“I’m in the mood for some halal food.”
Living in New York City, you’ve probably heard this many times over the course of a week and immediately know what people are talking about. However, this same response is quite possibly the vaguest answer you could give in places like Riyadh, Damascus or Indonesia. Why is that? What really is “halal food?”
Halal (حلال) is an Arabic word used by Muslims, which roughly means “allowed” or “permissable.” This is in contrast to haraam (حَرَام), which is “prohibited” or “sinful.” The two terms can be used to describe anything as being within or outside the bounds of Islam. Activities, words, manners could all be either halal or haraam (but not both!). A halal activity could be something as simple as playing basketball with your friends. On the flip-side, an example of a haraam activity is insulting someone. That is, you’re allowed to play basketball, while you are forbidden from verbally assaulting someone with provocation.
When it comes to food, the term halal can be likened to being kosher for Muslims in that the food was prepared under certain religious guidelines that Muslims observe. In the case of meat, the animal was slaughtered in a certain way while mentioning the name of God. That’s what halal food really is! Food that is acquired/prepared/cooked in the name of God and is permissible to eat for a Muslim. An apple, a bag of chips or a chocolate bar can be just as halal as a box of chicken over rice. The food from halal food carts is really food that is of Indian or Middle Eastern origin (in my own experience), and should be referred to as such.
So the next time you have a craving for halal food, be more specific, because I might just bring you back a bowl of fruit!