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Poisonous Arrow

Halal (Lawful) and Haram (Forbidden)

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).
Basic Principles

  • The first principle is that all that God has created and the benefits derived from them are for humanity’s use are permissible. Nothing is haram except what is forbidden by a sound and explicit nass (i.e., either a Qur’anic verse or a clear, authentic, and explicit sunna [practice or saying] of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. These are the two main sources of Islamic law.).
  • In Islam, the sphere of forbidden things is very small, while that of permissible things is vast. In relation to acts of worship, the principle is limitation: Nothing can be legislated in this regard except what God Himself has legislated. But as far as living habits are concerned, the principle is freedom, because nothing can be restricted in this regard except what God Himself and the Messenger, as based upon His Revelation, have forbidden. No rabbi, priest, king, or sultan has the right to forbid something permanently to God’s servants. The Qur’an took to task the People of the Book (the Christians and Jews) for giving their priests and rabbis the power to make things and actions lawful or forbidden.
    ‘Adiy ibn Hatim, who was a Christian before accepting Islam, once came to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. When he heard him reciting:
  • 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)

  • One of Islam’s beauties is that it forbids only that which is unnecessary, harmful, and discardable (useless and unwanted), while providing alternatives that are better and give greater ease and comfort. For example: God forbids seeking omens by drawing lots, but provides the alternative of istikhara. Islam teaches that Muslims facing a problem should consult other Muslims and seek God’s guidance. Istikhara means to ask for God’s guidance in choosing between two conflicting decisions. For this there is a salat and a du‘a (a supplication for guidance). He forbids usury but encourages profitable trade; forbids (to men) the wearing of silk, but gives them the choice of wool, linen, cotton, and so on; forbids adultery, fornication, and homosexuality, but encourages lawful marriage; forbids intoxicating drinks but provides other delicious drinks that are wholesome for the body and mind; and forbids unclean food but provides alternative wholesome food.
    Thus, when we survey all of Islam’s injunctions, we find that if God limits His servants’ choice in some matters, He provides them with a still wider range of more wholesome alternatives. Assuredly, God has no will to make peoples’ lives difficult, narrow, and circumscribed; on the contrary; He wills ease, goodness, guidance, and mercy for them.
  • Another Islamic principle is that whatever leads to something that is forbidden is also forbidden. In this way, Islam intends to block all avenues leading to what is haram. For example, Islam forbids extramarital sex as well as anything that leads to it or makes it attractive (e.g., seductive clothing, private meetings and casual mixing between men and women, depicting nudity, pornography, obscene songs, and so on).
  • Just as Islam forbids whatever leads toward the haram, it forbids resorting to technical legalities in order to do what is haram by devious means and excuses. For example, God forbade the Jews to hunt on the Sabbath (Saturday). To get around this, they would dig ditches on Friday so that the fish would fall into them on Saturday and be caught on Sunday. Those who resort to rationalizations and excuses to justify their actions consider such practices permissible. However, Muslim jurists consider them haram, since God’s purpose was to prevent them from hunting on the Sabbath, whether by direct or indirect means.
  • Renaming a haram thing or changing its form while retaining its essence is a devious tactic, since both actions are of no consequence as long as the thing and its essence remain unchanged. Thus, when some people invent new terms in order to deal in usury or to consume alcohol, the sin of dealing in usury and drinking remains. As we read in the Traditions: “A group of people will make peoples’ intoxication halal by giving it other names” and: “A time will come when people will devour usury, calling it ‘trade."
  • In all of its legislation and moral injunctions, Islam emphasizes the nobility of feelings, loftiness of aims, and purity of intentions. Indeed, in Islam, having a good intention transforms life’s routine matters and mundane affairs into acts of worship and devotion to God. Accordingly, if one eats food with the intention of sustaining life and strengthening one’s body so that he or she can fulfill his or her obligations to the Creator and other people, eating and drinking are considered worship and devotion to the Al-mighty. If one enjoys sexual intimacy with his or her spouse, desiring a child and seeking to keep both spouses chaste, it is considered an act of worship that deserves a reward in the Hereafter.
    When Muslims perform a permissible action along with a good intention, the action becomes an act of worship. But the case of the haram is entirely different: It remains haram no matter how good the intention, how honorable the purpose, or how lofty the aim may be. Islam can never consent to employing a haram means to achieve a praiseworthy end. Indeed, it insists that both the aim and the means chosen to attain it must be honorable and pure. “The end justifies the means” has no place in Islam.
  • It is God’s mercy to people that He did not leave them in ignorance concerning what is lawful and forbidden. Indeed, He has made these matters very clear. Accordingly, one may do what is lawful and must avoid what is forbidden insofar as one has the choice to do so. However, there is a gray area of doubt between the clearly halal and the clearly haram. Some people may not be able to decide whether a particular matter is permissible or forbidden, either because of doubtful evidence or of doubt concerning the text’s applicability to the circumstance or matter in question. In such cases, Islam considers it an act of piety to avoid doing what is doubtful in order to stay clear of doing something haram.
  • In Islam, the haram has universal applicability, for that which is forbidden to a non-Arab cannot be permitted to an Arab, or that is restricted for a black person cannot be allowed to a white person. Islam contains no privileged classes or individuals who, in the name of religion, can do whatever they please according to their whims. No Muslim can forbid something to others but allow it for himself or herself, for God is the Lord of all and Islam is the guide for all. Whatever God has legislated through the religion He has sent for humanity is lawful for all people, and whatever He has forbidden is forbidden to all people until the Day of Resurrection.

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:

  • Pigs, dogs, donkeys, and carnivorous animals (e.g., bears and lions).
  • Reptiles and insects that are considered ugly or filthy (e.g., worms, lice, flies, and cockroaches).
  • Animals killed by strangulation, a blow to the head (clubbing), a headlong fall, natural causes (carrion), or being gored or attacked by another animal. Fish are exempted from this class. When the Messenger was asked about the sea, he replied: “Its water is pure and its dead are halal.”
  • All animals, except fish, that are not sacrificed according to Islamic rules.
  • Alcohol, harmful substances, and poisonous and intoxicating plants or drinks (e.g., hashish, opium, and contemporary drugs, whether natural or chemical).
  • Animals with protruding canine teeth (e.g., monkeys, and cats, lions).
  • Amphibians (e.g., frogs, crocodiles, and turtles).
  • Animals slaughtered for worship of, or in the name of, that which is not God.
  • Scorpions, centipedes, rats, and similar animals.
  • Animals that are forbidden to be killed (e.g., bees).
    Birds with talons (e.g., owls and eagles).
  • Any meat that has been cut off of a live animal.
  • Blood.
  • Animals won in a bet or a game of chance.
  • Food additives whose raw materials are forbidden and produced through a process incompatible with Islam.
  • Such impurities as dogs and pigs, alcohol, dead bodies not killed according to Islamic principles (except fish), blood, human and animal urine and waste matter, parts obtained from stillliving animals (except for wool, hair, horns, and so on), and the milk of animals that cannot be eaten (e.g., donkeys, cats, and pigs).

Medical Necessity

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

  • For game animals to be lawful, the hunter must be a Muslim or a member of the People of the Book. A Muslim cannot hunt while in the state of ihram.
  • The hunter should not hunt merely for sport, meaning that he or she kills animals but has no intention to eat them or to otherwise benefit from them.
  • The weapon should pierce the animal’s body, making a wound, for death by impact (e.g., hitting a deer with a car) does not make it halal.
  • The hunter must say Bismi’llah when hurling or striking with the weapon, or dispatching the hunting animal.
  • If a dog, a falcon, or a similar animal is used, it should be a trained animal and catch the game animal only for its owner.

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.
Useful Information
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.
Other Activities
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:

  • The song’s subject matter should not be against Islam’s teachings. For example, if the song praises wine and invites people to drink, singing or listening to it is haram. It also must not stir up pessimism and despair.
  • Although the subject matter may not be against Islamic teachings, the way of singing (e.g., bodily movements that stir up lust or impulses to commit haram acts) may render it haram.
  • Islam opposes excess and extravagance in anything, so it cannot tolerate excessive involvement with entertainment. Too much time should not be wasted in such activities.
  • Each individual is the best judge of oneself. If a certain type of singing arouses one’s passions, leads one toward sin, excites the animal instincts, and dulls spirituality, one must avoid it so that he or she will not cave into temptation.
  • There is unanimous agreement that if singing is done in conjunction with haram activities like attending a drinking party, or if it is mixed with obscenity and sin, it is haram.

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:

  • The content must be free of sin and immorality – indeed, of anything that is against Islamic beliefs, morals, and manners. Portrayals that excite sexual desire or greed, glorify crime, or propagate deviant ideas, false beliefs, and the like are not permissible, and Muslims cannot watch or encourage them.
  • Watching movies should not result in the neglect of religious obligations or worldly responsibilities.
  • Physical intermingling and free mixing among men and women in movie theatres must be avoided in order to prevent sexual undertones and temptation.


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