I started eating fully Halal when I was about 16 years old. At that time most of my Muslim friends did not eat fully Halal and it was only after learning about Halal in Sunday school that I started to take it more seriously.
When I was growing up in the 80’s and 90’s there were not many Halal restaurants in the Bay Area – except for one or two Muslim Chinese spots and a couple of Indian-Pakistani restaurants. In those days, Halal eaters like me were happy to be able to eat meat outside of the home on those special occasions such as Eid. Now thankfully, some 20 years later there are many good Halal Restaurants in the Bay Area (as well as other parts of the US) with a large variety of cuisines to choose from. I can now get Halal burgers, Fried Chicken, Pepperoni (Halal Beef) Pizza, Somalian, Afghani, Middle Eastern, Thai, Gyros, Submarine sandwiches, and Halal Steak all within a 40 mile radius from my hometown of San Jose, CA!
Sometimes, when I watch my 3 year old eat chicken tenders or halal pepperoni pizza we ordered take-out from the local Halal spot, I think to myself: “Man, you have no idea how lucky you are son!”
As I kid I ate a lot of PB&J or Cheese Sandwiches for lunch. When I got older, I ate a lot of Tuna sandwiches at places like Subway and Togo’s. And of course there was the obligatory Filet-O-Fish Sandwich from McDonald’s.
When friends of other faiths (or no faith) ask me, “What is Halal?”, I usually describe it as being similar to Kosher food, but for Muslims. Most people in America are familiar with the concept of Kosher because of the very long tradition of Jewish culture in the United States and popular brands such as “Hebrew National” and products such as Kosher Salt and Kosher Dill Pickles which most people, including non-Jews, prefer to eat.
Although Kosher is very similar to Halal, there are also many differences. The main one being that Alcohol is acceptable for Jews, while it is not allowed for Muslims to consume (unless it’s for medicinal purposes). The other main difference is that all parts of an animal slaughtered according to Islamic law are acceptable for a Muslim to eat, while only the fore quarter of an animal is acceptable as Kosher while the hindquarter are considered non-Kosher.
There are some people who are unfamiliar with Kosher, so how do we explain what Halal means to them? I go back to a talk I heard a few years back by a local Islamic leader, Imam Tahir Anwar who once explained that we (Muslims) believe that if an animal is treated badly or are scared at the time of slaughter, it creates negative energy in the animal, which is transferred through their blood and into the meat. When you eat that meat, you are putting that negative energy into your body, which leads to bad health, not only physically, but also spiritually. Technically, according to Islamic Law, if the animal is treated badly or scared, yet slaughtered properly, it’s Halal to consume, but the actions remove the element of perfection which we should strive towards.
For those who don’t have faith or belief in spirituality, there is also scientific evidence that eating the meat of animals which are stressed and are in fear at the time of slaughter, leads to health problems in the humans who consume their meat.
According to a 1998 study by Dr. Irwin H. Putzkoff, PhD called Animal Stress Results in Meat Causing Disease:
“Stress, fear and pain when animals are being slaughtered or waiting to be slaughtered results in several disease processes in the humans which eat the meat. Most notable are cardiac problems, impotency and general fatigue.
Studies made of domestic farm animals (cattle, pigs and poultry), and of laboratory animals (dogs and rats) show in all cases elevated levels of steroid hormones, generally associated with adrenocortical secretions. Primary substances include adrenalin, cortisone-like secretions, and steroids which stimulate fear pheromone production. All of these are known to result in poor health and poor vitality. This study confirms this link in food consumed by humans.”
This makes sense to me, especially here in the United States, where you have very large slaughterhouses and the animals (especially cattle) are just shoved into large and scary slaughtering machines. There are many videos online where you can see this very cruel and fearful way the animals are treated right before they are slaughtered for their meat.
So what makes “Halal Meat” different? Well first off, the animals are to be treated well, especially right before they are slaughtered. Usually they are given water to drink and a special prayer is made by the Muslim (can be any Muslim person, unlike for Kosher, which has to be done by a Rabbi) who is going to slaughter the animal. Of course during the animal’s life it should be treated kindly with access to roam freely and not locked in a cage all day (i.e. what they refer to as “cage-free” these days).
Secondly, the animal should be killed quickly with a sharp knife to the neck and the blood drained out (unlike some other practices where they cut the head of the animal completely off – which is not allowed for Halal Animal Slaughter or “Zabihah” in Arabic). The slicing of the jugular vein of the animal is considered to be less painful and more humane than other forms of animal slaughter.
Thirdly, Halal meat must come from animals which are not treated with any growth hormones or antibiotics (which may contain hormones from non-Halal animals or pork-based ingredients) and they should not be fed animal by-products (unfortunately much of the animal feed in the United States contain animal by-products which again contain pork or other non-Halal ingredients). So because of these and other factors, many people consider Halal meat to be healthier than non-Halal meat because it is more “Natural” and in theory the animal has been treated better than an animal in a large slaughter house.
PART 2 of this article will be posted soon.
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