Because I’m lazy: halal, haram and fasting

September 13th, 2013

A couple of my non-Muslim friends and colleagues at work – you know who you are -, even after all those years, keep asking me how this “Halal”-thing and this “Fasting”-thing works. I’m tired of answering the same questions every year so from now on I will refer you to this article.

So here we go, just for you…

Halal

Something is considered Halal when it’s permitted. This doesn’t only refer to what we’re allowed to do or say but also to what we’re allowed to eat.
The opposite of Halal is called Haram, forbidden.
So Muslims are permitted to eat what is considered “Halal” and what is Haram may not be eaten.

Anything made from pork (besides blood, carrion, alcohol etc.) is per se considered Haram. We’re not allowed to eat it and pretty much every Muslim that I know will be disgusted by only the thought of eating it.

Beef, chicken and other meat is considered Halal, if – and only if – it was slaughtered according to Islamic principles.

To cite Wikipedia here:
[…] the animal must be slaughtered with a sharp knife by cutting the throat, windpipe and the blood vessels in the neck (while the animal is conscious), causing the animal’s death without cutting the spinal cord. Lastly, the blood from the veins must be drained […]

Basically animals have to be slaughtered in the name of ALLAH(swt) and solely for eating them. Killing an animal for sports, for fun or for any other reason than eating it is not permitted. When slaughering an animal ALLAH(swt)’s name has to be invoked.

Fish doesn’t need to be slaughtered. We can eat fish anytime with no special preparations.

So all of the above implies that going to McDonalds for a burger doesn’t work for us. Some of their burgers don’t contain any pork but beef or chicken… but that beef or chicken is not slaughtered according to Islamic principles, so it’s Haram for us. Besides that you know that nowadays it’s not uncommon to buy beef and secretly the producer has mixed pork into it because it’s cheaper and “stretches” the mass and therefore increases his profits.

Alcohol is also Haram to us, so when I go to a restaurant I specifically ask the waiter if the pasta or whatever I’m about to order is being cooked with any alcoholic ingredient (wine poured over the sauce etc.).

And then there’s sweets that contain Gelatine, a mass that is produced from pork and beef. Even if it’s just a tiny percentage it’s Haram to us.

One more thing that many Muslims don’t know is that certain clear apple and orange juices are cleared with Gelatine. They juice is filtered through it to remove the little bits and particles of pulp and that makes them so clear with a uniform color, just like water.

Medicine and alcohol is the most complicated case. There are exemptions and rules but I avoid any medicine that contains alcohol and try to find an alternative that doesn’t contain any alcohol.

All of the above is very simplified and I have not mentioned all exemptions and special cases but it should give you a pretty good idea about the concept of Halal and Haram when it comes to food.

Fasting

I’ll make this quick and simple, so here are my answers to the (same) questions that I get asked and comments that I hear every single year:

“You can’t even drink water?”
No.

“Isn’t that hard, especially in the summer?”
No. If you know the night ahead that you will be fasting tomorrow then your body will adjust to and prepare for it. I only know of a few people that actually get thirsty.

“Not drinking any water is not healthy.”
Nobody has died from not drinking any water for 8-16 hours (depending on where on earth you live). Two billion Muslims fast ~30 days a year and they’ve all survived it. Besides that fasting is considered a good cleansing method even by non-Muslim scientists.

“Come on, eat this. God is not looking ;-)”
He does see it. And besides that fasting is also about disciplining ourselves.

“And what if you accidentally eat something?”
Then I won’t get in trouble. The only thing that breaks my fast is eating deliberately.

“I know this one Muslim guy and he’s not fasting because he has to work.”
Yes, there are lots of such Muslims out there and unless he’s sick, she’s pregnant or exempted from fasting for any other reason then that’s his choice and between him and his creator. There are soccer players and millions of construction workers that are fasting so your argument is invalid.

“What if you miss a day?”
Then we’re obligated to make up for it shortly after Ramadan ends.

“Ramadan is at the same time every year?”
No, due to the different calendars Muslims and Christians are following Ramadan moves “up” the calendar by ~10 days every year. In 2014 it will be in the middle of summer, with the longest fasting period since more than 30 years.

“Why are you fasting anyway?”
In no particular order and with no claim that all of this applies to me here are the reasons Muslims will cite when you ask this question:
Because my religion tells me to, because it makes me feel with those that don’t have enough to eat, because it cleanses my body, because it cleanses my mind, because it disciplines me, because it strengthens my will, because it helps me lose weight, because it makes me patient, because it humbles me, because my sins will be forgiven, because I will be nearer to my creator, because it increases my faith and because it focuses me.
You will never understand all of this until you went through a month of fasting.

“What about those that live in places where there’s literally not dawn and sunset, e.g. Scandinavian countries?”
They have the option of either following the schedule of the closest country with a Muslim majority or following that of the city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia.

“Can’t you just sleep longer during Ramadan?”
We could and many do, especially because we have to get up for a few minutes in the middle of the night for prayer. For some of us falling back asleep takes time and we have to make up for the missed sleep as otherwise it’ll be a really hard day. Your body can bear only so much. But sleeping half the day, as many twenty-somethings nowadays do, invalidates the purpose of fasting and is not permitted.

“So when sunset has come you’re stuffing your stomachs, right?”
No, it doesn’t work like that. Many do and enough people get admitted to the hospital every year but nowadays pretty much everybody has understood that it’s not healthy, doesn’t help you get through the following day more easily and defeats the purposes of fasting.

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