Halal vs. Zabihah (Meat)

First, and foremost, I want to say that the following is my opinion only!

Growing up a Muslim in a predominantly non-Muslim country, one of the huge challenges has been navigating between what we can and cannot eat in adherence to our religion.

Whether this be meticulously reading through the ingredients lists in products at the grocery store, or being a “vegetarian” at parties [or eat seafood], or anything of that sorts.

Another challenge? When questioned by Non-Muslims why I don’t eat pork, drink alcohol, etc. when other Muslims they know that do so. There’s just no one answer. Some just adhere more so than others. I, too, know several Muslims that drink alcohol, etc.

Does that make those who adhere “better Muslims”? Only He can be the judge.

Judging. That brings me to what made me write about this topic. We are all guilty of judging others, whether we mean to or not. It happens again and again.

In my tafseer [meaning/interpretation] class [of the holy Qu’ran] that Nanna has been generous enough to do for us, we just started discussing Surah Maidah last week. Amongst other things, part of what is discussed in this Surah are what is considered permissible and prohibited, foodwise, and what I find to be more interesting: the self-imposed restrictions of the pre-Islamic age that have been put to an end.

Zabihah [literally means slaughter I believe] and the term is usually used to refer to the way the animal is slaughtered that makes it permissible to consume in Islam. The restriction doesn’t apply to seafood, among a few other things, which is why you’ll see Muslims consuming seafood anywhere without an issue.

Another thing to note: there is a difference in what is considered halal [permissible] and zabihah. The animal must abide the condition of zabihah in order to be considered halal. One doesn’t equate the other. For instance: consuming chicken is halal, it is allowed, but it must conform to the condition of zabihah. To give the opposite example: a pig, for example, can be slaughtered in what is considered a “zabihah” way, but that doesn’t make it halal.

I want to focus, today, on judging those we consider to be consuming haram [prohibited] meat that is actually halal.  Let me state clearly: I am not discussing pork or anything else that is considered haram with no gray areas for “ifs, ands and buts”. I’m talking specifically only about what is halal. Chicken is the easy example to use.

As Muslims, we’ve seen other Muslims [whether they be friends, family members or mere strangers] eating meat at a non-zabihah serving restaurant and were quick to judge them. I will be the first to admit that growing up, I’m guilty of it. But ayat five in Surah Maidah gives that permission:

This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. [5.5]

I’ve had this conversation a million times over, and the stubborn in me refused to accept it. But this week was different. This week, I’ve read it over and over again. I’ve thought about it countless times. Before this, I’ve never really taken the time, shamelessly, to really understand the meaning behind the words properly in the Qu’ran. Alhumdulillah [with the blessings of God], this tafseer class has expanded my knowledge and I’m so thankful for it [and Nanna for taking the time twice each week].

This week: I’ve come to the realization that it’s a cultural norm that we equate zabihah with halal. But we shouldn’t equate culture to religion. They are not the same thing. We do so many things, culturally, that are not religiously permissible… but are so quick to jump at something like this.

What hit me the strongest? This next verse:

And do not say about what your tongues assert of untruth, “This is lawful and this is unlawful,” to invent falsehood about Allah. [16.116]

That only Allah SWT can attest to what is permissible or not. That we can’t deem something to be halal or haram [or call what He has deemed halal to be haram and vice versa].

Does this mean I’m telling you to go out of your way to eat non-zabihah meat? Absolutely not. Especially when in most places in the USA/Canada (at the very least) nowadays, there are plenty of restaurants that serve zabihah-only meals so we don’t have an excuse. What I am saying is: [to myself first] don’t judge others who choose to do so. It is an allowed option, permissible by He.

Am I going to head out to McDonalds tomorrow and grab a chicken burger? Absolutely not. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I can justify that to myself or be at peace with it. Mainly because there are SO MANY local restaurants that serve zabihah food, that I don’t have a reason to even consider it. Is that a cultural thought in my head? Probably. But at the end of the day, choosing not to partake in it, is not causing me any harm. The negative/wrong interpretation/limitation that I was putting on myself as a Muslim? Brings me right back to the ayats mentioned above. The part about calling something haram that He has allowed? Weighing heavy on my heart this week for sure.

At the end of the day, I think, when there is doubt: it’s just better to avoid it. If you can’t find the peace of mind, then don’t do it. Nonetheless, the negative stigma that we as Muslims associate with other Muslims consuming meat that we consider to be “haram”: that’s wrong. You don’t want to eat it? That’s fine. Don’t. No one is telling you to or forcing you to. Just don’t judge others. Only He knows best.

Religion isn’t meant to complicate your life, rather it is to simplify yours. So why is that we over-complicate things?

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