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What's Halal about Food?

What's Halal about Food?

Issue 100 January 2013

The halal food industry is worth billions, yet it is poor in quality. Sarah Joseph asserts that food in the Muslim lifestyle must be wholesome, not just lawful.


“O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and wholesome in the earth, and follow not the footsteps of the devil.” 2:168

Lawful and wholesome—“halal wa tayyab”. The Qur’an is clear. It would seem to me however, that we spend a lot of time discussing the former, but rarely the latter. Perhaps we feel that if the food we eat is declared halal, it will inevitably be wholesome. Perhaps we do not care whether it is wholesome. 

The halal food industry is reportedly worth $2.1 trillion, with an annual growth of $500 billion. It is big business, but what does that really mean for consumers? At emel, we believe the Muslim lifestyle perspective requires us to ask some tough questions. Can we industrialise our food chain and still eat wholesomely? Is a halal chicken McNugget an oxymoron? If ‘we are what we eat’, then are we a community of fat, fear-ridden automatons addicted to chemicals? 

Due to the explosion of junk food in Muslim societies, traditional diets are being replaced by “halal” McDonalds, KFCs, and Burger Kings. However, if one begins to look at the ingredients and the production chain behind some of the global brands, whilst the animals’ throats may have been slit, the blood drained, and the bismillah recited, it is difficult to see how they are wholesome. Chicken nuggets, for example, are generally made with mechanically separated meat. So, once the good parts of the chicken such as the breasts and legs have been removed, the skin and carcass—including the offal and connective tissues—are ground up. The paste—referred to as white slime—then has a variety of ingredients added to it, such as hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ, and dimethylpolysiloxane (DMPS)—used as an antifoaming agent. TBHQ is a petroleum derivative used as a stabiliser in perfumes, resins and varnishes. Laboratory studies have linked it to stomach tumours. DMPS is a type of silicone used in sealants, as filler for breast implants, and in head lice preparations. Yummy!

Such information is readily available, but our scholars continue to sign off products as halal, and we, as consumers, continue to demand “halal” fast food for our families. When a “halal” McDonald's opened in a heavily populated Muslim area in Detroit, USA, the demand for McNuggets was double that of an average McDonald’s in America, spawning yet more “halal” branches. We want our children to be happy with their Happy Meals, but we appear less concerned with their health.

One can blame the corporations; however, the food chains of many of the Muslim community’s own companies are flawed. We are churning out our own varieties of nuggets, sausages, and cold meats, which follow similar production processes to the global chains. We are not offering a greater vision for halal in the 21st century.

The problem is not confined to processed food, however. When purchasing a chicken at my local halal butcher, I often find the bird has a wing or leg broken, or the meat is bruised. The butcher explains that when the abattoir mass-slaughters several thousand birds, the chickens flap around when they are unstunned. This leads to the broken wings and legs, and bruising. He assures me that this is not a problem, and that I should be grateful that the slaughter process is “fully halal” given that it follows “the sunnah of being unstunned”. The sunnah however was not to slaughter thousands of birds in a brutal mechanised process. In addition to broken bones and bruising, if an animal dies in the midst of experiencing the death of its fellows, the stress hormones it releases are multiplied. This invariably affects the content of the meat. Do we really want to ingest the flesh of an animal that died in fear and pain?

The Muslim community consumes huge amounts of meat. In the UK, whilst making up approximately 3% of the population, Muslims consume over 20% of the mutton. There are also increasing health problems. Obesity, heart diseases, strokes, and diabetes all disproportionally affect Muslims. These health problems are food and lifestyle related. 

There are beacon Muslim companies springing forth. The work of Lutfi Radwan and his family at Willowbrook Farm (, for example, demonstrate that it is possible even in the modern age to have organic farms which rear free-range animals that are then hand slaughtered. The problem is that their relatively small-scale set-up invariably means they are a more expensive option, and generally people are not prepared to put their money where their ideals are. Instead of deciding to consume the expensive meat less often, we simply choose the cheaper mass-produced product.

In the Qur’an, the Merciful is not putting forward an option about lawful and wholesome. The ‘and’ in between is important. Yet it would seem that “wholesome” has become redundant. This has to change. We have to begin to see halal and tayyab, lawful and wholesome, as indivisible injunctions. There has to be a food movement from the Muslim consumer. Muslims have to seriously question what we eat. Our scholars have to stop signing off products as “halal” based upon a reductionist understanding of the moment of slaughter. They have to start asking broader questions about ingredients, processes, chemicals, hormones, and farming, in order to protect the health and wellbeing of future generations.

Increasingly, our food is becoming devoid of nutritional value, yet we are consuming ever-increasing quantities. We are becoming overfed but undernourished, obese but nutrient-deficient. By returning to home-cooked meals, using wholesome ingredients, we can potentially save ourselves and our children, from the nutrient abyss that we are staring into. Food from a Muslim lifestyle perspective cannot simply be about a halal sign; it has to be a considered understanding of the food chain and our place within it.

The Islamic world was once exporters of the finest scientific ideas, goods, and social philosophy. We must not now become importers of junk. 


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Shameem Ahmed

11 Sep 13, 12:28

Assalamu Alaikum, very interesting. Its very true that
halal food is difficult as its not only the food, it is the
means on how we earn it as well. You may like further
reading it over here.

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26 Aug 13, 02:21

This is very nice article. But its going some disturbance
s in this comments. Thank you...

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19 May 13, 00:47

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

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6 Apr 13, 08:03

All the muslims strictly maintain Halal food as they can I have found so. click here can know this in details.

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27 Mar 13, 07:01

It is a clear fact that Islamic religion follows a lot of
scientific facts in their life style. It is the same in the
case of food also. If one follows such a life style he can
live for years with good health.

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25 Mar 13, 01:13

Great info.I like all your post.I will keep visiting this blog very often.It is good to see you verbalize from the heart and your clarity on this important subject can be easily observed. Thanks again

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5 Mar 13, 01:14

I don’t suppose I have read anything like this before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject.

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7 Feb 13, 13:30

The food industry is a complex, global collective of diverse businesses that supply much of the food energy consumed by the world population. Only subsistence farmers, those who survive on what they grow, can be considered outside of the scope of the modern food industry.

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20 Jan 13, 12:59

Thank you for the article. It is thoughtful and well considered. I have to make one comment and that is your local butcher is wrong to say your observations are "not a problem". Under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act "protected Animals" include all those under the control of man in the slaughterhousethere and would seem to be strong evidence that chickens he described have been mistreated. There have been many successful prosecutions under this legislation. JC

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18 Jan 13, 23:44

Thank you for this insightful article. I totally agree. I started thinking about this a few years back when I did a certificate course in holistic nutrition and you are absolutely right, as muslims we need to think about the wholesomeness of the food just as much as we think about whether its halal or not. I was amazed to find so many ahadith as well as quranic verses on what we should eat and how we should eat. I am glad you have started a dialogue on this. We really do need to put an islamic perspective on the issue of nutrition and how the lack of it is a leading cause in the rise of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer among the developed nations of the world

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18 Jan 13, 12:40

Halal meat is clean with all the blood drained out. Halal food is not meant for consumption by the general public, it is meant for Muslims only by law. Pig, is the dirtiest animal on the planet and eats its own excrement, like the saying "you are what you eat". I'd take halal meat any day!!! I prefer to eat Halal and Kosher meat. Its cleaner meat. And if anyone thinks 'western' slaughterhouses are more humane than Halal, they are living in cloud cuckoo land.You can`t ban halal as your giving fuel to the fire to people that hate the western world. you can pick to not buy it or eat it but most people eat it now as most take away`s sell halal only. we are living in a world that supermarkets sell halal as people want it and it not fair to say no. there food I don't like but I don't say ban. When the animal is slaughtered in accordance with Halal it is inspected AFTER death for imperfections.

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