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Not A Contradiction In Terms
June 16, 2010 8:31 PM   Subscribe

The Quran says to eat what is good and wholesome (tayyib), and what is halâl. Therefore, if any food is not tayyib, the Qur'ân does not encourage us to eat it. The world of Muslim vegetarians.
posted by Xurando (46 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is fairly common, actually. There's no rule in Islam that says you must eat meat (although it's considered praiseworthy to consume at least a little of certain slaughters such as the one for Eid ul Adha); there's only a ruling that says it is impermissible for someone to declare the act of eating meat haram (forbidden).

Now, there are all kinds of questionable meat products for sale with a prominent Halal stamp. There are also many restaurants that will tell you "oh, sure, everything here is halal". These can often be questionable claims. Especially in the United States, where there are some halal certification bodies but 1)they are competing, and 2)they are not backed by any fair trade or truth in advertising laws so they have no teeth.

There are also disputes about what makes something halal. Traditionally, an animal should be slaughtered in private where no other animals can see it, the knife has to make clean cuts, the person performing the slaughter needs to be in a state of ritual ablution and pray for the animal as it dies, et cetera. In some factories, it seems enough for them to hire an Imam to drive by that day and yell "bismillah!" out the window (or just about, anyway). So, you have many Muslims (self included) who only eat meat if they trust the butcher shop .

Modern day Muslims, especially those from Pakistan and Arabia, tend to eat far too much meat in contrast to the example of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) who ate very little meat.

There are also a fair amount of Salafis from the KSA who are under the impression that it's ok to just eat any supermarket meat in the USA because Americans are Christian or People of the Book (Ahl Kitab). This is based on some ignorant scholar from KSA thinking that the rules of Koshering are followed here (koser meat is considered halal for Muslims, with some caveats). Obviously, they're not so there are thousands of Muslims eating non-halal meat thinking that they are actually eating halal.

It's a big issue for those who want to both follow the dictates of their religion properly, ensure that animals are treated with respect (proper slaughterings are worlds apart from abattoirs), and minimize their ecological impact. It also might take another generation of wrangling before we see a cohesive halal certification body in the US that also has the backing of secular laws. Insha'Allah it will improve.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:00 PM on June 16, 2010 [25 favorites]


I'd be interested in what Orthodox Judaism, Islam's sister religion (sorry, I can hear blood : human brain-blood, specifically, boiling already) has to say about this. I am sure that Western Jews have already given a lot more thought to this issue than Muslims or goyim like I have.
posted by kozad at 9:02 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, I've met a lot of Muslims of varying degrees of practice, and I've never met one who eats pork. Drinking alcohol, not praying, having non-Muslim girlfriends, etc, but never pork. I'm sure they are out there, but they are rare.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:06 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, you have many Muslims (self included) who only eat meat if they trust the butcher shop .

I have a good Muslim friend who eats only halal meat. I think his parents were not always so strict as he says he often wants to get a decent teak but that must Muslim butchers can be best described as "two brothers and a bandsaw" who basically are experts at turning a whole cow into uniform 1" cubes. Thankfully there are apparently more halal butchers around now who know what a steak looks like.

Also, what exactly is the term for observing these dietary restrictions? One would say that a given Jew "keeps kosher" (I think) but you'd say that my friend... keeps halal?
posted by GuyZero at 9:15 PM on June 16, 2010


> (I think) but you'd say that my friend... keeps halal?

Or, "only eats halal". Once non-Muslims are educated about it they don't mind accommodating you.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:17 PM on June 16, 2010


Eating halal is far from the most onerous diet I've ever encountered.
posted by GuyZero at 9:25 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


It can be burdensome to navigate through which cheeses are halal, and by extension which snack products. Also, most products that contain gelatin (unless it's kosher, halal, or fish gelatin) are not halal. So, it requires some vigilance when buying packaged foods.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:31 PM on June 16, 2010


"I've never met one who eats pork"

I've met several, and boy do they love it. I've also met quite a few of the opposite scenario.
posted by HopperFan at 9:47 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now, I can't really get behind PETA's efforts here (third "Muslim" link in the post). They are advocating vegetarianism. If someone wants to be vegetarian, fine, ahlan wa sahlan. But, don't try to bundle it up as Islamic with all the calligraphy and terminology. Muslims should be looking for ways to ensure meat is halal, raising animals ethically, and generally reforming the meat trade. What PETA is pushing is abstinence, and that kind of gets close to saying that meat is impermissible--especially since they advise against the slaughters for the Eids. They also are advising against leather, which really isn't practical. I can sympathize to some degree with what PETA is on about, but don't really like it all. We can look for solutions "in-house", thanks.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:48 PM on June 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Chinese Islamic food is another interesting take on halal.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:49 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Make life easier with zabihah.com, your guide to halal restaurants in the non-muslim world. Though now it seems they are expanding to include the muslim world which seems redundant to me, but what do I know.
posted by BinGregory at 9:49 PM on June 16, 2010


> Chinese Islamic food is another interesting take on halal.

In my city, there are all kinds of halal restaurants: pizza joints, Chinese, Thai, TexMex, burger and steak joints, etc in addition to the middle eastern and Desi places. Halal meat is that which has undergone the process laid out in the sharia, and really has nothing to do with regional cuisine.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:53 PM on June 16, 2010


I'd be interested in what Orthodox Judaism, Islam's sister religion (sorry, I can hear blood : human brain-blood, specifically, boiling already) has to say about this. I am sure that Western Jews have already given a lot more thought to this issue than Muslims or goyim like I have.
My father's Orthodox and I was raised Orthodox. There were no objections religiously to vegetarianism, but the religion (as it exists in America, anyways) is structured in such a way that if you're connected enough to the modern world to consider being a vegetarian, you're also connected enough to at least interpret Judaism a bit less strictly. Most Jews who become vegetarian also become conservative (that is, Jewish Conservativism, not right-wing conservative) or reform, if not atheist.
posted by LSK at 9:54 PM on June 16, 2010


kozad: I once attended a seder where I talked to a young Chabadnik who assured me that eating meat was positively virtuous. His reasoning was that there is a chain of refinement and increasing closeness to God, so that plants glorify the mineral world by consuming and transforming it, animals glorify the plant world, and we humans can glorify the animal kingdom. I asked him how carnivorous plants fitted into this scheme. He asked me what a carnivorous plant was.

Here in New Zealand we have many halal slaughter facilities, because we export a lot of sheepmeat to Muslim markets. Halal slaughter doesn't conflict with our animal welfare laws because it permits the slaughterer to stun the animal first. We have just outlawed kosher slaughter, however, because animals must not be stunned in kosher slaughter. The tiny local population of kosher Jews is pretty upset about this.

Do I detect Hindu influence on Muslims from the subcontinent here? I'm kind of inferring this from some of the links provided, with their references to Urdu and India. I would love to see some informed comment on whether there is a connection.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:19 PM on June 16, 2010


For what it's worth, I've met a lot of Muslims of varying degrees of practice, and I've never met one who eats pork. Drinking alcohol, not praying, having non-Muslim girlfriends, etc, but never pork. I'm sure they are out there, but they are rare.

It was unusual to find pork in Sarajevo (lamb and beef were much more common) and consequently, few people ate pork. But in America, about half the Bosnian Muslim immigrants whom I know eat pork now and then, mostly in sausages or things with bacon. That includes me. Ditto many Turkish and Iranian immigrants I know. That said, it's probably the most widely-held behaviour adhered to amongst my Muslim friends - more so than avoiding alcohol, for instance.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:19 PM on June 16, 2010


it would be great if religious traditions not only regulated the slaughter of animals but also the way they're raised. if halal or kosher also meant grass fed, outdoor, no hormones, small farm, well-paid farm labor, etc., that would be something.
posted by noway at 10:21 PM on June 16, 2010


must Muslim butchers can be best described as "two brothers and a bandsaw"

My local halal butchery is definitely a small family operation, run by a Fijian Indian Muslim father and son. I patronise them whenever I can, because they are very diligent about trimming excess fat, their service is most polite, and their prices are excellent. But if I don't want to go there, my usual supermarket has halal certificates prominently displayed in the meat cases. Dunno whether the certifying authority is acceptable to the most pious local Muslims, but you can certainly obtain any kind of nominally halal meat easily here.

I think in religious circles, I know a lot more vegetarian Jews -- kosher meat is rare and very expensive compared to halal, and while kosher meat might be halal, halal meat is not kosher.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:41 PM on June 16, 2010


kozad: Unlikely duo teams up for kosher, halal

As the second night of Passover approaches, Ari Daniel Shapiro reports on two meat distributors -- one Jewish, the other Muslim -- who have struck up a unique friendship to provide products to their customers that seek to redefine kosher and halal.

posted by ambrosia at 11:20 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


A number of Reform Jews are redefining kashrut to mean ethically sourced meat. (I'm not sure if it needs to be killed in the traditional manner, though I'd assume not. I also don't know how ethically sourced non-kosher animals would be classed.) I think it's a very nice movement, and I wish it were taking root here.
posted by jeather at 11:23 PM on June 16, 2010


It should be noted that at least biblically, vegetarianism is the ideal. God only gave permission for humans to eat meet after the flood of Noah.

My orthodox cousin, along with her husband is vegetarian and I knew a Rabbi who was fully vegan.

I will say that it's a lot easier to be vegetarian if you're a Sephardi Jew with their emphasis on vegetables and Mediterranean food, us Ashkenazis seems obligated to eat meat at every meal.
posted by PenDevil at 11:23 PM on June 16, 2010


> It should be noted that at least biblically, vegetarianism is the ideal.

As a clarifying point since this post is about Islam, there's no mention of that in the Qur'an. Muslims respect aspects of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible but do not base any of their beliefs or practices directly on them (regardless of degrees of influence).
posted by Burhanistan at 11:29 PM on June 16, 2010


Here in New Zealand we have many halal slaughter facilities, because we export a lot of sheepmeat to Muslim markets. Halal slaughter doesn't conflict with our animal welfare laws because it permits the slaughterer to stun the animal first.

Not to mention that New Zealanders are already inclined towards stunning sheep.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:38 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


For what it's worth, I've met a lot of Muslims of varying degrees of practice, and I've never met one who eats pork.

I just chatted yesterday with a Moroccan girl who told me about her years living in Madrid, and I mentioned -- "oh, but you never could try the Jamon Serrano..." She was like: "Are you kidding? That's when I started eating pork. Delicious."

(Dietary restriction) conversion by prosciutto.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:01 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


it would be great if religious traditions not only regulated the slaughter of animals but also the way they're raised. if halal or kosher also meant grass fed, outdoor, no hormones, small farm, well-paid farm labor, etc., that would be something.

Yeah that would be something, considering that indoor animal raising, hormone additives, corporate farms, and other people raising your animals for pay all came about way after these religions did.

Sorry the Torah doesn't say anything about red #6.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:37 AM on June 17, 2010


The overlap between Kashrut and eating halal has resulted in the formation of the Kosher-Halal Dining Co-op at Oberlin College. I don't know if other colleges have similar cooperative (in both senses of the word) ventures.

The thing about halal certification is that, like with pretty much everything in Islam, no one has certifying authority. Muslims vary considerably in what they consider halal. e.g. Burhanistan's definition is considerably narrower than that followed by my parents or myself. My sister follows Burhanistan's interpretation (or at least a very similar one), while at least one of my brothers takes a broader view than I do. And that's just variation amongst siblings, who are in unanimous agreement on most aspects of what it means to be Muslim.

I've met some Muslims who eat pork, but as far as I know, they consider themselves lapsed Muslims, anyway. I'm sure there is a cultural factor in that abstinence as well.

The South Asian-American community certainly consumes a lot more meat than is healthy, or even usual in the home culture.

In Pakistan, vegetarianism tends to get looked on with some surprise, often mingled with pity. There are those who take the view that refusing to eat meat is denying one of God's blessings (these are the same people who will tell you that you should eat whatever is set before you, and be grateful for it, that you should treat everything that is given to you as a blessing; they're usually not hypocrites on this point) and therefore a kind of ingratitude.
posted by bardophile at 2:10 AM on June 17, 2010


Muslims respect aspects of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible but do not base any of their beliefs or practices directly on them....

Thus the surprise when you tell a Muslim the Injil's teaching on dietary law: a giant tablecloth descends from Heaven, opens to reveal every animal in the world crammed inside, as an angelic voice commands -- but wait, the King James Version tells it better:
11 And [he] saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
For some reason, they think I'm making this up.
posted by orthogonality at 4:13 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


It would be nice if there was a 'halal' equivalent for organic meat, which specified the conditions the animal was 'harvested' (ie slaughtered) in, with greater regard for the well-being of the beast. Sort of the death equivalent of 'free range'.
posted by unSane at 4:13 AM on June 17, 2010


Buddhism: Om Man Padme Hum
Christianity: Om nom nom nom
posted by unSane at 4:24 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I've never met one who eats pork"

Someone who doesn't eat pork? Or someone who says they don't eat pork? I have a friend who does a lot of work in the Muslim arts. He (like many) has a conservative public persona, but is far more lax in his personal life, and is careful about keeping these two worlds apart. He eats pork, but would never admit to it . Among other things. This is true for a few people I know, who consider themselves very practicing Muslims. Like esprit de l'escalier's friend, another one of mine began eating pork when he studied in Spain as well!

For some there's the deliciousness factor, but I think the rational - particularly if they live in the US - is to not just take "pork is haram" at face value, but critically think about why, and then examine these reasons side by side with the way meat is prepared today. Poultry, beef, and even fish farming are pretty filthy, and are not necessarily cleaner options than pork.

And "halal meat" isn't always what it says it is. The place we used to get our halal meat from growing up, was busted for not implementing halal practices in meat preparation. There was an undercover expose on the local access TV shows; it was scandalous, in the community. Scandalous! And that's when my family stopped eating halal meat.

I've eaten pork not more than 10 times in my life. A couple of those unknowingly, but most of them being a willing participant in pork eating (when it was made by someone else, served to me, and I felt was the polite thing to do). I don't have any religious objections to it (raised Muslim, atheist now), but pork just tastes weird to me. I've had bacon (apparently it was "good bacon"), and I don't get the big deal. I have no craving or satiation from pork products.
posted by raztaj at 4:57 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


jamón ibérico is awesome
posted by valdesm at 5:46 AM on June 17, 2010


bardophile: "The overlap between Kashrut and eating halal has resulted in the formation of the Kosher-Halal Dining Co-op at Oberlin College. I don't know if other colleges have similar cooperative (in both senses of the word) ventures."

Yes, Mount Holyoke College has something similar.

Being from Detroit, halal butchers were everywhere. We used to buy directly from a halal slaughterhouse by Eastern Market. It was always an interesting trip.

These days, I'm mostly concerned that any meat I buy for consumption at home be humanely and healthily raised (no antibiotics unless the animal is sick, etc.) and slaughtered than with any certifying standard. I admire people who take a thoughtful stand on food issues, religious or not, especially when they don't then go around telling everyone how much better they are than everyone else and how you should do what they do. That is just damned annoying.
posted by QIbHom at 5:52 AM on June 17, 2010


> I will say that it's a lot easier to be vegetarian if you're a Sephardi Jew

This is especially true at Passover, where protein options are severely limited for kosher Ashkenazis (legumes are not Passover kosher). Otherwise, my religious vegetarian Jewish friends have no problem being vegetarian; it actually makes it easier to keep kosher due to the 'no milk and meat' requirement.
posted by Anali at 7:34 AM on June 17, 2010


QIBHom: That sounds like a college-run dining hall. I know there are several places that have those. The one I'm thinking of is a student-run co-op. It creates an environment where college-age observant Jews and Muslims to interact with each other of necessity...
posted by bardophile at 8:25 AM on June 17, 2010


Bardophile, it grew out of a kosher-halal kitchen shared by Jewish and Muslim students who could cook together there (no college staff). It just kept growing.
posted by QIbHom at 11:51 AM on June 17, 2010


In my city, there are all kinds of halal restaurants: pizza joints, Chinese, Thai, TexMex, burger and steak joints, etc in addition to the middle eastern and Desi places. Halal meat is that which has undergone the process laid out in the sharia, and really has nothing to do with regional cuisine.

I think I understand what halal means.

I just find it interesting that there is a huge culture of Muslims in a region of Asia that you wouldn't necessarily think of as Muslim.

What I mean is, I'm not talking about some random Chinese-novelty food that happens to be halal; I'm talking about a deep-rooted centuries-old tradition of Chinese people that practice Islam, and serve culturally halal food. Which is quite delicious.
posted by jabberjaw at 3:25 PM on June 17, 2010


bardophile: The overlap between Kashrut and eating halal has resulted in the formation of the Kosher-Halal Dining Co-op at Oberlin College. I don't know if other colleges have similar cooperative (in both senses of the word) ventures.

Mount Holyoke College in MA has this too; it was our preferred dining hall because the food tended to be better.
posted by emkelley at 3:43 PM on June 17, 2010


I'm talking about a deep-rooted centuries-old tradition of Chinese people that practice Islam, and serve culturally halal food.

That'd be the Uighur people in western China (and the restaurants around the country set up by and/or for them), who are "Chinese" only in the sense that their land falls within the borders of modern-day China.

At the northern end of the Karakoram highway across the mountains from Pakistan, north & west of Tibet, and bordering the Taklamakan Desert that the Silk Road used to skirt around, the area & its people are closer to Afghanistan & the Central Asian 'stans than to the majority Han Chinese.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:59 PM on June 17, 2010


The thing about halal certification is that, like with pretty much everything in Islam, no one has certifying authority.

The Malaysian government has been investing heavily in establishing Malaysian Halal certification as a world standard for halal food products. The "Halal Hub" of the world if you will. You can follow developments at the Halal Journal, the trade magazine for the industry.
posted by BinGregory at 6:21 PM on June 17, 2010


I grew up eating halal. My parents would go every 2 or 3 months to Berry & Sons in Dearborn, MI and get a variety of high-quality beef and lamb. I remember when the halal butchers finally caught on that Muslims in the US wanted turkey at Thanksgiving and starting stocking them (I'd say that was in the early 80s). Halal meat tends to just taste better, especially noticeable in the chicken and ground products. You know that it is fresh and not made from thousands of cows on 3 to 4 different continents.

As to Muslims eating pork, I have known some in the past but no one in my family does. I'm pretty secular, as are my sisters but that's one of the places we really draw the line. I can't speak for anyone else but I grew up believing that it was beyond the pale.

Besides, I have a lot of respect for the noble pig. Living in darkness, separated from its mother, slaughtered too young. It deserves better.
posted by nikitabot at 9:37 PM on June 17, 2010


Berry & Sons! That place is awesome. You could get halal venison sometimes because Berry (or Son?) was a big hunter. I used to go there and ask for lamb bones. My mother-in-law loves lamb-bone soup - in Malaysia you have to pay good money for the bones, and there the guy would just give us the bones with plenty of meat left on them for free. Very nice guy. One of the oldest halal butchers in town, isn't it?
posted by BinGregory at 11:10 PM on June 17, 2010


establishing Malaysian Halal certification as a world standard for halal food products

Bin Gregory: I understand that people are attempting it. My point is that there is significant disagreement on what constitutes "halal" food. I actually worry about the institutionalizing of what, in my opinion, should continue to be individual decisions. At the same time, I understand the practical difficulties that would vanish if someone could simply check a food product for a particular symbol, a la Circle K, etc. to determine that it was halal.

The danger lies in people then overextending that and assuming that if the label isn't there, the food isn't halal. The overall level of self-righteousness in religious communities being what it is, I dislike the idea of any excuse for that to increase.

QIBHom: Cool!

emkelley: That was true at Oberlin, too. A bunch of people would join because the food was simply better. Oh, and the fact that KHC ate more meat than most of the other co-ops.
posted by bardophile at 11:37 PM on June 17, 2010


> That'd be the Uighur people in western China (and the restaurants around the country set up by and/or for them), who are "Chinese" only in the sense that their land falls within the borders of modern-day China.

What?

China's a pretty big country. With a pretty big history. Islam is slightly more pervasive than just the Uighurs (who have a fascinating history and ethnography in and of themselves).

I guess this is why I find Chinese Muslim food interesting, because nobody seems to have any idea what the hell I'm talking about. I am familiar with Chinese Muslim food having known people ethnically from the Henan region, who are not Muslim, but who love Chinese Muslim food because they ate a lot of it in that region. The beef noodles are fantastic, as is the sesame onion bread, but they have some awesome lamb dishes.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:38 AM on June 18, 2010


".... and I've never met one who eats pork."

My wife and her brother both eat pork. Bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.
posted by chunking express at 12:07 PM on June 18, 2010


Not (obviously) that he's Muslim, but I have it on *extremely* good authority that the Dalai Lama secretly eats bacon. I am not kidding. After he told the person he told me, apparently he smiled a beautiful smile and put his fingers to his lips.
posted by unSane at 8:55 PM on June 18, 2010


-he +who
posted by unSane at 8:55 PM on June 18, 2010


> Not (obviously) that he's Muslim, but I have it on *extremely* good authority that the Dalai Lama secretly eats bacon.

The Dalai Lama eats whatever his doctors and handlers give him, which often includes various kinds of meat. He's said that he doesn't really care to eat meat and has been a vegetarian at times, but trusts his caretakers.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:05 PM on June 18, 2010


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