Halal Meat in the West

Halal Meat in the West


AOA. Some of my Muslim friends say that the only thing they can eat at restaurants is fish/vegetarian dishes, and they’ll get a fish sandwich at McD’s, eg, and other Muslim friends will say they can eat meat at restaurants and might get a BigMac at McDs. I’m confused as to why there’s a difference and what Islam says about it and what the correct rule is, I guess. Just something weird I noticed and wanted to ask about.

Wa alykum as-salaam,

The issue that you are pointing to is whether the meat is Halal/Dhabihah/Zabiha. This concerns whether the animal was not just slaughtered in a ritually proper way, but, also whether the animal was treated with the sort of respect and care that it should.

Now, the reason why Muslims do not consider fish to be a problem is because within the structures of Halal ritual slaughter, several animals are exempt, specifically: camels, fish, and other various sea-creatures. Therefore, the reason why your Muslim friends say they are only able to eat Fish at McDonald’s, or wherever, is precisely because the process in which you slaughter a Fish does not fall within the purview of Halal guidelines, whereas chicken and beef do.

Now, the reason why there is a discrepancy is because of the relative strictness in which Muslims hold to maintaining their consumption of Halal meat.

There are various Sheikhs, Muftis, etc who have issued opinions that, to Muslims in the West, they can either be exempt from this requirement, and the level of exemption varies from opinion to opinion. The meat in Muslim countries, whether at McDonald’s or from your local butcher, is going to be Halal, however, in America, people do not have that same level of comfort, and since this is dealing with nutrition, many scholars have been apt to be more flexible on the Halal requirement.

Again, how “strict” they (the scholars) are with varies by the opinion, some say “only if you can’t find Halal meat” while others say that “just say ‘Bismillah’ before you eat, and you’re fine.”

It’s also been brought to my attention that the level of observation varies between Muslims here in the states by ethnic origin. Apparently, and yes this is a generalization (so let’s not get carried away) but Arab Muslims are less strict than South Asian Muslims are when it comes to eating Halal food. I’m not sure if this is true, but, I have several Aunties that have complained to me about their children’s Arab Muslim friends being too lax with their Halal meat.

As far as what The Qur’an says about maintaining “Halal” guidelines, it’s within various Surahs, but the most often cited is within Surah Al-Ma’idah:

“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, and [prohibited is] that you seek decision through divining arrows. That is grave disobedience. ” [5:3]

The issue that Muslims in the West have to realize, and I think that this is important, is that what constitutes “Halal meat” goes beyond someone saying “Bismillah” and the throat being slit (of the animal).

The part of Halal guidelines that is most often forgotten is that that animal must be treated with respect. As stupid as this sounds, I think a good example is in the movie Avatar (stay with me) when the blue people hunt, and they kill an animal, they make sure to end the animal’s suffering and to thank it for its sacrifice. Now, I’m not saying we need to be Avatar people, I’m just saying that there is a very holistic process to slaughtering animals for food in Islam. It’s not just about slaughtering the animal properly, it’s about ensuring that the animal undergoes the least possible amount of suffering. 

Thus, I urge you to do a little research about where your Halal butcher (if you have one) gets his/her meat. Many times, these butchers are simply getting their cattle/poultry from regular farms, and, in many instances, the animals are not slaughtered properly, and are subjected to being killed through means that are inhumane (which is strictly forbidden within The Qur’an). Oh, and don’t think that “buying organic” will help you either, the amount of de-regulation that has applied to what constitutes “organic food” is terrible, so please, be wary.

So why a particular Muslim is particularly strict or lax with Halal meat, really comes down to how they understand the various factors that I listed above. I’m sure there are others as well, but, again, its about how one understands Halal and how they believe they should react. I have friends who refuse to eat anymeat, Halal or not, unless they can verify that the process was done properly, while others say their Bismillahs, and others do not even think about this as an issue.

While in some cases, people are consciously “keeping Halal” or consciously “not keeping Halal,” I think the majority is a family-to-family basis, and that many people approach it through the lens of what their family did and whether they see value in upholding those considerations.

Insha Allah, I hope I answered your question, and if you, or anyone else has a question on this, or any other topic, please do not hesitate to ask me.

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