Halal is a Qur’anic term that means permitted, allowed, lawful, or legal. Its opposite is haram (forbidden, unlawful or illegal). Determining what is halal and haram is one matter that, prior to the advent of Islam, over which the peoples of the world were very far astray and utterly confused. Thus, they permitted many impure and harmful things and forbade many things that were good and pure.
They erred grievously, either going far to the right or the left. On the extreme right was India’s ascetic Brahmanism and Christianity’s self-denying monasticism. In addition, other religions were based on mortifying the flesh, abstaining from good food, and avoiding other enjoyments of life that God has provided for humanity. On the extreme left was Persia’s Mazdak philosophy, which advocated absolute freedom and allowed people to take whatever they wanted and to do whatever they pleased. It even exhorted them to violate what is naturally held inviolable.
When Islam came, the errors, confusion, and deviations with respect to halal and haram were widespread. One of Islam’s initial accomplishments was, therefore, to establish certain legal principles and measures for rectifying this situation. These principles were made the determining criteria on which defining halal and haram were based. Thus this vital aspect was determined according to the correct perspective, and the related rules were established on the basis of such principles as justice, morality, righteousness, and perfect goodness. As a result, the Muslim community occupied a position between the extreme deviations mentioned above and was described by God as a middle community, the best community that has ever been brought forth for humanity (3:110).
The Jews take their scholars (teachers of law), and the Christians take their monks, as well as the Messiah, son of Mary, for Lords beside God, whereas they were commanded to worship none but the One God. There is no deity but He. Glory be to Him, that He is infinitely exalted above that they associate partners with Him (9:31),
he said, “O Messenger of God, but they do not worship them.” The Messenger replied, “Yes, but they forbid to the people what is halal and permit them what is haram, and the people obey them. This is indeed their worship of them.” (Tirmidhi, “Tafsir,” HN: 3292)
Eating and Drinking
The following products are definitely lawful: Milk (from cows, sheep, and goats), honey, fish, plants that do not intoxicate, fresh or naturally frozen vegetables, fresh or dried fruits; legumes and nuts (e.g., peanuts, cashew nuts, hazel nuts, walnuts), and grains (e.g., wheat, rice, rye, barley, oats). Such animals as cows, sheep, goats, deer, geese, chickens, ducks, and game birds are lawful, but they must be sacrificed according to Islamic rites before being eaten.
Sacrificing animals in the Islamic manner (zabiha) and following Islam’s dietary rules are excellent ways to avoid certain diseases. Sacrificing is done to ensure the meat’s quality and to avoid any microbial contamination. Lawful animals must be offered in such a way that all of the blood is drained from the animal’s body.
The Islamic method of sacrificing an animal is to cut its throat, so that the blood runs out and does not congeal in the veins. Thus, animals that have been strangled, beaten to death, or died in a fight or accident cannot be eaten. One who sacrifices the animal must be a mature sane Muslim, who sacrifices it while reciting Bismi’llah (In God’s Name) with a sharp device and without severing it. The animal must be completely dead before it is skinned.
A product is considered haram if it has any contact with, or contains anything from:
Jurists differ over whether some of the forbidden food substances can be used as medicine. Some do not classify medicine as a “compelling necessity” like food based upon the following hadith: “Assuredly God did not provide a cure for you in what He has forbidden to you.” Others consider the need for medicine equal to that of food, for both are necessary for preserving life. However, they maintain that any medicine containing a haram substance is permissible only under the following conditions: If the patient’s life is endangered if the medicine is not taken; if there is no entirely halal alternative or substitute medication available; and if the medication is prescribed by a Muslim physician who is both knowledgeable and God-conscious.
Hunting and Game Animals
Khamr, translated as intoxicants, signifies any alcoholic drink that causes intoxication. Humanity has been afflicted with no greater calamity than alcohol. If statistics were collected worldwide of all the patients in hospitals who, due to alcohol, suffer from mental disorders, delirium tremens, nervous breakdowns, and digestive ailments and added to those collected worldwide regarding the suicides, homicides, bankruptcies, sales of properties, and broken homes related to alcohol consumption, the number of such cases would be so staggering that, in comparison, all exhortation and preaching against it would seem too little.
Whatever Intoxicates Is Haram. The first declaration made by the Messenger concerning this matter was that wine is forbidden and that khamr means any substance which intoxicates, in whatever form or under whatever name it may appear. Thus, beer and similar drinks are haram. When the Messenger was asked about certain drinks made from honey, corn, or barley by the process of fermentation until they became alcoholic, he replied succinctly: “Every intoxicant is khamr, and every khamr is haram.”
Whatever Intoxicates in Large Amounts Is Haram in Any Amount. Islam takes an uncompromising stand in prohibiting intoxicants, regardless of whether the amount is little or much. If an individual is permitted to take just one step down this road, other steps follow. The person starts walking and then running, and does not stop at any stage. This is why the Messenger said: “Of that which intoxicates in a large amount, a small amount is haram.”
Trading in Alcohol. The Messenger forbade any trading in alcohol, even with non-Muslims.
Drugs or “Khamr Is What Befogs the Mind.” ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab declared from the Messenger’s pulpit, that “khamr is what befogs the mind,” thus providing us with a decisive criterion for classifying items as khamr. There is no room for any uncertainty, for any substance that befogs or clouds the mind, as well as impairs its faculties of thought, perception, and discernment, is forbidden by God and His Messenger until the Day of Resurrection. This definitely includes such drugs as marijuana, cocaine, and opium.
The Consumption of Tobacco and Other Harmful Things. A general Islamic rule is that it is haram to eat or drink anything that may cause death, either quickly or gradually, such as poison or substances that injure one’s health or harm one’s body. Thus, if tobacco or another substance is proven to harm one’s health, it is haram, especially if a physician has told the patient to quit smoking. Even if it were not injurious to one’s health, it is still a waste of money and brings no religious or secular benefit, and the Messenger forbade wasting one’s property. This becomes more serious when the money spent on such items is needed to support oneself and one’s family.
Clothing and Adornment
From the Islamic point of view, clothing has two purposes: to cover the body and to beautify the appearance. God Almighty counts His bestowal of clothing and adornment upon human beings as one of His favors to humanity: O children of Adam! Verily, We have bestowed upon you clothing to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you (7:26).
Before dealing with questions of adornment and good appearance, Islam addressed itself in considerable depth to the question of cleanliness, for cleanliness is the essence of good appearance and the beauty of every adornment.
Gold Ornaments and Pure Silk Clothing. Islam forbids gold ornaments and clothing of pure silk to men, but permits them to women.
Women’s Clothing. Islam makes it haram for women to wear clothes that do not cover the body, that are transparent, and that are so tight fitting that they delineate the parts of the body, especially those that are sexually attractive.
Dressing for Ostentation and Pride. The general rule for enjoying life’s good things (e.g., food, drink, and clothing) is that they should be enjoyed without extravagance or pride. Extravagance consists of exceeding the limits of what is beneficial in the use of the halal, while pride is something related to the intention and the heart rather than to what is apparent. Pride is defined as the intention to look superior and above others, and God does not love any proud boaster (57:23). In order to avoid even the suspicion of pride, the Messenger forbade garments of “fame” (i.e., clothes worn to impress others and that generate competition in vain and idle pursuits).
Going to Extremes in Beautification. Islam denounces such excesses in beautifying oneself that require altering one’s physical features as God has created them. The Qur’an considers such alterations as inspired by Satan, who will command them (his devotees) to change what Allah has created (4:119).
Items Related to Luxurious Living and Paganism. Muslims may adorn their houses with flowers, decorated fabrics, and other permitted ornamental objects. They are free to desire beauty in their homes and elegance in clothing. However, Islam disapproves of excess, and the Messenger did not like Muslims to fill their houses with luxurious and extravagant items or items related to paganism, for Islam has condemned luxury, extravagance, and paganism.
Gold and Silver Utensils. In accordance with what has been stated above, Islam has forbidden the use of gold and silver utensils and pure silk spreads.
Commemorating Great People. Islam abhors any excessive glorification of people, no matter how “great” they may be or whether they are living or dead. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, also gave similar warnings. For example, he said: “Do not glorify me in the same manner as the Christians glorify Jesus, son of Mary, but say: ‘He is a servant of God and His Messenger."
A religion who views even the Messenger of God in such a light is one of such moderation that it cannot tolerate the erecting of idollike statues for some individuals, so that people may point to them with admiration and esteem. Many pretenders to greatness and selfproclaimed makers of history have slipped into the hall of fame through this open door, since those who are able to do so erects statues or monuments to themselves, or let their admirers do so, so that people do not appreciate those who are truly great.
Children’s Toys. Children’s toys in the form of human beings, animals, and the like are allowed in Islam.
Keeping Dogs without Necessity. Keeping dogs inside the house as pets was forbidden by the Messenger. Dogs kept for a purpose (e.g., hunting or guarding cattle or crops) are allowed.
Condemned Industries and Professions. Islam has forbidden certain professions and industries because they are harmful to society’s beliefs, morals, honor, or good manners. Some of these are prostitution, erotic arts, and manufacturing intoxicants and drugs.
Illicit Sexual Intercourse. All revealed religions have forbidden and fought against fornication and adultery (zina). Islam, the last of the Divinely revealed religions, is very strict in prohibiting zina, for it leads to confusion of lineage, child abuse, family breakups, bitterness in relationships, the spread of venereal diseases, and a general laxity in morals. Moreover, it opens the door to a flood of lusts and selfgratifications.
When Islam prohibits something, it closes all the avenues of approach to it. This is achieved by prohibiting every step and every means leading to what is haram. Accordingly, whatever excites passions, opens ways for illicit sexual relations between a man and a woman, and promotes indecency and obscenity is haram.
Superstitions and Myths. Soothsayers or diviners existed in Arab society during the Messenger’s time. They deceived people by pretending to reveal information about past and future events through their contact with jinn or other secret sources. The Messenger struggled against this deception, which had no basis in knowledge, Divine guidance, or a revealed Scripture. For the same reason, divination with arrows and making decisions based upon what is observed in sand, seashells, tea leaves, cards, and palms, as well as fortunetelling by cards and similar methods, are all forbidden.
Magic. Islam also condemns magic and those who practice it. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, counted the practice of magic among those major deadly sins that destroy nations before destroying individuals, and that degrade those who practice them. Some jurists consider magic as unbelief (kufr) or as leading toward unbelief.
Omens. Drawing evil omens from certain articles, places, times, individuals, and the like was, and still is, a current superstition.
Relaxing the Mind. Following the Messenger’s example, his noble and pure Companions relaxed their bodies and minds. ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib said: “Minds get tired, as do bodies, so treat them with humor,” and “Refresh your minds from time to time, for a tired mind becomes blind.” Abu al-Darda said: “I entertain my heart with something trivial in order to make it stronger in the service of the truth.”
Thus, there is no harm if Muslims entertain themselves to relax their mind or refresh themselves with some permissible sport or activity. However, the pursuit of pleasure should not become the goal of their life so that they devote themselves to it, forgetting one’s religious obligations. Nor should one joke about serious matters. It has been aptly said: “Season your conversation with humor in the same proportion as you season your food with salt.”
Muslims are forbidden to joke and laugh about other people’s values and honor. Such sports and games as foot racing, archery, spear play, and swimming are permissible.
Singing and Music. Among the entertainments that may comfort the soul, please the heart, and refresh the ear is singing. Islam permits singing. In order to create an atmosphere of joy and happiness, it is recommended on such festive occasions as the ‘Iyd days, weddings and wedding feasts, births, and ‘aqiqat (thanksgiving to God for the birth of a baby by sacrificing sheep). However, there are some limitations placed upon singing:
Gambling, the Companion of Drinking. While permitting a variety of games and sports, Islam prohibits any game that involves betting (e.g., has an element of gambling). Muslims cannot seek relaxation and recreation in, or acquire money by, gambling.
The Qur’an mentions drinking and gambling together (5:90-91), since their harmful effects on the individual, family, and society are very similar. What is more like alcoholism than an addiction to gambling? This is why one usually is not found without the other. The Qur’an is absolutely right when it teaches us that both drinking and gambling are inspired by Satan, that they are akin to idolatry and divining by arrows, and that they are abominable habits that must be shunned.
The Lottery. Lotteries and raffles are also forms of gambling. There should be no laxity or permissiveness toward them in the name of “charitable institutions” or “humanitarian causes.”
Movies. Movies may be regarded as permissible if the following conditions are met: