What Does “Halal” Mean?
The term “halal” comes from the Arabic and means allowed, permissible. According to Islamic law, it includes all things and actions that have been permitted by Allah. “Halal” is the opposite of “haram,” which means the forbidden, not permitted.
“Halal” and “haram” are two of the five classifications of human action. The basis of these classifications are the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Mohammad. Islamic scholars distinguish between “halal” and “haram” as well as “fard” (mandatory), “sunnah” (recommended) and “makruh” (reprehensible). The latter designates acts that are not explicitly forbidden, but should be avoided as a precaution.
This concept is a relief for Muslims, since it discourages us to do things that could harm our body, mind, or soul on our own responsibility.
Holistic way of life
Islam is a holistic way of life, so the concept of “halal” and “haram” is applied not only to human behavior, but also to the consumption of food and other products such as for example cosmetics and pharmacy.
Hence, the Islamic dietary rules can be explained as follows: Anything that was not clearly forbidden in the Qur’an and Sunnah is generally allowed. It is expressly forbidden to consume pork and its by-products (e.g. gelatine), predators, dead animals, animals not slaughtered under the Islamic rite, blood and intoxicating substances.
Whether meat products are “halal” also depends on the method of slaughter or death. The Qur’an mentiones: “Prohibited to you are dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah, and [those animals] killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a head-long fall or by the goring of horns, and those from which a wild animal has eaten, except what you [are able to] slaughter [before its death], and those which are sacrificed on stone altars (…) “ [Qur’an 5: 3]
Most importantly, ritual Islamic slaughter should be carried out in such a way that the animal is not unnecessarily inflicted with pain, suffering, damage or severe anxiety. The animal should be treated dignified and respectful, it should be separated from other animals, knives and blood should not be visible to it. A single, rapid incision, which cuts through the cervical arteries, veins and trachea, leads to immediate death and ensures almost no-residue bleeding. According to common opinion of the Islamic scholars, the use of narcotics is allowed, provided that it does not lead to death.
Modern industry requires new thinking and sensitive debates regarding the concept of “halal” and “haram”. Consequently, recent debates address the question of whether products that harm other creatures and the environment can be classified as “halal”. To what extent are, for example, factory farming, transport and slaughter, animal experiments, or products whose production pollute the environment, are sustainably harmful to the human body, or which were produced under inhumane conditions, halal?
In countries without a majority Muslim population, where it can not be assumed that all food and commodities are produced in compliance with Islamic regulations, it is often difficult for Muslims to distinguish allowed from prohibited products.
To increase transparency, companies have therefore the opportunity to have their products labeled with a halal seal by specialized certifiers. There is no globally standardized certification: hundreds of institutions worldwide are currently offering their certificates. They are mostly non-governmental organizations, rarely are they also state institutions. Their standards vary depending on the Qur’anic interpretation of the religious authorities with whom they work together.
Products must be free of aliphatic alcohols and of ingredients derived from animals whose consumption is prohibited by Islamic law. For this reason, certifiers check the raw materials used during the production for non-authorized substances, including genetic testing and chemical analyzes. Furthermore, all areas of the production chain are controlled, starting with the suppliers of the raw materials, through production and storage facilities, possible cross-contamination through the production of other products in the site, packaging and distribution processes.
With regard to the ritual slaughter of animals, the laws vary by country. In Germany and Austria, for example, the rite is permitted under strict conditions, provided that the person performing the slaughter holds a license issued by the religious authority of the country. Also, the slaughter has to take place under veterinary supervision in a licensed slaughterhouse.
In addition, in Austria, the animals must be effectively anesthetized immediately after the opening of the blood vessels. In other European countries such as Switzerland, however, Islamic slaughter is not allowed, ritually slaughtered meat is therefore imported.
The Halal Economy
Muslim consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their purchases. The demand for certified products and services has consequently grown steadily since the early 1990s, with the halal market being among the fastest growing globally. Its total volume is estimated at just over $ 2 trillion. The European share amounts to about 70 billion Euros. In Germany alone, around 400 companies currently offer products with halal seals. Much of these are active in the food production sector. Other growth segments include cosmetics and pharmacy, lifestyle and clothing, and services such as finance and tourism. By 2020, market share is expected to increase by a further 6 percent.