Guide to Halal Diet | What is Halal Food?

Guide to Halal Diet | What is Halal Food?

Islam is not only a religion, it’s a way of life with protocols, rules and customs that govern all aspects of life. Since food is an important part of daily life, dietary rules have special meaning. Muslims are expected to eat in order to survive and in order to stay healthy, not to live in order to eat. 

In Islam, eating is regarded as an act of worship to God along with prayer, fasting, alms and other religious practices. In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about the halal diet and halal food.

What kind of food is halal?

Halal food refers to everything that is allowed for Muslims, as opposed to what is haram (or forbidden). When it comes to meat, only sheep, cows, goats and camels can be halal, as well as horses, rabbits and certain poultry.  

This is not the case with pork, as its consumption is restricted in the Muslim religion. That being said, halal food means any type of food that is made with halal ingredients. All products of an animal, from meat to bones to wool can be considered halal, since it’s the method of slaughter that determines if something is halal.

What is the Halal method of slaughter?

Halal slaughter must follow the dhabiha ritual, which involves the slaughter of live animals, although this is thought to reduce the sense of agony and suffering of the animals in comparison to how they are slaughtered in slaughterhouses.  

This is usually a subject of controversy, as the animals must be slaughtered with a very sharp knife and bled to death. The carotid artery and jugular vein must be carefully cut to keep the spinal cord intact.  

In addition, another indication of the ritual is that the animal's head should be facing the direction of Mecca during the slaughter process.  

After completion, halal meat should no longer come into contact with other haram meats. On the other hand, the animal sacrificed on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr celebration must undergo a stricter ritual. 

What are the rules to follow during a Dhabiha ritual?

These are the rules to follow during an Islamic slaughter ritual:

  • The slaughterer must be a healthy adult Muslim.
  • The slaughterer must pronounce the name of God before sacrificing the animal.
  • God's name is pronounced to emphasize the sanctity of life and that the animal will be slaughtered for food with God's consent.
  • The animal must be sacrificed by cutting it with a sharp knife and with continuous movements.
  • The throat cut must cut at least three parts: the esophagus and the two blood vessels on each side of the throat.
  • The spinal cord should not be cut
  • The animal must be treated well before it is killed.
  • The animal should not see other animals being killed.
  • The knife must not be sharpened in front of the animal.
  • The blade of the knife must be free from defects that can tear the meat.
  • The animal should not be placed in an uncomfortable position.
  • The animal must be drained of blood and completely dead before being cut.

Some experts claim that animals sacrificed in this way will not suffer if the act is carried out quickly and cleanly, because they will lose consciousness before the brain can perceive pain. The throat of the animal is cut with a quick movement with a sharp knife. Unconsciousness is reached in seconds and death occurs due to brain hypoxia, not blood loss. 

How is halal meat supervised?

Halal meat is supervised by several specialized certification bodies with different examination rules. There is no common standard, given the difficulty of finding common criteria and more or less orthodox views of Islamic rules. Normally, in the process, the meat is followed from its slaughter to its place of sale, allowing Muslims to ensure that the meat consumed has been slaughtered in accordance with the rules.

What ingredients are halal?

The term halal refers to permitted or authorized food according to Islam and applies to food and beverages. Halal products must not contain any illegal or haram substances or ingredients. They must also be manufactured and stored using utensils or machines that comply with Islamic regulations. 

Some ingredients that are halal could be meat, parts of fruits, vegetables, rice, pasta, etc. Halal food ingredients include all foods allowed, mainly foods of animal origin. Therefore, some ingredients that are halal could be sheep, cattle, goat, and camel meat, as well as horse, poultry or rabbit meat. 

Seafood, fruits, vegetables, rice, pasta and cereals are also permitted. On the contrary, pork, which is usually cited as an example is haram, as well as any meat of animals that have not undergone Islamic slaughter rituals. 

Are fish and seafood halal?

For non-Hanafi Sunni Muslims, who make up almost half of the Muslim population, fish and seafood are halal and they don’t have any special restrictions. Since they belong to another class of animals and evolve in a different environment from terrestrial mammals, they don’t need to be constrained by slaughter rituals and are free to eat, including the remains.  

However, Hanafi Sunnis and Shiites reject this explanation. They consider fish as the only seafood whose consumption should be legal and relegate shellfish to the category of Haram foods. 

What is the difference between Kosher meat and Halal meat?

When animals are slaughtered in accordance with the prescriptions of kashrut (a food code extracted from the Torah, the Hebrew Bible), the meat is said to be kosher. The slaughter, called Shehita, is carried out by a priest (called shohet). 

How does the shehita ritual develop? The trachea and esophagus of the animal are cut along a precise path with a chalaf, which is a very sharp knife without notches or irregularities. The sacrificed animal is hanged upside down to drain its blood. In the Jewish religion, the consumption of blood (such as that of the sciatic nerve) is prohibited. 

The slaughtered animal is then inspected to ensure that the shehita has complied with the ritual requirements, which vary according to the traditions. Finally, the meat is soaked and salted. 

Judaism prohibits the consumption of meat and dairy products together. In addition, these foods must not have been handled with the same utensils, from the spoon to the containers. Simply put, Halal and Kosher are two methods of ritual slaughter of animals intended for human consumption. The Halal method respects the rules decreed by the Quran, while the kosher method does the same with the rules of the Torah. 

What is a Halal certificate?

For meat to be declared suitable for consumption by Muslims must meet strict specifications, as for any other food certification process, which refers to its production, processing, packaging and even its marketing. 

There are several specialized agencies whose job is to verify that the specifications are respected and to approve the halal products as legal. Halal food certification is represented by a label that is widely used on packaging worldwide, for reasons often more commercial than religious. This is due to the lack of clear and precise legislation or due to discrepancies, even within the certification bodies.

What foods can Muslims not eat?

The only foods expressly prohibited in the Quran are dead animal meat (rotten flesh), blood, pork, and meat dedicated to any gods other than Allah. However, this is a more extensive list of foods and ingredients that are haram or prohibited in Islam:

  • Alcoholic and intoxicating drinks
  • Non-halal animal fat
  • Enzymes (microbial enzymes are allowed)
  • Gelatin from a non-Halal source (fish gelatin is food that is Halal)
  • L-cysteine (if it is from human hair)
  • Lard
  • Lipase (only animal lipase should be avoided)
  • Non-halal animal fat
  • Pork, bacon, ham, and anything from pork
  • Unspecified beef broth
  • Rennet (All forms except vegetable, microbial and synthetic should be avoided. Rennet obtained from an animal slaughtered according to Islamic rituals is allowed).
  • Non-halal canned meat
  • Suet
  • Carnivorous animals, raptors and certain other animals
  • Foods that contain any of the above products (they can be consumed if derived from animals considered Halal)