[UPDATED 6 Aug 2019]
If you grew up in a Muslim country or a Muslim-majority country, you tend to take a few things for granted; like the ability to find halal food products and cafes almost everywhere, being able to go out in a hijab without anyone giving you a second glance (unless it’s to check out what scarf you’re wearing) or the simple act of being around people without having to explain why you can't eat pork or drink beer ?.
However, when you go travelling overseas (especially to non-Muslim countries) you're bound to meet people who either don't know what the term halal means (or its importance to Muslims) or people who have a completely skewered view of the concept ?.
That being said, this article will hopefully help you to explain the concept of halal to non-Muslims when travelling!
1. What is Halal?
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First off, let’s start with getting them to understanding the term ‘halal’. In the literal sense, Halal is an Arabic word that means ‘permissible’ or ‘lawful’. The opposite of the term ‘Halal’ is ‘Haram’, which means ‘prohibited’ or ‘unlawful’ ?.
In layman’s term, “Halal” simply means something that is allowed to Muslims. While “haram” simply means “something forbidden to Muslims”. The terms halal and haram are universally used worldwide and while the terms are mostly associated with food, the wholesomeness concept of Halal touches all aspects of a Muslims way of life?.
P.S. Not sure what is halal or not? Here's how to determine the status of halal when you travel!
2. Halal in terms of food
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Next up, let’s talk about halal food. In Islam, every food is considered halal unless it is explicitly prohibited by the Qur’an or the Hadith; so, things like blood, alcohol (and other intoxicants), pork, the meat of carnivorous animals and animals that live on land and water like frogs are a strict no-go ?♂️
When it comes to the regular kinds of meat and poultry you’d see at supermarkets or butcher shops, it is considered halal and fit for Muslim consumption just as long as its prepared according to the Islamic laws ?.
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In cases of fish and seafood, it’s generally acceptable for Muslims to consume as long as the preparation of the dish does not include alcohol (i.e. beer batter, wine) or any other haram substances.
In any case, if you meet people who STILL can’t get behind the idea of halal foods, just tell them that it’s the Muslim version of the Jewish kosher and they’ll usually understand it faster ?.
P.S. Here are 12 signs that you are a Muslim traveller!
3. Is Halal Meat inhumane?
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We’ve touched on this topic briefly in 5 Things Non-Muslims Always Wondered About Hari Raya Haji But Never Dared To Ask but here’s where we go into a bit more detail!
The Islamic method of slaughtering animals, (known as Zabiha) has been the subject of much criticism from people from non-Muslim countries and animal activists for a long time. Rest assured, that not only is the Zabiha method humane but it is also scientifically the best way to prepare the meat so that it is completely clean and safe for consumption!
Here is how it goes:
After reciting the blessing, the slaughterman uses a surgically sharp instrument to cut the animal's throat, windpipe and the blood vessels around its neck. This is to be done in a quick and accurate fashion in order to minimise the pain of slaughter. The swift cutting of vessels of the neck disconnects the flow of blood to the nerve of the brain that is responsible for pain.
This means that the animal does not feel pain ?.
While dying, the animal may struggle, writhe, shake and kick, but it is not due to pain like most people seem to think. It’s actually due to the contraction and relaxation of the muscles deficient in blood and due to the flow of blood out of the body.
Because blood is a good medium for cultivating harmful germs and bacteria, the zabiha method of meat preparation is more hygienic as most of the blood containing the germs (that could potentially lead to diseases if accidentally consumed) is drained and eliminated.
It’s also worth noting that prior to being slaughtered, the animals are given a pretty comfortable lifestyle without any abuse or mistreatment. They’re given food, clean water and wide spaces to roam and generally live a pretty blissful life ?.
Additionally, only one animal can be ritually slaughtered at a time and the other animals must not witness any deaths ? (so there’s no fear or trauma to be had!).
4. Halal in terms of actions
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To explain halal in terms of actions, I’m going to have to talk about the haram aspects of things, so bear with me. Things like murder, fornication, adultery, consuming certain harmful food and drink items, gambling, hurtful and filthy speech; are all things that are considered haram and not allowed in Islam.
In fact, if you look at the list most of the things on there are also not allowed in any other religion, scripture or moral code! Muslims are prohibited from doing any of these and other sins through education on what is "Halal" and what is "Haram".
Take gambling for example. Plenty of people have wondered why Muslims can’t gamble, even if it's just a small bet for entertainment purposes. The reason is because Islam highly values justice and according to the Quran (and I’m paraphrasing here), gambling violates the principle of justice and is a malicious, addictive habit that can have dire consequences on a person’s individual and social life ?.
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Another good example of Halal in terms of actions is making sure that your relationship with your significant other is halal. When it comes to dating, people still link it to its western origins (which means that they think that there’s some hanky panky things going on behind the scenes ?) – which Islamic texts expressively forbids.
When it comes to love, as long as it is within the boundaries and with the expectations of getting married one day, then dating is alright, if done the right way. This usually means getting both families involved from an early stage of the relationship to prevent any unsavoury rumours from flying around and to ensure that the couples have appropriate chaperones.
5. Why do Muslims observe the limits of Halal?
Now, I don’t know about you guys but when vacationing abroad, I have met a few people who have asked why I was still observing the limits of what is halal despite the fact that I’m no longer in a Muslim country ?.
To clarify, they weren’t being nasty or insidious. They were genuinely curious as to why I wasn’t cutting loose and enjoying the country to it’s fullest (apparently, the country’s national dish involved meat marinated in red wine and they were disappointed that I couldn’t have any because it wasn’t halal).
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I told them to think of it as Muslims paying homage to Allah SWT because we believe that HE would know better on what’s good for us. Muslims willingly adhere to the limits of ‘Halal’ because we simply love Allah and want to please him by not doing the few things HE explicitly forbids ✌️.
In summary, if you’re travelling to a foreign country, just remember that the true concept of halal is basically wholesomeness. The Quran permits only the Halal, and Muslims believe that Allah SWT has the best idea for what’s good or bad for us in terms of the food we consume and the actions that we do; kind of like how engineers know best about the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the buildings they create ?.
Hopefully, this article has given you some inspiration on how to explain halal to non-Muslims for the next time you go travelling!