Knowledge of what is halal food laws is important to the Muslim populations globally who observe these laws and to food companies that wish to market to these populations and to interested consumers who do not observe these laws.
The halal dietary laws determine which foods are “lawful” or permitted for Muslims. These laws are found in the Quran and in the Sunna, the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, as recorded in the books of Hadith, the Traditions.
Islamic law is referred to as Sharia and has been interpreted by Muslim scholars over the years. The basic principles of the Islamic laws remain definite and unaltered. However, their interpretation and application of what is halal food may change according to the time, place, and circumstances.
Besides the 2 basic sources of Islamic law, Quran and the Sunna, 2 other sources of jurisprudence are used in determining the permissibility of food, when a contemporary situation is not explicitly covered by the first 2 basic sources.
- The first is Ijma, meaning a consensus of legal opinion.
- The second is Qiyas, meaning reasoning by analogy.
In the latter case, the process of Ijtihad, or exerting oneself fully to derive and answer to the problem, is used.
“Unconventional sources of ingredients, synthetic materials, and innovations in slaughter and processing are some of the issues Muslim scholars are dealing with”
Why do Muslims follow the halal dietary laws?
The main reason for the observance of the Islamic faith is to follow the Divine Orders. “O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith WE have provided you, and render thanks to ALLAH if it is He whom ye worship.” (Quran II:172)
God reminds the believers time and again in the Holy Scripture to eat what is “Halalan Tayyiban,” meaning “permitted and good or wholesome.”
“O, Mankind! Eat of that which is Lawful and Wholesome in the earth . . . .” (Quran II:168)
“Eat of the good things. We have provided for your sustenance, but commit no excess therein.” (Quran XX:81)
Again in Sura 6 of the Quran, entitled “Cattle,” Muslims are instructed to eat the meat of animals upon which Allah’s name has been invoked. This is generally interpreted as meaning that an invocation has to be made at the time of slaughtering an animal.
“Eat of that over which the name of Allah hath been mentioned, if ye are believers in His revelations.” (Quran VI:119)
While Muslims eat what is permitted specifically or by implication, albeit without comment, they avoid eating what is specifically disallowed, such as:
“And eat not of that whereupon Allah’s name hath not been mentioned, for lo, It is abomination. Lo! The devils do inspire their minions to dispute with you. But if ye obey them, ye will be in truth idolators.” (Quran VI:121)
The majority of Islamic scholars are of the opinion that this verse deals with proper slaughtering of the allowed animals.
Since Muslim relate what is halal food laws to Divine permissions and prohibitions, if anyone observes these laws, he or she is rewarded in the hereafter, but if anyone violates these laws, he or she may receive punishment accordingly. The rules for those foods that are not specifically prohibited may be interpreted differently by various scholars.
The things that are specifically prohibited are just a few in number, and are summarized in the following verses:
“Forbidden unto you are: carrion and blood and swine flesh, and that which hath been dedicated unto any other than Allah, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which hath been killed by the goring of horns, and the devoured of wild beasts save that which ye make lawful, and that which hath been immolated to idols. And that ye swear by the divining arrows. This is abomination.” (Quran V:3)
Although these permissions and prohibitions as a divine injunction are enough for a Muslim to observe the laws, it is believed that the dietary laws are based on health reasons that suggest impurity or harmfulness of prohibited foods.