What is in Our Food…? Is It Permissible?
By Syed Farhatullah Quadri, Ph.D., Mariam Majeed, and Mujahed Khan; Food Scientists, IFANCA
As Muslims, we are constantly striving for perfection in all facets of life. As a result, we are constantly trying to gain knowledge so that we may further progress. The reality is that while we aim to perfect our relationships, our roles at work, and our habits as students, we sometimes fail to realize that there is a catalyst that will help facilitate this quest for perfection, and that is food. While our bodies are nourished by the food we consume, our souls too are nourished by the permissibility and purity of that same food. Those who strive to consume only that which is halal (lawful) and tayyib (pure) are blessed with their bodies striving towards that which is halal and tayyib. As a result, as Muslims, we need to make a conscious effort to answer the question, "is what we buy and consume everyday really halal?"
IFANCA, an internationally recognized halal certifying organization, is staffed by a qualified scholars, technical staff and administrators. It is registered as a not-for-profit organization in Illinois and is recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and several halal regulatory agencies in countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the UAE. During the last three decades, IFANCA has certified thousands of products and ingredients, including processed food; meat products; pharmaceuticals; nutraceuticals and cosmetics for more than 2,200 companies world-wide.
The mission of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) is to promote the concept of halal and educate Muslims regarding mashbooh (doubtful) ingredients, including those that are present in food; nutritional supplements; pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
IFANCA serves the Muslim community worldwide by conducting conferences and seminars, responding to consumer and industrial inquiries about ingredients and products and assisting correctional facilities to establish partial halal kitchens in the prisons to satisfy the dietary needs of Muslim inmates. IFANCA has recently resumed educational workshops and presentations in various Islamic institutions in the Chicagoland area and will soon offer these services to neighboring cities and states. The focus of these presentations is to create awareness of the permissibility of foods. A description of the important points will be discussed in the paper below. Readers are also encouraged to visit www.ifanca.org and www.halal.com frequently for the current information about certified products and halal news and resources. Furthermore, if you are interested in organizing an informational session in your local community please contact IFANCA.
Our main goal is to please ALLAH (Subhanahu wa ta'ala) alone by obeying HIS commands on all matters including issues of halal and haram, as well as following the sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam). Several verses of the Noble Quran have been revealed regarding food. A quick look at a few verses allows us to see the importance HE has put on the consumption of food:
"O you who believe! Eat of the good things from what WE have provided you, and render thanks to ALLAH if it is HE whom you worship." (2:172)
"O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and wholesome in the Earth, and follow not the foot-steps of the devil. Lo! he is an open enemy for you." (2:168)
"O you who believe! Forbid not the good things which ALLAH has made 'lawful' for you and transgress not. Lo! ALLAH loves not transgressors. Eat of that which ALLAH has bestowed on you as food 'lawful' and good, and keep your duty to ALLAH in whom you are believers." (5:87-88)
There are many more verses in the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam) that speak about other aspects of halal and haram. We should look into such commandments and understand them for our own betterment.
Currently there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and the number is increasing, particularly in the major metropolitan cities across the U.S. In other published reports, it is quoted that the global halal food trade market is about $150 billion with the Muslim buying-power at about $600 billion. In the US alone, the buying-power of Muslims is about $20 billion strong. These figures are very promising. More information can be found in the May 25, 2009 issue of TIME magazine. Because of the efforts of some organizations, various states have passed the Halal Food Act in their legislation. The bill was signed into law in New Jersey in 2000, Illinois and Minnesota in 2001, California and Michigan in 2002, Texas in 2003, and New York in 2005. Insha’ALLAH many more will follow. As the number of Muslims and halal consumers continues to grow, we are seeing more American companies extending their halal certification from export products to domestic ones. We are also seeing increased marketing of halal-certified imported products. This is also likely due to the increased feedback and strong support from halal consumers to companies demanding halal certified products.
There are various kinds of ingredients found on the labels of products we buy. Some of them are simple or single components, like salt, sugar and water. Others are complex or compound, such as colorings, cheese powder, flavorings, seasonings, shortening, spices etc. On some labels we see the ingredients are listed by their functions, such as antioxidants; emulsifiers; preservatives; supplements and thickeners to name a few. Sometimes the questionable ingredients such as alcohol; enzymes; fats and gelatin are not clearly listed but are hidden in flavorings; cheese, gums and ice cream. As Muslims we should know if the ingredients we see on the label are halal, since they could be obtained from animal, plant, microbial, or synthetic sources. A list of such items is given below for a quick reference and can be copied and carried along for shopping convenience.
Halal - We all know very well the terms halal and haram and have a clear idea about the food items we consume. For Muslims the Halal or permissible items are:
Haram - Alhamdulillah, we have a very clear understanding of the haram foods, and we all refrain from consuming items such as:
Mashbooh - For all Muslims, this group of consumables consists of ingredients that are doubtful or questionable and it causes us to stop and ponder whether we can use them or not. IFANCA provides you with the information that will take the "doubt" out of these doubtful items. When a consumer sees an ingredient listed in the tables below titled "Mashbooh (Questionable) Food Items", "Hidden Ingredients", "Ingredients by Functions", and "Halal Shoppers Guide", e.g. Animal fat or proteins; Antioxidants; Dairy products; Emulsifiers; Enzymes; Flavorings; Gelatin; Glycerin and Vitamins, he or she should immediately think of its probable source and verifying it by calling the manufacturer. All such items are derived either from animal, plant, microbial or synthetic sources. If it comes from an animal source, then we need to know if the animal was halal and if so, was it slaughtered properly or not. If yes or if the source is plant or certified-microbial, then alhamdulillah, we can eat it.
It is every Muslim consumer's responsibility to be conscientious of what he/she does, whether it be the consumption of food, nutritional supplements, pharmaceuticals or cosmetics items, and to please ALLAH (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) by following HIS commandments. We should:
As A Halal Consumer, I Should Learn The Classification Of Foods
Mashbooh Food Items
As A Halal Consumer, I Should Be Familiar With
As A Halal Consumer, I Should Know Hidden Ingredients In Common Foods
As A Halal Consumer, I Should Be Aware Of Ingredients By Function
Halal Shopper's Quick Reference Guide IICommon Foods That May Be A Concern