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!

Modernity and Technology-What Does Islam Have To Say?

The follow are some notes from a Chaplain Chat I delivered at the University of Pennsylvania on April 3rd, 2012, on the subject of technology and religion, specifically asking what does Islam have to say about it.

“It is an extraordinary era in which we live. It is altogether new. The world has seen nothing like it before. I will not pretend, no one can pretend, to discern the end; but every body knows that the age is remarkable for scientific research into the heavens, the earth, and what is beneath the earth; and perhaps more remarkable still for the application of this scientific research to the pursuits of life. The ancients saw nothing like it. The moderns have seen nothing like it till the present generation…. We see the ocean navigated and the solid land traversed by steam power, and intelligence communicated by electricity. Truly this is almost a miraculous era. What is before us no one can say, what is upon us no one can hardly realize. The progress of the age has almost outstripped human belief; the future is known only to Omniscience.” – Daniel Webster

Modern life presents a significant challenge to people, Muslims being no different. One of these challenges is the proliferation of technology. Technology is often pitched as a panacea that will cure all of our sicknesses and leave us with an abundance of leisure time and yet, studies increasingly show us to be more unhealthy than before (especially if one includes mental health issues) and more and more people are succumbing to stress as they have less and less free time. Not only has technology not delivered on its promises of increased free time, but has actually played a part in it: people increasingly spend their free time engaged with technological devices and interfaces instead of “detaching” (present post excluded of course). As is discussed in the chat above, I make the claim that Islam has something positive to offer in the definition, application and production of technology in our culture. Yet despite this claim, we find the vast number of Muslims who are involved in this production of technology woefully silent? Why? Do they feel that their Islam has nothing to offer or is it that they do not know how to engage the dialog?

Another fly in the ointment of technology’s promises is to whom it is promised? When, particularly in the West, technology is extolled, it is often done so in abstract rhetoric that seldom if ever includes an honest critique in how technology has failed to make everyone’s lives better, such as the poor, the economically disenfranchised, the socially marginalized and so forth. I am reminded of this in Gil Scott Heron’s spoke word piece, Whitey On the Moon:

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)
I can’t pay no doctor bills.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)
You know, the man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
I wonder why he’s uppi’ me?
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon?)
I wuz already payin’ ‘im fifty a week.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that shit wuzn’t enough:
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face an’ arm began to swell.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Was all that money I made las’ year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain’t no money here?
(Hmm! Whitey’s on the moon)
Y’know I jus’ ’bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
Airmail special
(to Whitey on the moon)

For me, Heron’s poem brings to light the false assumptions about technology’s neutrality. And that while great leaps for mankind are often the justification points for technology’s application, seldom does the trickle down effect seem to affect that whom, in my opinion, would be best positioned to benefit from it.

Extra Reading

Technology as Knowledge by Dennis R. Herschbach.

Techno-Euphoria and the Discourse of the American Sublime by Rob Wilson.

The Role of Technology in Society and the Need for Historical Perspective by A. Hunter Dupree.

Influence of the Past: An Interpretation of Recent Development in the Context of 200 Yearsof History by A. Hunter Dupree.

Information and the Muslim World: A Strategy for the Twenty-First Century (Islamic Futures and Policy Studies) by Ziauddin Sardar.

A BBC article on magnetic bacteria that will produce the machines of the future. My response to it.

Preventing & Reversing Diabetes Naturally – a documentary.