in the prescribed way and that there is no other way of making it lawful. In the prescribed way only that much of the throat is cut that enables the blood to flow out freely. This cannot happen if the whole of the neck is cut off or if the animal is strangled or killed in any other way because in that case most of the blood remains in the body and congeals at different places and sticks to the flesh. But when it is slaughtered in the prescribed way, the whole of the body remains connected with the brain for a sufficiently long time to allow the blood to flow totally out of the body and the flesh is cleansed of the blood which in itself is unlawful. Therefore it is essential that the flesh should be cleansed of blood in order to become lawful.

(4)   The Arabic word nusub applies to all those places which have been specifically dedicated to any saint or god, etc., for making offerings to them or for any other kind of ungodly worship whether there is or is not any sort of stone or wooden idol therein.

(5)   In this connection, it should be understood well that the limits prescribed by the Law for making eatables lawful or unlawful are not laid down from the point of view of physical health but from the moral and spiritual points of view. As regards the matters concerning physical health, these have been left to man’s own judgment and discretion, It is his own business to find out what things are useful or harmful for his physical health and nourishment and the Law does not take any responsibility for his guidance in this respect. Had it done so, poison would have been the first thing to be made unlawful, but there is absolutely no mention of this or other deadly things in the Qur’an or the Traditions. The Law is only concerned about what is morally or spiritually harmful or beneficial and also about the right or wrong means for obtaining lawful things. It is obvious that man has no means of finding out these things by himself and is consequently liable to commit errors in this matter without the guidance of the law. For whatever has been prohibited, has been prohibited because it is harmful from the point of view of cleanliness or morality or belief. On the contrary, whatever has been made lawful, has been made so because it is free from all these evils.

One might ask why Allah has not explained the philosophy underlying the prohibition of certain things for the clear understanding of the people. This is because it is not possible for mankind to comprehend this. For instance, it is not possible for us to make a research into the nature of moral evils that are produced by eating carrion, blood or the flesh of swine, nor is it easy to find out how they are produced and to what extent, because we have no means of measuring or weighing morality, It is, therefore, obvious that, even if their evil effects had been explained, the position of the skeptic would have remained the same as before for the lack of means of testing their veracity.

This is why Allah has declared the observance of the limits prescribed for the lawful and the unlawful as a matter of belief. One, who believes in the Qur’an as the book of God and in the Holy Prophet as His Messenger and in Allah as All Knowing and All-Wise, will observe the prescribed limits whether one understands their philosophy or not. On the other hand, if one does not believe in this basic creed, one will avoid only those things which are harmful according to human knowledge and will go on suffering from the consequences of those which man has not learned to be harmful.

(6)   “I have perfected your religion” means: “I have provided it with all the essential elements of a permanent way of life which comprises a complete system of thought and practice and civilization and have laid down principles and given detailed instructions for the solution of all human problems. Hence there is no need for you to seek guidance and instructions from any other source.”

The completion of “the blessing” is the completion of the blessing of guidance.

“I have approved Islam as the way of life for you” because you have practically proved by your obedience and devotion to it that you sincerely believe in Islam which you have accepted. As I have practically set you free from every kind of subjection and servitude there is no compulsion for you to submit to any other than Me in your practical life.” It also implies, “As a gratitude for these blessings of Mine, you should show no negligence in the observance of the prescribed limits.”

(7)   In this verse, permission for the use of an unclean thing has been given on three conditions:

  • It must be really a case of extremity. For instance, if one is dying of hunger or thirst or if one’s life is in danger because of some disease and there is nothing available except an unclean thing, one is permitted to take it.
  • One should not cherish any desire in one’s heart to break the law of Allah.
  • One should not take even a bit more than what is absolutely necessary. For example, if in a certain case, a few bits or drops of an unclean thing can save life, then nothing more than this absolute minimum should be taken.

(8)   A subtle point is hidden in this answer. It is meant to set right the doubting attitude of some “religious persons,” who regard everything as unlawful unless it is explicitly declared to be lawful. There was a need to remove this doubt because it makes people very fastidious. So much so that such people begin to demand a complete list of lawful things in every sphere of life and look at everything with a doubting attitude. Those who asked the question did so with the intention of obtaining a detailed list of the lawful things so that they might consider all other things as unlawful. However, the Qur’an did the opposite of it and gave a detailed list of the forbidden things and made all other good things lawful. This was a great reform, for it set human life free from many bondages and opened wide the doors of the vast world for mankind. Before its revelation only a limited number of things were lawful and the remaining vast world was unlawful, but this verse declared a limited number of things unlawful and made the remaining vast world lawful.

“Lawful” has been qualified with “pure”so that impure things might not be made lawful just because they have not been included in the list of prohibition. As regards the criterion for judging whether a thing is pure or not, it should be noted that all those things are pure which are not unclean according to any principle of the Islamic Law, or which are not offensive to good taste or have not universally been regarded as repugnant by cultured people.

(9)   Hunting animals are dogs, leopards, falcons, hawks and other beasts and birds of prey which are trained to chase wild animals and catch them for their masters, without mangling them. The game of the trained hunting animals is lawful because they do not mangle it and that of the untrained beasts and birds of prey is unlawful because they mangle it.

There is, however, a difference of opinion among the jurists about this matter. Imam Shafi`i and those of his school of thought are of the opinion that if the hunting beast or bird eats a part of what it catches, it becomes unlawful, for this means that the animal had caught the game for itself and not for its master. Imam Malik and those of his school of thought are of the opinion that if the hunting bird or beast eats less than one-third of the game, the remaining two-thirds or so is lawful for the master. Imam Abu Hanifah and those of his school of thought are of the opinion that if the hunting beast eats a part of what it catches, the remaining game will become unlawful, but if the hunting bird eats a part of it the remaining game will not become unlawful because the hunting beast can be trained to catch and hold the game for its master without eating anything of it, but the hunting bird cannot be so trained. In contrast to these views, Hadrat `Ali is of the opinion that the game of the hunting bird is absolutely unlawful, because it cannot be trained to catch and hold the game for its master without eating something of it. But in case it is not found alive, it will be lawful if the name of Allah was mentioned at the time of letting loose the hunting animal. The same also applies to hunting with arrows.

(10) That is one should recite bismillah (“In the name of Allah,”), when letting loose the hunting animal for game. According to a Tradition, `Adi-bin Hatim asked the Holy Prophet whether he could hunt a game with a hunting dog. The Holy Prophet replied, “You may eat of the game if you recited the name of Allah at the time of letting loose the hunting dog, provided that he did not eat of it. In the other case you should not eat it because that would mean that the dog had actually caught it for himself.” Then `Adi-bin-Hatim further asked, “If 1 let loose my own dog, on the game but afterwards find another dog there, what should I do in that case’?” The Holy Prophet replied, “Do not eat it because you mentioned the name of Allah in relation to your own dog and not the other dog.”

The verse enjoins that the name of Allah must be mentioned at the time of letting loose the hunting animal in order to make the game lawful. If, however, the hunted animal is found alive, it should be duly slaughtered in the name of Allah. But in case it is not found alive, it will be lawful if the name of Allah was mentioned at the time of letting loose the hunting animal. The same also applies to hunting with arrows.

(11) “The food of the People of the Book” also includes what has been slaughtered by them. “The food of the People of the Book is lawful for you and your food for them” means that there are no restrictions either on us or on them to take food together. The Muslims are permitted to take meals with the People of the Book and they with the Muslims. But the repetition of the sentence “all good and pure things have been made lawful for you” is very significant. It shows that the Muslims should not partake of their food, if the people of the Book do not observe those rules which are essential from the point of view of the Islamic Law, or if they include unlawful things in their food and drink. For instance, if they do not mention the name of Allah over the animal they slaughter or mention any other name than that of Allah over it, the flesh would be forbidden for the Muslims. Likewise, if liquor or pork or any other forbidden things is served, the Muslims are not permitted to sit at the same table with them.

The same rule also applies to the food and drink of other non-Muslims except that the Muslims are not permitted at all to eat the flesh of the animals slaughtered by non-Muslims. They are permitted to eat the flesh of the clean animals, slaughtered by the People of the Book only, if they duly pronounced the name of Allah over it.