What is Haram?
- Meat from swine - pork, ham, gammon, bacon, etc
- Pork-based products and by-products - sausages, gelatine etc
- Animals improperly slaughtered, or already dead before slaughtering is due to take place
- Animals killed in the name of anyone other than Allah
- Most carnivorous animals, birds of prey and land animals without external ears (i.e., snakes, reptiles, worms, insects etc.)
- Blood and blood by-products
- Foods contaminated with any of the above products
While many things are clearly halal or clearly haraam, there are some things which are not clear. These items are considered questionable or suspect and more information is needed to categorise them as halal or haraam. Such items are often referred to as Mashbooh, which means doubtful or questionable. Food falling into this category should be treated as haraam until you know otherwise.
- Foods that are forbidden: The Holy Qur'an, 5:3 - Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah; that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars)
- Prohibition of intoxicants: The Holy Qur'an, 5:90 - O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan's handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.
- Permissibility of seafood: The Holy Qur'an, 35:12 - Nor are the two bodies of flowing water alike,- the one palatable, sweet, and pleasant to drink, and the other, salt and bitter. Yet from each (kind of water) do ye eat flesh fresh and tender, and ye extract ornaments to wear; and thou seest the ships therein that plough the waves, that ye may seek (thus) of the Bounty of Allah that ye may be grateful.
It should be noted that the Qur'an specifies all intoxicants (not just alcohol) as being haraam. An intoxicant is, by definition, a substance eaten, drunk or smoked with the sole intention of becoming intoxicated, or a substance created with that purpose in mind. This basically means alcoholic drinks and narcotic drugs.
Any food which was made with an alcoholic drink (usually wine) is haraam because, although the food itself probably couldn't get you drunk, it's alcoholic ingredient was made for that purpose. In most cases this is obvious - for instance Coq au Vin (chicken in wine) or Beef and Ale Pie. In contrast, some seemingly innocent foods can be made using alcoholic drinks and are therefore haraam - examples are mince pies and teriyaki sauce. Always check the ingredients label!
In contrast, alcohol can be found in some halal foods, such as bread and soy sauce. These sometimes contain minute amounts of alcohol as a result of a natural reaction between certain chemicals during the manufacturing process (as opposed to alcoholic drinks being deliberately added to food to add flavour), and so couldn't be classed as haraam.
Some medicines and mouthwashes contain alcohol - if you can find an non-alcoholic alternative then use that instead. Medicines containing alcohol would be considered halal if there were no suitable alternatives available. It should be noted that only ethyl alcohol (such as methylated spirits and ethanol, the alcohol found in alcoholic drinks) are intoxicating and are therefore haraam. Other forms of alcohol (such as stearyl) are not intoxicating. These types of alcohol won't be found in any food or drink due to the fact that they are generally poisonous, but it is a point worth bearing in mind when buying household goods containing these.
This includes ingredients such as gelatine, emulsifiers, fat and enzymes. All of these are haraam. They also have alternatives that are either halal or vegetarian that can just as easily be used in their place. Items that can contain these pork-based ingredients include:
- Jelly / Jell-O desserts
- Jelly / Gum sweets
A note for Muslims in Britain - some fish and chip shops cook their food in lard (pork fat) in the traditional way, especially Harry Ramsden's. As far as I know, most chip shops use vegetable oil, probably because it's cheaper. If you enjoy a good fish and chip dinner like me, you may as well cook it yourself.
Some medicines and supplements (especially Cod Liver Oil) also use gelatine as part of their capsules. It can be permissible to use these, but ONLY if there are no suitable alternatives.
The Qur'an states that everything from the sea is halal, including carnivores such as sharks. You'll see that the list I wrote above says MOST carnivorous animals are haraam. Marine predators seem to be the exception to this rule.
I have also seen some sources stating that prawns, crabs and other crustaceans are haraam based on other verses of the Qur'an which mentions that seawater is bitter. This is not true as the above verse states that all food from the sea is halal.
Some cheeses, including popular types such as Cheddar, are made with an ingredient called 'rennet'. Traditionally, this is obtained from the cow's stomach which, if the cow was not slaughtered according the Islamic rites, would render itharaam. Many cheeses nowadays are made using vegetable rennet, so always choose these if possible.