Beyond Halal-Meanings and Significance of Food in Islam

Sadly, the Muslim discourse on food has mostly revolved around the practice of Islamically slaughtered meat. This has led to a conflation of terms: halal/حلال with dhabihah/ذبيحة. Despite the claims to the contrary, there is a difference of opinion on the necessity to eat only dhabihah meat. But what is more tragic is that while Muslims obsess axiomatic about halal meat (hereafter referred to as dhabihah), they miss the forest for the trees in terms of whether nor such meats are good/طيب.

There are numerous Qur’anic verses that deal with the topic of food and eating and a great many of them emphasize “the good”, in Arabic known as tayyib/طيب. Oddly enough, this component, “the good,” is seldom discussed in terms of Muslim dietary needs. Being that “the good” is often expressed as a command from God (see examples below), how is it that Muslims are so unhealthy? Indeed, health seems to pass under the radar of Muslims despite the large number of Muslims who work in the health and medical fields.

Like so many things in is Islam, it is not simply concerned with the lawful, but also with the good. Oddly enough, it seems to be non-Muslims who are picking up on this notion, as halal is increasingly seen as a potentially health food choice:

Chickens: [are] raised in huge flocks indoors under crowded conditions, treated with antibiotics to prevent illness and promote rapid growth, and are ready to slaughter six weeks after hatching. Look for birds that were raised free-range without antibiotics and are Certified Organic, kosher, or halal.

I have noticed that a number of food products, from meat to even vitamins (the current brand of fish oil I use from Minami Nutrition uses halal gelatin for its capsules) which are looking to halal as a representative of organic or “the good.” The question I posed in the topic was: Is it possible, like kosher, to expand the notion or halal (which simply means “lawful” in fiqh terms)—increasingly seen as organic, etc.—to include non-meat items, whereby halal comes to be understand as “the good,”, a.k.a., tayyib. In other words, eating as a Muslim means to eat well. In order to do so, Muslims will need to stop conflating rules for principles (something Muslims do in many circles, not just related to food).

A friend of mine left me with some food for thought: Perhaps Muslims obsess about dhabihah, not solely out of a desire to gain God’s favor, but as a means of cultural, societal and even civilizational protest. Indeed, I know of many Muslims who hail from so-called cultural Muslim backgrounds that do not maintain regular prayers but are adamant on insisting they eat only dhabihah meat. I am left wondering about his insight on this issue.

كلو من طيبت ما رزقنكم

“Eat from that which is good from what We have provided for you.” [Qur’an, 2: 57]

يأيه الناس كلوا مما فى الأرض حللا طيبا ولا تتبعوا خطوت الشيطن إنه لكم عدو مبين

“O people!, eat from the good lawful things of the earth and do not follow in the footsteps of Shaytan as he is a clear enemy to you.” [Qur’an, 2: 168]

يأيها الذين ءامنوا كلوا من طيبت ما رزقنكم واشكرا لله إن كنتم إياه تعبدون

“O you who profess faith!, eat from that which is good that We have provided for you and show gratitude if indeed it is God alone you worship.” [Qur’an, 2: 172]

فكلوا مما ذكر اسم الله عليه إن كنتم بئايته مؤمنين

“Therefore eat from that which God’s name has been mentioned over if indeed you are believers in God’s Sign.” [Qur’an, 6: 118]

The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food?” – Joel Salatin.

You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit,” Joel Salatin.

لا طريق إلى الوصول للقاء الله إلا بالعلم والعمل ولا تمكن المواظبة عليهما إلا بسلامة البدل

“There is no path to arriving at one’s meeting with God except by acquiring knowledge and deeds and yet there can be no establishing devotion to them except with a sound body,” al-Ghazzali


Further Readings

The Labels Halal & Zabihah and Why I Choose Local and Organic Instead: why some Muslims are looking to other alternatives to old-school halal.

Eat halaal! Organic is no substitute: an article on fellow blogger, Indigo Jo’s website. A response to the Hijabman’s article.

Polyface Farms: one of the most influential organic farms in America run by Joel Salatin.

Beyond Halal: a website/blog dedicated to looking at food beyond the realm of the permissible. They have a post feature the above articles, yours truly and more!

7 Replies to “Beyond Halal-Meanings and Significance of Food in Islam”

  1. Wa ‘alaykum salaam, yes, thank you Muhammed. I have put a link to them in the right-hand column. Shukran,

  2. Makkah Market is one of the most trusted Halal Meat suppliers in the US that provides food permitted under the Islamic Dietary Guidelines with assurance of delightful flavor.
    Halal Meat

  3. as-Salam aleikum,

    I just came across this blog and found this article, masha’Allah. I found it to be of benefit and it helped me to explore some new angles even though I have been studying these types of issues for a log time.

    It raised several questions for me:

    1) Is there a more exact definition of Tayyib than “the good” or “wholesomeness”?

    In other words, what are the elements that suffice to qualify something as tayyib?

    Perhaps it includes “healthy” and/or “nutritious” as can be inferred from the discussions I have read.

    2) If the following is true:

    “Being that ‘the good’ is often expressed as a command from God (see examples below)”:

    Then tayyib would also be a condition of something to be halal, because disobeying Allah’s command is obviously haram.

    3) There seems to be this tension between the amount of due diligence or investigation required versus relying on labels or claims that food is halal. Where does the burden in fact lie? Is there a difference of opinion? Does it make a difference whether the one who claims or the organization certifying is composed of Muslims?

    I realize these are vast questions and I am asking them to raise them openly, but, Brother Manley, if you could shed some light on the answers that would be wonderful indeed

  4. Wa ‘alaykum salaam brother Giovanni.

    I will try my best to answer some of your questions.

    بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على النبي الكريم

    As for exactness, I would avoid that term. There are many definitions to tayyib: طابت نفسه/”he became happy”; طابت نفسا عنه/”he gave it up willingly [for some good purpose]; طابت نفسه إلى العطر/”he had a liking for perfume”. As you can see, they all have a commonality and yet not completely precise. Allah also uses the word in the Qur’an as it relates to the wind:

    وجرين بهم بريح طيبة وفرحوا بها

    “…when some of you are on a boat, running before a fair wind, rejoicing at it…” Qur’an, 10: 22.

    Note here, it is also something that is rejoiced/فرحوا بها.

    Tayyib also can refer to that which is delicious, pleasing and/or wholesome.

    Perhaps it includes “healthy” and/or “nutritious” as can be inferred from the discussions I have read.


    Tayyib would also be a condition of something to be halal.

    That goes without saying. As for who may lay claim to it, well, so long as one can demonstrate the goodness of something, and in itself it does not contradict The Book or the Sunnah, then it is in essence, open to lay claim to by anyone.

    In sha’Allah, I hope that helps.

  5. asalam alaykum. thanks for this post. it as well as other influences prompted me to get blogging on the intersection between land, food, and health while I begin planning my regenerative farm looking into raising sheep for halal meat and an organic sustainable market garden fertilized by rabbits (meat) and chickens (eggs). check out the site:
    Thanks for the thoughts

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