What Is Halal Food?

Many people have heard of the term “kosher,” though fewer technically understand what it means outside of being a Jewish term toward certain foods. In terms of food, the word refers to anything that is “proper” to eat according to Jewish law. In order to be considered kosher, various conditions must be fulfilled.  For example, in order for meat to be kosher, an animal must possess cloven hooves and be known to “chew its cud” – “cud” referring to already-partially digested food. Beyond this, though, other conditions regarding preparation need to be met in order for food to be considered kosher. And while it is may be less commonly known in parts of the Western world, Islam has similar processes by which they grade their food as well.

Similar to “kosher” meaning “right” or “proper,” the term “halal” that is applied to Islamic foods also tends to mean “permissible” and is even used more in context to “lawful” according to the Qur’an (as opposed to “haram,” meaning “forbidden”). Also similar to be foods being kosher by Jewish standards, many conditions must be met in order for food (and meat particularly) to be considered halal. Many of these conditions take heavy consideration toward the treatment and well-being of the animal as well as the most humane way of slaughtering it for the sake of food. The entire process of making food halal by way of slaughter requires several steps or conditions to be fulfilled:

  • In order for animals to be slaughtered for halal food, the slaughterer must be a sane, adult Muslim
  • This slaughterer must say the name of God before killing the animal. This is done to sanctify life and to proclaim that the animal is being slaughtered for the sake of food with the consent of God.
  • The animal must be killed with one continuous motion of a sharp knife. This knife must be sharpened and free of blemishes that may tear at the wound and cause undue suffering to the animal, and the knife may not be sharpened in the presence of the animal that is being slaughtered. Also, the animal may not be slaughtered in view of other animals. The cut must sever at least three of the trachea, the esophagus, and two blood vessels on either side of the throat. The spinal cord must be left intact.
  • Animals must be well-treated before the time of their slaughter, and they must be alive, healthy,  conscious and in a comfortable position at the time of slaughter. Carrion is considered haram by Islamic law, and animals cannot suffer death by any means other than a single cut to the throat with a sharp knife in order to be considered halal.
  • After an animal is slaughtered, the animal must be allowed to bleed out before it is processed any further, as blood is also considered haram in Islamic law.

This entire process of slaughtering is known either as Zibah or Zabihah, and it is considered by Muslims to be the most humane method of killing animals for the sake of halal food and food in general, criticizing the use of captive bolt stunning. While there is argument made toward this that the bloodletting of an animal after the cut could be considered inhumane due to pain potentially registered to the animal, Muslims argue that – in a proper Zabihah – the animal loses consciousness within seconds before the brain can register pain, and the animal eventually dies due to cerebral hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen to the brain) rather than actual blood loss.

Other conditions for halal food exist beyond the slaughtering of animals. For example, halal food prohibits the consumption of alcohol or any other intoxicant, swine-based products such as pork or bacon, animals of a carnivorous persuasion, and lard among many other products.