Diet & Islam

Split-Pea Soup, Anyone?

Several years ago, some university students were driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Midway through their journey they began seeing road signs for Andersen's Split-Pea Soup restaurant. They were tired and the idea of getting a steaming cup of pea soup seemed exciting. Being Muslims they also knew something about Halal (allowed) and Haram (forbidden). It was a very simple scheme. Lard, ham, and bacon were to be avoided. Beyond that there was no need to complicate life by investigating further and becoming nit-picky.

While enjoying the tasty soup, which came with a rich creamy texture and a nice aroma, they did see some red things in it. Must be vegetable, they assured themselves. Besides, what could be wrong with a split-pea soup? It was only when they came back that they learned, to their horror, that the red pieces were actually ham. "Everybody knows that split-pea soup contains ham", their informant told them. Everybody, but them. Their simple scheme of determining Halal and Haram had just failed miserably and left behind a terrible feeling.

It is difficult to say how many Muslims in this country have become, and continue to be, victims of their own simple approaches in matters of Halal. Today in Muslim households across the country one can find products containing gelatin, enzymes, sweet whey, and a number of other ingredients each of which could come from the same source that these Muslims would avoid if listed directly.

This casual approach affects us not just individually but also collectively. Muslims bring food to Masjids, Islamic schools and other Muslim gatherings which have not been carefully scrutinized for its contents. In such gatherings others find it awkward to inquire about the ingredients, and therefore those who bring such food bear a much greater responsibility for ensuring its Halal status.

In Islamic schools and other settings where Muslim youth are involved, this care is necessary for an additional reason. Our next generation must be educated and trained so that it will not only be able to know Halal from Haram, but will also approach the issue with confidence and determination. This can only happen if we collectively show concern for this issue.

None of us would touch a food package with a ten foot pole if we suspected it had a trace of cyanide. Logical reasoning suggests that those who know that Haram means "forbidden by Allah, the Supreme Authority", take the same precautions against a food item that contains Haram ingredients.

"They ask what is Halal to them (as food). Say, Halal unto you are all things good and pure." (Qur'an 3:4)

Halal is a chorionic term which means 'permitted' or 'lawful'. In reference to food, Halal is the Islamic dietary standard as prescribed in the Noble Qur'an. The Qur'an states that all foods are Halal except those which are specifically stated to be otherwise. That list is not very long. The following verses from the Qur'an describe most of the prohibited food items.

"Forbidden to you for food are: carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which had been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death, or that which had been partly eaten by a wild animal; unless you are able to slaughter it (in due form); which is sacrificed on stone (altars).." (Quran 5:3)

"O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, of Satan's handiwork: Eschew such abomination, that you may prosper." (Quran 5:90)

"Eat not of meats on which Allah's name has not been pronounced: That would be impiety…" (Quran 6:121)

From these verses and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Islamic scholars have established that all foods are Halal unless they fall into one of the following categories:

1. Carrion or dead animals

2. Flowing or congealed blood

3. Swine

4. Any animal which has been slaughtered in a name other than that of Allah.

5. Any animal which has been slaughtered without the name of Allah pronounced upon it during slaughtering.

6. Animals killed in a manner which prevents the blood from fully draining from the body.

7. Intoxicants of all types including alcohol and drugs.

There are more than 8,000 grocery items lining the shelves of North American supermarkets today. They represent more than 3,000 food ingredients. How can we determine whether a given item is Halal? Fortunately, in the commonly used items only a handful of ingredients have to be guarded. This issue will list some of these.

Read The Labels

The law requires that food manufacturers provide ingredient information on the food labels. That makes our job easier. All we need is to read the labels carefully. To be sure, ingredient labels are not the most readable part of many food packages, and they may not always contain sufficient information to determine the Halal status of a product. But reading food ingredient labels is the first essential step in that direction. As you read the labels, especially look for the following ingredients. They deserve a hard look:

Dairy Group
Whipping Cream...............Mono- and di-glycerides
Cheeses..........................Enzymes, whey, gelatin
Yogurt............................Gelatin, whey
Margarine........................Animal fat, mono- and di-glycerides
Ice Cream.......................Liquor flavor, gelatin, animal fat, mono- and diglycerides, vanilla extract, marshmallows.

Bakery and Cereal Products
Look for these in all bakery and cereal products: Gelatin, mono- and di-glycerides, animal shortening, whey.
In cereals look for marshmallows. (They contain gelatin.)

Fruits and Vegetables
Additives and preservatives may be added in the preparation of processed and canned fruits and vegetables.
Look for: Gelatin, mono- and di-glyceride, cheeses, alcohol, or wine.

Look for: Animal fat, gelatin, alcohol, whey, glycerol, glycerine, and marshmallows.

Meet The Suspects

Now that we have learned how to spot the suspect ingredients on a food label, here is more information that will help us decide whether these ingredients can be considered Halal or non-Halal.

Lard is a saturated fat obtained from swine (pigs), particularly from the abdominal cavity of the animal. Any food containing lard is completely Haram.

Mono- and di-glycerides are lipid (fat) molecules used as emulsifiers in shortening, bakery, and dairy products. These may be manufactured from vegetable oils, beef fat, lard, or marine oils. Therefore, Muslims should stick to labels saying vegetable or marine mono- and di-glycerides.

Shortening is a blend of fat and/or oil. If the label simply says 'shortening', stay away from it; it may even be lard. When the label says 'vegetable shortening' without listing all the vegetable sources or adding, the words "pure" or "100%". Even 1% lard will make it 100% haram.

Enzymes are a protein substance found and formed in all living cells that bring about chemical reactions inside or outside of the body. Enzymes can be extracted from animal sources, calves and pigs. Vegetable enzymes are okay.

Chocolate liquor is simply chocolate syrup. It is not an alcoholic product, so it is OK to consume.

Liquor flavor is derived from brandy, whiskey, or other wines. Haram.

Glycerine - The chemical name for glycerine is glycerol which is a colorless syrupy liquid made from fats and oils. Both animal and vegetable fats may be used. Glycerine made from vegetable oils is Halal.

When In Doubt

Remember, you can always look for the symbols K or U which is Halal (but not on alcoholic items). Absolutely no pork and if unsure choose vegetable ingredients.

Why Bother?

In a way, the life of a Muslim revolves around the concept of Halal. He or she must earn income from Halal sources, be involved only in Halal transactions, and eat Halal food. In every walk of life, staying away from Haram is a lifelong struggle. It is obvious that Muslims should seek an education and training for their children that will well prepare them for this. Education of Muslim children can not be complete if it fails to inculcate in them a strong faith in the superiority of Halal practices.


The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186

May / June 1998
Muharram 1419
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