We all love food. No matter how absorbed we may be in our work and play, we have to stop and eat. Religions generally forbid certain foods; such as the Hindu will not eat beef because he worships the cow. Muslims, however have much more freedom in their choice of food than is generally believed. There are some restrictions, but these are only sensible precautions and nothing to do with mindless beliefs. For the muslim, the rule is that if it’s not forbidden in the Quran, then God has seen fit to give people the freedom to make their own decision.


Arabs are not overly concerned about food issues, but Muslims from the Indian subcontinent seem to be obsessed with halal. The word halal means ‘permissible’ and in the culinary context conveys anything that is permitted as food according to the Quran, the book all muslims believe to be the criterion revealed by God. It should be noted that the Quran does not list halal items, instead it forbids (decrees as ‘haram’) only four types of food: animals that die of themselves, running blood, the meat of pigs or anything consecrated to other than God. If one is driven out of necessity, not willing transgression, then any of these can be consumed. It is generally assumed that an animal has to be ritually slaughtered before it becomes halal, but this is a tradition and not mentioned in the Quran.


Traditional Muslims would be repulsed at meat from an animal that was not slaughtered in a manner they believe to be prescribed by their religion. A lifetime of indoctrination has embedded a psychological fear of touching or eating such meats. However, their mistaken beliefs have no basis in the Quran.


We can understand the concerns of the sincere yet credulous, but there are many unscrupulous people who may do other explicitly forbidden (haram) things without batting an eyelid, yet would appear shocked at a muslim eating a Big Mac. With their double standards and sanctimonious appearances they look down on others who eat food other than the one they class as halal or permitted.


Nevertheless, for muslims, the Quran is the only criterion. God said that he has left nothing out of the Quran, so all our information must come from it and not any other source. [Verses 6:38; 6:114].


As far as food is concerned, to list all permissible things would be very lengthy, so instead God has listed things that are restricted. The word God uses for forbidden or restricted is ‘haram’. Anything that is not haram is permissible – or halal in Arabic.


“Say: ‘Did you note how God sends down to you all kinds of provisions, then you render some of them unlawful and some lawful?’ Say: ‘Did God give you permission to do this? Or do you fabricate lies and attribute them to God?’” [Verse 10:59].


This verse from the Quran warns against forbidding things which God has not and those who fabricate prohibitions do wrong not only against themselves, but also against the people they lead astray. This includes those who gain financially from the ‘halal food industry’: butchers, suppliers, retailers and middlemen.


“Were you witnesses when God decreed such prohibitions for you? Who is more evil than those who invent such lies and attribute them to God? They thus mislead the people without knowledge. God does not guide such evil people.” [Verse 6:144].


Note that this is also a warning: be well informed, and you will not be hoodwinked. God warns: “You shall not invent rules according to your own opinions stating: ‘This is lawful and this is unlawful,’ and fabricate doctrine and attribute it to God. Surely, those who fabricate lies and attribute them to God will never succeed.” [Verse 16:116].


Without proof, no-one has authority to classify a food as forbidden. This right is reserved for God alone. To accept another person’s ruling (such as a religious decree) would be committing ‘shirk’ which means to assign equal authority to someone along with God, a monstrous transgression.


As mentioned before, the haram list is quite short: “Restricted for you are animals that die of themselves, excess blood, the meat of pigs and any food dedicated to other than God. Animals that die of themselves include those strangled, struck with an object, fallen from a height, gored, attacked by a wild animal, unless rescued before death, and animals sacrificed for or dedicated to those other than God.” There is, however, a concluding provision: “If one is forced by circumstances to eat restricted food, without deliberate or willing transgression, then God is Protector, Most Merciful.” [Verse: 5:3].


God reiterates this and commands His messenger to say:  “ ‘I do not find in the guidance given to me any food that is restricted for any eater except: carrion; animals that die of themselves, excess blood, the meat of pigs and any food consecrated in a name other than God’s’. If one is compelled to eat these, without deliberate or willing transgression, then your Sustainer is Protector, Most Merciful.” [Verse 6:145].


As stated in Verse 6:119, God has detailed everything that is haram. No other authority can add to this list. These injunctions from God are as valid today just as they were on the day they were revealed. It is quite common for many people to dedicate food (both meat and other consumables) to saints, and to mention Muhammad’s name conjoined with God while slaughtering an animal. Both of these practices are against the Quranic injunction that forbids food consecrated in a name other than God’s.


Now, let’s look at what is halal. “They consult you concerning what is permitted for them; say ‘Lawful for you are all good things including what your trained dogs and falcons catch for you.’ You train them according to God’s teachings. You may eat what they catch for you and mention God’s name thereupon. You shall observe God’s law. God is most efficient in reckoning.” [Verse 5:4]. “All water game is made lawful for you to eat.” [Verse 5:96]. “O people, eat from all that is lawful and good.” [Verse 2:168]. “Do not eat from that upon which the name of God has not been mentioned, for it is an abomination.” [Verse 6:121].


While the above verses capture the essence of all that is permitted, there are some points which need to be elaborated. God, in His infinite wisdom, has given people the freedom to choose. That is why the Quran says: “O you who believe, eat from the good things We provided for you and be thankful to God if you do serve Him alone.” [Verse 2:172].


We should be appreciative to God for providing us with an amazing diversity of things to eat. We can eat from all that is lawful and good. This would include everything not in the haram category of verses 5:3 and 6:145. But what about deciding what is good? This would depend on what is available. You can eat anything that you think is good, so long as you stay within the limits given in the Quran.


Haram foods are listed in verses 5:3, 6:121, and 6:145. The verses which give details of halal foods are 5:4, 5:96, and 2:168. From these verses it can be concluded that there are three conditions for something to be halal:


  1. It has to be lawful according to the Quran and the Quran alone. This means that it should not be in the haram Therefore anything that is not in this list is halal. However, this does not mean that it is mandatory to eat everything in this list. What we eat should be appealing and lawful. This flexibility allows people of different regions to eat according to availability and taste.


  1. God’s name has to be mentioned before eating. This is generally accepted, except when meat is in question. The misconception is that a ‘mantra’ also has to be said at time of slaughter, but there is no mention of this in the Quran. When you see how impractical this is, you realise why God has not made it a pre-condition. Unless you slaughter the animal yourself you could never be absolutely sure that this ritual has been carried out and in reality it’s impossible to know. Can anyone seriously imagine this taking place in a modern commercial abattoir where hundreds of animals are slaughtered each hour? Anyone who is familiar with the meat industry knows this. In verse 5:3 God says that he has perfected his Deen, and verse 5:5 says that the food of those given previous guidance is permitted for you. Did they change their practice of the slaughter ritual when this verse was revealed?


However, there is one exception. When an animal is offered as a sacrifice (the meat to be mainly distributed to the needy as part of Social Welfare actions), as part of ‘shariallah’ (God’s decree), then God’s name must be mentioned while the animal is prepared and ready for slaughter – not dead or being slaughtered. [Verse 22:36]. Under normal circumstances, God does not require His name to be mentioned at time of slaughter but Muslims must not eat food without mentioning His name. This we can do, because the responsibility lies with us at time of eating.

  1. It has to be good. What is good? This decision is left entirely to the individual. Different people find different things good. What one person considers a delicacy, the other may feel appalled by. This applies not just to sheep’s brain, or ox tongue. Some people enjoy locusts and grasshoppers. Others like frog legs in garlic sauce. The Amazonians eat capybara, and the desert dwellers yearn for roast lizard. Aboriginals have been eating squirrels and monkeys for centuries. All are good for people who eat them, and they are all As long as it is not forbidden in the Quran, anything that you consider good can be eaten.


The Quran is good news for the believers because it removes the shackles of mental bondage that enslaves people to beliefs without foundation. The Quran warns those who refuse to apply their common sense. Only the corrupt and the ignorant insist on slaughter rituals.


Many people working in the ‘halal food’ industry rely on the perpetuation of the ‘religious’ doctrine. This is now a multi-billion pound industry. For people to accept that they can buy meat from any supermarket would diminish the ‘halal food’ business; instead, this information is suppressed. The Quran says: “Those who conceal God’s revelations in this scripture, in exchange for a cheap material gain, consume fire into their bellies.” [Verse 2:174].


They follow authorities who decree for them laws in their Deen that were never authorised by God. If it were not for a decision consistent with His ordinance, they would have been judged immediately. Indeed, the transgressors have incurred a painful retribution. [Verse 42:21]


For the masses, rituals (such as eating halal) are a show of piety and kinship. Following the Quran means discarding their inherited beliefs and can mean isolation from their families and friends. “When they are told, ‘Follow God’s guidance as revealed in this book,’ they say, ‘We follow only what we found our parents doing’. What if their parents do not appreciate this and are not guided?” [Verse 2:170].


God’s bounties are countless. He wills no hardship, that’s why His restrictions are few and make good sense: “O you who believe, do not prohibit good things that are made lawful by God and do not aggress; God dislikes the aggressors.” [Verse 5:87].


God also says: “You commit nothing wrong by eating together in groups or as individuals.” [Verse 24:61]. The same verse details the homes of family members you can eat from, without feeling that you are imposing on them. Such is the wisdom of God, most gracious. He gives us the details wherever He deems fit.


Is it not significant that he has not detailed any slaughter ritual? Had God wanted, could He not have done so? Forgetfulness is certainly not one of God’s attributes. Accepting God’s decrees in the Quran is submitting to His laws. Those who do that don’t just profess to be muslims but are muslims.