The Labels Halal & Zabihah And Why I Choose Local And Organic Instead

Organic Broiled Chicken
The Muslim community, in general, has become obsessed with the way an animal is slaughtered, despite the fact that our tradition actually speaks not just about the way an animal is slaughtered but how it is treated during its life.  Duh!  Why do we call meat “halal” when only the last step of the animal’s life is according to ‘Islamic’ (Read: ethical) principles.  That’s right, the meat labeled ‘halal’ is most likely from the same factory farm as any other meat in the grocery store– just slaughtered in a different way.  Most people don’t realize that the ‘halal’ label refers only to the way the animal has been killed.

In the era of factory farms and hormone-fed animals, the label of “halal” has been watered down and exists only as an empty brand name.  If you are a heartless person who doesn’t care about the treatment of animals, consider this of your beloved label:

“75 percent of Halal meat in America produced in the year 2000 came from pork fed cows, according to Dr. Stephen Emanuel, from Agway Feed Company.” – SoundVision

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who feels that ‘halal’ doesn’t mean much.  Check out the new stream of ‘organic and halal’ meat suppliers like GreenZabiha, founded by Yasir Syeed. (Full disclosure: I photographed his brother’s wedding)

“Muslims are directed in the Quran to eat food that is Halal and Tayyib. Halal is defined as food that is permissible according to Islamic law. Tayyib means wholesome, pure, nutritious and safe. Traditionally, Muslims in North America have emphasized the Halal over the Tayyib when it comes to meat consumption, Hussaini says.” – SoundVision

(More disclosure: That quote was from 10 years ago, but the emphasis on the method of slaughtering of the animal over the health and treatment of the animal hasn’t changed much.)

Some Muslims like to use the excuse that when someone sells you ‘halal’ food you should take it at face value, as they are the one making the claim. I don’t buy that. I believe we (who have the means) have a responsibility to ourselves, our families, and our communities to support businesses that produce high quality food by treating animals with respect. In that way, we do justice to the bodies that God has given us on loan, we do justice to our families, and to our communities.

I’m not going to provide a detailed discussion on the benefits of eating mostly locally grown, organic vegetarian food, as it has already been discussed in books, articles, and documentaries. (Hi Michael Pollan!)

Instead I’m going to ask myself (and yourself) to consider what “The Most Just” God would be pleased with.  Let’s take a look at revelation, let’s take a look at what people like to overlook.

The Qur’an strongly enjoins Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them. The Qur’an states that all creation praises God, even if this praise is not expressed in human language.  In verse 6:38, the Qur’an applies the term ummah, generally used to mean “a human religious community”, for genera of animals. The Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an states that this verse has been “far reaching in its moral and ecological implications.”

There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.
—Quran 6:38      – Wikipedia

Would you dare treat any animal with disrespect if you fully understood that they are muslims…i.e., literally “those who submit to God?  That you will be called to account as to how you treated them?

For me, the method of slaughter is not as important (as long as the animal isn’t killed in the name of some other “god” other than The [One] God)*** as the way it was treated.  Based on my reading of the Qur’an and my approach to Qur’anic principles (namely that they are a precedent for progress, pushing us towards realizing universal principles of justice and equality), this is what I think God would be pleased with:

– Staying away from processed food with additives, flavorings, etc.
– Not eating too much
– Eating locally grown organic food (Remember kids, pesticides on vegetables hurt and kill a lot of animals (including humans!)  
– If eating beef, making sure it is well-treated, grass-Fed, hormone-free and from a local farm.
– If eating any other meat, making sure it is well-treated and from a local farm.
– Working towards vegetarianism

So, what’s your take?  What’s important to you?

***Regarding the method of slaughter: God, in the Qur’an says:

FORBIDDEN to you is carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that over which any name other than God’s has been invoked, and the animal that has been strangled, or beaten to death, or killed by a fall, or gored to death, or savaged by a beast of prey, save that which you [yourselves] may have slaughtered while it was still alive; and [forbidden to you is] all that has been slaughtered on idolatrous altars….”  -Qur’an 5:3    The verse continues,   “As for him, however, who is driven [to what is forbidden] by dire necessity  and not by an inclination to sinning -behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace….” – Qur’an 5:3   Two verses later, “…And the food of those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime is lawful to you, and your food is lawful to them…”  (Muhammad Asad translation)

HijabMan’s note:  Just so I don’t scare off our friends: we do buy halal meat when we have guests who keep halal. 

Image:  Butterflied and broiled a chicken from the farmer’s market over a bed of vegetables.

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  1. LPJ says:

    I understand what you are trying to say but I disagree with going vegetarian. Allah (swt) has commanded us not to make halal on ourselves what He has deemed haram. Likewise, He has also commanded not to make haram on ourselves what he has already deemed halal. Meat (except pork) is halal for us, so why should we make it haram on ourselves? You get what I mean, right.

  2. hijabman says:

    Good point, but I’m not arguing that we make it forbidden according to ‘islamic law.’ I just think it’s better that we don’t eat it, due to current circumstances. Just because God tells us we can eat it doesn’t mean we should. God doesn’t forbid junk food and food w/ additives in it, that doesn’t mean we should eat that crap.

  3. hijabman says:

    Also, I feel like you’re forgetting the “tayyib” part of God’s commandment. We should eat what is halal and “tayyib.” Good wholesome food. I believe that excludes factory-farmed meat.

  4. Ibn Percy says:

    Great post HM. Ever since I attended the RIS convention of 2011 in Toronto hearing Dr. Umar Faruq Abdallah and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf talk about this very same topic I’ve done my own personal research on this and decided to be very conscious in what I eat. I am a “part time vegetarian” meaning I am trying to consume less meat and eat more vegetables/fruits in my diet. So my current setup is every other day i have no meat. I eventually want to try to get to a point where I only eat meat on occasionally inshaAllah.

    I highly recommend people (especially if you are a Netflix user) to watch these documentaries:
    – Food Inc.
    – Food Matters
    – Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead
    – Forks Over Knives

  5. Rehan says:

    Excellent article, as a Muslim living in the UK (and not in London) I really appreciate the fact that the relative inconvenience of eating ‘halal’ meat means I eat vegetarian a lot more often, alhamdulillah. Contrast this with Pakistan, where I was raised, where eating meat with nearly every meal (if your family is sufficiently well off that is) is considered normal and indeed desirable (some people don’t consider it a ‘proper’ meal if there’s no meat!). Regarding organic food, I must admit I have to look into it more, but I think it’s a wonderful idea.

  6. Rehan says:

    Also, just to add to a point that was made in one of the earlier comments, I really find it sad when some Muslims seem to think that it’s compulsory to eat meat just because it’s permissible. The two are totally different things. And no, being a vegetarian does not make you into a ‘Hindu’, for crying out loud. Also, one of my best Muslims friend’s turned vegetarian for the very reason you described (over the ill-treatment of animals). He said that he could eat meat if he saw it being raised and slaughtered etc himself, so it’s not as if he was saying it was ‘haraam’.

  7. Rehan says:

    correction: “one of my best Muslim friends has turned vegetarian”. Sorry for the multiple comments!

  8. US says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you have mentioned here, even working towards semi-vegitarianism as this is closest to the Sunnah (he – pbuh – would rarely eat meat, ~once a month). And he would not eat beef either, though it is still halal of course. Listen to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, he talks about this a lot. And definitely, definitely the animals must be treated well (listen to Imam Zaid Shakir, he’s passionate about this).

    The only thing that does concern me is the part about eating that which is not correctly slaughtered. That is an extremely important part of being lawful to eat. The food of “Ahl al-Kitab” is the only other meat permissible for us. While there IS a verse that says do not eat that upon which has been invoked “other than Allah”, there is also the verse 6:121 “Eat not (O believers) of that on which Allah’s Name has not been pronounced, for sure it is Fisq (a sin and disobedience of Allah). And certainly, the Shayatin (devils) do inspire their friends (from mankind) to dispute with you…”

  9. Muslim Brother says:

    I agree with your post except for your conclusion. You are indeed correct in pointing out that simply slaughtering the animal in a halal way doesn’t mean its a good idea to eat it if it was treated in a horrible fashion in its lifetime.
    However, this does not mean that we can overlook the command of eating only Zabihah slaughtered meat. It is not permissible to eat an animal unless it was Zabihah slaughtered.
    Thus, in this situation, it is better to simply not eat meat at all, except on rare occasion, such as Eid, provided one can confirm the animal wasn’t subjected to pork-feed, inhumane treatment, etc. This is because non-Zabihah slaughtered meat is still haram, regardless of how the animal was treated, while zabihah slaughtered meat has no barakah in it if the animal was abused in its lifetime. Why pick between something haram and something that lacks barakah when you can just play it safe and choose to eat neither?
    The early Muslims did not eat meat except on rare occasion.

  10. Owais says:

    Islam only asks to stay within limits of halal as defined for income, types of allowable foods and slaughter procedures. Eating meat or vegetable is a personal choice and Islam has no problem with it. However this article gives a good vision on animal / vegetable farming. It is value-able information and should be looked at by anyone who has means to explore.

  11. hijabman says:

    A note for everyone: The response has been great. Thank you for commenting. Several folks have suggested that I am committing the same wrong that others have been committing by emphasizing Tayyib over Halal. Well, my response is this: it depends on your definition of ‘halal.’ If you believe that during the slaughter, God’s name must be pronounced, otherwise it is haram, well… then for you my idea may sound nuts.

    But after reading the Qur’an, (God willing w/ a clear conscience), I don’t think that’s the case. People have been quoting these verses for me:

    “6:118 (Asad) EAT, then, of that over which God’s name has been pronounced, if you truly believe in His messages.”

    6:121 (Asad) Hence, eat not of that over which God’s name has not been pronounced: for this would be sinful conduct indeed. And, verily, the evil impulses [within men’s hearts] whisper unto those who have made them their own [106] that they should involve you in argument [as to what is and what is not a sin]; and if you pay heed unto them, lo! you will become [like] those who ascribe divinity to other beings or forces beside God.”

    But even there, there is no mention of slaughter, there is no mention of animals. It’s just about food. We’re also told that food from the people of the book is halal for us. Now, I wouldn’t eat from McDonalds because number one, it’s crap. Number two, they aren’t exactly espousing christian/jewish ideals in regards to the respect of animals. But as for the Christian farmers down here where I get my food– who let their animals roam around, and don’t shoot them full of hormones. It is clear in their actions that they respect the creations of God, and therefore the Creator.

    If you read the whole chapter– which is all about God’s unity, you also get what Muhammad Asad is talking about in his commentary:

    “The purpose of this and the following verse is not. as might appear at first glance, a repetition of already-promulgated food laws but, rather, a reminder that the observance of such laws should not be made an end in itself and an object of ritual: and this is the reason why these two verses have been placed in the midst of a discourse on God’s transcendental unity and the ways of man’s faith. The “errant views” spoken of in verse 119 are such as lay stress on artificial rituals and taboos rather than on spiritual values.(Quran Ref: 6:118 )”

    So, are we taking the ritual again and taking it over the spirit of the Qur’an’s words? I’d say so.

    Full disclosure, I don’t follow hadith as a source of religious guidance. If you want to know more about that:

  12. Azam Hussain says:

    First of all, I really want to congratulate you on a strong return to frequent blogging. On to the issue at hand, I agree very strongly with your last comment but the debate comes down to spirit of the law vs letter of the law. I agree wholeheartedly that some Muslims nowadays are only mindful of the letter of the law and do not think about the wisdom or spiritual dimensions of this law or other aspects of religion. However (oh and you knew there would be a however, didn’t you bro?), the verse is clear in saying that God’s name has to be “pronounced.” I’m really pleased that people are emphasizing the “tayyib” aspect of a Muslim diet but I don’t see how we can skip the actual verse in favor of the commentary. The challenge that I see for Muslims regarding food and regarding life itself is that we need to embrace the spirit and the substance, the inner and the outer, be sufis and be activists, embody the spirit AND the letter.

    It seems too hard but when it’s the main purpose of life and rewarded with the eternal pleasure of a Creator who has sustained us at levels that we can’t imagine, I feel like Muslims (myself first and foremost) need to step up to the challenge.

  13. hijabman says:

    Thanks man.

    I agree that there has to be a balance between spirit and ritual (Yay, we made the word SPIRITUAL)— but what ritual? You mentioned the verse dictates that God’s name should be pronounced, but 1. it doesn’t mention when, 2. It doesn’t mention meat specifically. Sure we (Muslims) have decided that it needs to be pronounced at the time of slaughter of an animal based on the hadith, but the Arabic words of the Qur’an are silent on the when and the what, am I right? The verse refers to food in general, not just meat. What if it was open-ended on purpose? What if we said the name of God before we ate anything? Doesn’t that fulfill the ‘ritual?’ according to the Qur’an?

    Just some thoughts…

  14. Azam Hussain says:

    You are right of course that the verse does not say when it should be pronounced and so we’ve reached the elephant-in-the-mosque that we’ve always danced around – this is when a guy like me reaches for the Sunnah to see where/when/how the name of God is pronounced by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Having re-read your post, I know you already put your caveat that hadith are off the table so there we are.

    Did we just dance in a mosque? The Hijabman-effect….

  15. Kalia says:

    Thank you for this post. JazakAllah khair. As Brother Azam above, I don’t really feel comfortable choosing tayyib without the zabihah. I do believe the name should be pronounced. When I lived in Blacksburg, I became “pescatarian” because I was unsatisfied with the options. I am fortunate to live in a place now that has a good organic zabihah option, alhamdulillah. It is definitely more expensive than grocery store or “regular” halal meat, but after reading Michael Pollan and seeing some of what goes into the process from farm to distribution, I feel like it’s totally worth it. Imam Zaid Shakir recently invited everyone to join him and his wife in consuming meat and fish only once per month. If you do that, the cost is not as big of an issue. I think many Muslims have become so dependent on meat, eating it for 2-3 meals/day, so the idea of paying the premium is daunting. I’m not sure Imam Zaid’s plan is for everyone, especially not at first. I know people who’ve started with Meatless Mondays, then progressed from there. In our home, we eat meat about once a week now. I also definitely recommend Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting The Planet.

  16. hijabman says:

    Thanks Kalia, for the lovely comment– and congrats on cutting down on the meat, we strive to do the same. Time to check out some Vegetarian cookbooks from the library!

    I definitely understand your discomfort, I admit that my views are radical to many. FYI, Azam and I have known each other for about a decade now, so we’ve had years to discuss these issues, heh. As for Blacksburg, yeah I’m definitely not impressed w/ the halal meat you find in Oasis, etc– It’s the farmer’s market for us.

  17. Krystina says:

    Salaam Javed,

    Great article! You cut to the chase and point out that the law has its limits when it comes to the consumption of animals. I like to think of the law as the structure for the house of my faith. It’s Islamic ethics that make it beautiful. Mash’Allah, we have a wealth of both legal and ethical resources to draw on and this is perfectly illustrated by the treatment of animals in Islam. My husband Nuri and I have taken this up on our website Check out the resources section for a growing list of businesses around the world that are taking issues of the humane (and Islamic!) treatment of animals and sustainable practices seriously.

    On the issue of vegetarianism: there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim vegetarian. As Muslims, we may not do all the things that are permissible for us to do, and it is enough that they are permissible. Insh’Allah, Allah will reward us for doing anything that we do for His pleasure and which is of benefit to His creation. Practically speaking, as a community we eat far too much meat than is healthy for our bodies, for our planet, and certainly for the animals that are forced through the system necessitated by our societal desire for cheap meat.

    Also of interest, the NYTimes just published a series of reader essays on the ethics of meat consumption. I feel that they only enrich our reflection of these topics.

  18. Asma says:

    There is another way to get halal, tayyib meat-raise it yourself. Most of us don’t have the space for a cow, or even a goat, but it doesn’t take much space to raise a flock of chickens. Most cities don’t allow roosters, but a flock of hens will provide you with a lot of tasty, healthy eggs, and when they get old and stop laying, you have the option of eating them.

  19. Umm Maryam says:

    Our family has reached a similar conclusion, except that we will be eating primarily a plant based diet, fish and occasional kosher Organic chicken. If my curiosity gets the better of me I will read your article explaining why you do not follow the words and practice of the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and grant him peace, but i wonder, not just you because there are quite a few Muslims who take this position, how do you pray solely using the text of the Quran. Don’t feel you need to answer this, i’m really thinking allowed, Anyways thanks for highlighting a wonderful company like Green Zabiha.

  20. Tafani Sewell says:

    So the question is how do we get our Halal stores to buy from organic raised farms? How do we make things better inside our community rather than taking our business elsewhere? I believe that many of our Halal stores are just as ignorant as most of us once were. Let’s try to educate them and help them to make positive changes that will better them in this life and in the hereafter. This is important because whether we eat Halal slaughtered meat that was fed pork, and mistreated or organic meat not slaughtered in Allah’s name it’s still Haram. So does anyone know of Organic Halal? If not what can we do to make a change?

  21. Mujahid says:

    Interesting statistic from Dr. Stephen Emanuel. I would like to know how the “halal meat industry” responded to this by learning what the percentage is in 2012.

    I have often wondered how insane it is to eat “halal meat” yet how the animal was raised did not seem not to matter at all. I did not realize this myself until after seeing a few factory farming documentaries.

    It’s nice to see people in our community taking the local and organic position. What seems to be missing is the organization to education ourselves and establish local community gardens, local urban farms, and local CSAs.

    I would even add that when we get out to “feed the hungry” we should be mindful of the quality of the food we feed people with. Everyone is feeding people low quality, commercially processed foods. I suggest we take it up a notch and feed people local and organic foods.

    I personally am striving to reduce my meat consumption to once a week. The meat is more far more expensive but it is local, treated properly, and fed a proper diet.

    Thanks for writing the post, I now have a new blog to follow.

  22. Uthman34 says:

    I went through your section regarding your interpretation of Islam. Your belief regarding Prophet Muhammed (s) being of the same status as other Prophets (as) is blasphemous. You interpret ayahs of Quran that talk about not differentiating between them in terms of accepting some while disregarding others, and construe it to mean that they are all of equal rank. One ayah you conveniently ignore is 3:81. In this ayah Allah states that he took an oath from all the Prophets (as), aside from Muhammed (s), to testify to the Prophethood of Muhammed (s). This ayah clearly indicates that Muhammed’s (s) prophethood is an intrinsic attribute of his while it is a contingent attribute for the rest of the Anbiya (as).

    Now tell me, how will you dance away from these clear cut implications that contradict your erroneous views?

  23. Sameera says:

    I’ve been a veggie for about 5/6 years now
    I asked my local halal butchers about ethical meat and he told me where he got it from
    The animals were fed pork etc and the only difference being that they were slaughtered halal(!)
    My husband keeps chickens and a couple of years ago we were fortunate to live next door to a farm so we kept a couple of goats
    I’m in the uk outside of London so ethical halal meat isn’t an option
    On Eid we buy the animal from a free range farm and then our local halal butcher will slaughter it
    When I asked my local butchers to buy ethical meat he said people don’t care about it and so long as its slaughtered halal, and I think he might be right, because my family and most of my friends thinks its crazy and that I’m making halal haram
    Oh well

  24. Khadeeja says:

    What a lovely post! I agree wholeheartedly with the contents of this article. I became a vegetarian about 2 years ago for a myriad of reasons foremost of which was my belief about ethical eating practices. In South Africa we had a “halal scandal” whereby it was found that meat which was pork was labelled halal. Everybody was up in arms. Unfortunately, nobody gets up in arms about the meat which is labelled halal and undergoes halal slaughter but in my mind is unhalal by the very way that these animals were raised.

    If I weren’t vegetarian I would definitely eat organic instead.

  25. Tami says:

    I have been only eating zabiha meat for about 10 year, started since since college. I was doing it for spiritual reasons. However, I learned to like and eat more vegetables. I noticed that the South Asians follow it strictly than the Arabs. I wonder if it has to do with the Madhabs. I have came across people who say…”People who don’t eat Zabiha, are eating haram, and they prayes won’t be accepted”. These kind of comments turn me off. I would never tell people that they are eating harm, unless it’s alcohol and pork.

  26. Abeer says:

    I just want to mention that I know the owners of Norwich Meadow Farms, a farm that offers organic zabihah meat, and from them I do know that they offer both halal and tayyib. They have around 6,000 chickens that are allowed to freely and happily roam the lands, and they obtain their cows from a trusted farmer who raises them with organic food (and Norwich Meadow Farms does the Zabihah slaughtering.) They go to Union Square, NYC every weekend, where their supplies are bought and popular (rumor has it Martha Stewart uses their vegetables for her magazine recipes.)

    They also now deliver halal meat packages, but I do believe these may be costly.

  27. Khadija says:

    We are vegetarian but my kids eat chicken and i buy organic locally raised. Seems much more Islamic than the horrible way they raise commercially. Folks should read “Fast Food Nation” and”Animal Planet” for good info…Jazakum Allahu Khairn

  28. faheem says:

    we all should have to do our duty and obey the teachings of the holy Qur’an and if we apply all the teachings into our life the things will become much easier if you see into the details plants have the life as well and if we just grow vegetables and just stop eating meet there will be a time the land will stop growing trees any more or there will be king of nn trees due to increase numbers of animals and humans want to eat on green trees and veges and they will start to die trough hunger there are many ways to see into is scientific and other it how you would like to see

  29. S says:

    Regarding the very first comment, and your reply, where you argue that it’s ok, even desirable, to go vegetarian, considering how we are supposed to treat all Divine creation, and since God has not forbidden it- true, all of that; there can, indeed, be made a case for the desirability of eating as little meat as possible. That said, I feel your choosing to include ‘working towards vegetarianism’ in a list of ‘what God would be pleased with’ is too big a leap. Thanks for the qualifying ‘what I think’, though :)

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