Operation Nehemiah: stopping the spread of halalThe halal controversyBarnabas Fund, October 2010I don't object to people of different religious groups being catered for but it's not something that should be imposed on everybody else. The vast majority of people in this country would not want meat of this origin. The outlets have a duty to let their customers know because some will object very strongly, not least because of the animal welfare implications of halal.IntroductionIn August 2010 Harrow Council in North-West London introduced halal-only menus at its 52 state primary schools. The Arabic word halal means "permitted", and halal food is anything that Islamic sharia law allows to be eaten. Harrow Council argued that dieticians had recommended the policy owing to the difficulties of storing and preparing two sorts of meat, one for the Muslim children and one for all the others. The Muslim population in Harrow is not very large: according to the 2001 census only 7 per cent is Muslim, and the Christian and Hindu populations are both larger. But the dietary principles of this small religious group are now to influence the diet of primary-school children of all faiths and none, and without the consent of their parents.This incident is one of many that have raised the issue of the appropriate place of halal food and other products in Western societies, and in the UK in particular. Its increasingly widespread use by retail outlets and restaurants, often without the approval or even the knowledge of customers, has caused widespread disquiet. Consumers are being denied the possibility of choice because they are not given the necessary information to make a decision. The practice of slaughtering animals by halal methods has also been called into question on ethical grounds.So there are four principal reasons why many Christians and others are concerned about the increased presence of halal products:
- The denial of choice to consumers, unless food is labelled and alternatives provided
and following from this:
- The commitment of many Muslims to Islamic mission (da‘wa) and the Islamisation of their non-Muslim host societies, which includes the imposition of Islamic practices on non-Muslims, and of which halal food is a major instrument
- The cruelty to animals allegedly involved in halal-compliant methods of slaughter
- For Christians in particular, the Biblical teaching on the eating of foods associated with non-Christian religious practice and its spiritual and social effects within the Christian community
In this paper we shall first explain the nature and significance of the halal regulations for Muslims, both in their sacred texts and in the contemporary world. We will then examine the three of the concerns above and draw out their possible implications for the Christian conscience. (The Biblical teaching will be considered in a future article.) Finally we shall offer some recommendations for a Christian response to the issue.Sharia and the halal / haram system
Purity and pollution
Halal food laws in Islam are part of a much wider system of the permitted and the forbidden found in sharia law. In the Muslim worldview these laws are based on Allah's direct revelation in the Qur'an and sunna, a manifestation of his sovereign will that cannot be changed by humans. Halal (permitted, lawful) and haram (forbidden, unlawful) represent a god-given, distinguishing, identity mark of Allah's pure community, marking them off from the unbelieving, polluted infidels. These rules must be kept to ensure the pleasure of Allah and due rewards for the believers who keep them.The realm of halal and haram extends beyond food and clothing to all matters relating to human life. All beings and things are divided into pure (clean) and impure (unclean, polluting) categories. These include foods, all goods and services, entertainments, finance and commerce, tourism and lifestyles.The quest for purity and the fear of pollution are very strong motivators in Islam. A Muslim who comes into contact with something impure must perform ritual ablutions to become pure again. The regulations are many and complex. Questions of purity and impurity have given rise to a vast literature of interpretation and fatwas.
Can Muslims eat food prepared by Christians?
The Qur'an seems to permit Muslims to eat Christian food:This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Q 5:5) Sunni Muslims believe that although Christians and Jews may become impure because they handle unclean substances and do not purify themselves, they are nonetheless clean in themselves. So Sunnis will eat with Christians and Jews on condition that the food prepared does not contain any unclean substances (pork, wine, etc.). Some Sunnis, exemplified by Abu'l A‘la Mawdudi, will eat meat offered by Christians only if it was slaughtered according to halal rules. Others, such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, interpret the Qur'anic verse above to mean that any meat offered by Christians is acceptable.In contrast, the Shi‘a consider all non-Muslims, including Christians and Jews, to be impure and polluting. Shi‘as will not eat with Christians nor eat food prepared by Christians, as they believe it to be inherently unclean.
Foods prohibited in the Qur'an
The Qur'an prohibits Muslims from consuming the following categories of food: pork, carrion, anything with blood still flowing out, animals that have been slaughtered with the invocation of a name other than the name of Allah, and wine.O ye who believe! eat of the good things that We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah if it is Him ye worship. He hath only forbidden you dead meat and blood and the flesh of swine and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of Allah but if one is forced by necessity without wilful disobedience nor transgressing due limits then is he guiltless. For Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful. (Q 2:172-172)They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: "In them is great sin and some profit for men; but the sin is greater than the profit." (Q 2:219)
Foods prohibited in the hadith
The hadith prohibitions regarding food include all beasts and birds of prey such as dogs, lions, tigers, owls and eagles. Forbidden also are frogs, crocodiles and turtles, worms, flies and cockroaches, and poisonous animals such as rats, snakes, centipedes and scorpions. In addition Muslims are forbidden from eating meat that has been cut off from a live animal.Fish and most sea creatures can be eaten without slaughtering and bleeding and are exempt from the category of "carrion". In other words, seafood is permitted whether it comes out of the water dead or alive. Muslims are also permitted to eat dead locusts.Yahya related to me from Malik from Abu'z-Zinad from Abu Salama ibn Abd ar-Rahman that some people from al-Jar came to Marwan ibn al-Hakam and asked him about eating what was cast up by the sea. He said, "There is no harm in eating it." Marwan said, "Go to Zayd ibn Thabit and Abu Hurayra and ask them about it, then come to me and tell me what they say." They went to them and asked them, and they both said, "There is no harm in eating it." They returned to Marwan and told him. Marwan said, "I told you." Malik said that there was no harm in eating fish caught by magians, because the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "In the sea's water is purity, and that which is dead in it is halal." Malik said, "If it is eaten when it is dead, there is no harm in who catches it." (Al-Muwatta, Vol. 25, No. 12) While the only drink forbidden by the Qur'an is wine (khamr), this prohibition has been extended by the hadith to including all intoxicating substances, especially those containing alcohol.Narrated Aisha. The Prophet said, "All drinks that produce intoxication are Haram (forbidden to drink)." (Bukhari, Vol. 1, No. 243).