Super Sunnah Foods: Is All Halal Meat Really Halal?

So, here we are folks! Another episode of Super Sunnah Foods, and for this episode we are going to discuss — you guessed it — MEAT.

First off, is meat a sunnah food? Yes, meat is absolutely a sunnah food because the Prophet, peace be upon him, ate meat without any question. Meat, both of livestock as well as fish, are mentioned in the Quran repeatedly as provided by Allah (SWT) for our consumption.

However, here is the reason for the title of this article. There is a significant amount of discussion going on, as I am sure you have heard, about whether or not meat is still halal and tayyib. Just to clarify, for meat to be halal, it has to be slaughtered a certain way, according to the Sunnah. But for it to also be tayyib, or pure, there are other considerations.

Hit Us With the References

Here’s a verse from the Quran for reference:

“Oh, ye messengers! Eat of the good things {tayyibat} and do righteous deeds. Surely, I know what you do” (Qur’an 23:51).

“Oh believers! Eat what We have provided for you of lawful and good things, and give thanks for Allah’s favour, if it is He whom you serve” (Qur’an 2:172; 16:114).

For further clarification, you can check this source.

So there is a widespread consensus that for an animal to be tayyib it has to be have been raised in an ethical fashion, and this means that all factory-farmed animals are not tayyib. Unfortunately, this includes some meat that is labelled halal, due to the prevalence of industrial animal farming and its pervasive influence on animal husbandry.

Imam Dawood Yasin is an expert on this topic, and exemplary in his meat consumption in that he actually goes out and bow-hunts himself, shooting animals with bow and arrow. Here in the Bay Area where I live, there are also multiple Muslim family farms that are very careful to raise animals in ways that are really genuinely halal and tayyib. Imam Dawood has a great lecture on this topic that you can listen to on YouTube here.

So, if you take the time to really make sure your meat is okay and that the animal was raised in a halal way, this goes a long way towards ensuring that meat eaten in 2019 is actually still in line with the sunnah.

The Environmental Factor

However there is a second consideration beyond merely the treatment of the animal and the way it was slaughtered. This is the consideration of the environmental impact of meat. Granted, if you are careful about meat being tayyib and halal, it probably doesn’t have that much impact on the environment. After all, meat which is authentically tayyib and halal has already taken factors such as that into consideration. However, if you want to turn a blind eye to being really careful about animal rights, then what about the environment? The consumption of meat at the rate that many Muslims consume meat, — 3 or 4 times a day — is definitely not sunnah because of the amount of water it uses.

Currently, water is a precious resource. The website Eco Watch reports on a blog entry entitled “How Eating Beans Instead of Beef Will Save You and the Planet.” Acknowledged in this blog is the fact that “making a single hamburger guzzles up a staggering 660 gallons. Producing a pound of beef requires a total of 1,800 gallons of water. To put it in perspective, producing just 3.5 pounds of beef — or 10 burgers — requires the same amount of water as an entire year’s worth of showers.”

The consumption of meat at the rate that many Muslims consume meat, — 3 or 4 times a day — is definitely not sunnah because of the amount of water it uses.

Sr. Nana Firman, a well-known Muslim climate activist has talked about this in her promotion of the concept of eating a plant-based diet as an ethical mandate for Muslims given our current environmental crisis. One of her initiatives is “Living the Change”. This initiative involves making a personal commitment to taking action on the environmental crisis. The “Food Commitment” includes options like eating less dairy, and eating a 100% plant-based diet. These types of choices are well-documented to have the ability — if enough people committed and followed through — to really change the environmental crisis for the better. In fact, animal products for food consumption are a worse contributor to global warming than all transportation causes. You can join “Living the Change” here.

One of the hadiths that Imam Dawood talks about is the hadith, “Leave that which causes you to doubt for that which does not cause you to doubt.”

With the immense questions about environmental impact as well as the difficulty in ascertaining if meat is actually halal and tayyib, the question of whether meat is still a sunnah food is valid. If we have doubts, why are we ignoring them?

Why Is This so Important? 

Again from Imam Dawood, I turn to the hadith about the traveler whose prayer is not accepted. We all know the prayer of a traveler is sacred and, under most circumstances, accepted. So what about this hadith from the hadith of Imam Nawawi:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Allah the Almighty is Good and accepts only that which is good. And verily Allah has commanded the believers to do that which He has commanded the Messengers. So the Almighty has said: “O (you) Messengers! Eat of the tayyibat [all kinds of halal (legal) foods], and perform righteous deeds.” [23:51] and the Almighty has said: “O you who believe! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you.” [2:172]” Then he (ﷺ) mentioned [the case] of a man who, having journeyed far, is disheveled and dusty, and who spreads out his hands to the sky saying “O Lord! O Lord!,” while his food is haram (unlawful), his drink is haram, his clothing is haram, and he has been nourished with haram, so how can [his supplication] be answered? [Muslim]

Just seeing a package of hotdogs at the local halal market that says “halal” doesn’t in any way guarantee that those dogs are lawful. In fact they are very likely not.

Clearly, based on this hadith, our food and drink being lawful is really important. If we know for certain that the meat we are eating is haram, we really should leave it. It can get in the way of our dua being accepted. And how do we know for sure if it is halal unless we go to great lengths to make sure of it? Just seeing a package of hotdogs at the local halal market that says “halal” doesn’t in any way guarantee that those dogs are lawful. In fact they are very likely not.

A final consideration about food and drink is a testament to how far we have actually sunk relative to the pious predecessors. We know meat and animal products are bad for the environment, and we know we are in an environmental crisis. Many of us, in fact most of us, just disregard this fact and eat animal products any way. This wasn’t the way everyone always ate. A story about Imam Nawawi shows us this:

Imam Nawawi would not eat the fruit of Damascus due to his question if it was doubtful. He only ate stale bread. He did not prohibit it to others, but he himself would not eat it.

It’s really hard to actually eat halal in 2019, and if we are honest about it, almost none of us do.

There is a principle in Islam that is very important called “wara” or scrupulousness. A story goes:

The abstinence known by humanity during the Age of Happiness was perfectly observed by the blessed generations following the Companions, and became an objective to reach for almost every believer. It was during this period that Bishr al-Khafi’s sister asked Ahmad ibn Hanbal:

“O Imam, I usually spin (wool) on the roof of my house at night. At that time, some officials pass by with torches in their hands, and I happen to benefit, even unwillingly, from the light of their torches. Does this mean that I mix into my earnings something gained through a religiously unlawful way?”

The great Imam wept bitterly at this question and replied: “Something doubtful even to such a minute degree must not find a way into the house of Bishr al-Khafi.”

So, to wrap this whole thing up, meat is usually doubtful, and as such, most of the pious predecessors probably would never eat what we are eating. I want to say, I in no way exemplify this principle in my behavior. I pretty much eat a plant-based diet, but I eat eggs and dairy that I can’t know for sure are tayyib.

It’s really hard to actually eat halal in 2019, and if we are honest about it, almost none of us do. However, turning a blind eye to our sins on this issue is far worse than looking at it square in the face and being real about it. It’s definitely a goal for me that I work towards on a daily basis, even though I know I have a really long way to go. I urge you to do the same.

Sarah is a social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area, the traditional land of the Ohlone people. She likes to paint, drum, sing, and spend quality time with her family and God.