The term Halal is an Arabic word that is used as an adjective; directly translated, the word means "permissible." The dietary restrictions observed, to varying degrees, by Muslims are called Halal. In Arabic-speaking countries, the term Halal is a word that describes any behavior that is permissible under Islamic law, including behavior, speech, dress, manner, conduct, and dietary laws. Outside of the Middle East, the term Halal most frequently refers to a specific set of Muslim dietary laws that forbid the consumption of alcohol (even as a flavoring ingredient) and some animals (especially pigs), and designate permissible foods such as chicken, provided that they have been slaughtered according to Islamic law. The rules concerning what is acceptable to eat for Muslims are a fatwa, or an opinion on an official manner according to Islamic law, which is put forth in religious texts and interpreted by experts within the individual's Muslim community.
When a food is forbidden for consumption, it is called Haraam. The term for slaughtering an animal according to Islamic law is "Zabihah." The specific procedures of slaughtering an animal according to Zabihah are included in the diet section of this monograph.
There are many verses in the Koran (Quran), one of the earliest Muslim holy books written by the prophet Mohammed, emphasizing the importance of observing Halal in honor of Allah. These verses are numbered so that the reader can find the specific part of a text (similar to the system used for locating Bible verses) and include Koran 2:173, Korann 5:3, Koran 5:5, Koran 6:145, and Koran 16:115. These citations are frequently cited as Allah's instructions to his people for the importance of observing a Halal diet.
Halal is observed, in varying degrees, by most Muslims. In primarily non-Muslim countries, Halal products are usually purchased at a store specializing in these products. In general, these stores contain only Halal products. In areas with a large Muslim population, many mainstream grocery stores include meat that has been certified Halal. Every Halal meat product has a symbol on the packaging to designate its acceptability to Muslims. This symbol assists adherents in easily locating products that were prepared in observance of their religious beliefs. People who observe the Halal diet tend to know the non-meat foods (cookies, for example) that are Halal, so the labeling of these is less common.
Muslims believe that eating is part of worship, good health, and survival. Overeating and self-indulgence are not permitted. Individuals who follow a Halal diet have another additional and unique yearly restriction in their eating patterns during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. During Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic holy year, people who consume a Halal diet fast from dawn to dusk in celebration of Allah's (God's) revelations to the prophet Muhammad. This is significant because observance of Ramadan and a Halal diet may result in misleading lab test results for healthcare practitioners who are not aware of their patient's eating patterns.
Within the diverse Muslim community, there are differing opinions as to the acceptability of consuming various foods. For instance, Muslims who do not strictly observe Islamic law may find it more acceptable to consume meat and other meat-containing products, which have a questionable Halal status. Most products contain food ingredients and additives that may come from animals that may not be Zabihah (slaughtered according to Halal guidelines), and individuals differ as to the acceptability of eating foods with such ingredients and additives.
Many restaurants have recently begun to prepare Halal foods in order to attract a Muslim clientele. Some fast food chains have begun offering Halal chicken nuggets on their menu, and the Outback Steakhouse® obtained national certification for its menu, which is now entirely Halal.
Halal, Haraam, Islam, Koran, Muslim, Quran, Zabihah.
The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) offers Halal certification to food manufacturers in the United States, and the Muslim Consumer Group offers a certification label to identify the Halal status of foods for consumers. Meats that are Halal almost always have the word Halal written on the packaging in Arabic and English. Alternatively, these meats may have the word Zabihah written on their packaging. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the process of developing a Halal certification process for meats sold in the United States. The USDA is investigating food regulatory measures of countries with such laws already in place in order to implement laws to protect the safety of Halal foods in the United States.
Definitively forbidden for consumption are foods that include blood, any carnivorous animal, pig-based products, carrion (the carcass of an animal that has become food for a scavenging animal), and all intoxicants (specifically alcohol). Even animals that are not forbidden to consume are unacceptable to eat if they are not slaughtered according to Halal protocol.
The acceptability of consuming shellfish varies by community. For instance, Sunni Muslims usually consider fish to be Halal, while Shias are more likely to consider it Haraam (forbidden to eat according to the Halal diet). However, some individuals may not follow the mainstream Halal guidelines of their community.
The term for slaughtering an animal, which is acceptable to consume according to Islamic law, is "Zabihah." Animals must be slaughtered according to protocol of Zabihah in order to be Halal. Only animals that are not forbidden, such as cows and chickens, should be slaughtered. In this procedure, the animal must be slaughtered by a Muslim. When the animal is about to be killed it is placed onto the ground or held if it is small. Using a very sharp knife, the throat of the animal should be slit (without being severed) and the three main blood vessels are cut. While the throat of the animal is being cut, the slaughterer speaks the name of Allah or recites a blessing that contains his name. If an animal is slaughtered in this manner, it is Halal. All parts of the animal, including muscle and hooves (used for gelatin), are therefore also Halal.
Many foods with multiple ingredients and/or additives may not be Halal. If part of the product contains ingredients or additives derived from a forbidden animal or an animal that was not slaughtered according to Halal, most Muslims consider it unacceptable to eat. Foods prepared at restaurants may not be Halal if they are cooked in animal products that are forbidden. For instance, green beans cooked with bacon fat would not be Halal because a major ingredient in the dish is from a forbidden animal.
Alcohol: Foods that have been cooked in spirits, liquor, or beer are not acceptable. An example of this would be beef cooked in wine. A food ingredient or extract suspended in alcohol is also not acceptable to consume. An example of this would be vanilla extract, which contains alcohol. Vanilla powder, which contains no alcohol, is frequently used instead.
Gelatin: A popular additive in baked goods, yogurt, jellies, and ice creams, gelatin, may be acceptable for use, depending on its source. If the gelatin is obtained from a pig or an unblessed cow, it is Haram (not permissible to eat, because the food is not Halal). Gelatin obtained from a cow that was Halal is acceptable. Gelatin from fish may also be acceptable, depending on the individual's beliefs regarding if shellfish are Halal or Haram (not Halal).
Lecithin: Lecithin is an ingredient that may come from vegetable or animal sources. This ingredient prevents oil and water from separating. Lecithin from vegetables (usually soy), eggs, or Halal animals is acceptable to eat.
Mono and diglycerides: Monoglycerides and diglycerides are types of fat often in peanut butter, shortening, margarine, and butter. They are included to prevent water and oil from separating. When these ingredients are derived from vegetable sources or animals slaughtered according to Islamic law, then they are considered acceptable for consumption.
Rennet and other dairy enzymes: Rennet is an ingredient that comes from the stomach of a calf and is included in cheese products. Rennet is Halal if the calf was slaughtered according to Islamic requirements. Other dairy enzymes such as pepsin and lipase may be used to make cheese; these are also Halal if the calf was slaughtered according to Islamic protocol. Whey, a popular ingredient in cheese as well as crackers, is acceptable if it is mixed with rennet and other dairy enzymes that are Halal. These products are always forbidden if they come from an animal that is Haram (not Halal).
Shortening: Shortening is used in many baked goods. Pure vegetable shortening is Halal. At times, shortening may be derived from an animal source, usually a pig. Lard is the fat of cooked pork and is Haram (not Halal).