Believers, eat the wholesome things which We have provided for you and give thanks to God, if it is Him you worship. He has forbidden you only carrion, blood and the flesh of swine, also any flesh that is consecrated other than in the name of God- Ch 2 V 172-173
This is one of the Quranic verses that Muslim use to regulate what they eat or do not eat. Muslims would eat only “halal” foods. The word “halal” literally means “permissible” and generally refers to the manner in which animals are slaughtered for consumption. Muslims would say a prayer while the jugular vein of the animal is being cut with a sharp knife and then allow the blood to completely drain from the carcass.
Halal also refers to any product which is produced using any type of animal product. Once it contains an animal by-product, and the said animal was not slaughtered according to Islamic rites, then it is not fit for Muslim consumption. Muslims go to great lengths to ensure that they do not eat and partake in any product which is not halal and would often forego eating an item if they are not sure believing it is better to be “safe than sorry”. Muslim children have the idea of eating only “halal” so ingrained in their psyche from an early age, that very few if any Muslim children, would be found consuming any food of questionable nature. Parents who grocery shop would scrutinize labels and launch into a full investigation of any product they are unsure about that they see on a label, to ensure that they are purchasing only items that are allowed.
These practices and habits of the discerning Muslim have worked well and have safeguarded many a Muslim from consuming foods and products that they should not. The Quran continues in Ch2 V 172 – 173 to say,
If a Muslim eats an unlawful item out of necessity or in ignorance, he or she will find his Lord forgiving and merciful.
Does this mean that once a food or product is halal that Muslims have a free passport to consume any halal food as they would like and without any scrutiny or thought to its benefit and health value?
Let us consider how we plan our meals and feed our families. Are the meals we are preparing full of nutritional value and in the required proportions that are needed for maintaining a healthy balanced diet? Should we only be considering that once it is halal, it is allowed? Why should we as Muslims question what we feed our families and especially our children?
There are many products on the market today that are halal and permissible for Muslims to eat. There are many products which are marketed to Muslims and one can see the word “halal” written on the packaging in both English and Arabic to encourage Muslims to purchase the product. Unlike 10 or 20 years ago, processed foods such as hot dogs, hamburgers, corn beef, and brand name fried chicken was unheard of among Muslims especially in Barbados. Today, it is common place in many homes, as halal burgers, fried chicken and hot dogs can be easily and readily available.
The marketing and accessibility to energy drinks which primarily should only be used by active sports persons are available for purchase by as young as our 5 and 6 year old Muslim children who more than often lead very sedentary lifestyles. Sweets, candy, chocolates which are not only full of sugar but colorings and dyes can be purchased and bought for our children by some Moms and Dads who seem to find it almost impossible to say “no” to their children and site peer pressure and not wanting their child to feel “left out” as the only reason for allowing their child to eat these sugar filled items on a regular basis.
Yes, we all know they are “halal” and it is permissible and fit for Muslim consumption. Yes we know they are all attractively packaged and beckon us Muslims to purchase them with the money Allah has blessed us with. But just because it is “halal” should we really be eating it with such regularity? And allowing our children to consume them with such ease? Shouldn’t there be a balance? Shouldn’t we by now be able to recognize and understand that there is a concept of “healthy halal”?
In Islam every good act that we perform has the potential to become an act of worship provided we make the correct intention. It has the possibility of reaping righteous rewards and gaining the favour and pleasure of Almighty Allah. We are already gaining blessings by eating “halal’ products only. The benefits can be increased by eating “healthy halal”.
A sound healthy body is a sound healthy mind. Filling our bodies with wholesome, healthy foods has immeasurable health benefits. Many Muslims in Barbados, suffer from Non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) which I’m sure can largely stem from a poor and unhealthy diet and lifestyle. We are better able to serve our Lord, and follow His commands once we are healthy and the key to being healthy is to eat healthy and live a healthy life style. Eating a plate of food, rich and vibrant in colour and nutrients, carrying the right amount of meat, fish, starches, vegetables and fruit on a regular basis can go a long way in enriching our lives and help in combating NCD’s.
Eating “healthy halal” means replacing sugary beverages with water, coconut water, fruit infused waters and naturally blended fruit juices.
Eating “healthy halal” means cutting back on fried foods and replacing it with more baked and grilled foods. They taste just as good and often times even better.
Eating “healthy halal” means packing more nutritious lunch boxes for our children and encouraging our children to say ‘no’ to sugary foods and drinks and energy drinks which only affect their ability to perform and focus in the classroom.
Eating “healthy halal” means making wise choices when shopping and reading labels, which we already do, and not be ‘caught’ by deceptive marketing strategies that want to rob us of our hard-earned money and replacing with products that are low in nutrition and good health.
Eating “healthy halal” means satisfying your “sweet tooth” more often with the fruits mentioned in the Quran, like dates, pomegranates, figs, bananas, olives, grapes instead of desserts, cakes, pies and cookies on a regular basis.
Eating “healthy halal” sweetening our foods and drinks with honey and other natural sugar alternatives.
Our Beloved Prophet (PBUH) said:
A human being fills no worse vessel than their stomach. A few morsels that keeps one’s back upright is sufficient. If one has to, then one should keep one-third for food, one-third for drink and one-third for breathing.
This is certainly the best advice.
Let’s all be encouraged and motivated to make healthy halal choices and begin to take steps to change our way of eating and consuming foods in a more ‘healthy’ “ halal” way.
Wouldn’t it make us all better Muslims better able to serve our Lord and worship Him in the way He deserves? We are what we eat. Let us transform our bodies and minds by choosing a more “healthy” “halal” diet.
Writer: Ferozah Kothdiwala
Sister Ferozah is a teacher, counselor and the Secretary of the
Barbados Association of Muslim Ladies.