Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Eating Halal

Just a couple of weeks back, I was standing in line to get lunch at an eating place near our office that I usually patronise. I like to walk out for lunch after the off-peak hour. This is so that I can finish lunch and head directly for prayer before settling back at my desk. Another reason is to avoid the crazy lunch crowd in the city! Walking out for lunch at this crazy hour will have you brisk walking, and not strolling (because the motion of everyone else sets in that way), and returning to office at the same speed.

Alhamdulillah, that the office environment I work in allows us for such flexibility to either head out much earlier or later than the peak lunch hour.

Back at the line I was in… there was another Muslim Sister in the queue, just before me. Just before it was her turn to place her order, she turned to me abruptly and asked. “Does this place serve halal food?”

“Of course,” I said, and turned to point her towards the huge sign on the entrance (which was supposed to be there!). To both our disappointment, it wasn’t there anymore. By this time, the lady serving food (who is Muslim) was already calling out to this Sister. This Sister asked her if the food was halal-certified. And she said yes. She then asked her where the certificate was, to which the lady just smiled. The Sister made a quick order and paid. Next was my turn. Usually I would order a meat dish and vegetables from here. I made the same order, picked up a bottle of mineral water (as always) and walked out to get a seat.

I said my duas and started eating. After taking two mouthfuls, I was uncomfortable and had many questions from the episode that had just unfolded. Why was the halal-certified sign not there anymore? For how long has it not been there, and why did I not spot it until now? Why was the lady serving food not able to give us an answer? Maybe the owners were renewing their certificate? Or did they not meet the renewal criteria? What made me feel worse was that I frequently packed food for another Muslim colleague from there. Ya Rabb. Astaghfirullah.

I stopped eating, and gulped down some water. I sure felt terrible because if the food was halal after all, then I was wasting food which is not encouraged in Islam. I felt really bad at that moment and will never return to that eatery again, until I see the halal-certified sign again.

Just after this incident, a Buddhist friend, and a former colleague, wrote me an email for her article at work on why Muslims do not eat pork. I thought it was good to give her readings on Quranic evidence for a better comprehension, and sent her two links, here and here, from which the useful information below came up.

The Muslim’s diet, like all other aspects of his or her life, is governed by divine law. Muslims (male and female) implement the commandments of Islam because the fundamental concept of Islam is submission to Allah, Almighty God, recognising that in His infinite knowledge, He knows what is best for His creation. 

Quranic Evidence
The prohibition of pork in Islam is derived from the following verse of the Glorious Qur’an:
“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.”
[Al-Qur'an 5:3]

In another passage of the Qur’an, pork and pig derivatives are described as being impure:
“Say, “I do not find within that which was revealed to me [anything] forbidden to one who would eat it unless it be a dead animal, or blood spilled out, or the flesh of swine – for indeed, it is impure – or it be [an animal slaughtered in] disobedience, dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], then indeed, your Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.” 
[The Qur’an al-An’aam 6:145]

The Arabic word rijs is used specifically to describe pork in the Qur’an. It means something that is impure, filthy, and unfit for consumption. The fact that the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth describes pork in this way is enough of a justification for a Muslim to refrain from eating it.

We know that pork bears many health risks to its consumers, with a significant number of diseases and pathogens being found in various parts of the pig, such that a number of health professionals from non-Muslim and non-Jewish backgrounds advise against eating it. 

These include trichiniasis trikinisis, a parasitic disease caused by a kind of roundworm, as well as yersinia enterocolitica, which causes fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. The meat of pigs is also higher in toxins than other meats.

Pigs themselves have been plagued by a variety of hazardous infections and diseases, including Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, Nipah Virus, Porcine Endogenous Retrovirus, Hepatitis E, Swine Flu, Menangle Virus, and others, many of which have lead to infections in human beings.

It should be noted that these specific health concerns are simply mentioned to illustrate part of the wisdom behind the prohibition of pork; however, a Muslim refrains from eating pork in submission to Almighty God, and in recognition that The Creator knows what is best for His creation.

Therefore, whether or not these risks can be mitigated by proper farming, storing, and cooking procedures, a Muslim will always refrain from eating it, demonstrating his or her submission to their Creator, and affirming that the laws of Allah are full of wisdom and represent the best for mankind. 

Furthermore, the laws of Islam are universal for every people, in every time and place. The risks associated with pork have been – and to a certain degree remain – significant for the majority of people in the world.

The Nature of Pork
The main utility of pigs in the ecosystem is as scavengers. They live and thrive on muck, feces and dirt. It could be argued that in developed countries, pigs are bred in very clean and hygienic conditions. Even in these hygienic conditions the pigs are kept together in sties, and so the chances of them consuming filth are very high.

Health Aspects
Research has shown correlation between pork consumption and several diseases. Eating pork can expose the individual to various helminthes (worms) like roundworm, pinworm and hookworm. 

One of the most dangerous of worms is Taenia Solium, which, in lay man’s terminology is called the pork tapeworm. It harbours in the intestine and is very long. Its ova i.e. eggs, enter the blood stream and can reach almost all the organs of the body. If it enters the brain it can cause memory loss. If it enters the heart it can cause heart attack, in the eye it can cause blindness, and in the liver it can cause liver damage. It can damage almost all the organs of the body.

A common misconception about pork is that if it is cooked well, these ova die. In a research project undertaken in America, it was found that out of twenty-four people suffering from Trichura Tichurasis (another worm commonly found in pork), twenty two had cooked the pork very well. This indicates that the ova present in the pork do not die under normal cooking temperature.

Pork has very little muscle building material and contains excess of fat. This fat gets deposited in the vessels and can cause hypertension and heart attack. It is not surprising that hypertension is a common ailment due to the prevalence of the consumption of pork.

Thus the prohibition of pork in Islam is a blessing.

SubhanAllah, indeed it really is a blessing that Allah (S.W.T) has given us guiding principles on every aspect of life. Every single aspect.

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