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What Is Halal? Is It Only Limited To Food?

As per the guidelines, the way of slaughtering the animal determines its status as Halal. The act should sever the trachea, oesophagus and main arteries and veins of the neck region of the animal, it notes. 

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General view of a butcher selling halal meat in Brixton, south London
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As the Uttar Pradesh government has already banned the “production, storing, distribution and sale of halal certified edible items” across the state followed by multiple raids in different locations, it is imperative to understand what is Halal. Is it only limited to food or extended to other affairs of the Muslim lives?  

Notably, the November 18 order of the UP government exempted the Halal-marked products slated to be exported from the ban. Earlier, in June, the commerce ministry of the central government issued a draft guideline about the export of Halal meat products. It mentioned that any product would be certified as halal only if it is produced, processed and packed under a valid certificate issued by a board accredited by the Quality Council of India. Till now, the Halal certification in India is mostly done by private bodies.  

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However, UP became the first state to domestically ban Halal certification. The step, the state government notes, comes in the backdrop of complaints from several people who claimed that some companies are getting undue benefits in the market as they are targeting a specific community with ‘forged’ certification. In India, the major Halal certification bodies are Halal India Pvt Ltd and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust.  

As per the definition of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Halal is any food that is permitted under Islamic law. Its guideline notes, “All lawful land animals should be slaughtered in compliance with the rules laid down in the Codex Recommended Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Meat.”  

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As per the guidelines, the way of slaughtering the animal determines its status as Halal. The act should sever the trachea, oesophagus and main arteries and veins of the neck region of the animal, it notes. 

However, it is not limited to slaughtering; pork meat and alcohol are also prohibited as per Islamic laws. Islamic religious book the Qur’an in chapter V says, “Forbidden unto you (for food) are: carrion and blood and swine flesh, and that on which hath been invoked the name other than Allah, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which hath been gored to death, and the devoured of wild beasts, saving that which ye make lawful (by slaughter) and that which hath been immolated to idols and that ye swear by the divining arrows. This is an abomination….” 

As per the religious texts, there are several guidelines to demarcate the Halal products from Haram ones. Any animal that has been beaten or strangled to death is not permitted as well. However, the concept of Halal is not limited to food products only.  

“Halal simply means that which is permissible. The opposite is Haram which means that which is strictly forbidden. For example, God has permitted trade but forbidden interest. Thus, business and trade are halal while interest is haram,” says Dr. Abu Mounir, a professor of Mass Communication in North Bengal.  

Some things are directly and explicitly forbidden by the Qur’an itself, like consuming pork or taking and giving of interest. Other aspects have been declared Haram by undisputed hadith that is saying of the Prophet (PBUH), he adds.  

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According to Shahi Bukhari- one of the major Hadith that documents the life and words of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)- there is a doubtful and ambiguous line between Halal and Haram. “Halal is clear and the Haram (unlawful) is clear. Between the two there are doubtful matters concerning which people do not know. One who avoids them to safeguard his deen (religion) and his honour is safe, while if someone indulges in it, he may be indulging in the unlawful……”, it notes.  

But, is the halal certificate necessary for Muslims to buy products? Mounir says, “Muslims, especially practising Muslims, will always want to make sure before buying any packaged or processed food that it is halal. Like if I want to buy a chicken noodles packet of Maggie or any other brand, I would look for the halal tag.” 

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However, Imam Habib Bewley of the Jumu’a mosque at Cape Town, South Africa, opposed the Halal certification and said that it had a profiteering motive that stands against permissible Islamic practices. According to him, Muslims are well aware of the permissible foods and if they read the labels of ingredients, they would be able to differentiate between Halal and Haram.  

Nadia El-Mouelhy who is the Director of Halal Certification Authority Pty Ltd, one of the largest processed goods regulatory bodies in Australia, in 2018, while talking about the necessity of Halal certification said, “In 1974, the halal certification took off for slaughtered meat. It took another 19 years, until 1993 when processed goods became developed (if at all). In that period approximately 11 companies were certified, and in 1993 it became massively developed. At that time, there was an issue in the industry, where sugar-refining processes required pig bones, and even ice cream had pig emulsifiers within it, so halal certification was needed. This need was even higher, knowing that Australia is a huge export market to Muslim countries.” Later on, the certification even moved to bring pharmaceuticals and cosmetic products into its ambit. Globally, the International Halal Accreditation Forum (IHAF) works as a ‘network of accreditation bodies mandated to enforce halal standards in their economies’.  

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International Halal certification, another body that certifies Halal products, in its website notes down the necessity of the Halal mark. Referring to the growing use of additives, it points out, “Due to the possibility of these items containing a combination of Haram substances, not visible in the list of ingredients, there is a need for a competent Halal Certifier to conduct an intensive audit, evaluation & review process to trace and ensure that these products do not contain any Haram ingredients.”  

However, the use of Halal in identity formation in India also has a different aspect. Shireen Mirza, in her research on colonial Bombay, shows the use of Halal in the body of ‘Halalkhor’- a term used by the lower caste Muslim workers who are engaged in ‘stigmatised’ occupations like ‘sanitation, removing refuse, and collecting urban waste’. Mirza points out that they use the ‘Halal income’ as a fulcrum to assert their dignity against ‘Haram earning’- income through means that is proscribed in Islam.  

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Since the ban, the UP government has seized 2,275 kgs of food products that had Halal certification. Is it going to affect the Muslims of the state? A Muslim activist from UP on the condition of anonymity says, “Muslims don’t want to engage into these things now. We would find our ways out to identify Halal products. But this is not the way to curb on the ‘forged’ certification.”  

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