Halal is an Arabic word meaning "lawful" or "permitted," but it is generally used in reference to food that fulfills Muslim dietary rules. It is similar to the Hebrew word "kosher," which references food that is permissible to eat according to Jewish dietary standards.
In Arabic, the opposite of "halal" is "haram." Most food falls into either the halal or haram categories, but there are certain items, such as processed or man-made foods, that are called "mashbooh," or "doubtful." Further research is needed before classifying them as halal or haram.
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Halal and Haram Examples
Natural fruits, vegetables, juices, fish, and natural ingredients such as sugar and honey are halal. For meat, the animal must be slaughtered by a method called "dhabiha." Foods that are definitely haram include all products from pigs; meat from improperly slaughtered animals; alcohol and intoxicants; carnivorous animals; birds of prey; land animals without external ears (snakes and reptiles for example); blood and blood by-products. Foods that are mashbooh include gelatin, and enzymes and emulsifiers of unknown origin.
Dhabiha, like the kosher "schechting," is a swift incision made with a sharp knife on the animal's neck, cutting both the jugular vein and carotid artery. The spinal cord must remain intact. Many Muslims do, in fact, consider kosher meat halal, though stricter adherents do not. Orthodox Jews, however, do not consider halal meat as kosher, because kosher schechting does have other requirements.
Halal Business Is Booming
As the market for halal meat and food products grows, businesses are supplying the demand. In Dearborn, Mich., which has one of the largest Muslim populations in the U.S., several McDonald's are now serving halal meat and chicken. In New York, restaurants like Chicken Cottage, Brown's Chicken and Crown Fried Chicken that serve halal are becoming increasingly popular. In 2005, Ohio passed a law making it illegal to sell or produce foods labeled halal without proper authorization. Similar laws for kosher foods have been passed, beginning in 1915 in New York.
In Sri Lanka, Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia and South Africa, halal food can be found at McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC, Wendy's, Carl's Jr., Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts and Subway. Some studies indicate that close to 70 percent of Muslims in the world follow at least some halal standards, and the halal market is over $580 billion per year.