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Back in May during the holiday month of Ramadan, we started a series of weekly IG Lives discussing matters of Halal with guest asatizahs. These sessions also gave us the opportunity to revisit our intentions for starting Halalfoodhunt many years ago.
From the very first episode with Ustaz Farouq, it was a deeply insightful conversation about the overarching question: What is halal, and what are the best ways to approach Halal in life. We’ve compiled some takeaways with hopes they are beneficial to you as well.
1. Halal should be approached holistically
Ustaz shares that the judgment on whether something is halal or haram cannot be done in isolation. This means we should not only consider one aspect of halal consciousness like looking at only its halal certification. He notes that we must take into account the entire process of food production and consumption, not just the end food product itself.
Ustaz also highlights that we must demonstrate adab (Islamic etiquette: “refinement, good manners, morals, decorum, decency, humaneness”.) in dealing with the processes, including looking at our ways of consumption and the ecological implications our consumptions have. Anything that contravenes affects the halal-ness of the products that ends up at our dinner tables. Therefore, the pursuit of the highest standards should always be strived for and ultimately sought.
2. Choosing halal is an act of worship
Ustaz reminds that Halal is prescribed to us in the Revelation and it is the word of God for us to seek and consume what has been decreed as halal. He explains that earning God’s pleasure should be the core intention in all of our actions, including the food that we eat. Therefore, choosing halal is an ibadah (servitude) to God.
”Oh you believe in the good things that We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:)
Ustaz believes the overarching Qur’anic guideline is the emphasis on food that is good, whole and pure. And in these guidelines lay the foundation of our purpose of existence in this world, which is to worship God.
3. Beyond logos, an ethical consciousness is necessity
We have all heard of this: Just because something is not halal-certified does not mean it is not halal. Have you considered an alternating viewpoint: Just because something is halal certified does not make it fully and holistically halal (thoyyib).
This is why Ustaz argues that our understanding of halal has been reduced to a legal barometer where it is constantly gravitating between halal and non-halal. What is more pertinent is having an ethical consciousness.
This implies having knowledge and understanding that every consumption has an implication on our planet, and we should make decisions that do the least harm. Ustaz continues to share that it is also crucial to recognise that God has created all living organisms to be interdependent. And since humans are created to be khaleefah fil ardh – God’s vicegerents on earth – then it should also be in our best interests to establish a sustainable ecosystem that preserves the equilibrium of the natural world and not cause harm.
Two examples that were discussed during the IG Live are foie gras and bluefin tuna.
There are halal-certified foie gras available. However, foie gras is the fatty liver of ducks that are typically forced fed. Therefore, it is not ethical to consume foie gras on the account of animal torture exemplified here. Bluefin tuna is a highly endangered species and further over consumption of them will eventually lead to its existence, and a dire shift in the ecosystem, harming it.
Therefore, we need an ethical construct that is interlinked with these legal guidelines of halal certification.
4. Thus, choosing halal helps builds character
Ustaz emphasises throughout the discussion that character-building is a core outcome from us choosing halal.
Choosing halal, as previously shared, is more than just looking for the halal logo on a product. While halal certification is an assurance that a food item can be consumed, it is our ethical consciousness that ultimately helps us decide if something is truly halal and worth consuming. In this sense, pairing our halal knowledge with an awareness and consideration for other living things on earth helps us build our character. He explains that it is important to have this character building mindset as a reminder for us that seeking God’s pleasure is always our end goal, our niyyah. So if what we are doing is not building our character, it is unlikely to be in line with this niyyah of seeking God’s pleasure.
Ustaz says we can make eating, or consuming anything (like media) an act that is rewarded by seeking God’s pleasure in it. As we may be aware, a key principle in Islamic tradition is: every action begins with a good intention.
5. Veganism is not haram
Ustaz concurs that veganism is not haram. He is of the opinion that as long as we are eating halal, we can further choose to be specific about our food choices within the halal space.
However, he also addresses that the ethical debate surrounding meat consumption is insufficient when anyone advocates for veganism as the only ethically halal lifestyle. He points that if everyone were to go vegan, the same issues of overconsumption and exploitation will rise.
Thus, Ustaz highlights the bigger issue is about our overall consumption habits. We should not over consume something to the point of harm (to the environment via over-farming, to animals and even to ourselves).
6. Reconnecting our food choices with our morality
Ustaz encourages us to reflect and reconnect to mortality. What he means by this is that we have to think about death, particularly in our consumption of meat.
He encourages us to recognise that a life has been given to us for our benefit when we consume meat. Therefore, we must not view meat as simply a food product. We must view meat as a life sacrificed, and connect to the metaphysical element of the sacrifice that provides us with a sense of morality. This thus builds our ethical consciousness that Ustaz has mentioned to be very important in the beginning of his discussion.
7. Do not impose personal choice ONTO others
Ustaz timely reminds us that we must be respectful towards others and their choices. Wether they have adopted a vegan lifestyle or have a differing halal acceptance level. No one has the right to impose their personal choice onto others. All we can do is making our own personal choices that are based on informed opinions and be done without selfishness. I.e. we cannot be selfish in our consumption of meat and overeat/be wasteful.
8. If all else fails…
There is one question we can ask ourselves when we are uncertain about consuming a certain food item.
“Will Allah be pleased with me if I eat this?”
Ustaz Farouq is a graduate in Islamic Thought and Applied Ethics at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Doha, Qatar. He has received a BA degree with honours in Comparative Religion and Usuluddin from the International Islamic University of Malaysia. His area of interest involves issues concerning religion, human development and ethics.