#BeyondHalal – It May Be Organic But Is It Blessed? Eating Prophetically

In the same way that many Muslims obsess over meat that is halal, in terms of its slaughtering, versus other important metrics (such as was the money earned to purchase the meat earned permissibly), many non-Muslims (as well as some millennial Muslims) obsess over the organic-ness of food. Don’t get me wrong, I think organic is important, especially with how conventional food is grown (pesticides, etc.). However, if one looks at food from a holistic (Qur’anic as well as Prophetic) perspective, you’ll come to see that permissibility of meat (definitely important) as well as the organic status of food constitutes only part of a comprehensive whole. One aspect often overlooked by Muslim and non-Muslim alike is whether or not food is “blessed”. While many non-religious people may scoff at the non-empirical quality of “blessed”, we can come to appreciate that in the way the Prophet discusses this in the hadith below.

So what do I mean by food being “blessed”? Here I mean how food is reduced to the common parlance of “fuel” or “grub”. And increasingly this fueling and grubbing seems to take place alone. Not only does this solitary mode of eating lack the blessings the Prophet ﷺ describes, it also has many other secondary and tertiary negative impacts such as environmental degradation (production of waste and trash that do not biodegrade and threaten water supplies) as well as increasing people’s tendency to make poor eating decisions, leading to public health epidemics such as diabetes and heart disease. According to the Environmental Working Group’s website,

“Americans eat out a lot. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people reported eating out four times a week on average – twice in a fast food restaurant and twice in a casual restaurant. The National Restaurant Association estimates that adults eat out 5.8 times a week.”

So why are we so unhealthy as a nation despite having such abundance? One metric is because our food is degraded in the method in which it’s produced but another important metric I believe we as Muslims should advocate (in addition to halal/permissible meat) is the holistic aspect of eating food together. In a time when science increasingly creeps into our lives to tell us what is good or bad, I believe we can still find value in the simple wisdom of previous times that might not be so outdated as we think. Eating together, bonding, and sharing, should be a part of the da’wah that Muslims give so that we teach and preach Islam as a lived way of life that combines and embodies theology, belief, and practices all together.

أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ النَّبِيِّ، صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا نَأْكُلُ وَلاَ نَشْبَعُ قَالَ فَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَفْتَرِقُونَ

قَالُوا نَعَمْ قَالَ فَاجْتَمِعُوا عَلَى طَعَامِكُمْ وَاذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ يُبَارَكْ لَكُمْ فِيهِ

The Companions of the Prophet ﷺ said, “Messenger of Allah ﷺ we eat but we don’t feel satiated”. He said, “perhaps that’s because you eat separately?” They replied, “Yes”. He advised, “Well, then gather together for your food and mention Allah’s name over it, you will be blessed in it.”Sunan Abu Dawud, #3764

Beyond Halal – Race & the Organic Food Movement

It has been pleasing to see Muslims as of late challenging previously held notions of what food represents to Muslims: the “Beyond Halal” movement if you will. And while I have been an advocate of this myself, there are other aspects of the organic food movement that leave me troubled. From urban agriculture to farmer’s markets, food seems to be on everyone’s minds these days and yet the spectre of race and racism still manages to rear its (nearly invisible) head when it comes to these food movements. NPR featured a piece on the alleged land-grab by a white landowner (John Hantz of  Hantz Farms)  in Detroit, Michigan, who is buying up vacant lots, much to the chagrin of some local black food security advocates. I say all of these because like most important issues in American, Muslims are more often then not irrelevant, due to their agnosticism (what Dr. Sherman Jackson calls racial agnosia) when it comes to race. Ironically, because of Muslim Americans inability to deal with, address and come to grips with the reality of race (which is different than advocating for a racially-hierarchical society), Muslim Americans continue to be cut adrift socially, when in fact, it is one of the primary tools by which they could become anchored and relevant.

Continue reading “Beyond Halal – Race & the Organic Food Movement”

Beyond Halal – Whiteness and Alternative Food

Some thoughts on a new book I’m reading entitled, Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability from MIT Press. The volume is edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman. I have enjoyed it thus far as it articulates some concerns I’ve had from the slow food and alternative food movements: they are universalisms of white proclivities in regards to food and health.

Extra Links

Tapped – examines the role of the bottled water industry and its’ effects on our health.

Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability – edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman.

Short video by Breeze Harper on a similar tip.

Cultivating Food Justice is part of the Summer Reading List 2012.

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!