Meat & Myth: Unpacking the Halal Certification Debate

September 24, 2023

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Meat & Myth: Unpacking the Halal Certification Debate

By Missionary Sharjeel Ahmad

You Eat What?!

If you hang around in Muslim circles, it won’t be long before a fellow Muslim gives you the side-eye for eating from a non-Halal certified source. “It’s haram brother” they’ll tell you. “It’s not Halal-certified!” they’ll say. 

But does something have to be Halal-certified to be permissible for Muslims? Is a non-Halal certified KFC bucket forbidden to a practising Muslim? This article will seek to answer that question. In doing so, I’ll not just be looking at KFC, but whether any meat (excluding pork), from any fast food chain, is forbidden (Haram) by virtue of it not being “Halal certified”. In other words, does meat have to come from a “Halal certified” butcher to be permissible for Muslims to eat?

Halal, Haram, Confused? 

There are many verses in the Holy Quran which explain what is classified as “Halal” (permissible) and what is classified as “Haram” (forbidden). Let’s take a look at them.

Halal and Haram Explained

The Four Categories

“He has made unlawful to you only that which dies of itself, and blood and the flesh of swine, and that on which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked. But he who is driven by necessity, being neither disobedient nor exceeding the limit, it shall be no sin for him. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.”

Holy Quran 2:174

“Say, ‘I do not find in what has been revealed to me anything forbidden to an eater who desires to eat, except that which dies of itself, or blood poured forth, or the flesh of swine — for all that is unclean — or what is profane, on which is invoked the name of other than Allah…”

Holy Quran 6:146

These verses speak about four types of foods which are classified as “Haram” (forbidden). The first three are forbidden on the basis of being unclean and impure, and the fourth on the basis of being profane and irreligious. The first three things are firstly, meat from an animal that has died naturally, without being killed, this being called “carrion”; secondly, blood which pours out when an animal is slaughtered or wounded and; thirdly, the flesh of swine or any pork product. Regarding these three, the above mentioned verses state they all are unclean and impure and are therefore harmful to the physical and moral health of humans, and for this reason, are forbidden.

The fourth forbidden food is any food on which the name of a god except the one God, Allah is pronounced, at any point. The verses state that this is because it is “profane” meaning “irreligious” or “disobedient” to God Almighty. The eating of such food will injure the spiritual health of a person. 

Thus, the Quran is extremely clear and simple on what is forbidden. If food does not fall into one of these four categories, then it is not forbidden in Islam. This is made explicitly clear in the second of the above quotes, in the words:

Say, ‘I do not find in what has been revealed to me anything forbidden to an eater who desires to eat, except that which…” 

This is the beauty of the Quran. God has used a categorical negative statement to permit all food, and then provided four exceptions, as listed above. Thus, this statement can never be misconstrued as meaning that anything beyond these four categories is forbidden. Further, it has specified that if a person wishes to eat anything beyond these four categories (“an eater who desires to eat it”) then it is permissible. 

Sub-Categories Described

The Quran is a book that not only gives basic principles, but when necessary, also further elaborates its commandments:

“A Book, the verses of which have been expounded in detail — the Qur’an in clear, eloquent language — for a people who have knowledge,

Holy Quran 41:4

As such, the Quran provides further details as to what falls into these categories. The Quran states: 

“Forbidden to you is the flesh of an animal which dies of itself, and blood and the flesh of swine; and that on which is invoked the name of one other than Allah; and that which has been strangled; and that beaten to death; and that killed by a fall; and that which has been gored to death; and that of which a wild animal has eaten, except that which you have properly slaughtered; and that which has been slaughtered at an altar. And forbidden is also that you seek to know your lot by the divining arrows. That is an act of disobedience. This day have those who disbelieve despaired of harming your religion. So fear them not, but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion. But whoso is forced by hunger, without being wilfully inclined to sin, then, surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.”

Holy Quran 5:4

In addition to the previously mentioned four categories of forbidden items, this list contains the following:

  1. Strangled to death
  2. Beaten to death
  3. Killed by a fall
  4. Gored to death
  5. Wild animal has eaten (except that which you have properly slaughtered)
  6. Slaughtered at an altar as an offering to idols

After reading this verse, someone may ask, as to why a new list of things has been mentioned if the matter of Haram (forbidden) foods has already been clearly stated. The fact of the matter is, that this verse is in support and is an explanation of the previously mentioned verses. It does not serve to contradict the previously quoted verses, but to elaborate them. How so?

As explained earlier, Islam forbids four fundamental foods: “…that which dies of itself, and blood and the flesh of swine, and that on which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked…” which are reiterated at the beginning of 5:4 also. What should be understood is that whatever has been strangled to death, beaten to death, killed by a fall, gored to death or which a wild animal has eaten from, all come under the category of that which ‘dies of itself’. The reason why all these have been mentioned separately is because Islam provides guidance on each and every matter, in detail. It explains and sheds light on even minute things which other religions omit and have not spoken of. All of these sub-types fall under “that which dies of itself” because these things often result in an animal that is mortally wounded, which then dies of its wounds later on. Thus, the time of death is not clear, and in the intervening period of injury, for example, due to a fall, the animal may develop a wound infection or other complication which would be harmful to human health. For this reason, these types of deaths are included in the term “that which dies of itself” because the time of death is not clear in these categories.

Cows on an animal farm

The 6th subcategory refers to meat, in particular, as a subtype of food, that is part of ritual slaughter of idolatrous customs. Whereas the broad category of “that on which the name of any other than Allah is invoked” refers to any food, meat, vegetable or otherwise, this subcategory specifies meat that is ritually slaughtered as part of idolatrous customs, because that was and remains a major form by which food would be dedicated for idolatrous purposes. 

Invoking the Name of Allah

Some Muslims argue that food must have the name of Allah mentioned over it as it is slaughtered, for it to become Halal (permissible). This is false. 

What is not Haram (forbidden) is necessarily Halal (permissible), by definition. The list of four Haram (forbidden) things mention “that on which the name of any other than Allah is invoked”. If, however, no name of any deity is invoked over the food, that food remains permissible. It does not fulfil the clear criteria given by the Quran. 

As for the teaching of the Quran and Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, of reciting the name of God over food, one should realise that this does not refer only to meat. When we are to eat anything, be it meat or vegetables, we should invoke the name of Allah over it, as per the Quranic commandment: 

“Eat, then, of that over which the name of Allah has been pronounced, if you are believers in His Signs.”

Holy Quran 6:119

This verse is not specific to meat but covers all food. Indeed, the Quran is explicit on the necessity for invoking the name of Allah over food, but again, this does not refer only to meat, but refers to any food, prior to eating it

“And eat not of that on which the name of Allah has not been pronounced, for surely that is disobedience. And certainly the evil ones inspire their friends that they may dispute with you. And if you obey them, you will indeed be setting up gods with God.”

Holy Quran 6:122

As for the recitation of “Allah” prior to slaughtering an animal, that does not feature as a criteria for making something “Halal”. It is simply part of the Sunnah or practice of the Prophet Muhammad (sa):

“Anas reported that Allah’s Messenger (sa) sacrificed with his own hands two horned rams which were white with black markings reciting the name of Allah and glorifying Him (saying Allah-o-Akbar). He placed his foot on their sides (while sacrificing).”

Sahih Muslim 1966a

The failure to recite this at the time of slaughtering does not make the food Haram (forbidden), for it does not fall into any of the four forbidden food categories.

Is KFC Halal?

If we’re going to say that chicken from a non-Halal certified KFC restaurant is not permissible (Haram) for Muslims to eat, we have to ask: Which of the four categories described, or its sub-categories, does such meat fall into?

Kentucky Fried Chicken, commonly known as KFC, is a global fast-food chain specialising in fried chicken dishes

Atmospheric Stunning: a Concern for Muslims

KFC is a good example where a Muslim needs to do his or her research. KFC, like almost all food-chains, uses “animal stunning” prior to slaughter of the animal. The reason for this is apparently due to it being more humane, an issue that is contentious but beyond the scope of this article. One of the methods KFC has adopted, and is seeking to roll out more and more for its non-Halal certified outlets, is “atmospheric stunning”. This is fundamentally, asphyxiation. By changing the atmospheric composition for the chicken, the chicken effectively suffocates to death, prior to slaughter. Such a case of “atmospheric stunning” would be clearly Haram, since it would make the animal fall into the category of an animal that has been “strangled”. Though the aim is to stun the animal prior to slaughter, the reality is that asphyxiation will naturally result in many animals dying before the process of slaughter commences. On the other hand, Halal-certified KFC outlets are committed to stunning only through electrical means, the meat of which would not fall into the category of “that which dies by itself”. 

So, can you eat meat that isn’t Halal-certified? Well, it depends. Just because meat doesn’t come from a “Halal certified” source doesn’t mean the animal has necessarily been “strangled” to death, as in the case of many KFC chickens, and may very well still be permissible Islamically. There is nothing in other forms of stunning, such as electrical stunning, that would likely cause the animal to die prior to slaughter, and so should not be considered forbidden. On the other hand, with the increased spread of “atmospheric stunning” as a method of chicken-slaughter in particular, Muslim (and Jewish) consumers should do their due diligence in finding out how their their meat was killed, and under what circumstances. 


What should be clear however, is that meat can still be from a non-Halal certified place, and not fulfil any of the criteria for being Haram (forbidden). Contrary to what many Muslims thing, meat does not become “Halal” (permissible) by being slaughtered at the jugular artery, with a sharp knife, while saying “bismillah allahu-akbar”. This is simply the “sunnah” or practice of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, but it is not a prerequisite for the meat to be considered Halal (permissible). 

To reiterate, Halal (permissible) is the description of any food that is not Haram (forbidden). There is nothing in the four types of food that are Haram that relate to the method of slaughter with a sharp knife, while saying a prayer. The prohibition of not eating food on which God’s name is invoked, as explained above, refers to any food and can be done any time prior to eating of the food, even as it sits on your plate. 

Practice of Muhammad, peace be on him

At the time of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, when various religions were present, people slaughtered their animals while reciting the name of their idols. In a society like that, preventing elements of idolatry in respect of one’s food, were of paramount observance and caution. Now in a nation such as the UK or US however, where the slaughter house is not affiliated to a religious organisation beyond those of Jews or Muslims, if at all, the risk of such idolatrous associations is gone. The only situation Muslims do need to be careful regarding is food offered to idols in Hindu temples. Such food is impermissible for Muslims entirely. 

Do Not Make Food Unlawful which is Lawful

We must grasp this notion in mind that man has no power to declare something lawful or unlawful. This authority solely resided with Allah the Exalted. He states in the Holy Qur’an:

“O ye who believe! make not unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you, and do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors.”

Holy Quran 5:88

“And say not — because of the falsehood which your tongues utter — ‘This is lawful, and this is unlawful,’ so as to forge a lie against Allah. Surely, those who forge a lie against Allah do not prosper.”

Holy Quran 16:117

In explaining the latter verse, Hazrat Mirza Bashirruddin Mahmud Ahmad, may God be pleased with him, the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community states:

“The opening sentence of the verse may have two interpretations: (a) “and say not on the basis of the falsehood which your tongues utter that this is lawful and this is unlawful”; (b) “and say not about the things which your tongues have falsely declared as lawful or unlawful that this is lawful and this is unlawful”. The words “your tongues” mean, “the tongues of the chiefs of people”, because it is the leaders who first utter lies; the common people only follow and imitate them. The verse means to say that it is the exclusive prerogative of God to declare things lawful or unlawful and that if disbelievers do not desist from declaring things lawful or unlawful at will, they will end by forging lies against God. The words, those who forge a lie against Allah do not prosper, embody an infallible criterion by which the truth of a Prophet of God can be tested. A false claimant is a forger of lies against God and such a one can never succeed in his mission.”

(Holy Quran, 5 Volume Commentary, Vol. 3)

In addition to this, when Maulana Qazi Muhammad Abdullah B.A. was departing for England as a missionary in 1915, Hazrat Mirza Basheer-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad, may God be pleased with him, gave him some instructions to follow. Amongst these directives, he instructed the following:

“It is not lawful to eat the flesh of an animal that has been killed from the back side of the neck or suffocated to death. The Quran forbids it and the Holy Founder, on inquiry from the intending passengers for England, also forbade it. But if the Jews or Christians slaughter a clean animal by the throat, whether they recite the name of God or not, it is lawful for you to eat of its flesh. Begin eating it with the name of God. The Jews, I hear, are very careful about the matter of slaughtering animals for eating. You may eat that flesh without any misgiving. As the Christians slaughter animals from the backside of the neck or kill them by suffocation you should be careful about the flesh procurable at their shops or hotels. It is lawful for you to eat food cooked by them. Flesh of fish as well as that of a clean animal shot with a gun is also allowed. There is no harm in eating of the same plate with a Christian; for it is not man that is unclean; it is the unclean thing that makes him unclean.”

Al-Fazl, 14 September 1915

Halal And Tayyib

The Quran is the only book to make a distinction between something that is “permissible” (Halal) and something that is good or pure for a person (Tayyib). The former relates to what you can eat and the latter relates to what you should eat. This has been clarified in the Holy Qur’an, as follows:

“O ye men! eat of what is lawful (Halal) and good (Tayyib) in the earth; and follow not the footsteps of Satan; surely, he is to you an open enemy.”

Holy Quran 2:169)

According to the above mentioned verse, all food that is consumed should be Halal i.e.: permissible according to the Islam Shariah, as well as Tayyib i.e.: good, pure and wholesome. What is Tayyib? Tayyib refers to food that is wholesome and pure for that particular individual. What may be wholesome for one may not be wholesome for another.

Sometimes a food can be Halal but not Tayyib, therefore that food would become advisable not to eat. For example, consuming milk is Halal, however if that milk becomes spoiled, Islamic teachings would advise against its consumption, since it is no longer Tayyib, though it does not become Haram. Similarly, while nuts are Halal in Islam, they can become non-Tayyib for those who are allergic to them. In addition, those who are overweight may find that cakes and sugary sweets are Halal for them, but they may not be Tayyib, for they worsen their underlying cardiovascular and metabolic health. So if your BMI is 32 and you pass by a non-Halal certified KFC that doesn’t use atmospheric stunning, the chicken might be Halal, but it may not be Tayyib!

This fine distinction of Halal and Tayyib can not be found in any other Holy Scripture. It has specifically been presented by the Holy Qur’an, which is strong evidence of Islam as a divinely revealed religion, with teachings that are universal and lasting in scope.

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