Within Islam, food laws are special and important because nourishment is an essential part of daily life. Muslims eat to live and not the other way around, since food is a way to maintain their good health so that they can dedicate themselves to God. Therefore, Islam is more than a religion, for it is also shaped by rules and protocols that govern all aspects of existence. Within this context, the Arabic word “halal” means “permissible”, and so halal food is all the type of nourishment that follows Islamic law. Nowadays, halal food has transcended the limits of religious practitioners of Islam, as it has become very popular all over the world, even among non-religious people, thanks to the fact that halal products are directly related to ecology, health and hygiene. It is a potential market that grows every year and it is not only about food and drink anymore, it also includes cosmetics, personal hygiene products and even tourist experiences. Knowing what halal food is does not mean there is a list of dishes and recipes to prepare. In reality, it is about food products that comply with Islamic laws about what is allowed to eat and what is not.
So, what is halal food?
Before knowing more about the subject, many people believe that the prohibitions of Islam revolve around meat. In fact, to follow a halal diet, one really needs to be careful with processed foods above all things. The opposite of halal is “haram,” or “not permissible.” It is important to know the opposite concept because all foods are halal as long as they are not haram, so it is easier to list the products that are not allowed. First of all, haram foods and beverages are alcoholic drinks, intoxicants, cysteine from human hair, lard, unspecified meat broth, and any type of food that contains any of these products. As for meat, one of the few ones that is considered haram is pork, so bacon, ham or anything else that comes from pigs is not allowed. It is also prohibited to eat carnivorous animals. The rest of the animals can be eaten as long as they have been prepared in accordance with Islamic laws, which we will see later. Therefore, you can eat animal fat, enzymes, gelatine, lipase, rennet, stock and tallow only if they come from animals properly prepared according to Islam. The problem is that following a halal diet can be complicated due to the current food industry. Many foods contain ingredients such as emulsifiers, gelatin, enzymes and flavorings of which the origin is unknown, so it is impossible to know if they are halal or haram. In addition, other generally permitted animals such as cows, rams, birds, chickens, turkeys, calves or goats, among many others, may not be prepared in accordance with Islamic laws. However, Islam gives priority to life over death, so haram foods can be converted into halal in cases of need or emergency. Living in a Western city will surely make it very difficult to feed exclusively on halal food, so the only rule that Islamic people will try to preserve in this case is not to eat pork or any dish that contains it even in small quantities.
The way to prepare animals according to Islam
In Islam, life is a blessing that God has given to humans and animals and, therefore, is sacred. The way in which the life of an animal ends must be regulated because it means that a valuable life is being sacrificed so that human beings can survive, something that deserves respect and consideration. The method for sacrificing animals according to Islam is designed to reduce the pain and anguish of the animal. Because the goal is to cause the animal the least possible suffering, Islamic law can easily relate to the struggle of many animal rights activists. With the Islamic method, the sacrificed animal loses consciousness before feeling pain, resulting in a much more humane process than that practiced in the West, thanks to the animal dying quickly and cleanly. The Islamic rules for sacrificing animals are strict. Some of them have to do exclusively with religion, such as the fact that the slaughterer must be a healthy Muslim. He must also pronounce the name of God before performing the sacrifice, so that God gives his consent for the animal to be transformed into food. However, other rules are transcendentally humane, because they respect the animal and diminish its suffering. For example, the animal must not be in an uncomfortable position during its sacrifice. It must be killed by cutting the side of the throat (including the jugular, carotid artery and windpipe) with a sharp knife, so that the knife does not tear the wound and death is quick. The rest of the processing can only be completed when the animal is completely dead. Other rules include the life of the animal before sacrifice. The animal must be cared for during its entire life and must be well fed and well treated before being killed. Also, an animal should never see other animals being killed, and the knife must never be sharpened in its presence.
Is Halal Food Better?
In general, halal food is considered healthier because the specific practices to obtain it are very careful and precise, especially those related to feeding, raising and preparing animals. Halal food is, above all, food that comes from completely natural means. The animals that are consumed in halal food are fed with vegetarian diets, so they are much healthier to eat than animals raised in Western industrialized farms. In addition, halal animals cannot be given growth hormones and cannot be treated with antibiotics. Halal fish are exclusively those that have been caught in the wild. Therefore, they are also better than fish raised in fish farms, where they are fed with products of animal origin. All these criteria make halal food healthier and more natural. However, the great advantage that this diet really has is that Islamic practices are much more compassionate toward animals. This is a great motivator for those who want to eat more healthily and at the same time want a world with a less cruel food industry.