Getting married comes with its changes and adjustments, like having breakfast at home. I always had my breakfast in the office prior to the ‘friendly invasion’; am not a morning person and that means that I used to wake up just in time to refresh and be at the office just barely on time. Having breakfast at home means having all that is necessary for a good breakfast and honey is one of them. One morning as I enjoyed my tea and honeyed bread, I took the honey bottle and started reading the sticker. I noticed the halal logo on the sticker and wondered why it was there. I always thought halal was about meat since I have seen it mostly on restaurant posters in town and in butcheries.
Questions welled up in me; what really is halal? Is it some kind of Islamic spiritual cleansing? Have Islamic prayers been spoken over this honey and other foods that have the halal logo? Is it just a commercial certification to woo Muslim customers? What does it mean for me as a Christian to eat food that’s been spiritually cleansed by another faith?
And so my inquisition was born. I was determined to follow up on this halal thing and find out what it means to me as a Christian. Essentially halal refers to permissible practises which Muslims are allowed to engage in, it covers all aspects of life (finance, investment, tourism, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, eating and drinking and more). In this article we will focus on food.
Before going far, I disclaim that this is in no way an attack on Muslims and their faith and it is neither meant to undermine anyone. I have Muslim friends and one of them even helped me in my research. As a Christian I disagree with Muslims on a lot of issues, and I would very much like to convert them but disagreement should not always be interpreted to be hate. You know what, you love yourself very much but you do not always agree with you do.
So the research began, I figured the first step would be to call the manufacturers of the honey. My inquiry was simple; I wanted to know what Islamic criteria they met in order to get the logo. My call was answered by a jovial sounding lady on the other end. I asked her about the halal logo and what it means, ‘We have the halal certificate, just like KEBS, that’s why we use the logo’, she said. ‘What does that mean, what Islamic criteria did you meet?’ I pressed. ‘Halal people came and inspected our premises and processes and when we passed they gave the certificate’ she answered. As we talked more it became clear that no prayers were offered to ‘cleanse’ the honey as far as the lady was concerned.
That wasn’t enough, I needed more data and so my research continued and it took me to the abattoir (slaughterhouse) in Ndonyo, Dagoretti. This is where a lot of Nairobi’s meat comes from. One Saturday afternoon my friend Eric and I went to Ndonyo. Apart from buying meat at almost half the price, I wanted to ask about how the animals are slaughtered. I wanted to confirm something I had heard before, that only Muslims are allowed to slaughter in the abattoirs. People will always talk when you buy from them. According to the meat sellers (who are Christians), only Muslims are allowed to slaughter (cut the throat of the animal), it is done to some specifications and a prayer is recited during the process, kind of a dedication known as tasmiya or shahada.
Nearly all the meat traders there are not Muslim. The Muslim guys are there just to slaughter; which prompted me to ask why only them, why can’t anyone else just slaughter? Interestingly there seemed to be no definite answer to this, only response we got was that the meat has to be halal and so it has to be slaughtered by a Muslim. The meat traders added that slaughtering is the only thing they do and that everyone is in agreement that they should do it. If all the other abattoirs in Nairobi do the same, it means that nearly all the meat we eat in Nairobi is spiritually cleansed. Should this matter to Christians?
To answer the question we need to consider a few bible verses. In Mark 7, Jesus was taken to task by some Pharisees and scribes about the disciples eating without having washed their hands, which was against the Jewish traditions. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees telling them that they have rejected the commandments of God and held on to their traditions, honouring God with their lips but their hearts being far from Him. He then said something amazing from verse 14 which is repeated in verse 18. Mark 7:18-21 (ESV)
And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not know not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery…..”
Of course Jesus was talking about food, spiritually cleansed or halal included because it all enters the stomach. But Jesus was talking about more, the condition of the heart, which the Pharisees neglected and which should be our main concern. There is no point in eating ‘clean’ food and have an unclean heart. One is more important than the other; the heart has more weight than the stomach because it has eternal implications.
In Romans 14 Paul talks about food, days of worship and their relation to true Christianity and in his true style, hits the point home quite well. I really encourage you to read the whole chapter but we will just begin at 13. Romans 14:13-23
13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
There are so many amazing lessons in these verses and it’s very clear on what it says about food but Paul is quick to remind us what our faith is all about. Just like Jesus he points us to the heart of the matter. In verse 17 he stresses that the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. I believe that at the end of the day God will not judge us based on the food that we ate but rather based on whether we sought our own righteousness or His. 1 Timothy 4:3-4
For everything created by God is good, nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
I believe that even halal meat is made holy when we receive it with thanksgiving and pray over it. This means that we need to be conscious and intentional about praying for what we eat since we do not always know the source and the kinds of rituals performed over them.
Does this mean that we eat any kind of food that we can lay our hands on? Of course not; we need to be wise and understand our bodies and eat in such a way that we can be healthy to do what God has created us for. It seems clear to me that Jesus taught in a way to show us that some things are more important than others. The condition of our hearts is more important than food, our relationship with God is more important than sacrifice, matters of the heart are more important than desires of the flesh.
Genesis 1:30 and 2:9 suggest that man and animals were initially created to eat green plants and fruits for food. Animals weren’t meant to be carnivorous and certainly man wasn’t meant to eat animals. But sin came and creation turned on each other and here we are. I don’t have explanations on how herbivorous animals evolved to carnivores but is seems to have happened. Maybe this is why nutritionists insist we eat mostly fruits, vegetables and plant proteins as opposed to animal proteins. Maybe it is just going back to our original diet. I am throwing in this fact to reinforce the point that we ought to be wise with our choice of food. Not all foods are good for you.
There is a huge business benefit that comes with halal certification which is mainly access to the Muslim market, like exporting products to the Islamic countries mainly in the Middle East, and that is why businesses get the certification. On the other hand there is an actual spiritual cleansing, like the guys who pray as they slaughter in the abattoirs.
Christian believers ought not to worry about halal or any kind of spiritual cleansing of food because Christians and other religions are playing from totally different fields. While others have to go through rituals and all kinds of dedications, all we have to do is by faith bless the food with a simple prayer and receive it with thanksgiving.
What is your halal story? Let us continue the conversation below….