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How To Determine The Halal Status Of Food While You Travel

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Saif-ur-Rahman  •  Jul 21, 2017

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(Updated 7 Feb 2019) One of the common challenges faced by Muslim travellers is to find Halal food. This is not a problem, particularly in Singapore because as long as one sees a Halal certification by the Islamic Religious Council (MUIS) posted either at the entrance or on the menu, one can be assured of the permissibility of eating at that particular establishment. The flip-side, however, is that we become too dependent on such certifications that may not be found overseas. Credit: giphy We hope this article will help you to learn more about the concept of Halal food in terms of its practical application to Muslim travellers in the context of our modern, multi-religious and multi-cultural world! Do note that this is an opinion piece by Uztad Saif-ur-Rahman (Alchemy of Hippie-ness). 

What exactly is 'Halal'?

“Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.” (Al-Baqarah 2: 185)

Islam is not a difficult religion. In fact, one of the main purposes of Syariah is to alleviate difficulties in the implementation of faith, while it serves as a way to preserve the well-being of humanity.
Credit: Wikipedia Commons Halal is an Arabic word that means "lawful or permissible." In Islam, life is a sacred blessing of Allah to creation for both animals and humans. For food to be considered Halal, it must be slaughtered on certain permissible animals in a particular way, by invoking only the name of Allah through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and/or windpipe, while its blood completely drained out. This is to ensure that it does not affect the quality of the meat while it remains pure and harmless for human consumption. Allah only wants good for us and prohibits things that are unnecessary or dispensable while providing better alternatives. 
Therefore, when asked 'what is halal' in Islam, the answer must be all that is safe, good and wholesome, approved by people in general without relation to the habits or preference of a particular group (Yusuf al-Qaradawi, The Islamic Principles Pertaining To Halal And Haram). Further, Allah says:

“They ask thee what is lawful to them (as food). Say: whatever that is good is lawful to you.” (Al-Maidah 5:4)

Guide to eating overseas

One of the most common questions I received while travelling is “where do I find halal food?” Here are some tips to assist you in your decision-making process when eating overseas! 
1. When there is a Halal sign, Muslim-owned or Muslim-run
Credit: Makan Halal Korean Restaurant
This is the easiest option! You should trust the establishment that their food is Halal, especially if they are Muslim-owned or Muslim-run food establishments, provided you do not see anything dubious about the food they serve. However, such Halal certification may not be prevalent in many countries. P.S. To get you started, check out our Food Guides which cover Halal-certified and Muslim-friendly establishments in over 40 different countries!
2. When there is no Halal sign but the owner claims the meat is Halal
There are a few things to consider. If the owner is Muslim or there are many Muslim workers in the restaurant and they attest to the Halal-ness of their food, you can trust them. If not, you can request for suppliers’ document certifying the permissibility of the meats they serve.
One trick that I used to do is to give the greetings of Salam to the owners and workers when I enter the restaurant or when they serve me. If they reply positively, I will accept that they are Muslims and will not lie about serving Halal food to another fellow Muslim.
3. When there is a mix of Halal and Haram food
 This is the most tricky situation but not uncommon in Europe, and that would be to claim that they serve Halal meat but yet also provide alcoholic drinks. In another scenario, they will claim to be able to provide Halal food but they also serve other food such as pork and its derivatives. In such a situation, it depends on whether there are other available options nearby. If there are, you should put in a little bit more effort and find a Halal restaurant instead. It is better to eat at a clearly Halal restaurant despite having to walk a little bit more. While walking, I used to make doa that Allah help me find a Halal restaurant because I want to safeguard my faith – and in all situations, I always find them. Alhamdulillah. At its core, you must personally be satisfied and feel comfortable if you so decide to eat at any of these mixed food establishments. However, it is important to remember that you cannot impose your comfort level to another Muslim. #HHWT Tip: Some of these mixed food establishments have dedicated and separate kitchens, utensils, and storage facilities for Halal and non-Halal food - if they are able to assure you of this, then do use your own discretion in deciding whether to eat there.
4. When there is no Halal meat available – Kosher is the answer
Credit: Wikipedia Commons This is a real problem particularly when I was living in the United States, especially if there are not many Muslim communities around. Fortunately, Kosher meat is easily accessible and is in abundance in the US. The process of making meat kosher is more stringent than the Islamic way of slaughtering. There are many Jewish quarters where you can get your meat when you cannot find Halal meat. Allah says: 

“On this day, all pure things are made lawful for you (as food). The food of the People of the Book is made lawful for you and your food is made lawful for them.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:5)

5. What about seafood?
While at a glance this may sound simple, most seafood in the West is cooked with alcohol. It is a good alternative to have seafood instead of meat if finding Halal food is difficult, but do make a request to the chef to skip the alcohol. It is usual for me to convey to them that I am allergic to alcohol so they will avoid putting any on my food. In the West, the restaurants always accede to your requests, be it for reasons of allergies or religious grounds. #HHWT Tip:  Some desserts, confectionaries, or baked goods may also use alcohol or non-Halal ingredients and derivatives (e.g. lard in pastries, ham) so do make sure to double-check before purchasing any buns or sweet treats for consumption! 
6. No pork, no lard?
This is a common misconception in restaurants, especially in East Asia. You should know that having no pork or no lard by itself does not make the food Halal. The permissibility of food is determined by the nature of the meat, the way it is slaughtered and the way it is treated before and after the slaughter. This slogan does not make the food you eat Halal and you should avoid it. Credit: giphy As mentioned earlier, this is not an exhaustive consideration for Halal eating while you are in a state of musafir. It does, however, attempt to elucidate some pointers to take note while deciding whether it is safe to consume in a certain food establishment. In addition, you should be well-prepared and Google for Halal restaurants prior to your departure to make things easier for you.
 Bearing these points in mind, ultimately each one of us is personally responsible to satisfy our personal conscience on whether consuming a particular food complies with the requirement of faith. Each one of us will be personally responsible for such decisions we make. Therefore, whatever standards you decide to upkeep, make it only for yourself and do not impose on another. Enjoy your travels! This post was written by guest blogger, Uztaz Saif-ur-Rahman, the director of Alchemy of Travel Pte Ltd. Find him online at Alchemy of Travel | Facebook | Instagram