Eat halaal! Organic is no substitute

HijabMan » The Labels Halal & Zabihah And Why I Choose Local And Organic Instead

The above article explains the author’s decision to prefer locally-produced, organic meat over halaal meat which has been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic guidelines. He argues that the term “halaal” only applies to the method of slaughter and says nothing about the manner in which the animal was reared, including whether it was treated humanely or indeed fed on animal-based feed including pork. He refers to this article from the website SoundVision, which brings in the issue of “mad cow” disease, a disease which can be transmitted to humans when they eat ‘infected’ meat (I use the quote marks because the disease-causing agent is a protein, not a living organism of any sort). His decision is not Islamically valid, for a number of reasons.

He mentions (or rather, quotes the SoundVision article) as saying this:

Muslims are directed in the Quran to eat food that is Halal and Tayyib. Halal is defined as food that is permissible according to Islamic law. Tayyib means wholesome, pure, nutritious and safe. Traditionally, Muslims in North America have emphasized the Halal over the Tayyib when it comes to meat consumption, Hussaini [Mazhar Hussaini, president of the North American Halal Foundation] says.

I remember listening to a lecture by Shaikh Hamza Yusuf in which he explains that there is no redundancy in the Qur’an, so if “halaal” and “tayyib” are both used, they cannot mean the same thing. The basic rules for meat to be permitted (halaal) are that they are of a species we are permitted to eat in the first place (principally herbivorous stock animals, but some schools of thought allow other animals including some carnivores), that the animal was not sick or injured and that they are slaughtered correctly and that the blessing and the name of Allah ta’ala be recited at the time (meat slaughtered according to the rituals of the Jews and Christians are permitted provided that it was not slaughtered in the name of other than Allah ta’ala; the safest position is that kosher meat is permitted but the commercial meat in the West is not, because it was not ritually slaughtered at all). Tayyib means wholesome, as the SoundVision article notes, but although this clearly excludes animals that have been fed on meat-based feeds that they are not biologically supposed to eat, it does not make them forbidden to eat, because haraam is the opposite of halaal, not of tayyib. Scholars have in fact said that animals or plants raised on haraam food are in fact permissible to eat, although it is better not to (there was an article on SunniPath or Seekers’ Guidance to this effect, but I could not find it when researching this).

The fact that meat is raised on purer food and not exposed to pesticides does not mean it is permissible to eat if it does not meet the criteria to be halaal. The majority of meat that the early Muslims were exposed to would have been just as wholesome as the organic beef and lamb of today, but the Muslims only ate it if it had been slaughtered correctly, and they were much less sure of where their next meal was coming from than any of us are. Many of the scare stories about chickens fed hormones or cows fed offal from other cows are out of date; many of these practices were banned precisely because they caused disease in livestock and humans, or because they caused public outrage. Cases of spongiform encephalopathy in humans (variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease) peaked in the mid-1990s, and were probably in people who had eaten contaminated beef products in the early 1980s. The meat that was being produced then was already safe, and most pathogens are killed by cooking.

There are, of course, suspicions about how halaal the meat presented as halaal really is; and stories circulate from time to time that the blessing is played over a loudspeaker, and one of the major certifying organisations in the UK will only certified meat from non-stunned animals. They also say that stunning involves shooting the animal with a bolt through the head before slaughter, which could kill it but certainly means it would be classified as an injured animal. Many of us, even if we accepted the electric shock method, would not accept that an animal be shot before slaughter. However, we hear rumours about food a lot on Islamic forums, and we do not know whether the stories that we hear are true, or if they are based on something that happened years ago but is not happening now, or are distorted “Chinese whispers”, or are simply malicious rumours. To complicate things for Muslims, the organic certifying body, the Soil Association, will not certify meat that came from an unstunned animal regardless of how it was reared, although they do not have a monopoly on the term “organic” and many supermarket branded organic products do not have their logo (much as they often do not use the Vegetarian Society’s logo either), so theoretically, organic halaal meat suppliers should not need the Soil Association’s blessing.

It is fine to be concerned about animal welfare and the wholesomeness of food, but it does not change the fact that the basic criteria for halaal do not include being organically reared and that farming methods and humane treatment do not make the meat halaal if the animal was not slaughtered correctly; in fact, the meat is considered impure and one may not pray if it is on one’s person. In this day and age, fish is readily available, even far from the sea, and there are non-meat-based alternatives such as tofu; protein can be obtained through milk and other dairy products, nuts and eggs, so no Muslim has any excuse in this day and age to eat non-halaal meat. If you are concerned about animal welfare or food quality and the halaal meat available to you is not to your satisfaction, you should not eat meat.

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  • And here I thought pro-regressivism had pretty much died out.  My bad.

  • Yeah … that’s what this is. I didn’t quite find the time to get in a comment about that aspect of it. There are lots of Muslims about now who are always finding fault with one aspect of the Shari’ah or another who aren’t linked to the mid-2000s proggie circus, though.

  • Isn’t the organic food movement (insofar as it sees itself as a model for agriculture in general, rather than one providing a niche product) an extremely dangerous one?

    There are 7 billion people on Earth, and barely 2 billion of those could be fed without modern agricultural techniques (chiefly artificial fertilizers, but also farm machines which replaced working animals).

  • Marc Manley

    Wa ‘alaykum salaam. I think what he is talking in his article is worth considering in as much as that Muslims obsess on the permissibility of meat [halal] not generally seem unconcerned with its quality [tayyib]. Part of it may be that most halal food products, Muslim restaurants or even nutritional practices by Muslims as a whole are not wholesome. It may be that these Muslims are gravitating to organic because they’re looking for both permissible [halal] and wholesome [tayyib] food. I do appreciate your emphasis on dhabihah [which many Muslims conflate dhabihah for halal] but we should perhaps look deeper at what they’re talking about so we can all get closer to wholesome, permissible food.

  • As-Salaamu ‘alaikum, the point is that dhabihah meat is halaal meat, end of. The minimum requirement is that it is of an acceptable species and it is slaughtered correctly. All else is additional, but getting the additional right is useless, religiously, if you don’t have the basics. It is worth getting bodies like the HMC in the UK to consider these things, but it must be on top of dhabihah and not instead of it.

    I also question how many Muslims are really gravitating to organic food (meat or otherwise) — organic food other than meat often contains less flavourings and is more likely to be halaal because it caters for a vegetarian and vegan customer base, but only middle-class Muslims could afford much of it because it’s expensive and has been getting more so, in the UK at least. It’s a risky, low-yield form of agriculture. I also believe it relies heavily on people wrongly believing they are intolerant or allergic to common foodstuffs (like wheat), a belief perpetuated by the alternative medicine industry.

  • fairandlovely

    Assalaam Alaiykum, Unfort. Islamic scholars need educating. Halal and Tayyib sit together i.e. lawful to the animal (welfare rights), environment, ethical, wholesome, good for consumption for mankind to prevent physical and mental problems. If you check our todays news on mad cow disease found in cow in USA(http://behalal.org/home/usa-mad-cow-discovery-prompts-food-safety-concerns/) it’s not isolated to the 1990s. Halal is organic and founded 15,00 years ago. This space does not allow me to go on but the Quran and sunnah offer advice to protect mankind.  I agree that if the animal is healthy and slaughtered correctly/humanely that it meets the basic requirement for halal but we are what we eat and looking at the health of our nation one has to question what’s going into our food which begs the question if the tayyib part is being met. Halal is not the same as the label claims due to differing halal standards where applied and lack of clarity of what halal means in UK legislation. Halal slaughter concerns are not rumours and there are concerns particularly around use of stunning for poultry on the grounds of animal welfare and that it may kill them and another important factor for halal slaughter is the prayer- 6-12,000 birds an hour are slaughtered! Re: welfare, scientists prefer gass stunning but suffocation is not allowed in Islam on ground of protecting the animal. Check out all slaughter methods here: http://behalal.org/consumer/slaughter-methods-explored/

    There are 3 UK based halal organic producers, 2 certified by Soil assoc and the other can only call it free range. The latter offers at reasonable prices. 

    Lastly, better understanding of halal and tayyib should be applied to all foodstuffs not just meat esp where the halal claim is being made. Trans fats, artificial flavours, colourings, etc which have been proven to be detrimental to health. Halal and tayyib is a standard for good, nutritious/wholesome/hygienically sound food for all. Shame this is not being applied but sounds like Muslims need educating to improve standards. In time one we will strive to do at behalal.org 

    Thank you, jazakallah for reading this. Peace Ws Ruksana

  • fairandlovely

    It’s not finding fault but trying to get better understanding and sharing thoughts

  • Marc Manley

     Thank you for that response, Matthew. You do make some good points about organic being the luxury of the middle to upper class but I do believe that Muslims only conceptualize of food as it relates to meat as it relates to halal, and not about eating healthy, which for many is alluded to in the Qur’an’s use of “tayyib.”

  • cncz

    Salams

    As I said on facebook, when you have to make these types of choices on meat, sometimes you are better off going vegetarian.  Lots of the salaf led a generally vegetarian lifestyle, there are even hadith about not having meat every day (can’t find them right now). Furthermore it has only been in the 20th century that we have become accustomed to daily meat. Meat eating period- organic or not- is a rather expensive lifestyle and a very recent trend.  If you have problems with the meat- halal or organic or whatever- just don’t eat it. It’s not that hard. 

  • fairandlovely

    The following are two hadith from this chapter and they are both warnings about eating meat: 1. “Beware of meat because it has an addiction like the addiction of wine.” To this day, in some parts of Yemen, they call meat “khamr al-mu’mineen” (the wine of the believers). People who eat meat constantly must have meat in their food because they get addicted to its taste or flavor. In many places in the Muslim world, meat was not readily available, and for most, extremely expensive. Do to its cost, most Muslims rarely ate meat and one of the benefits of the Feast of the Sacrifice after Hajj is that poor people get to eat meat for a day. Another aspect that has changed is refrigeration. In the past, people ate meat that was freshly slaughtered and thus the decomposition was minimal. Now, meat is kept for days, weeks, and even months. Meat consumption is much higher today than it was in the past. Also there is a danger in the unnatural growth hormones and estrogen [a female hormone] used in modern meat production as well as in the dairy industry. Immigrant parents who are of average height are now finding that their children are much taller than them or anyone in their families. Many think it is a good thing and attribute their children’s size to the “good food” they are eating (as if they didn’t get good food back where they came from). Wherever American beef has gone there has been an increase in the size of the people. This has happened in Japan and in Asian countries such as the Philippines. The average height of an average person is five feet, eight inches. In the Muslim world that’s the average height. If you are six feet and you go on Hajj you will tower over everyone else. The other hadith in the Muwatta is: 2. ‘Umar used to see someone who buys meat all the time, so he said: “It would be better if you tucked your stomach in a little bit and let other people eat.” This is a very profound insight from the Second Caliph, ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him. Starvation is very real and one of the tragedies of modern food shortages is directly related to meat production in general and cattle consumption in particular. It takes several pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat and reducing one’s meat consumption is in fact a political act that, if done on large scales, would have excellent benefits for both the environment and the less fortunate. In the Muslim world today, lamb, rather than beef, is the dominant meat eaten. Lamb was the traditional meat eaten by the Prophet (peace be upon him), although he did sacrifice a cow on the Hajj, which was for his women folk. There is a sahih hadith that says: “The meat of the cow is a disease and its milk is a cure.” Today we are seeing evidence that cow’s meat is the number one reason for cardio-vascular disease. Saturated fats found in animals are the main cause for one’s arteries becoming sclerotic, which leads to strokes and heart attacks. We see that bypass operations are very common for people who have a habit of eating a lot of cow meat. It is tragic because if people would just follow the Sunnah, they would rarely need such common and preventable operations. Allah says, “Eat and drink but not to excess, Allah does not love those who are excessive.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The best of my Ummah are my generation, then the second generation, then the third generation, then they start getting plump.” 

  • SHH

    Good piece, it’s hard to swallow Hijabman’s viewpoints since they’re so often based on his own personal conjecture.

  • Fugstar

    Salam,

    interesting to see the different intellectual ideologies bewteen you and hijabman, we are heterogenous and iA all part of islah in this matter.

    going vegetarian is the secular option however, ignoring the injustice towards the rights fo the animal is irresponsible

    Lets transform our meat culture so that we arent earning the curses of those tasty comical creatures.

    http://chickenwars.tumblr.com/

  • Thanks all, for the comments!

  • Zaytoon88

    Assaamu alaikum I would really like to see someone write an article, blog post, or even a book that critically examines the rise and nature  of the “Proggie” movement from a traditional Islamic perspective. It would be very usefu,l inshallah, particularly for North American Muslims since this movement seems to be strongest there. Wallahu “alam

  • Fugstar

    This feed the world thesis ispowerful, but food availability is not the cause of famines, its distribution, inequality and politics.

    If we will it, we will make it different. iA

    Besides the issue hear is disrespect of creation. Industrial rearing of animals is quite wrong, reducing it to stunning and organic posing is not what the future’s made of.

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