The debate of what constitutes halal (allowed) and haram (forbidden) meat goes on. Some Islamic ulama (scholars) claim it is fine to eat meat from your neighborhood market, as long as it's not pork and if before it is eaten the name of Allah is pronounced over it. Other scholars say that meat from the "People of the Book" is halal for Muslims to eat and nothing special needs to be said. Finally, there are scholars who qualify the difference between the terms halal and zabiha (a specific method of slaughter). They say that, according to the Qur'an and the Hadith, Muslims should only eat zabiha meat. They explain that a type of meat (poultry, beef, etc.) can be halal if it is taken from animals that we are allowed to eat, but that, unless these animals are killed in accordance with Shariah law, their meat is not zabiha and therefore not to be eaten. In other words, all zabiha meat is halal, but not all halal meat is zabiha. In order to prove which of the above three viewpoints is correct, it must be determined which one is in agreement with the Qur'an.

The belief that meat can come from local stores as long as "Bismillah" is said over it runs counter to the following Qur'anic ayyat: "He hath forbidden you only carrion, and blood, and swine flesh, and that over which has been invoked (the name of) any other than Allah. But he who is driven by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful" (2:173).
Here Allah is telling us that no name other than His should be invoked over the meat we eat. This is obvious, and all Muslims agree. The question is: When must "Bismillah" be said -- before eating or at the time of slaughter? For those who argue that it is meant to be said before eating, I ask: Why do we need a special ayaat to tell us this when Muslims must say "Bismillah" over all our food, not just meat? Furthermore, the following ahadith clarify that it is while slaughtering the animal that "Bismillah" must be pronounced and that there is a consequence for not doing so:

The Messenger (SAW) said to the Companion Sa'd: "O Sa'd! Purify your food and your supplication will be accepted. By the one in whose hand lies the life of Muhammad, verily a servant places a morsel of haram in his stomach (and as a result) forty days of worship will not be accepted from him" [Imam Tabrani]. Reading these verses of the Qur'an and the above ahadith it makes it clear that we are not allowed to eat just any brand of supermarket meat; this is not halal for us. Halal meat has to be killed in the Zabiha manner.

There is also the view that animals from the "People of the Book" is halal meat for Muslims to eat, meaning meat slaughtered by Jews or Christians. However, this view can be disproven as well. Neither Jews nor Christians invoke the name of Allah Subhana T'Allah over the animal before killing it, as Muslims do. If they were calling on Allah, they would be Muslims, right? Some sheikhs, scholars, and Imams argue that the Qur'an states that we can eat the meat of Jews and Christians based on this ayyat: "This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them" (5:5, Surah Al-Maidah). However, the Arabic word used in this ayaat, ta'am, does not necessarily refer to meat. Those scholars that argue strictly in favor of zabiha say that this word ta'am is referring to grains and produce, not meat, as the edict for meat has been made clear elsewhere. When Allah speaks about meat in the Qur'an it is usually referred to with the word for meat or flesh, which is lahm.

As if the above ayaats weren't enough to make you wonder, in 6:119 Allah says: "And what hath happened to you that ye eat not (meat) of that over which hath been mentioned the name of Allah, what ye were compelled to; and many would lead people astray by their vain desires without knowledge; Verily, thy Lord knoweth best the transgressors." This should definitely make one stop and ponder the validity of the first two arguments.

The third view that is taken by many scholars in Islam is that the only meat that is halal for Muslims to eat is that which has been slaughtered according to the shariah law. In short, only zabiha meat is halal. It is zabiha to slaughter, kill, or sacrifice an animal by cutting his throat, according to the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad. There is no doubting the fact that zabiha meat is halal. No one can refute this statement. Zabiha meat is lawful, and it is the best option of all. The ayaat and ahadith that I have provided are sufficient to prove that zabiha meat is not only halal (good) but also wajib (obligatory).

Good Food Away From Home

As a “mompreneur” and a homeschooling mother of 5, I keep pretty busy. This, however, doesn’t temper my zeal for finding delicious and exciting meals to cook for my family. I’ve always loved cooking and baking almost as much as I love eating the finished products. I enjoy making sure my family has home cooked meals nearly every day. However, even the most enthusiastic cooks, myself included, enjoy dining out from time to time. In order for my family and me to have the best experience, it is vital that both halal and healthy options are available on the menu. Since I know there are many Muslims who strive to eat only the best foods as well, following are a few pointers on what you can do to insure that you have the best possible meal at a Muslim establishment.

Is this meat zabihah?

I am very strict when it comes to eating halal. Nothing can ruin my dining experience more than finding out that the restaurant owner misunderstands what it means to serve halal meat. I am a big consumer rights advocate, and believe that there should be truth in advertising. What you pay your hard earned money for is what you should get. To make sure the restaurant and you are on the same page vis a vis the definition of halal, look for a Halal Certification posted inside. The form should be easily visible in the window, or somewhere else in the restaurant. This certification says that the meat served has been Islamically slaughtered. To further insure you’re getting truly halal meat, ask if ALL the meat sold is zabihah. More than a couple of times I have experienced a restaurant that claims to be halal, yet also serves non-zabihah meat. Adding insult to injury, they do not inform the customers which meat is zabihah and which is not! In order to save time and gas, I recommend calling and finding out beforehand. Remember, halal simply means that the meat comes from an animal that is permissible to eat (unlike pork). Zabihah means that a halal animal was killed by Islamic standards. I recognize that there are many Muslims who believe that it is good enough if the meat is not pork and/or is not cooked with alcohol. They consider it halal and legal to eat. If this is not your belief, make sure the meat is zabihah.

Hold the MSG, Please!

Monosodium Glutamate, more commonly known as MSG, is used in many restaurants as a flavor enhancer. Chinese restaurants use it most often but it can be found in other types of food establishments as well. Some people experience “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” when eating foods with MSG. The symptoms include: numbness, a burning sensation, tingling, facial pressure or tightness, chest pain, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, weakness, and for asthmatics, difficulty breathing. People who are allergic to MSG may have more serious reactions, such as a drop in heart rate or an extreme rise or fall in blood pressure, swelling, nausea/vomiting, stomach cramps, joint pain, depression, tightness of the chest, and more. Ask if a restaurant seasons their food with MSG. You can request your food not be.

Pass the Veggies!

Without a doubt, the best part of going to a halal restaurant is getting to “the murder,” as brothers Sameer and Aman Ali stated in one episode of “Sameer’s Eats.” However, don’t forget your earth food! There are many tasty vegetable dishes that can accompany the meat portion. In fact, combining protein and veggies is one of the healthiest ways to eat. Our Pakistani, Afghani, Lebanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, African and African American, etc. brothers and sisters know how to work those spices to make normally bland plants zing with flavor. But that’s not all: Vegetables are full of antioxidants that help fight harmful free radicals that can damage cells and cause cancer. Vegetables also add fiber to the diet, which is beneficial to the heart. They help us with the elimination process, and aid in weight loss and maintenance. Adding raw vegetables, fresh yogurt dressing and dip, chutney, mint, parsley and fruits with or after dinner helps digest the food, and prevents gas, heartburn, indigestion and upset stomach.

Easy on the Carbs

By now, most Americans have heard of the bevy of low carbohydrate diets that have swept the nation. Is there any truth to the healthful benefits these strict carb reduction diets claim? I believe there definitely are. Unless you are a very active, athletic person, you need to eat carbohydrates in moderation, especially the highly processed ‘white‘ breads and rice. Carbohydrates are mainly responsible for fueling us with the energy that we need to move. If we eat too little we feel too tired to make it through the day. Too much, and the excess of that energy turns into fat. Also, eating too many carbohydrates can put a strain on the pancreas causing it to secrete more insulin in an effort to rid the body of the excess sugar (carbs are broken down to sugar). If the pancreas is stressed for too long one can develop insulin resistance and diabetes. Unfortunately, diabetes is at epidemic levels and is a serious, life shortening illness. You can prevent diabetes solely by what and how much you choose to eat. You don’t have to subscribe to any of the low-carb diets in order to cut back. Just do it. Eat half the rice, only one slice of bread. If you know you’re going to eat dessert, pass up the bread. If you’re going to have potatoes, take the baklava home for a snack the next day. Even better, eat a variety of vegetables instead of rice, bread and potatoes. Allah says: “O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you, and render thanks to Allah if it is (indeed) He whom ye worship” (2:172). Eating the good things--halal and healthy food--is easy to do both at home and outside of the home. It’s all about making conscientious choices. This article originally appeared at Sameer's Eats