“O you who believe! Eat of the wholesome and pure
(Tayyibat) that We have provided for you, and be thankful
To Allah if it is he alone whom you worship.”
The Arabic word “halâl” or “halaal” means fit or proper as it relates to Islamic dietary law. Halâl foods are permitted to be eaten, and can be used as ingredients in the production of additional food items.
The basic laws are of also inclusive of Biblical origin (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 17). For thousands of years, scholars have interpreted these laws and applied them to contemporary situations.
The laws of halâl are basic yet extensive. The intention of this guide is to acquaint the reader with some of the fundamentals of halâl and provide insight into its practical application. Given the nature of the laws of halâl, one should consult one of the local Certifiying Bodies whenever an issue arises.
Though an ancillary hygienic benefit has been attributed to the observance of halâl, the ultimate purpose and rationale is to conform to the Divine Will, as expressed in the Quran (The Message from Allah/God).
Not too long ago, most food products were made in the family kitchen, or in a small factory or store in the local community. It was relatively easy to ascertain if the product was reliably halâl. If supervision was required, it was attended to by the Imam/leader of the community, who was known to all. Today, industrialization, transcontinental shipping and mass production have created a situation where most of the foods we eat are treated, processed, cooked, canned or boxed commercially in industrial settings, which can be located hundreds or thousands of miles away from home.
What adds further complication is that it is generally not possible to validate the halâl status of an item on the basis of the information provided in the ingredient declaration for a variety of reasons.
First, the product may be made from halâl ingredients, but processed on non-halâl/haraam equipment. Second, legislated labelling requirements does not require the listing of certain processing aids, such as pan liners and oils that serve as release agents. Though not legally classified as ingredients, these items could nonetheless render the product non-halâl/haraam. Third, many ingredients can be halâl or non-halâl/haraam, depending on their source of origin. For example, glycerin and emulsifiers are made from either vegetable (most likely halâl) or animal oils (most likely non-halâl/haraam). Finally, many ingredients are listed only in broad terms, with no breakdown of the many complex components that make up the actual item. For example, a chocolate flavor may contain 50 ingredients, but the ingredient declaration will list this entire complex of ingredients as “flavours”.
Unless a person is an expert in food production, the average consumer cannot possibly make an evaluation of the halâl status, which is why it is important to purchase only those products that have the endorsement of a reliable Halâl Certifying agency.
II. Halâl and Haraam Meat, Poultry, and Fish
A. Meat & Poultry:
Prohibited from consuming carrion, blood. Meats that are considered haraam, such as pork, dog, cat, monkey, or any other haraam animals, can only be considered lawful in emergencies when a person is facing starvation and his life has to be saved through the consumption of this meat. However, necessity does not exist if the society possesses excess food. Haraam foods do not become permissible when a person is in a society with excess food because the Islamic community is like a single body supporting its members, and should offer halâl foods to the fellow Muslim.
All shellfish (i.e. prawns & crayfish) are makrooh (disliked) according to Imam Abū Ḥanīfa. Unlike meat and poultry, fish requires no special preparation. Processed and smoked fish products require reliable Muslim supervision, as do all processed foods.
III. Meat & Poultry Processing
A. The Halâl Butcher:
Years ago, meat and poultry preparation was performed in the home of the consumer. Today, the entire process of slaughtering, and meat-processing is done through the butcher and/or abattoir. This allows for uniform consistency of high standards. Nonetheless, the halâl butcher plays a critical role in distributing the product. The butcher must be a person of integrity and the store should be under reliable supervision.
From the time of slaughter, halâl meat and poultry must be properly supervised until it reaches the consumer. The meat or fowl is packed in tamper-proof packaging with the halâl logo prominently displayed.
IV. Caterers, Restaurants, Hotels:
Caterers, restaurants, and hotels must be supervised by a reputable Halâl Certifying authority.
It cannot be assumed that halâl status is maintained simply because of a halâl impression is created by an advertisement or by a statement, such as, “we serve a muslim clientele.” Too often, ‘vegetarian’ restaurants are assumed to be halâl and beyond the need for supervision. Unfortunately, this is a prevalent misconception. Fish, baked goods, cheese, shortening, oil, margarine, dressings, and condiments are among the many foodstuffs requiring supervision in ‘vegetarian’ restaurants. Even those food items that are halâl in their raw states could be rendered non-halâl/haraam when prepared on equipment used for non-halâl/haraam food. For these reasons, reputable muslim supervision is required.
V. Meat and Milk in the Kosher Kitchen
The Torah forbids: 1) cooking meat and milk together in any form; 2) eating such cooked products, or 3) deriving benefit from them. As a safeguard, the Rabbis extended this prohibition to disallow the eating of meat and dairy products at the same meal or preparing them on the same utensils. Furthermore, milk products cannot be consumed after eating meat, for a period of time. There are different traditions for how long to wait between meat and dairy, but the most prevalent custom is to wait six hours.
Meat may be eaten following dairy products with the one exception of hard cheese that is aged 6 months or more, which requires the same waiting time as that of dairy after meat. Prior to eating meat after dairy, one must eat a solid food, either drink a liquid or thoroughly rinse one’s mouth, and check the cleanliness of ones hands.
VI. Shortening and Oil:
Government regulations concerning the labeling of food ingredients have undergone strict changes. Not only must the label specify the type of shortening, i.e., vegetable or animal, but it must declare the actual source as well. Thus, it is commonplace to find mention of cottonseed oil, lard, coconut oil, and other oil sources. The result of this explicit label display is that the consumer can easily detect what is blatantly non-halâl/haraam. However, it is important to be aware that the halâl status of a product containing even pure vegetable shortening can only be verified by reliable Halâl certification. The reason for this is that manufacturers of vegetable shortening often process animal fats on common equipment. Pure vegetable products may satisfy local government guidelines for purity, however, in terms of Islamic law, vegetable oil may be non-halâl/haraam because it is processed on non-halâl/haraam equipment.
Emulsifiers are complex substances that are used in many types of food production. They can perform a number of critical functions, among them acting as a surfactant (reducing the surface tension of a liquid) thus making oil and water soluble. Emulsifiers are critical components in many food items, such as margarine, shortenings, cream fillings, toppings, coffee creamers, whiteners, prepared cake mixes, donuts, puddings, ice cream, frozen desserts, instant mashed potatoes, peanut butter, breakfast cereals, chocolates and candies. Emulsifiers may be listed on the ingredient label as polysorbates, glycerides, mono and diglycerides, sorbitan monostearates, etc. Emulsifiers are produced from either animal or vegetable oil, and emulsifiers require reliable Halâl Certification Body supervision.
A critical sector of the food industry is manufacturers of flavours. Flavours, whether artificial or natural, are components of nearly every product. Flavour production is highly complex and uses raw materials from every imaginable source. Some common halâl sensitive ingredients used in flavours are glycerin and castorium (an animal extract). Since the ingredient declaration never includes a breakdown of ingredients used in flavours, food items containing natural or artificial flavours require reliable supervision.
IX. Fillings and Cremes:
All fillings, cremes, and fudge bases must be certified halâl because they may contain fats, emulsifiers, gelatin stabilizers and flavors.
X. Breads, Rolls and Bagels:
These basic household staples present several halâl problems and require halâl certification.
Many types of bread are made with oils and shortenings. Basic ingredients of specially prepared dough mixes and dough conditioners are shortenings and di-glycerides. In bakeries, pans and troughs in which the dough is placed to rise and to bake are coated with grease or divider oils, which may be non-halâl/haraam. These oils often do not appear on the label. There may also be an issue of other non-halâl/haraam products prepared and baked on the same equipment. These are some of the reasons that bread requires muslim supervision.
XI. Cake, Pastries and Doughnuts
These products generally contain shortening, emulsifiers, flavors and other halâl sensitive ingredients, and therefore reliable supervision is necessary.
XII. Dairy Products
All cheeses require halâl certification, including hard cheeses (Swiss, cheddar, etc.) and soft cheeses (cottage, farmer, pot, and cream cheese). Rennet, processed from the stomachs of unweaned calves, is often used in the production of hard cheese as a curdling and coagulating agent. Hard cheese is produced with microbial rennet, which can be derived from halâl sources. Hard cheese is typically made with animal rennet so it becomes very important for halâl certification.