Accomodation Series – Part 1

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October 28, 2013 by Muslim Padre

Okay. I am back in action. I have been away on training and living in the bush, that I have had little time to post anything.  In the field, one of the most challenging aspects for Muslims, Jews and Vegetarians is informing the kitchen staff on how to accommodate their unique requirements. What is Halal they ask? Well I shall explain.

Understanding Halal: Tips on Accommodation

The concept of Halal and how to accommodate Muslim members requesting a Halal diet has become of increased interest in the Canadian Armed Forces. Very simply, Halal means permissible. Based on the legal principle in Islamic jurisprudence that everything is permissible unless established otherwise, Halal denotes what God has deemed good and acceptable for human consumption. Spiritually, a Muslim is to abstain from all unlawful things because their Creator and Sustainer has made them unlawful, and they avail of all lawful things because their Master has permitted them to do so. The Quran states in this regard:

O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and wholesome in the earth, and follow not the footsteps of the devil. Lo! he is an open enemy for you (2:168).

Dietary laws are of course not exclusive to Muslims and alongside comparable laws found in Judaism, Halal is a part of an integral code of ethics and purity. It orients a Muslim’s worldview in which all actions and behaviors are framed to display reverence to God and life in all its forms.

The Process

The conditions associated with this general dispensation to eat from all that is wholesome on the earth and the restrictions associated therein form the basis of what we commonly know as “Halal Food.” Detailed rules are found in other passages of the Quran and Prophetic traditions (Hadith), but very simply, Muslims are expressly prohibited from consuming:

a) carrion

b) spurting blood

c) pork

d) food that has been consecrated to any being other than God himself.

e) alcohol

Muslims are free to consume terrestrial animals (cows, goats, chicken etc.) with the condition that it is ritually slaughtered (Dhabiha) which requires that animals are killed with a swift incision to the throat from a razor sharp blade. The animal must never see another animal being slaughtered nor must it ever see the blade being sharpened. Animals must be checked prior to slaughter to ensure they are healthy and given clean water to drink. Once they have drunk they are turned to face Mecca, the name of God is spoken and then the throat is cut and the blood drained from the carcass. The requirement for ritual slaughter extends to all animal by-products as well like soup broth, gravy, beef tallow, gelatin etc. There is no special requirement for the one slaughtering the animal other than they are cognizant of the method and have the proper intention. Muslims are permitted to eat meat slaughtered by the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) so as long as the same method and intentionality is associated with the act. In crux, with the exception of the above categories, everything else is Halal.

Tips for Chaplains

A chaplain can play an important role in advising the relevant chain of command in respect to a Muslim member’s desire to observe a Halal diet. Members may not be aware of such accommodation or may be afraid to make such a request.

Q. Is Halal only specially blessed food?

No, all food is considered Halal unless it is from the aformentioned categories. This means that all other food such as sea food, eggs, dairy, legumes, fruits, nuts, grains etc. are equally Halal. This is a common misconception and thus kitchen satff may not be aware that Muslim members could be accommodated by providing sea food, meat substitutes (tofu and Soy) and other vegetarian type meals.

Q. Can Muslims eat Kosher meat?

Yes, Muslims are permitted to eat Kosher meat as the laws of Kashrut relating to animal slaughter fulfill the conditions of animal slaughter in Islam. The reverse is not the case however as Halal slaughter does not meat all the conditions of Kosher.

Q. In exigent circumstances can a Muslim member eat prohibited food items?

Yes, under the doctrine of necessity, Muslims may eat forbidden food items in order to preserve ones life.

Q. Are there particular laws relating to food preparation?

The only point to be aware of is to avoid cross-contamination with non-Halal meat, pork and alcohol products. For instance, when providing Hay Box meals, food items must be handled separately, using clean cutlery, gloves, etc.

Q. Are there differences about what constitutes Halal in the Muslim community?

The rules pertaining to ritual slaughter are contained in the Quran and explained further by the Prophetic traditions. Like all religious communities however, individuals may choose not to adhere strictly to a religious regulation. It is important to understand the difference between personal practice and actual religious injunction as it may create confusion

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