In Islam, all foods are Halal unless declared Haram by ALLAH, (SWT), either directly in the Quran or through Prophet Muhammad, (PBUH). This is the basic principle in food selection, food certification and questions.

There are a number of references in the Quran to food. These include ayat that instruct Muslims to eat of the ‘tayibaat’ or pure foods; to eat meat that has been slaughtered with the recitation of ALLAH’s name during slaughter; and that the food that is ‘caught from the sea’ is acceptable to eat. Other ayat spell out the categories and food items that are Haram. These include dead animals (animals which have not been slaughtered while still alive); blood; swine; animals slaughtered while invoking the name of other than ALLAH; animals slaughtered without reciting the name of ALLAH and all intoxicants, including alcohol. Finally, there are some ayat which allow certain foods to be eaten, such as the food of the People of the Book (those who have received earlier scriptures); and the ones that prohibit Halal foods at specific times, such as hunting while in the state of consecration (for Hajj), etc. (Refer to the Fall 2000 issue of Halal Consumer for a complete discussion of the Food of Ahlul Kitab, the People of the Book.) In addition, there are ayat that describe some of the animals that are Halal. We learn more about this in various Ahadith.

These directives form the basis for determining what is Halal and what is not. They apply to all times and to all situations. Islamic scholars use these principles to reach conclusions about new issues, such as bioengineered products, living as minorities in predominantly non-Muslim countries, the use of different ingredients for various purposes and other issues that develop from time to time.

The scholars generally agree that any food item containing ingredients derived from Haram items is also Haram. For example, milk from swine is Haram. Since swine is Haram, swine milk is also Haram. Also, cheese made from cow’s milk, with the addition of porcine pepsin, is Haram. Even though cow’s milk is Halal, the addition of pepsin, an enzyme derived from swine, causes the cheese to become Haram. Whey produced along with the cheese would also be Haram.

Some may say civilization has advanced with many scientific discoveries, new technology and means of purifying ingredients so that what was Haram may be purified and made Halal. This is unacceptable to most of the scholars. First of all, there may not have been any reason specified for the prohibition of a food item. Hence, one cannot claim purification negates the prohibition. For example, there has been no reason given for the prohibition of swine, so no matter how much purification there is, it can never become Halal. The same applies to blood and all the other prohibited items. (Situations involving sustaining life in the absence of Halal foods are allowed exceptions.)

In some instances, there is no clear indication that an item is Halal or Haram. However, the basis is that all foods are Halal unless specifically prohibited. For instance, some ingredients or additives derived from insects may fall into this category. While locusts have been specifically referenced to be Halal in a Hadith, other insects have not been mentioned. Of course, people may feel repulsed by various foods or ingredients and therefore avoid them, but this does not make them Haram.

In the end, each of us must follow their conscience and decide whether to check on ingredients or not. May ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, guide us to the Halal and away from the Haram, and make it easy for us.