Many Muslims speak about what they call halal meat without even knowing the Quranic definition for this term! In addition, most of those who arrive to the USA or Europe from other countries, or those who convert to Islam in western countries, are often bombarded with the phrase: do not eat except the halal meat. So what do they really mean by halal meat and how does their concept agree with the Quranic meaning of this term?
The Quran teaches that God is extremely displeased with those who prohibit anything that was not specifically prohibited in the Quran (16:116). The upholding of any prohibitions not specifically mentioned in the Quran is tantamount to idolatry (6:148-150). Such prohibitions represent some other god(s) beside God. Worshipping God Alone means upholding His Laws alone.
The prohibited food and meat is detailed in 2:173, 5:3, 6:145 and 16:115. From these verses we have a clear account of what is halal (lawful) and what is haram (prohibited).
"He only prohibits for you the eating of animals that die of themselves (without human interference), blood, the meat of pigs, and animals dedicated to other than God. If one is forced (to eat these), without being malicious or deliberate, he incurs no sin. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful." 2:173
Further details of animals found dead, and thus prohibited, are found in 5:3 and they include those strangled, struck with an object, fallen from a height, gored, attacked by a wild animal - unless the animal is saved before it dies - and animals sacrificed on altars.
Halal meat as is understood these days is a term used more often for commercial profits than religious observance. Those who call their meat halal, are in some way insinuating that any other meat is not halal, or specifically that other meat sold in other butchers or supermarket (in the western countries) is not halal. But when we analyse the Quranic verses (below) we find that these sellers are in fact deceiving the uninformed Muslims into believing that their meat is the only halal meat for the Muslims.
God knows that many Muslims will be living in the middle of Christians and Jews and will be sharing their food and for this reason God made it perfectly lawful for Muslims to eat the food of the people of the Scripture (Jews/Christians):
"Today, all good food is made lawful for you. The food of the people of the Scripture (Jews & Christians) is lawful (halal) for you ......" 5:5
The Quranic law is for all times and thus this concession applied when the Quran was first revealed as well as it does today.
Moreover, God has also specified a very important criteria for His true believers with regards to food: Mention God's name on everything you are going to eat. See 5:4, & 6:118-119,
"You shall eat from that upon which God's name has been pronounced, if you truly believe in His revelation." 6:118
"Why should you not eat from that upon which God's name has been mentioned ? He has detailed for you what is prohibited for you, unless you are forced. Indeed, many people mislead others with their personal opinions, without knowledge. Your Lord is fully aware of the transgressors." 6:119
Sadly, Muslims scholars have substituted God's condition for making food lawful (which is through uttering God's name on it before eating it) by a new un-Quranic condition of their own making. Somehow they have made slaughtering the only lawful method of killing an animal for its meat. Needless to say, there is no such restriction in the Quran. As a result of this un-quranic requirement, they insist that to make food halal the name of God must be uttered on it before slaughtering it. The following arguments all show that this imposed restriction is false and that it is not part of God's law in the Quran:
1- The first reason is that (unless you are a butcher) you are not the person who has slaughtered the animal on your dinner table, and since the Quran is clear in holding people accountable only to their own work, then the only certain way to confirm that the name of God has been uttered on the meat is for each person to utter God's name on the food before eating it.
"Every human being is responsible only for his own works." 53:39
The Quran makes it clear that the utterance of God's name should be before eating and not before killing the animal .
2- The spiritual reason behind uttering God's name on our food before eating it is given in 16:114. This is to constantly remember and be appreciative of God's blessings on us:
"Therefore, you shall eat from God's provisions everything that is lawful and good, and be appreciative of God's blessings, if you do worship Him alone." 16:114
This act of appreciation for God's blessings would not belong to us if we rely on someone else, in a slaughter house, uttering God's name.
3- By reading 6:118, we note that the command of uttering God's name is related to what we eat in general and not just meat. Thus this equally applies to fruit, vegetables, biscuits, peanuts ... etc ... plus all types of drinks. Consequently, and since we cannot slaughter an apple nor a glass of orange juice, then the only method to obey God's law is to utter His name before eating all foods (and not just meat).
4- If we read 5:5, we note that God made it lawful for us to eat the food of the people of the Scripture (Jews, Christians). But as non Muslims may not utter the name of God before killing the animal, yet their food is still lawful for us (5:5), this would only prove that the utterance of God's name before slaughtering an animal is not a requirement as far as God is concerned. It also confirms that the duty is laid on each of us (to utter God's name) before eating our food and nothing else.
5- God knows that one day slaughter houses will be run by stun guns and machines, which once again emphasises the fact that it is our own responsibility to utter His name on all food before eating it.
Sadly, we see many Muslims today, and because of their obsession with the restriction of slaughtering, buying and eating what they are told is halal meat, yet when they eat other food (e.g. fruit or vegetables) they ignore God's command to utter His name on it. Hence, and since they ignored God's commands and followed man made innovations, they are in fact eating a lot of food that is unlawful according to the Quranic rules.
Special reference to 22:36
Some scholars refer to 22:36 and say that since it includes a command to utter God’s name on animals before they are slaughtered, thus it provides support for the rule that without this pre-slaughter utterance the meat of the animal would not be halal.
On first impression this may be a valid claim, but a closer look at 22:36 suggests otherwise. The following is a verification of this claim and an analysis of 22:36. The words in 22:36 are:
“The animal offerings are among the rites decreed by God for your own good. You shall mention God's name on them while they are “sawaf” standing in line. Then once they are offered for sacrifice, you shall eat there from and feed the poor and the needy. This is why we subdued them for you, that you may show your appreciation.”22:36
The word “sawaf” means standing in line, or lined up (before being sacrificed).
1- This verse speaks about the ritual of animal sacrifice during hajj.
The whole sura is called Hajj and if we start reading from verse 27 we would see that the subject is hajj and the rituals of hajj. What this means is that the rules given in these verses are applicable only to the time of hajj.
2- During hajj, and while the animals are lined up, those performing hajj should commemorate the name of God on these animals.
3- We note that the command to utter God’s name is while the animals are lined up, and not necessarily associated with the actual slaughtering. Slaughtering could happen immediately after or a number of hours later. Further proof to that is found in the words: ”then once they are offered for sacrifice”, which indicates that the mentioning of God’s name is an independent act and not associated with the slaughtering itself, it is only associated to the time when the animals are being lined up.
4- More important, and also to confirm that uttering God’s name on these animals during hajj has nothing to do with what makes meat halal, we see that this command (to utter God’s name) is not any different from the constant command from God for all those performing hajj to constantly utter and commemorate God’s name throughout hajj, and not only when the animal are lined up. The following verses confirm this truth:
"And proclaim that the people shall observe Hajj pilgrimage …… they shall commemorate God’s name during the specified days for providing them with the livestock"22:27-28
"You shall commemorate God for a number of days" 2:203
"While you file from ‘Arafat’ you shall commemorate God" 2:198
"As you complete your rites, you shall continue to commemorate God" 2:200
As we can see, every step we take during hajj we are commanded to commemorate God’s name, so commemorating God’s name on the animals when they are lined up is just a continuation of the constant rule of commemorating God’s name in every step and every ritual during hajj. The whole purpose of hajj is to commemorate God name. This is also the only purpose of all our worship practices:
Say, "My Salat, all my worship practices, my life and my death, are all devoted absolutely to God alone, the Lord of the universe.” 6:162
All the above, confirms that the ritual in 22:36 (commemorating God’s name on animals lined up for sacrifice) is exclusive to the hajj rituals and has nothing to do with what makes meat halal.