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Understanding Halal food

In the preparation and handling of Halal food, one must take the following into due consideration:

1. Sources of Halal Food

I. Animals
Animals can be divided into two categories namely:
a) Land Animals
b) Aquatic Animals

All land animals are lawful as food, except the following:
a) animals that are not slaughtered according to Shariah Law;
b) pigs;
c) dogs;
d) animals with long pointed teets (canines or usks, which are used to kill prey, such as tigers, bears, elephants, cats and monkeys;
e) birds with talons or predator birds;
f) animals that are enjoined by Islam to be killed, such as mice, scorpions, snakes, crows and centipedes,
g) animals that are forbidden to be killed, such as ants, bees and woodpeckers;
h) creatures that are considered filthy, such as lice and flies;
i) animals that live both on land and in water (amphibians), such as salamaders; and
j) animals that have specific narrations that prohibit Muslims from killing it, such as frogs.

Aquatic animals are those that live in water and cannot survive outside it, such as fish. All aquatic animals are Halal except for those that are poisonous, intoxicating or hazardous to health.

There has been a misconception with the Halal status of crabs. The popular belief is that certain kinds of crabs are non-Halal since it can live both on land and water. This is not true as crabs can either live on land or water, but not both. Land crabs cannot survive long in water and aquatic crabs cannot survive long on land. Hence, crabs do not belong to the category of animals that can survive on both habitats: land and water. That being the case, all crabs are Halal, as long as it is not poisonous or harmful to humans.

II. Plants
Just like aquatic animals, all types of plants products are Halal except for those that are poisonous, intoxicating or hazardous to health.

It is imperative to note that although plants are generally Halal, it is important to know how it is being prepared. Truffle, for example, is Halal in its raw state. However, the process of extraction is doubtful due to the common use of either hogs/pigs or dogs to sniff and then extract the truffle from the ground. Likewise for Vegetarian food: all types of plants in its raw state is Halal, however, if it is prepared using non-Halal ingredients, the food becomes non-Halal.

III. Drinks
All kinds of beverages are Halal, except those that are poisonous, intoxicating or hazardous to health and that are mixed with Najis such as alcoholic beverages and flavouring wines.

Muis is of the view that non-alcoholic wine, beer or the likes are considered non-Halal. This is based on a fatwa by the Fatwa Committee, due to the following reasons:

1) Even though the products contain low alcohol content (less than 0.5%) and/or have zero alcohol content and/or have its alcohol removed, the process of manufacturing the products is similar to the manufacturing of alcohol (khamr1). Thus, it is Haram even though the small amount of alcohol in the products does not cause an individual to be intoxicated.

2) The products are being marketed in a manner that is similar to alcoholic beverages. Islam forbids an event that has resemblance or events that can lead to Haram activities, even though, in its’ natural state, is permissible. This is aligned with a principle in the Sharia’ known as sad al-zari’ah2.

Thus, products that meet the first or second criteria or meet both criteria are considered non-halal for Muslims consumption.

2. Product Storage, Display and Servings
All Halal products that are stored, displayed, sold or served should be categorised and should be labelled as Halal or lawful at every stage of the process so as to prevent it from being mixed or contaminated with things that are non-Halal.

3. Product Processing and Handling
A processed food is Halal if it meets the following conditions:
a) The product and its ingredients do not contain any components or products of animals that are non-Halal by Shariah Law or animals that are not slaughtered according to Shariah Law;
b) The product does not contain anything in large or small quantities that is considered as Najis according to Shariah Law;
c) The product is prepared, processed or manufactured using equipment and facilities that are free from contamination with Najis; and
d) During its preparation, processing, storage or transportation, it should be fully separated from any other food that does not meet the requirements specified in items (a), (b) and/or (c) or any other things that are considered as Najis by Shariah Law.

4. Hygiene and Sanitation
Hygiene is given much emphasis in Islam. It includes the various aspects of personal hygiene, clothing, equipment and the working premises for processing or manufacture of food. The objective is to ascertain that the food produced is hygienic and not hazardous to health.

‘Hygienic’ can be defined as free from Najis, contamination and harmful germs. All foods should be prepared, processed, packaged, transported and stored in such a manner that they are in compliance with hygiene and sanitary requirements of the relevant authorities.

1 khamr – An intoxicating drink containing ethanol & other components such as methanol, acetaldehyde and ethyl acetate which is produced by fermentation of carbohydrates or drinks containing ethanol and/or methanol as ingredient.

2 Sadd al-dhara’i‘means, literally, “blocking the means”, i.e. to undesirable ends, in other words, forbidding what is likely to lead to the haram. The basis of this principle is contained in the Qur’an where Allah says: “Do not swear at those who call on other gods than Allah, so that they will then swear at Allah in enmity, without any knowledge. ….” (Q.6:108). Allah has thus made it haram to swear at the gods of others, to avoid them cursing back at Allah. Another example usually highlighted by our past scholars like Imam An-Nawawi, is the issue of accepting and giving gifts for officials. Even though the act of giving a gift itself in essence is virtuous, hence permissible, scholars clearly discouraged those holding on to official posts to accept gifts from the public, as it could be perceived as a bribe. Please refer to: al-Asyqar, Sulaiman ‘Abdullah, al-Wadih fi Usual al-Fiqh, (Amman: Dar al-Salam, 2001) 159.