What is halal? What is haram? We break it down

by Rajesh Kaur

Federal prosecutors have announced an indictment of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and his wife for allegedly accepting luxury gifts from a trio of New Jersey businessmen, including Wael Hana, the head of IS EG Halal Certified. This has raised questions among some people about what halal actually means.

Halal, which means “permitted” or “lawful,” is a dietary law that comes from Islamic teachings in the Quran. It is the opposite of haram, which means “not permitted.” Halal foods are those that are not haram, such as pork and alcohol. However, there are other items that are also considered haram, including predatory animals that hunt with fangs and claws.

The American Halal Foundation provides an easy way to remember what is haram: “Everything is halal except ABCD is haram.” This stands for Alcohol and anything else intoxicating, Blood, Carnivorous animals, Dead meat (meat not slaughtered according to Islamic rites), Idols or immolation (food offered as a sacrifice unto idols), and Swine and all swine derivatives.

Halal not only determines which foods are permitted, but also governs the way meat is slaughtered. In order for meat to be halal, a Muslim must conduct the slaughter and say a prayer, “Bismillah,” meaning “in the name of God.” The animal must be healthy and alive at the time of slaughter, and it must be done swiftly by hand with a sharp knife cut to the neck.

In New Jersey, there is legislation called the New Jersey Halal Food Consumer Protection Act, which requires businesses to live up to their promises and representations when selling or serving food represented as halal. Businesses are also required to prominently display information about halal foods, including whether they contain pork products or alcohol.

Halal food encompasses a wide variety of products, including bread, cereals, cheese, dairy products, eggs, fish, fruits, grains, honey, ice cream, jams and jellies, legumes, nuts, pastas, pizzas, sauces and dressings, soups, syrups, tea blends, vegetables, and more. These items are considered halal as long as they do not come from haram sources.

Halal street food is very popular, particularly in New York City. Halal carts, which can be found throughout the city, typically serve portions of halal meat, often chicken, along with rice, lettuce, and tomatoes, either as a sandwich or in a foil takeout container. They are commonly topped with spicy red or garlicky white sauce.

One well-known purveyor of halal street food is The Halal Guys. They have expanded their cart to include brick-and-mortar locations not only in the United States, but also internationally. In New Jersey, they have locations in East Brunswick, Fort Lee, Lawrence Township, New Brunswick, Newark, Teterboro, and Union.

Overall, the halal food market is estimated to be worth $2 trillion and growing. It is an important dietary law that adheres to Islamic teachings and provides guidance on what is permitted to eat.

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