What criteria does Islam use to prohibit the consumption of certain foods?
There are two criteria in Islam regarding foods and staples:
- Permissible and impermissible (halâl and harâm), and
- Pure and impure (tayyib and habîth).
The issues of halâl and harâm pertain to religious studies, while tayyib and habîth are part of natural sciences (e.g. medicine and chemistry). Islamic scholars do not search for justification for permissible items, but do study justifications for prohibited items.
If there is no proof that something is prohibited, then it is deemed permissible. The Qur’an is very strict about prohibiting that, which Allah permitted and vice versa: “Who is there to forbid the beauty which Allah has brought forth for His creatures, and the good things from among the means of sustenance?” (A`raf 7:32)
Harâm items are certain and obvious; therefore, the Qur’an is tenfold sensitive about the prohibition (making harâm) of those items that are halâl for consumption (‘An`am 6:140).
The Qur’an qualifies announcers of something harâm while it is halâl as “Those who are bent on denying the truth attribute their own lying inventions to Allah” (Ma’idah 5:103).
As discussed above, only Allah declares what is permissible and impermissible for His creatures’ consumption (Yunus 10:59- 60).
Prophet Muhammad, with all his virtues and righteousness, is not able to prohibit the permissible even for himself, let alone others. There was a situation when Allah chastised Prophet Muhammad for prohibiting himself from consuming a permissible food, and Allah did not permit him to do so even unto himself alone (Tahrim 66:1).
According to the Qur’an, declaring a harâm item, action or food now halâl is obviously not allowed; but declaring that which is halâl is now harâm warrants a tenfold attention. This is a foundational cornerstone in Islam. Because “Allah wills that you to have ease and does not will you to suffer hardship” (Baqarah 2:185).
Islam does not practice “food blessing” as it is observed in Judaism, for there is no entity to bless food “on behalf of Allah.” Food and staples’ presence and availability, after all, are mercy and kindness of Allah upon the humankind.
The Qur’anic system of values prioritizes moral items over material ones. For instance, the revelation attributes more value to the Hereafter over the worldly life, the spirit over the body, faith over deeds, and intentions over acts of worship. In other words, the moral “food” for soul is given high priority than material food for body.
The Qur’an considers the nutrition of mind with malicious knowledge more of an issue compared to nutrition of the body with toxic food. The number of ayâhs on the purification of heart vastly exceeds the number of ayâhs on the purification of body.
Why is the Qur’an so meticulous about food?
The energy a human’s body gains by consuming harâm food always seeks harâm ways of expression. In other words, energy accumulated thanks to impure food spoils one’s will, mind, and consciousness. The consumption of permissible and impressible foods are not equal in terms of leading to righteous actions.
If one unintentionally commits sins sometimes, they must see whether food they are consuming is permissible. Foods contribute to the formation of attitude and character much more than we could imagine. Good food helps generate good morals and behavior. And just like pollutants spoil the environment, so does impure food entering body spoil humans’ organs and deeds.
To be sure, it is possible to spoil pure sustenance. For instance, grapes are a clean and permissible sustenance, but if they are turned into wine, halâl becomes harâm (pure turns into impure).
The following âyah, therefore, warns not to soil that, which is pure: “And [We grant you nourishment] from the fruit of date-palms and vines: from it you derive intoxicants as well as wholesome sustenance – in this, behold, there is a message indeed for people who use their reason!” (Nahl 16:67)
Consuming permissible and pure foods will raise a nation above other nations of their time. As we learn from Quran, one of the reasons for the Children of Israel to raise above all nations of their time was consuming permissible and pure sustenance (Jathiyah 45:16).
Why are animals are slaughtered in the name of Allah in Islam?
According to the Qur’an, any animal slaughtered for the sake of and/or with the name of “divine” humans or objects is harâm and must not be consumed (Baqarah 2:173).
The Qur’an recommends invoking Allah’s name upon slaughtering an animal (Haj 22:36).
This divine instruction could be interpreted as “Respect life, even if it is an animal’s.” Only Allah gives life and He is the owner of life. Therefore, humans can take life only in the name of and with the permission of Allah who gave that life. The basmalah phrase uttered upon slaughtering an animal—“In the name of Allah, Most Merciful and Most Compassionate”—can be understood as asking Allah’s permission to allow taking one of His creation’s life. At the same time, the basmalah establishes a connection between the Supreme Creator and the creation, for food is a creation and the Creator is Allah. Those who establish connection between food and its Source have no difficulty offering gratitude. And those who sever that connection experience not even a hint of gratitude. This is the essence of slaughtering animals with and in the name of Allah. At the same time, saying the basmalah is also a gratitude one offers to Allah for providing that food as sustenance (Haj 22:28 and 22:34).