Halal vs. Zabiha: What’s the Difference?
Dr. Sabir Ali and Naazish YarKhan
“Forbidden to you (for food) are dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which has been invoked the name of other than Allah, that which has been killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a headlong fall or by being gored to death, that which has been partly eaten by a wild animal…” (Quran 5:3)
A stroll down Chicago’s Devon Avenue is enough to convince you that there is more than meets the eye when stores tout their meat as 100% Zabiha and 100% halal. Why the dual terminology? Halal literally means what is permissible in Islam and terming food as halal implies that it is free from alcohol, pork and other substances that Muslims are prohibited from consuming. When it comes to halal meat, it also implies that the animal has been treated well, given sufficient feed to eat, ample water to drink and was alive and free from disease prior to slaughter. According to IFANCA, meat is Zabiha if it is from an animal that is halal, slaughtered in the prescribed Islamic manner, in the name of God.
Some Muslims consider meat as halal and permissible for consumption so long as it is not pork, nor is there alcohol in its preparation nor is it slaughtered in the name of another person or being. They believe meat from a mainstream grocery store, such as a Jewel, is permissible for consumption because it has been slaughtered in a Jeudo-Christian society and refer to 5:5 in the Quran which states, “the food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them.” Muslims who consider such meat permissible believe that since slaughterhouses in the West do not slaughter an animal as a sacrifice to another being or in the name of another, their slaughter should be acceptable without any hesitation.
Most Muslims believe that meat is halal only when it is Zabiha (which in Arabic means “slaughtered” and is also called Dabiha). To them Zabiha means it is a halal or permissible animal being slaughtered by a Muslim under Islamic guidelines, while reciting the name of God over each animal. Furthermore, Zabiha implies that the animal was cut using a very sharp knife that severs both arteries and the trachea causing minimal pain to the animal, and allowing all the blood to drain from the body. Those who insist on Zabiha argue that while the Quran allows Muslims to eat permissible food from their Jewish and Christian cousins, there is no guarantee that the meat in mainstream stores is slaughtered by those prescribing to either Judaism or Christianity.
Several verses in the Quran support the consumption of meat that has been slaughtered in the name of God:
“So eat of the meats on which God’s name has been pronounced if you have faith in His signs.” (Quran 6:118).
“Why should you not eat of meats on which God’s name has been pronounced, when He hath explained to you in detail what is forbidden to you – except under compulsion of necessity…” (Quran 6:119).
“Eat not of (meats) on which God’s name hath not been pronounced. That would be impiety.” (Quran 6:121).
About Quran 6:121, Imam Al-Fakhr Al-Razi said that it had been related that ‘Ata had said: “All food and drink upon which God’s name has not been pronounced is haram (forbidden)”. However, all the other scholars were of the opinion that this verse was specific to meat alone. Imam Al-Razi used the opinions of three schools of thought to explain this verse. The first opinion was that of Imam Malik, which states that the meat from any slaughter upon which God’s name is not pronounced is prohibited or haram, regardless of whether it is intentional or by error. Ibn Sirin and a group of theologists agree with this viewpoint.
The second perspective is that of Imam Abu Hanifa, which states that meat from any slaughter where the name of God is intentionally not pronounced is prohibited. If the butcher forgets to pronounce the name of God at slaughter, then the meat is halal or permissible.
The third point of view is that of Imam Al-Shafi’i, which states that the animal carcass is halal, even if the name of God is not pronounced at the time of slaughter, regardless of whether it is intentional or forgotten, as long as the butcher is a qualified, sane Muslim. Following a lengthy discussion on this final opinion, Imam Al-Razi said it is best for a Muslim to avoid eating the meat of permissible animals when God’s name has not been pronounced at slaughter, because the guidance from this verse is strong.
Ibn Katheer has said: God’s concession for eating the meat slaughtered by the People of the Book does not include that meat upon which the name of God has not been pronounced at the time of slaughter. This is because the People of the Book were required to pronounce the name of God during their ritual slaughter. Because of this, it is not halal (or permissible) for Muslims to consume the meat slaughtered by those other than the People of the Book, since others do not pronounce the name of God during the slaughter. In summary, according to Ibn Katheer, if Muslims are to eat the meat of animals slaughtered by the People of the Book, as opposed to other people, the (People of the Book) should pronounce the name of God at the time of slaughter. If this condition is not met, then the permission to eat meat slaughtered by them is not granted.
“If store-owners display the ‘Halal’ sign in their store, it should by default mean ‘Zabiha halal’. Retailers who advertise as such, should provide Zabiha to all customers,” says one retailer. “Halal, unfortunately, doesn’t always mean Zabiha in the market. The best way to find out is by calling the store and asking who their meat or chicken suppliers are. The way animals are slaughtered makes all the difference. Chicken is halal by itself but if you don’t cut it the Islamic way it is not Zabiha halal,” he adds. “We need consumer awareness. Many, many stores sell non-Zabiha meat and chicken but claim it is Zabiha halal.”
The word Zabiha has been misused not only by retailers but also by some halal certifiers. In Canada, certain halal certifiers claim that machine slaughter is Zabiha, because the word Zabiha means ‘slaughtered’. Consumers hold the key to resolving this controversy, if they insist on hand-slaughtered meat by Muslims.
“Muslims must be aware of what is out there in the market and in the end it becomes their responsibility to consume what God is pleased with,” says Shaikh Abdool Rahman Khan, resident scholar at Islamic Foundation Mosque, Villa Park. He adds that it’s best for Muslims when hosting a get-together that involves sharing a meal, to offer Zabiha rather than opting for meat from mainstream stores. “If we follow this formula I think we will all have fewer arguments, fewer explanations and more trust in each other. May God guide us to what is upright.”
The treatment of animals is an integral part of the Zabiha process as is the manner in which animals are raised. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged kindness not just amongst human beings but towards all living souls. He forbade the practice of cutting tails and manes of horses, of branding animals in a soft spot, and of keeping horses saddled unnecessarily. (Muslim, Sahih Muslim). If he saw any animal over-loaded or ill-fed he’d warn the owner, saying “Fear God in your treatment of animals.” (Abu Dawud, Kitab Jihad). On another occasion he stated, “Verily, there is heavenly reward for every act of kindness done to a living animal.” According to “An Nawawi’s 40 Hadith”, Abu Yaala Shaddad bin Aws said that the Messenger of God said: “Verily Godhas prescribed proficiency in all things. Thus, if you kill, kill well; and if you slaughter, slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.” This is related by Muslim.
These sayings of the Prophet clearly illustrate the importance of treating animals with care. All Muslims agree that raising animals with care and killing them with mercy for consumption, is a requirement of their faith.
The controversy, confusion or misrepresentation of Zabiha is not confined to the retail market in North America. Mislabeling is very common with meat exported to the Middle East. We often read the phrase, “Slaughtered According to Islamic Rites,” written in both English and Arabic on labels. More often than not, such meat is not from animals slaughtered by Muslims in a traditional manner. It is usually regular meat packed as Zabiha and halal. Several states in the USA have passed regulations to address such fraud but none have been implemented so far. The burden of the proof for the time being falls on the retailer or exporter, if the consumer or importer demands verification of the claims of Zabiha or slaughtered according to Islamic Rites. (God Knows Best)