Islam is the way of life for Muslims all across the globe. Like many religions, Islam also has dietary guidelines for Muslims to adhere to. The general words used are ‘Halal’ and ‘Haram’.
Halal is food that is permissible for Muslims to consume. Haram is the opposite, which is food that is prohibited for Muslims to consume. The general rule is, Islam is a guide for man to conduct his life in the best manner on earth. Thus, the guidelines are not meant to suppress a person, but rather to help him to perform and become a better human being.
Muslims refer to the Quran for Guidance, followed by the words, traditions and examples of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) called the Sunnah. These two sources provide the guidelines to what is permissible or prohibited for a Muslim to eat and drink.
Generally, every living creature on land, in the air and the sea created by Allah is halal for Muslims to consume, except those that have been mentioned specifically as haram or prohibited. In surah al-Baqarah verse 168, Allah mentions “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” As food is the main sustenance in which our bodies use to build, grow and sustain, thus Allah commands Muslims to eat only good things that He has provided, that are nutritious, wholesome and pleasing to taste.
Purity is an important part of Islam. In the case of animals, the slaughtering of animals and livestock is a crucial aspect in making the meat halal. The slaughtering is the process of slitting the animal’s throat in a swift and merciful manner, using a sharp tool and the slaughterer is to recite “In the name of Allah, Allah is Most Great” (Quran 6 :118 – 121). Allah is All Merciful, and even during the act of slaughtering, mercy is practiced. As a rule, the tool/knife must be sharp and not jiggered, the act is done in one swift move, cutting the three major arteries, and the animal is not to see the blade nor should it be able to view other animals being slaughtered. Blood is considered haram, thus all blood should be drained before the meat can be consumed.
Islam teaches Muslims that whatever they do contribute to consequences. In fact, the food that you eat will contribute to the building of the person, playing a role in not just the physical, but also mental and psyche of the person. What we eat can determine who we are. Thus, Allah, our Creator has set up Guidelines for us to adhere to, in regards to our food consumption. If the food we consume are impure and harmful to our body, it would affect our overall health and ability to perform our duties as Muslims and khalifahs.
In the Quran, Allah specifies food that are forbidden for Muslims to consume. There are several verses that mention the prohibited foods. For example, in surah al-Baqarah verse 173, “He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
Muslims also learned about foods and drinks that are prohibited in Islam through the hadith (traditions) of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). “It was narrated from Ibn Abbas that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) forbade all carnivorous animals which have fangs and all birds which have talons.” (Narrated by Muslim, 1934)
Below is the list of prohibited foods and drinks regulated by Islam:
- Alcohol and Intoxicants – including food that contains alcohol, prepared or cooked with alcohol. Drugs and intoxicants that mess with the mind and rendering it unable to function properly also falls under this.
- Swine – any products and byproducts from swine.
- All types of carnivorous animals with fangs.
- All types of birds with talons.
- Animals that are sacrificed or slaughtered in the name other than Allah.
- Animals that have died – animals that were killed other than from slaughtering, such as killed on the road, shot dead, electric shock, strangulation and others, except for fish and seafood.
- Amphibians – animals that live both on land and in the water, such as frogs and mudskippers.
However, there is an exception to the prohibition. If a Muslim finds himself stranded in an area or is in a situation where there is no available halal food or halal meat or game to slaughter which may result in him suffering from hunger, he is permitted to eat anything, including animals that are prohibited, as mentioned in surah al-Maidah verse 3, “…But whoever is forced by severe hunger with no inclination to sin – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
There are several foods that are mentioned specifically in the Quran, including olives, dates and honey. These are the foods found and available in the Arab Peninsula and elsewhere. However, they are mentioned to have good properties which help to nourish the body. Thus, many Muslims try to follow the sunnah of the Prophet by consuming these foods, hoping for the blessing of health from Allah.
The regulations in Islam are only to benefit the Muslims themselves. Some of the prohibitions have clear explanations as to why they are haram. Others may still seem a little vague, and there may not be an answer as yet to why they are prohibited. For example, recent studies by scientists have shown that due to the scavenging nature of swines and living in their own filth, certain types of worms in the swine’s body will cause damage to the inside of a person that consumes pork. Similarly, alcohol hinders the thought process, thus when a person is under the influence, the chances of him committing a sin or disharmony affecting others is greater than when his mind is in a sound state. However the true reasons and wisdom of such prohibitions are with Allah. .
Some prohibitions were placed just as tests for the Muslims’ obedience to Allah’s Commands, as this world is just a temporary place and the Hereafter is the ultimate goal. Thus, adhering to Allah’s Commands and understanding that the regulations are placed for our own benefit is in itself an act of worship.