03 March 2014
Halal or not to halal?
This week’s Tablet reports that Lord Williams of Oystermouth, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, is unhappy about Denmark’s ban last month on the production of halal and kosher meat. Though he supports the humane treatment of animals, he also believes religious freedom should not trump animal rights. Meanwhile while Denmark’s Minister for Food, Dan Jorgensen, told Denmark's TV2 that “animal rights come before religion”.
In Britain a lot of fried chicken restaurants use halal meat without any real objection.
‘Halal’ is the Arabic word for ‘lawful’ or ‘permissible’, and applies to any object, not just food. It means what is allowed to be used by Muslims under Islamic law, the opposite word being ‘haraam’. So how does meat become Halal? The slaughter of the animal must be done by a Muslim, invoking the name of Allah beforehand. Then the animal’s throat, windpipe and blood vessels in the neck is cut with a sharp knife while facing the direction of Mecca. Finally all the blood from the veins is drained.
It is only after this process that the meat can be consumed by Muslims. Of course, this process has little relevance to non-Muslims, however it does meet the requirements for being ‘meats sacrificed to idols’, which we as Gentiles were told to keep from in Acts 15:29. So does this mean that we should strive to stay away from eating Halal meat, even if it means we have to stay away from a lot of fast food restaurants?
St Paul does answer this question in two of his letters to the early churches, once in Romans 14:14, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean,” and in more detail in 1 Corinthians 8: 4, 8 and 10. What Paul is saying here is that food does not bring us nearer or farther from God, and that nothing that God has created can really be unclean (there is also Peter’s vision in Acts 10:10-15), unless you as a person consider it unclean. Also, since Paul makes it clear that no idol has any power in the world, and that there is no God but ours. So through that line of thinking, halal meat has been offered to nothing and is therefore not spiritually dangerous.
But there is a bigger picture in the background than the subject of eating halal meat. The concern is just how far the laws of one faith can integrate itself into a liberal, even secular society without becoming overbearing or offensive. Even in the UK there are several adverts and billboards for Ramadan; meanwhile people are encouraged to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.
So what does this mean? Does it mean that Islamic law has started to become more prominent in what is considered a multi cultural society, even within Christianity itself?
Surely we choose how much we allow external forces to influence our faith. I do not eat halal meat because it is considered clean by another faith’s standards: I simply eat it because one of my preferred fast food restaurants happens to use it, and it does not affect the taste or what ingredients are added. Then again, if another Christian does not wish to eat halal meat, it does not bring them farther or nearer to God, so it is their own choice and theirs alone.
Dayo Laniyan is a history and journalism student at De Montfort University
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