Updated: Oct 3, 2020
What is halal and how does it apply to medicine?
Halal is a term designating any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law. (Islamic Council of Victoria) The Qur'an outlines what is halal (permitted) and haraam (prohibited) in a Muslim lifestyle. Halal and haraam are most commonly used when referencing diet, cosmetics, personal care and hygiene, pharmaceuticals, and food contact materials.
For a product to be considered halal, the consumer must consider not only the ingredients that make up the product but how the product is produced and processed. By definition, halal foods are...
Free from any component that Muslims are prohibited from consuming according to Islamic law (Shariah).
Processed, made, produced, manufactured and/or stored using utensils, equipment and/or machinery that have been cleansed according to Islamic law.
In Muslim culture, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, allowing them to continue their ministry and "contribute their knowledge and effort for the welfare of the society." A halal lifestyle is an extension of prayer. A Hadith, a collection of traditions containing sayings of the prophet Muhammad, says that a person's prayer will be rejected if they consumed Haraam food.
What ingredients are not halal?
The following foods are prohibited (*May be consumed if derived from Halal animals):
Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants
Non-Halal Animal Fat
Enzymes* (Microbial Enzymes are permissible)
Gelatin* – from non-Halal source (fish gelatin is Halal)
L-cysteine (if from human hair)
Lipase* (only animal lipase need be avoided)
Non-Halal Animal Shortening
Pork, Bacon / Ham and anything from pigs
Unspecified Meat Broth
Rennet* (All forms should be avoided except for plant / microbial /
synthetic – rennet obtained from halal slaughtered animal is
Stock* (a blend of mix species broth or meat stock)
Tallow* (non-Halal species)
Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and certain other animals
Foods contaminated with any of the above products
It is important to note that any food that is from an unknown or questionable source is considered haraam. A common example is gelatin. Gelatin is usually made from cows and pigs, but that is not always the case. The ambiguity of the source of gelatin ingredients makes gelatin prohibited. Click HERE for more information about how Gelatin is made and sourced.
Life is Sacred
Islam holds all life in high regard. Thus, how an animal's life ends is very important. Animals should only be killed for human survival. Just before the animal is slaughtered, the term bismillah, which translates to 'in the name of God', must be used. Muslims cannot eat an animal that is slaughtered in the name of any other god or in the absence of God's name.
There are very specific precepts that must be followed during the slaughter of the animal. These rules are in place to ensure a painless death. Read HERE for more information about that process.
Halal and Animal-Free
While halal does not require an animal-free lifestyle, the lack of wide-spread halal certified food often makes it easier to simply abstain from products with animal-derived ingredients. Despite the fact that Muslims make up a quarter of the world's population, outside of Muslim countries it is difficult to find halal pharmaceuticals. A study conducted in 2013 found that 63 of 221 products were suitable for halal status. Not all of the 63 products were certified halal, though, creating ambiguity for consumers.
Animal-free pharmaceuticals remove the guesswork from the equation when halal certifications aren't available for particular products. While not all Muslims are vegans, when eating out or choosing pharmaceuticals, going with an animal-free or vegan option is the safest route to avoid consuming haraam products.
Veganism and Halal: An On-Going Conversation
There is a lot of controversy in the Muslim community around abstaining from meat. As Mara, a Muslim and vegan from Birmingham, explained,
"Some I know would say to me, 'The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, ate meat, so why are you rejecting it? Are you saying he's wrong?'
"But what I say back to them is that if they did their research, the prophet Muhammad's diet was 90% plant-based and he lived largely on dates and barley. He very rarely ate meat."
There is a growing trend of younger generation Muslims adopting an animal-free lifestyle. Their reasons vary from animal cruelty and environmentalism to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Sayful Ahmed, an imam who leads the prayers at the Islamic Centre in Scunthorpe, summed up his thoughts on veganism.
"If the question is, is a Muslim doing something wrong and against their religion if they choose to only eat a plant-based diet? The answer is simply, not at all," he tells me. "The requirement in Islam is that what you eat must be halal and tayyub (Arabic for wholesome and pure). A vegan diet is both of those things."
How do we make it better?
Muslim culture and religion is rich, enjoying a long history. However, Christian countries have historically viewed Islamic culture with suspicion and fear. According to Dr. Allen Palmer, "the clash that arises from conflicting world views leaves emotional and psychological scars. Among recent migrants to Europe and North America, many Muslims agree with American Islam scholar Yvonne Haddad (1991) in their “frustration and dismay as they continue to experience prejudice, intimidation, discrimination, misunderstanding, and even hatred” (p. 3). Yet, in the midst of these uncertain encounters, Islam and Western society are finding ways to adapt, if incompletely, to each other’s worldviews and values."
It is not the place of Western medicine to dictate diet and lifestyle. Rather, it is important to respect Muslim views and priorities. From internal discussions of veganism to animal-free medications, the role of the Western world is to accommodate their needs. As Dr. Palmer concluded, "Even though tensions are not entirely resolved, the promise of mutual understanding is making inroads in the uncertain relations between Islam as one of the world’s great religious traditions, and the predominantly Christian West."
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Thank you for your awareness and concern for animal-derived ingredients!
If you have any further questions about ingredients in your medicines and supplements, feel free to reach out to the VeganMed team!