May 18, 2009

The Meaning of the Word "Halal"

We Muslims use the word halal on a daily basis, using it normally to describe various foods, drinks or behaviors that are acceptable ("legal") in Islam. However, for those of us whose mother tongue isn't Arabic, we may miss out on some of the deeper meanings of even familiar words that have made their way into English language discourse about Islam between Muslims and even non-Muslims.

One such word is halal, which, as we Muslims know, means "that which is allowed, permitted or permissible, legal, licit, legitimate." But did you know that it also means "to loosen a knot?"

Hallun originally meant to untie a knot. In Surah Ta Ha, 20:27, Moses (pbuh) asks Allah (swt) to "loosen the knot from my tongue." Apparently, Moses (pbuh) was a stutterer, and was asking for Allah's (swt) help in order to be able to speak more clearly when facing off against Pharaoh.

Halaltu was used to express the idea of untying knots of the luggage to stop on a journey. Likewise, the second half of verse Ibrahim 14:28 (wa ahallu qawmahum darul bawaar) meant that the kufran caused their people to alight in the house of perdition:

Hast thou not turned thy vision to those who have changed the favor of Allah into blasphemy and caused their people to descend to the House of Perdition?-

Likewise, someone who unties his ahraam after the hajj is said to have become halal: "But when ye are clear of the sacred precincts and of pilgrim garb (wa idha halaltum), ye may hunt..." (fas-Taadoo; see Surah al-Ma'idah 5:2).

Another passage that refers to halal is Surah al-Ahzab 33:50, which reads in part, "We have made lawful to thee thy wives..." (inna ahlalna laka azwajaka). The husband is haleel and the wife haleela. They are haleels to one another.

So how does halal relate to food? While halal-uqdah means untying (i.e., solving) a (problematic) knot, the expression metaphorically refers to the slaughtering of an animal when the "knot" of its neck is "untied," thus becoming permissible to eat.

(Based upon pp. 141-42 of Muhammad Umar Chand's book, Halal and Haram: The Prohibited and the Permitted Foods and Drinks According to Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures.)


iMuslim said...

Amazing. I love learning about the origins of words. I wonder who invented them, and what inspired them to use the sounds that they did. Onomatopoeic words are understandable. But most words are a pure mystery! :)

Anonymous said...

...but what is the intent behind putting down animals through the halal procedure? Why not make it a quick kill. I read somewhere that it was inhumane. Your thoughts?

JJTM said...

The intent of the halal procedure is to minimize the pain of the animal; also, to declare before Allah (swt) (through the utterance of the Basmallah) that the slaughter is done under His name, following His rules, and that the animal did not die for a vain reason (e.g., for "sport") but for a valid reason (i.e., for sustenance).

Sivas Sivaskanthan said...

@JJTM Thanks, but then how come we have muslim abbatoirs in some countries slaughtering cattle not-so-painlessly, I hear?

JDsg said...

@ Sivas: Because there is often a difference between theory and practice. Not everyone can slaughter an animal painlessly. Obviously, the bigger the animal the more difficult it will be to minimize the pain in slaughtering. (Which is why halal beef is much more difficult to come by than, say, chicken or mutton.) Still, the goal is to minimize the pain to the animal.

Anonymous said...

@ Sivas what head is not what you its what what you you could use against Beautiful Islam ... Halal process is perfect when make cut animal is in shock and does not feel a thing .....if read a Allah name before slughtering a animal is very com because every creation apart from Jinn's and Human are more aware of Allah so as soon as the animal hear the name of Allah he knows he been honoured some time what you see is body reaction just like when you are sleeping you do lots of things and you do not remember a thing in morning .... Please know islam from Islamic resources not from enemy of Islam