Halal, Muslim-friendly, Pork-free, BYOB, Partially-Halal.. [All The Terms Muslims Should Know before Dining!]
Halal can be confusing, misunderstood, and often controversial in non-muslim and even in Muslim-majority countries with multi-religious population.
With the rise of Halal and semi-Halal food chains these days throughout the world, it is good to understand what it means and what other vague terms like ‘Muslim-friendly’, ‘No Pork’, or ‘Halal Meat’ means.
Let’s look at what makes a halal food halal, and what doesn’t, shall we?
What is Halal?
Halal means permissible in Arabic.
While halal covers all aspects of “the Islam way of life”, like Halal Travel. Meanwhile in food, what makes Halal food Halal is how it adheres to the Islamic Law.
This comprises of:
- How the food was prepared, processed, transported, and stored.
- How the meat was slaughtered. Meat is Halal in Islam if it is slaughtered according to a specific manner called dhabiha — cutting through the jugular vein.
- No forbidden ingredients and method. This includes alcohol, blood, pork, and its by-products, fanged animals, reptiles, and some other animals. As well as methods like stunning.
What meat can Muslims eat?
Those who do not have a clear understanding of “Halal”, there’s this preconceived notion that “Muslims cannot eat pork only and is free to eat other kinds of meat”.
This is a simplified idea of what Halal meat is, while the reality is that it goes far beyond that.
While it is true that Muslims cannot eat pork, this “simplified idea” presents a danger that Muslims can eat other meat like chicken, and beef, which was not slaughtered according to Islamic law.
Bottom line — When it comes to what meat can Muslims eat, or what does Halal meat mean, it is meat that has been slaughtered according to Islamic law.
And this includes beef, lamb, chicken, duck, goat, and camel.
What is Haram?
Haram (prohibited or unlawful) is the exact opposite of Halal food and its sources.
What food and food by-products that are considered Haram in Islam are:
- Meat from dead animals prior to being slaughtered
- Meat from animals that were not slaughtered according to Islamic law
- Meat from carnivorous animals, birds of prey, and land animals without ears.
- Stunned meat
- Alcohol such as beer, wine, and food prepared with alcohol (e.g., rum cake)
- Blood and food made with blood by-products such as black pudding.
- Food made from non-halal gelatin.
What are other Halal foods?
Now that we have covered that meat slaughtered according to Islamic law is Halal meat, there are other types of food, which are always halal.
Some examples are:
Seafood is halal if it does not contain and is not processed through non-halal methods including non-halal products and their by-products
Other Halal foods include rice, eggs, any grain and seed products, vegetables, spices, and fruits.
How to determine what food is Halal when traveling to foreign countries?
When it comes to food obtained from the supermarket, or convenience stores, one way to determine if the food product is Halal is to look for the Halal certification on the label or packaging.
If you’re visiting a Muslim-minority country, being more thorough like checking the ingredient list on the label is one way to do it.
What is Halal-certified?
In short, Halal-certified (1) food products or (2) food services guarantee that (1) food products or (2) food service meets Islamic law standards of the region.
To discern the status of Halal in dining establishments better, one way that makes it easier is the Halal certification
These are country-specific labels that have been established according to the rules of a specific country’s Islamic council.
In Muslim-majority and Muslim countries like Malaysia and the UAE, Halal certifications are plenty. You can see the logos and labels visibly plastered on the counter, at the front entrance or just somewhere inside the restaurant.
In Muslim-minority countries, like The USA, simple Halal logo in Arabic or spelled out as it is “HALAL” are enough to determine if the establishment is Halal.
Halal-certified VS other “Muslim-friendly” vague claims and labels
While some food is obvious on halal and haram, some are more open to interpretation and scenarios that require one’s judgment.
With the information overload out there, it is important for one to verify the information and vague labels on their own upon reading, internalizing content or stumbling upon establishment with these “vague labels”.
Now, let’s break down the differences, and perceptions on what do vague terms like “Muslim-friendly”, “Pork-free”, “Halal meat”, and scenarios in Muslim-minority countries where “BYOB” (“Bring Your Own Bottle” of alcohol) is present at some establishments with Halal meat.
This can be a loose term, and should be judged subjectively depending on who is the owner of the establishment.
Personal observation: Over the past years, I have seen websites that don’t have halal in their primary interests, simply stamping “Muslim-friendly” to outlets that do not serve pork or alcohol. Or, it can be, that the outlets only serve halal meal, but it has alcohol on the premise (such is the usual case in most Western countries). These outlets have also been labeled as “Muslim-friendly”.
This is why I urge readers to take “Muslim-friendly” term with a pinch of salt, especially when reading or internalizing content from platforms (traditional media) with no primary Halal interests
We don’t know how loose this term can be.
Here’s the dilemma—if there’s alcohol on site, in a Muslim-minority country where it’s difficult to find Halal options… Although you don’t drink it, there is no guarantee that cross-contamination would not occur during dish-washing, or serving of a meal.
This can also be interpreted differently.
Some premises, in Asia, usually operated by non-muslims would put “Pork-free” to indicate that there’s no pork on site to catch the attention of Muslim diners.
But the catch here is that, does the meat (chicken/beef) served here comes from Halal sources?
Meat that are unverifiable of where they come from, are also to caution against.
Sometimes, this is claimed by non-Muslims who do not use Halal-certified meat, and cannot have their restaurants verified by one country’s official Halal certification body.
Some dining establishments in Muslim-minority countries, who are owned by non-Muslims would use Halal meat as part of their menu to cater to the Muslim diners.
This can be in steak houses, or burger joints.
However, you have to check what meat is exactly Halal, and if cross-contamination does not occur.
Some diners selling Halal meat do not serve alcohol. But usually fine dining serving Halal meat may also sell alcohol on site.
So the guarantee that “no cross-contamination would not occur” is again, a concern there.
Muslim-owned means that you can be rest assured that the premise only serves Halal meat, and no alcohol on site.
Partially-halal dining scenarios in Muslim-minority countries
Two scenarios that are common in Muslim-minority countries are BYOB and Halal Meat
BYOB — Bring Your Own Bottle (of alcohol)
Some establishments that serve Halal meat, also allow diners to “bring their own bottle” (BYOB) to the premise.
“Halal Meat” is served with alcohol present in-store
Like what is mentioned above, some non-Muslim establishments, serve Halal meat to cater to the growing Muslim patrons.
However, because it is an eatery that belongs to non-muslims, alcohol is also present on site.
So, be it BYOB, or establishments selling both Halal meat and alcohol on site, the main concern is that “do cross-contamination occur on site?”
This is something that we do not know entirely, unless there’s a guarantee from the restaurant owner, or a clear, standardized distinguishment label that can be verified by local Halal body.
Regardless, such are the nuances of dining in multi-religious and Muslim-minority countries.
Be careful who you take advice on Halal/Muslim-friendly from the Internet!
When it comes to loose-end terms like Muslim-friendly, or pork-free that you see on the Internet, it is highly suggested that readers and viewers to also take caution, and double check before trusting a content wholeheartedly:
Who is the writer behind this halal food article? Is he/she Muslim herself?
Personal view: I have seen non-Muslim writers writing about establishments selling Halal food, but clearly have gotten it wrong and have no idea what they’re talking about.
What medium is publishing this?
- Do they have a clear understanding of halal/non-halal?
- Or are they just winging it to their on-the-surface understanding?
- Do they have halal in their best interests or primary interests?
These are legitimate and important questions to look into before trusting a site wholeheartedly.
I have also seen blogs and websites that do not have halal as their primary ethos but simply slap “Muslim-friendly” on restaurants/cafes that aren’t even Muslim-friendly!
What makes a place 100% halal?
Of course, with clear standardized, Halal signages authorized by the local Islamic council, it is clear that a place is 100% Halal.
But at the end of the day, it’s not all about “not having pork or no alcohol on the premise”, or “serving Halal meat only”.
It is so much more than just ethically slaughtered meat according to Islamic law.
- The hygiene of the place.
- How the animals were slaughtered.
- Guarantee that there’s no cross contamination between Halal and Haram.
- No existence of Haram by-products in the food.
At the end of the day, the only way to tell if a place is truly Halal, beyond what it looks on the surface is to trust your hunch.
If you have a negative gut feeling, perhaps that’s Allah’s way of telling you to not proceed eating there. Trust in the gut feeling that is signaled to you from Allah.
I hope this guide was helpful, Jazakallah Khayr.
- Understanding “Halal” and “Halal Certification & Accreditation System”- A Brief Review Mohd Imran Khan1, Dr. Abid Haleem
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- 30+ Halal Food in NYC!
- Halal Food Washington DC: 11 Spots Not to Miss Out!
- 23+ Best Halal food in Egypt! (& Where to Get Them)
- Halal Food in Dubai
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