Go halal...go simple
Ammar Kahf, July 1, 2007

"Eating out at a restaurant can be a fun treat. But, for a Muslim, it can also be a pain!"
This is the culture we are being indoctrinated with by the so-called halal corporate world and its agencies. Compare that to the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, "This religion is simple," and "Go in it softly." Also, Aisha reported when the Prophet was given two options, he would consistently choose the easiest.

We have victims of a campaign that reduces the life of a Muslim to revolve around controversial issues regarded in Islamic law not a top priority in a believer’s life.

In matters of halal and haram, it is essential to educate ourselves with general principles rather than details. Dr. Yusuf Qaradawi stated 11 principles that need to be understood by every Muslim. They include:

1- The basic "asl" or origin, which is the assumption that all things are permissible. This is based on the saying of the Prophet "What Allah has made lawful in His book is halal (permissible) and what He has forbidden is haram (prohibited), and that concerning which He is silent is allowed as His favor. So accept from Allah His favor, for Allah is not forgetful of anything."

2- To make lawful or prohibit anything is the right of God alone. The scholars’ job is to interpret and teach people.

3- What is halal is sufficient, while what is haram is unessential. Avoiding haram is not supposed to make your life miserable, painful or full of paranoia about where to dine out.

4- Necessity dictates exceptions, and exceptions are to be applied only to the extent of the necessity.

Based on this, I propose:

1- Statements from any manufacturer are not sufficient evidence for prohibition; they should be examined by a qualified Shari’a expert who is knowledgeable.

2- Those calling for prohibition should present proof that is beyond reasonable doubt.

3- Scholars have agreed that if there are two well-grounded opinions on a matter, then the fatwa should be based on the more practical one and the one that eases hardship.

4- For halal conferences, agencies and lobby groups: send the money you’re spending to a more deserving cause, such as lobbying to make laws for "halal" financing, "halal" inheritance or "halal" Islamic marriage contracts.

5- For companies and corporations: it is unacceptable to abuse terms "Islamic" and "halal" in your brand names and/or advertisements; other products may also be halal. Furthermore, it is worse of a sin to exploit people’s religiosity and increase prices of "halal" products.

6- For consumers: relax! Allah made halal options numerous and attainable. You are not required to go beyond your way and ask too many questions. Omar Bin Al-Khattab was walking with someone when somebody splashed water on them. The man with Omar asked, "What type of water is this?" But Omar said, "Please do not answer him." The rule is: only when you see a change in color, smell or taste, then one can claim the water is impure. Islamic law is not detail-oriented, so acquaint yourself to not asking too many questions.

7- Respect the specialization of scholars: Seek one or two specialists, not only in Islamic fiqh, but also in the area you are asking about. If a scholar is asked questions outside of his/her specialty, he or she should learn when to say "I don’t know."

Now onto what everyone is waiting for: what is the fatwa on Frito Lays ® and other materials that use items originally taken from pork such as enzymes and the artificial additives (E-#)? First of all, there are different well-grounded opinions, and readers can choose what makes them comfortable without forcing others to follow what they deem the truth.

Secondly, I refer the reader to the resolutions of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (www.e-cfr.org), as well as the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences (www.islamset.com) who issued the following group fatwa in their 8th conference:

"Transformation," i.e. the process that causes an object to change into another turns the unclean, or what is deemed to be unclean, into a clean object, and, therefore turns prohibited things into things permissible by the Shariah. On this account, the following is concluded:

1- Gelatin made of unclean animals’ bones, skin and tendons is clean and permissible for consumption.

2- Soap produced by treating and transforming pig fat or fat obtained from a dead animal turns into a clean compound by the process of transformation and is, therefore, permissible.

3- Cheese processed with rennet, obtained from animals that are dead but are permissible to eat, is clean, and eating it is permissible.

4- Ointments, creams and cosmetics which contain pig fat are all unclean. Their use is impermissible in Shariah except when transformation is ensured.

Furthermore, in another portion of their group fatwa, they said:

• It is permissible to take foods where a tiny amount of alcohol is used for the purpose of dissolving materials; which are insoluble in water, such as color makers, preservatives and so on. The principle on which this permission is based is ‘general inescapable necessity.’ (Umum al-Balwa)..

• Foodstuff containing pig fat that does not undergo denaturation - such as some varieties of cheese, vegetable oil, skin oil/lubricant, butter, cream, biscuit chocolate and ice cream - are prohibited on account of the consensus of scholars on the uncleanness of the pig and impermissibility of its eating.

This fatwa is based on principles well-known to all schools of thought, but especially to the Hanafi school of thought. One of its popular quotes is that if a pig or a dog falls into the machine that makes soap and "turns into" soap, then it is tahir (pure) and permissible for consumption.

In the end, as an intelligent reader, you have to make your choices in what you feel is the best opinion that pleases Allah and not what pleases your desires. And while you are looking for the "halal restaurant," relax and take it easy, religion is easy and convenient.

Ammar Kahf, MA in Islamic Shariah. Source: Southern California Infocus, July 2007 http://www.infocusnews.net/content/view/15536/337/