My anti-Halal manifesto

For quite some time, I have been against the idea of Halal food. The following serves to articulate the reasons why I am against it, and to show that it is not instinctive religio-phobia that lies behind my rejection of it, since it seems that whenever someone criticises Islam, Muslims or related topics, the first reaction is for people to blame Islamo-phobia.

Critical examination of religion is important, both by believers and non-believers, for without it religion is pernicious, spurious and moot (with thanks to Bob Price).

1. There is no such thing as Halal food

Mere washing does not suffice to make utensils, cutlery and surfaces that have touched pork (and presumably all haram foods) halal again, and even washing halal utensils in the same water, or indeed washing area, as haram ones is enough to make them haram too (which is why muslim stalls in food courts with common dishwashing certificates do not have halal certificates).

However, since the laying down of halal strictures, modern science has discovered both the water cycle, in which water is endlessly recycled and circulated throughout the world, and the water table, which connects the sea with almost all groundwater. There is also the objection arising from the existence of the atmosphere.

The workings of the water cycle mean that the water that you are currently drinking could, in a previous form, have been cognac or even pig's urine. Does this not make everything in the world haram? Meanwhile, since the water table links the seas to most groundwater in the world, a pig swimming in the Atlantic Ocean contaminates the water immediately around it, which in turn contaminates all the water it touches, which ultimately makes the water drawn from a well in Newfoundland haram as well. Finally, if water may be made haram by coming into contact with pork, how about air? Does walking by a pig and smelling the air it has exhaled contaminate one? (Credence to this view is given by the fact that Halal food and non-Halal food cannot travel in the same vehicle [Source]).

Naturally, Muslim apologetics has answers to the first two objections. Supposedly, when water evaporates, it turns into a different form, negating its "haram" properties. And "proximity" is the answer to the water table: apparently after a certain distance, the haram effect winds down and fades. However, arguments similar in form and spirit could no doubt be constructed to restrict the concept of "haram" to food itself, not including the utensils it is prepared, or the cutlery it is eaten with.

Furthermore, the naturally-occuring presence of alcohol in many foods would seem to make them non-Halal. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have said that "That which can intoxicate in large quantities is also forbidden in minute quantities" (MUIS website). Yet, common household condiments like soy sauce, vinegar can conceivably contain some amount of leftover alcohol from the fermentation process, as can traditional foods such as tapai, taucu, tempoyak and cincaluk. The worst offender of all is ripe fruit, which has an alcohol content of 0.6->4%.

2. Needless cruelty to animals

I am hardly a campaigner for human rights, yet I believe that there is no point in inflicting unnecessary suffering on animals. The Halal method of slaughtering animals dictates that the animals may not be stunned before they are slaughtered. They thus die a slow, lingering death as their lifeblood is slowly drained from their body, conscious of their pain for a great deal longer than is necessary.

See: http://www.warmwell.com/dec23bryn.html

"In a 22-page booklet on farm animal welfare, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals described shechitah, the kosher method of slaughter -- as well as halal, the Islamic code of animal slaughter -- as painful and distressing to animals.

"It is a fundamental right of religious groups to practice their beliefs without hindrance," the booklet stated. "But where those beliefs are directly responsible for animal suffering, that right has to be challenged."

"Surely it is not unreasonable to suggest that, in the light of new scientific knowledge and society's more caring attitudes to animals, religious traditions might be changed," it added."
See also: Should Halal and Kosher meat be banned?

"The method of animal slaughter used by Jews and Muslims should be banned immediately, the Farm Animal Welfare Council says.

The independent advisory body claims that the method by which Kosher and Halal meat is produced causes severe suffering to animals."

Testimonial: As a very young lab technician 40 years ago, I was sent to a Kosher slaughter yard to obtain samples for comparative anatomy studies. I can say without reservation that the animals were terrified as they were driven one at a time into a device that turned them upside down to have their throats cut. They took between one and two minutes to die. I know that any sort of slaughter is inherently unpleasant, but the screams of these animals, and the sight of them in their death agonies has stayed with me all my life. To claim that the death is instantaneous and painless is a blatant lie. I cannot believe that anyone's God would demand such a barbaric practice.

Geoff, UK"

3. Culinary principles

Halal food may not contain certain ingredients, including pork, amphibians and alcohol, nor must it come into contact with utensils, cutlery and surfaces which have come into contact with those ingredients. Needless to say, this restricts the options of food outlets which have 'halal' certification.

Now, if Muslims do not want to eat "haram" food, this is perfectly understandable. The problem is that, due to contamination laws, all food served by halal establishments must be halal. And with the burgeoning number of halal establishments, this restricts the culinary universe and options of non-Muslims.

I once asked a Muslim friend of mine, who had trouble understanding the 'culinary principles' part of my anti-Halal manifesto, what he thought of satay served without satay sauce, or curry served without chili. His response was simple and brusque: "I wouldn't eat it". One would imagine similar reactions from an Arab if lamb were to disappear suddenly from his menu, or even hummus (a paste made from blended chick peas), feta (sheep's) cheese or yoghurt. Or indeed from Singaporeans if they were suddenly unable to add chili to their food.

Some might justify the provision of halal food by saying that this is more inclusive, so more people can eat the food from said establishments. However, if one truly wants to be inclusive, one has to cook vegan food (ie food with no meat or dairy products in it), which truly can be eaten by almost anyone; note that there *do* exist people who have objections to eating even vegan food, so it is impossible to be truly inclusive. The fact that almost no vegan establishments exist says something about humanity's desire for culinary variety which, again, is something that halal food restricts. Besides which, anyone could come up with their own strict dietary laws, which would enjoin them from eating at normal eating establishments.

There is something to be said about the abandonment of culinary principles in the search for profit. However, the most contemptible restaurants are the ones which serve pseudo-halal food: either their food is genuinely halal, or they put up big signs proclaiming: 'No Pork, No Lard', hoping that less puritanical Muslims will not mind eating there. Usually, the reason why these establishments do not apply for real Halal certificates is that they serve alchol, which is a big earner of revenue (some also cook with alcohol, but most middle-to-upper-tier restaurants which cook with alcohol aren't halal anyway, refusing to forsake their culinary principles). The true motives of these restaurants are thus made clear by their serving of pseudo-Halal food that is actually Haram. Some might argue that more liberal muslims are willing to eat at Dens of Sin and Iniquity that serve alchol, but if they are, why not at places which serve haram food, merely taking care not to pick haram dishes?

4. Loss of basis for halal/haram enjoinments

Pigs were considered dirty in many ancient cultures because they lived in filthy conditions and had diseases and worms. Modern pigs are raised in conditions no worse (and no better) than other animals, so the reason for banning pork specifically is gone. Hell, chicken meat nowdays is more unhealthy than pork.

As for alcohol, it is haram because it intoxicates people and makes them irrational. Going by this logic, religion itself should be banned (or patriotism, love and other emotions for that matter) because, more often them not, it similarly intoxicates people and makes them irrational. Besides which, in moderation, alcohol does not make you drunk.

5. Double standards

Animals which are dedicated to other gods are haram to Muslims, but Muslim slaughtermen chant "Bismillah, Allahu Akbar" (In the Name of Allah, Allah is Greatest) when they slaughter their animals, thereby dedicating the animals that they slaughter to their own god.

Meanwhile, Sikhs can't eat halal food, which is 'kutha', so having halal food discriminates against them. Is it right to discriminate against one group just to accommodate another? (I also think there's at least one other religious group which is unable to eat Halal food)

6. Requirements for halal certification

An examination of the requirements for Halal certification (Source: MUIS - Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura [Islamic Religious Council of Singapore]) is instructive.

"There must be at least two permanent Muslim employees as Halal Liaison Officers at critical points, determined by Muis, assigned to be responsible to verify and maintain the Halal status and ensure that all conditions and requirements set by MUIS be strictly adhered to". Furthermore, the Halal Liaison Officers must "Perform basic Islamic practice eg. daily compulsory solat, Fast in the month of Ramadhan etc."
This is a distortion of the labour market and may result in some non-Muslims being unemployed - non-Muslim employees have to be briefed regarding Halal requirements, why can't they do this simple administrative job too? Besides which, it's not as if non-Muslim employees might maliciously contaminate food supplies with lard (if you believe that, you also believe that no Jews died in the September 11th attacks)

"Figures of deities, if any, in the applicants' premises should be hidden from the public's view."
I have no idea at all what this is doing here, except as a form of disrespect to non-Muslims' religions. Muslims would doubtless (and rightly) be outraged if display of Muslim religious symbols were similarly forbidden.

"Staff shall wear proper attire or decent clothing at all times."
I don't see how 'improper attire' (whatever that means) can make food haram.

"Any printed or published materials, posters and advertisements that may offend the Muslim public are not allowed. Successful applicants are required to obtain Muis’ prior clearance for any advertisements in any form of mass media."
I hardly see how and why advertisements affect the ritual purity of the food.

"Successful applicants are required to seek MUIS written approval before launching any food
promotions and introduction of new products"
This is a bureaucratic obstacle whichis unneeded as it causes useless paperwork - even if you do not rely on the good faith of Halal-ceritifed outlets not to betray the trust of MUIS and their Muslim customers, there're already 2 Muslim liaison officers to keep the place "clean".

"Ensure that vehicles used to transport/delivery of food/product should be exclusively used for Halal certified food/products only."
If proper separation of Halal and non-Halal-certified foods and products is kept, there is absolutely no reason for this rule, which causes inconvenience and encourages people to exclusively supply Halal food

"The Salughterman (sic) must be a mature an pious Muslim of sound mind who understands fully the fundamentals and conditions relating to Halal slaughter and be approved by the religious authorities." (Source)
Similarly, this distorts the labour market, but to a greater extent, for this puts pressure on non-Muslim Slaughtermen to leave that line.

Furthermore, a Singapore Muslim friend informs me that Malays do not need to apply for Halal certificates, and this seems to be confirmed by visual inspection. The double standard is curious.

7. Common ancestry of Pigs and other mammals, including humans

Pigs belong to the family Suidae and are related to peccaries and hippopotamuses. Are these then haram as well?

More broadly, all mammals are descended from a common ancestor. If pigs are impure and haram, what does this mean for cows, sheep and indeed humans

8. Culinary compromise

Since Halal beef is drained of its blood, it must be quite dry when cooked, especially in the form of prime rib and steak.