22/07/2021: This article is currently incomplete.
The disclaimer to end all disclaimers.
First things first.
I am NOT a scholar. I am not a mufti, a professor or anything. I am not qualified in anything to do with Islam. Everything mentioned below is simply an opinion and should not be interpreted as a ruling or a fatwa or otherwise. Allah (swt) is the possessor and provider of all knowledge and knows best.
You’ve probably seen and heard this word a thousand times in your life. On store fronts, restaurant menus, cosmetic products and the like. It is usually annunciated a variety of different ways depending on the accent of the speaker vocalising it, but what does it really mean?
In this write up, I will go over many things relating to the word “halal”, its meaning, its origin and why I think it is one of the most widely misunderstood and misused words used by Muslims today.
Take a seat.
What is “halal”?
The word “halal” or “7alaal” is not actually a word as you see it written here.
Rather, it is the way many people spell the word حلال using the latin script alphabet to spell the Arabic word with similar sounding letters. This type of writing is typically known as Arabish or Franco Arabic.
A similar example would be “salaam” for سلام.
The word “halal” is derived from the triconsonatal root of the letters ح ل ل (or h-l-l, using latin script). This is a common occurunce in all semetic languages and numerous words with similar meanings can be derived from the root letters.
The meaning of the word is, simply, “permissable”. In other words, if something is “halal, it is permissable for you to persue it.
It is important to note that it only means “permissable” and, as someone who consumes no animal produce in any capacity, I am regularly told that I should eat meat because it is “halal”. More on this later.
The Permissability Spectrum.
There are five rulings in Islam with regards to the pursuit of certain activities, known as “akhaam” or أحكام in Arabic.
They are as follows (I have written these with numbers for sake of correct pronunciation):
- waajib - mandatory
- musta7aB - recommended
- mubaa7 - neutral
- makr9h - disapproved
- 7araam - forbidden
You will notice that “halal” is not included in this list, whereas “haraam” is.
There is a lot of debate amongst scholars as to whether the first four fall under the category of “halal” (permissable) but it is important to note that the difference between “halal” and “haraam” is binary in nature (if something is not forbidden then it must be permissable by its very definition of not being forbidden).
With that in mind, one would deem it reasonable to assume that if something is not haraam then, as mentioned above, something must be “halal”, even though it may also be disapproved of (“disapproval” cannot mean “forbidden” as it would no longer be deemed, for instance, “makruh” and would instead fall in to the category of “haraam”).
Virtuous or not?
As previously discussed, the meaning of the word “halal” is “permissable”.
With that in mind, let’s explore what it means to be virtuous.
The Cambridge English Dictionary explains the word “virtuous” as an adjective that can mean good, chaste, righteous or honest. In its application towards religion, it is safe to assume that “virtuous” can mean the way of earning favour with Allah (swt) through action.
For example: one commits a virtuous act.
So what has virtue got to do with permissability?
As you will recall from earlier in this text, I mentioned that I often encounter individuals who explain to me that I should eat meat (lamb, chicken etc) because it is “halal”.
Now, with consideration for what the word “halal” actually means, let’s broaden its application to more than just dietary choices.
- Having a picnic in the park on a Sunday afternoon is halal.
- Driving your car to the gas station for fuel is halal.
- Marrying your cousin is halal.
All of the above are permissable, however none of them are virtuous.
Consideration: Just because something is permissable, does that mean you should do it?
One could argue that eating only meat slaughtered and raised according to the Sharia is obedience to Allah (swt) and so the obedience aspect and adherence to the command is virtuous in its own right. However, it is never said in a way that conveys such virtue i.e. “you should eat meat because it is virtuous”. In fact, in modern day (especially Western) societies, meat consumption is grossly inflated compared to that of less economically developed communities as well as that of the times of the Prophet Muhammad (saws).
Which is where we take a look at the behaviours of the Prophet Muhammad (saws), the Sahaba (ra) and how they ate meat.
(the remainder of this article will consider meat/animal produce consumption specifically. If you are not interested in this topic, stop here).
The Prophet (saws), the Sahabah (ra) and meat.
The Prophet Muhammad (saws) was an individual who is well known for his moderate approach to lifestyle choices.
On top of the constant expression of gratitude to Allah (swt) for food he (saws) ate, it is well documented that he (saws) ate meat very infrequently.
According to many sources, the Prophet Muhammad (saws) prohibited the consumption of meat every day and referred to it as “the food of Kings”. In other words, a luxury.
Historically, it was usually eaten by those who could afford it on Fridays and, for those less fortunate, on Eid.
Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra), one of the Prophet Muhammad’s (saws) closest companions, is well known to have mentioned the perils of excessive meat consumption as described in the Hadith below:
Yahya ibn Sa’id reported: Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “Beware of meat, for meat can be as addictive as wine.” - Muwatta Malik Book 49, Hadith 1710
In addition to this, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf has mentioned that Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) prohibited the consumption of meat on 2 consecutive days. I was unable to find the source of this however the complete blog post can be found here: https://www.revamp.sg/blog/on-meat
In Sharia law, only certain meat can be consumed. Pork and its derivatives are forbidden entirely and there are specific stipulations on how certain creatures must be dispatched before they are permissable to consume.
A brief summary of requirements for slaughter are as follows:
- The animal must be alive at the time of slaughter.
- The animal cannot be stunned or sedated under normal circumstances.
- The knife used for slaughter must be sharp enough to cut the trachea, oesophagus and jugular veins in one stroke.
- It must be performed by an adult Muslim of sound mind.
- The name of Allah (swt) must be envoked at the time of slaughter.
There are, however, certain considerations that are often overlooked with the above - there is zero emphasis on how the animal lived before it was killed.
With this in mind, let us take a look at scripture to determine how humans should behave towards animals:
And there is no creature on the earth or bird that flies with its wings except communities like you. We have not neglected in The Book a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered. - Surah Al-An3am:38
Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and the birds with wings spread? Each has known his prayer and exalting, and Allah is Knowing of what they do. - Surah An-Nur:41
These two Iyah (verses) make very clear, 2 things: The first is that animals form communities like people do. The second is that it is not just people who worship Allah (swt).
In order for a living thing to be aware of worship to its creator, it must have at least some level of sentience.
Now let us look at how the Hadith has instructed people to behave towards animals:
Narrated Abdullah ibn Mas’ud: We were with the Apostle of Allah (saws) during a journey. He went to ease himself. We saw a bird with her two young ones and we captured her young ones. The bird came and began to spread its wings. The Apostle of Allah (saws) came and said: Who grieved this for its young ones? Return its young ones to it. He also saw an ant village that we had burnt. He asked: Who has burnt this? We replied: We. He said: It is not proper to punish with fire except the Lord of fire. - Abu Dawud Book 14, Hadith 2669
Sa’id b. Jubair reported that Ibn ‘Umar happened to pass by some young men of the Quraish who had tied a bird (and made it a target) at which they had been shooting arrows. Every arrow that they missed came into the possession of the owner of the bird. So no sooner did they see Ibn ‘Umar they went away. Thereupon Ibn ‘Umar said: Who has done this? Allah has cursed him who does this. Verily Allah’s Messenger (saws) invoked curse upon one who made a live thing the target (of one’s marksmanship). - Muslim Book 21, Hadith 4816
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar: Allah’s Apostle said, “A lady was punished because of a cat which she had imprisoned till it died. She entered the (Hell) Fire because of it, for she neither gave it food nor water as she had imprisoned it, nor set it free to eat from the vermin of the earth.” - Bukhari Vol. 4, Book 56, Hadith 689
All of a sudden when a Camel saw the Prophet (saws) it wept tenderly producing yearning sound and it eyes flowed. The Prophet (saws) came to it and wiped the temple of its head. So it kept silence. He then said “Who is the master of this Camel? Whose Camel is this? A young man from the Ansar came and said “This is mine, Apostle of Allah (saws).” He said “Don’t you fear Allah about this beast which Allah has given in your possession. It has complained to me that you keep it hungry and load it heavily which fatigues it.” - Abu Dawud Book 15, Hadith 2549
If there was only one lesson to take away from the above Hadith, it is that cruelty cannot be tolerated and is a grave sin in the eyes of Allah (swt).
The Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) on how to behave towards and care for animals are numerous. The above are just a handful of examples of how important it is to treat animals kindly and with respect to their very obvious consciousness.
In addition to the above scripture, and with their lessons in mind, many legal experts througout Islamic history have placed further requirements that must be adhered to in order for meat to truly be classified as “halal”. They are (but not limited to):
- The animal must be raised in a humane and wholesome environment.
- The animal must not be mishandled, stressed, or caused any discomfort during transport.
- The animal must not feel stress or fear before death.
- The animal must not be killed using continuous pain or injury.
- The animal must be killed away from the view of other animals
So how does this apply in the real world?
In many parts of the modern world, consumption of animal produce is rife.
Even if we consider the animal produce consumption in Muslim communities exclusively, it is not uncommon for people to eat meat every day of the week, multiple times a day.
It is this mass consumption of meat, multiplied exponentially by the millions of individuals who participate in it, that is the main issue.
The Qur’an is very clear on excessive consumption of food and drink:
O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess. - Surah Al-3raf:31
Because demand for meat is so extraordinarily high, it is impossible for providers to process produce efficiently enough to maintain adherance to the criterium required in order to make it truly “halal”.
According to the Halal Monitoring Committee UK (HMC), chicken slaughter alone in the UK amounts to 104 million chickens slaughtered per month, of which around 20% is considered “halal”. 20% of 104 million equates to 20.8 million “halal” chickens per month. A month.
Is it reasonable to assume that those 20.8 million chickens were not cared for respectfully or slaughtered outside of the view of any other animal? Absolutely.
Is it feasable for an adult Muslim to take those chickens from their coop individually and with care, perhaps in to another room, and slaughter them? Absolutely not.
As an example, let’s assess a popular and alleged Halal meat company from the UK called Shazan’s and take a look at what they call their “Farm to Fork” process. The link for this video is shown below:
From the video, you may have noticed a few things.
First of all, there are only still images from the particular factory in question. Some of the close up shots show seemingly happy chickens taken at opportune moments, however there is a complete ommission of a total visual inspection of the facility. A quick Google search of similar facilities will expose the reality of what happens to the animals on a day to day basis inside such conditions.
The area that the chickens reside in is extremely cramped, nullifying the requirement of the animal having to have lived in a humane and wholesome environment.
Ever been stuck on a busy train for hours on end? Now imagine that, but for your entire existence.
You will notice that the animals are reared in what would easily be presumed to be “battery farm” conditions. Over the last few decades, there has been a heavy emphasis on “free range” produce as battery farms are extremely inhumane to say the least, and yet Shazan’s are able to put an HMC sticker on their packaging…
Secondly, there are numerous individuals slaughtering the chickens as they are hung upside down whilst attached to a belt. If you recall, the animals cannot feel stress or fear before being killed, nor can they be within view of other animals at their point of dispatch, however here we see hundreds (if not thousands) of chickens being slaughtered in full view of the others that await their fate.
Suffice to say, this meat is not “Halal”.
The slaughter of an animal for meat is supposed to be a ritual, but has instead become a production line as a consequence of our gross overconsumption and subsequent demand for it. As societies have envolved, our standards for what would be deemed permissable have diminished.
Ok, but what about milk?
So what about it?
The Hadith on the Prophet Muhammad’s (saws) consumption and allowance of milk are numerous. Hundreds, in fact. The Prophet Muhammad (saws) was also known to have mentioned milk as a beverage that contained healing properties.
Milk consumption is even mentioned in the Qur’an a number of times:
And indeed, for you in grazing livestock is a lesson. We give you drink from what is in their bellies - between excretion and blood - pure milk, palatable to drinkers. - Surah An-Nahl:66
So the Hadith (which I have not listed because there are so many) and the word of Allah (swt) are very clear: Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, camel’s milk etc, you name it; it’s on the menu. In other words, halal!
However, as with meat, the way we produce milk is vastly different to how it was produced in the times of old.
Statistically speaking, the UK government has stated that, in the month of May 2021 alone, UK dairies processed 1.3 billion litres of milk. The source for this data is below:
Now that’s an enormous amount of milk. So how is it produced?
Let us take the cow, as an example.
In an ordinary world, milk is produced once the calf is birthed. Milk production in a cow usually peaks around 2 months after gestation and then gradually declines over the period of about 8 months (give or take). Once weened off of liquid food, the grown calf will begin to solid food. Simple enough to undestand.
However, in our societies, the process has a much darker side.
In order for a cow to continually produce enough milk to keep up with demand, it must be constantly impregnated. Once the calf is born, it is removed from its mother for other purposes (slaughter for veal, slaughter for regular beef once fully grown or added to the same milk producing production line that its mother dwells in).
The cow that is being milked is penned in to a cage where it cannot move and suction cups are attached to its underbelly to extract the milk.
It is then processed and packaged and then sent to stores for humans to consume.
Sounds straightforward, however I encourage you to watch the video below to get a better understanding of how the animals are treated during the process and to really emphasise the point that I am trying to make: all is not as it seems.
Take a look: https://vimeo.com/489171117
Consideration: does that look “halal” complient? Does it look even remotely humane? Are those animals being treated with respect and living in a fearless and stressless environment?
And yes, I am very aware of the fact that the video was shared by PETA however, no matter your views on that establishment, the footage is real.
In this fast moving, evolving world that we live in, our insatiable desire for the produce we love to eat and drink has become out of control. And we consume them to no end just because they are “halal”. Animal industries are callous, vile and dominating infrastructures that inflict pain and suffering on the world as a consequence of endless demand.
We are the greatest creation of Allah (swt) yet we are the cruelest. We destroy our own species and the habitats that surround us. We destroy other species to the level of extinction just because they are a nuisance.
It is forbidden for me to declare something forbidden that Allah (swt) has made permissable for us (or vice versa). But that is not what I’m saying or why I wrote this text.
There is virtue to be found in moderacy and imitating the Prophet Muhammad’s (saws) example of this is profoundly blessed. This applies to food and drink, too!
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example for whoever has hope in Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah often. - Surah Al-Ahzab:21
I would like to thank Willowbrook Farm for inspiring me to write this article. They are one of the only places in the UK I can find that I can determine for myself to be truly “halal” animal produce. Their animals are cared for individually, live in open pastures, are reared on land that has organic soil at its source and they have a heavy emphasis on bio-diversity. They “place ethics above profit, and the environment above personal gain”.
Thank you for reading this article.