Halal food and its importance to Muslims

Halal food
and its
importance to Muslims

Muslims eat halal food. But what is halal food and why it is necessary for Muslims to eat halal food?

The writer of this article gave a talk on halal food in a “Workshops together with M3” event at Masjid Al-Taqua on Saturday, 30 March (2019), in the Dietary Understanding and Restrictions workshop during which two other speakers gave their explanations from the Buddhist and Hindu perspectives. The presentations on “Vegetarian and halal food” was attended by grassroots leaders of the Siglap constituency.

“Vegetarian and halal food” presentations for the Siglap Constituency grassroots leaders: The three speakers were Venerable You Guang who explained vegetarian food from the Buddhist perspective; Mr Shukul Raaj Kumar who explained vegetarian food from the Hindu perspective, while Mr Shaik Kadir, writer of this article, talked about Muslim food, known as halal food.

Due to the short time given to each of the three speakers, the halal food subject could only dealt briefly. Therefore, in the postscript of the previous article which focussed more on the event, the writer mentioned: “The next article will be exclusively on halal food as this is an important topic on Dietary Understanding and Restrictions from the Islamic perspective which would be good for sharing, especially with non-Muslim Singaporeans, as we often eat together at Muslim wedding invitations and at social and office celebrations.”

The “exclusively on halal food” article, presented in the question-answer format for easy emphasis, is as follows:

Why non-Muslim Singaporeans need to know about halal food?
Food is one of the binding factors of Singaporeans. We eat together during marriage invitations, and during office, public and social functions. As Singaporeans are of various races, cultures and religions and their dietary necessities might differ from each other’s, it is good to know about Muslims’ dietary requirements, popularly termed “halal food”.

Why must Muslims eat halal food?
Being followers of Islam, Muslims follow and obey the instructions of God as given in the Qur’an, the Holy Book of Islam.

To live in Islam is not merely to prepare for the spiritual world in the Hereafter, but also to live a complete way of life right here in this material world.

“Muslim”, in its root sense, is one who follows a lifestyle as advocated by Islam – totally submitting to God. So since Muslims totally submit to God, they have to follow the instructions of God, like performing the five times a day prayers, fasting the whole month of Ramadan, giving charity and eating halal food: all for the sake of keeping oneself totally pure and clean in accordance with Qur’anic teachings. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) had said: “Purity and cleanliness is half the Islamic faith.”

Islam aims at a total package of human development and enhancement in all human dealings and matters.

How to ensure if the food is halal?
If the whole country comprise Muslims, the word “halal” will not be labelled for food as all food is deemed to be halal. In the same way, a Muslim eatery will not label the food it sells as halal since a Muslim eatery will not be selling non-halal food. Only in a country where there are people of many religions, and when the owner of an eatery or food production company is non-Muslim, the word “halal” (with its identification “halal” logo obtained officially) is displayed to indicate that the food sold is halal.

Singapore as well as some other countries have authorities to oversee halal food and food products that can be consumed by Muslims with their own respective iconic “Halal” logo. The “Halal” authority in Singapore is the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, popularly known in its Malay term as Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), issues halal certification after thorough examination.

The most familiar halal food logo to Singaporeans is the circular one in the middle with one, the first one, on a food package. Examples of halal logos from other Asian countries shown here are from Malaysia, Thailand and Japan.
The 3 letters in Arabic (from the Qur’an) are, from right, hah, lam-alif, lam = halal.

The Singapore halal logo being prominently displayed to attract Muslims. Polar also displays the Halal certificate which all food companies receive after successful application for halal certification upon thorough inspection of the premises, including cleanliness of the kitchen, utensils used and other necessities by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, popularly known in its Malay term as Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS).

What does the Qur’an mention about eating halal food?
Halal is an Arabic word used in the Qur’an.  (The Qur’an is in Arabic, it’s original language, and is available in almost all Muslim homes and can be bought from Muslim bookshops.)  ”Halal” means allowed, permissible or lawful in Islam. (The opposite of halal is haram.) Thus, halal food simple means food that is lawful for Muslim consumption.

As has been reiterated, Muslims take halal food in obedience to God’s command.

Instructing Muslims to be mindful of what they eat, God says in the Qur’an:

• “O you who believe! Eat of the good things that We (God) have provided for you.” (2:172)

In the above verse, God is saying that He has provided for us huge varieties of good things that can be eaten.

• “Lawful (halal) to you are all things good and pure …” (5:5)

In the above verse now, God explains that halal (lawful) to Muslim consumption are all items that are “good and pure”. That is to say, anything that is NOT good and pure is haram and Muslims should avoid them. That may include alcohol, drugs and cannabis, etc.

With regard to smoking, some Muslim scholars say smoking is NOT “good” for health and therefore is haram, while some other Muslim scholars say that smoking may not be haram but definitely makruh, meaning it is “good to avoid” it for very good reasons, in this case, smoking is hazardous to health and incurs wastage of money.

Warning dangers of cigarette smoking shown on cigarette boxes. Smoking, related to intoxicants (agents that can cause addiction and harm to one’s own-self and others) can cause several problems, including cancer, heart and lung diseases and even miscarriages.

Smoking is such a health concern that “No Smoking” warnings are advertised in newspapers and posters displayed. It is against the Singapore law to smoke in places such as work areas, public buildings, public areas such as exercise corners and children’s playgrounds, school premises, stadiums, cinemas, shopping malls, restaurants, hawker centres and in bus-stop shelters.

What is haram for food?
Pork is one of the animal flesh that is haram for Muslim consumption. God says: “(O you who believe!) Forbidden to you (for food) are … the flesh of swine …” (5:4)

Consumption prohibition does not apply to pork only, but other “things and actions” related to eating are prohibited too.

An example of these prohibitions is given in Chapter 5, verse 4 and they are given below for easy reading). God says: “(O you who believe!) Forbidden to you (for food) are:

• dead meat
• blood
• the flesh of swine
• that on which has been invoked the name of other than God
• that which has been killed by strangling
• or by a violent blow
• or by a headlong fall
• or by being gored to death
• that which has been partly eaten by a wild animal, unless you can slaughter it before it dies
• that which is sacrificed on stone (altars)
• (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows (gambling).”

Since pork is haram, the derivatives of pork like lard, ham and bacon are also haram.

In Islam, the meat of predatory animals, like lions, wolves and so on are also haram for consumption.

Is showing compassion important in slaughtering animals?
Yes it’s very important. Cruelty to animals whether during slaughtering animals for eating or during any other time is a sin. There are a number of Hadith narrations which show Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him, praising those who showed compassion to animals.

During slaughtering of animals for eating, the animal needs to be calmed down, and the cut, with a sharp knife, is to be effected on the jugular vein at the neck which would stunt the animal and it would not feel any pain. There should be no twisting of its neck, knocking its head on a hard surface and so on as sudden death would suppress blood flow out of its body. In Islam, drinking blood or eating congealed blood is haram.

The Muslim person slaughtering the animal is to have the intention of slaughtering the animal for food and he softly says: “In the name of God, I slaughter this animal for food.” Or just “Bismillah” (In the name of Allah) as his intention and action is understood. In the most basic form, if he has many chickens, for example, to slaughter, he need to say the slaughtering prayer only once at the time of slaughtering the first chicken.

If ever the animal feels any pain before it dies, the prayer that has been said is the defence – that the slaughtering is done not for fun, game or gambling but for food. In nature (as you could watch from any wild-life documentary video), you will see a cattle, for instance, suffers enormously when attacked by a group of lions biting the victim’s legs, back and neck until it falls from its standing position and then still biting all over its body as it struggles till it finally dies – but all for the sake of food to live: one cattle dies, several lions live.

Can Muslims be vegetarians, eating only vegetables and fruits?
Eating vegetables only is a choice if a Muslim wants to, but Muslims are allowed to enjoy eating meat and vegetables for a balanced diet as nutrition is found in vegetables, meat of all halal animals, eggs, cereals, nuts, fruits, and so on. Muslims eat them as long as they are “halal, good and pure”.

Also, by nature, certain animals, like lions, eat only meat; and certain other animals, like goats, eat only vegetables. But, human beings are creatures that can consume any halal animal meat as long as they follow their respective religious restrictions and health advice, if any.

Are alcoholic drinks prohibited?
In Islam, not only food must be halal but drinks too.

In the Qur’an the prohibition of alcoholic drinks is mentioned in an all-encompassing term as “intoxicants”, and is cited together with gambling.

God says in the Qur’an: “O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling are an abomination of Satan’s handiwork: Avoid such abomination that you may prosper.” (5:90–91)

“Intoxicants” as mentioned in the Qur’an refers to any agent that causes the mind to befog and lose the ability to reason, and can cause addiction. Thus, intoxicants include alcohol, drugs, marijuana, cannabis, and so on. They are all haram in Islam.

“If you drink, don’t drive.” Singaporeans are familiar with this slogan which was initiated many years ago by the Singapore Traffic Police, the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Road Safety Council.

Referring to intoxicants and gambling, the Qur’an uses the phrase “an abomination of Satan’s handiwork” for their possible dire consequences, such as divorces, broken homes, fights and loss of dignity. Many marriages have broken down; many matured, even educated, people have ruined their lives. Many families have been shamed because of their spouses or children’s indulgence in alcohol, drugs and gambling.

Over the last several decades numerous experts have commented on the ills of alcohol. For instance, Dr Tan Chue Tin, consultant psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, has this to say: “Alcohol does two things to a person. It dissolves moral constraints and social inhibitions. Second, it diminishes judgement.” (The New Paper, 9 April 2006)

Social drinking, that is, taking small amounts of alcoholic beverages, is also haram. This is because it is easy to get indulged in it at social gatherings; and easy to turn to it to drown worries. All hard drinkers, problem drinkers and alcoholics indeed started out innocently with small amounts as social drinkers. As a warning to this, the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him, said: “What intoxicates when taken in big quantity is also haram to consume in small amounts.”

Since alcohol is haram because they are connected with numerous social ills, it is also haram for Muslims to sell alcoholic beverages, like beer, brandy and whisky, as well all the other addictives.

“More seek help for gambling problems” and “Initial high of winning led to addiction and losses of $60,000” are articles from The Straits Times of 8 April 2019, while “Address social impact of gambling….”, by Dr Ho Ting Fei is from “FORUM” of the same newspaper.
Dr Ho says that “…gambling and the extent of damage it has brought to families and individuals – for example, through bankruptcy, suicides, divorces, violence and physical abuse” – has to considered before expanding casinos in Singapore.

Apart from eating halal food, are there advice on other food and eating habits?
Islam commands believers to eat halal and taiyib food and drinks.

God says in the Qur’an: “O mankind! Eat of that which is halal and taiyib and follow not the ways of the devil.” (2:168)

This verse provides three sets of advice:
• the food should be halal (lawful),
• the food should be taiyib (good and clean), and
• when eating, a person must not “follow the ways of the devil”.

According to Muslim scholars, the advice “Follow not the ways of the devil” refers to dirty ways of preparing the food, dirty utensils like plates and bowls and spoons, drunkenness, over-eating, like eating too much mutton, sugar etc, gluttony and food wastage, like bedecking one’s plate with food at a buffet and leaving it half-eaten while blind to the fact that in your own country or in some corners of the world people do not even get one proper meal a day.

Kitchen hygiene, namely freshness in food items and cleanliness of kitchen and utensils, is important in food preparation: Hygiene grades of a restaurant and four food caterers downgraded by the National Environment Agency (NEA) because “They were involved in food poisoning cases last year which affected hundreds” is a report from The Sunday Times of 24 March 2019..
The other report from The Straits Times of 6 April 2019 talks about the need for PCF pre-school centres to have their own cooks “in the wake of a recent outbreak of food poisoning across several centres.”

In Islam, eating is part of the total Islamic package of positive and gratifying living. It therefore teaches Muslims to eat halal (lawful) food and taiyib (good and wholesome) food and avoid following “the ways of the devil” because such food impresses on the spiritual uplifting, well-being and health of the individual believer.

( The article on “Workshops together with M3” event at Masjid Al-Taqua on Saturday, 30 March (2019) is published on 4 April 2019 in this blog, titled, “Workshops together with M3 – Interesting, informative and insightful” at: https://readnreap.wordpress.com/2019/04/04/workshops-togeth…e-and-insightful/ )

Shaik Kadir
12 April 2019

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