Prophet Mohammed introduced the concept of the practice of Halal as part of his attempt to purify all the religions of the world as a whole. He kept contempt on the idolater religions and paganism because he thought that such religious practices belittled the authority of God and propagated immoral practices in the name of religion in society. He was very much worried over the contamination of the Abrahamic religions by the practice of barbarous and impure rituals and customs and he decided to purify the Abrahamic traditions. He believed that, the Judaism and Christianity of his times had been polluted by the irreligious, superstitious, and non-spiritual practices. He decided to eradicate the pollutants from the religious practices of Jews and Christians. His claim was that it was an honest attempt to lead the Jews and the Christians to the right path for the attainment of heaven. But unfortunately, he could find only Islam, the religious faith that he established, as the right religion and he insisted the Jews and the Christians to give up their polluted religions to embrace Islam, the perfect religion, to lead spiritual life. He further claimed that he did everything at the command of God.
The term halal appears in the fifth chapter of the Quran as part of the efforts of the prophet to purify Judaism and Christianity and to make a perfect religion. He claimed that, Islam, the religion which he introduced as revealed to him by God, was the only perfect religion capable to refine human spiritual life. He did not narrate the reasons for his belief that, the Judaism and Christianity had been degenerated beyond redemption. He believed that, both the religions had been polluted by the practices of impure customs and rituals by the followers of the Abrahamic religions. But he did not reveal the yardstick to verify the purity and impurity of religious practices. “As a logical corollary to the corruption of the earlier religions of God, the practical precepts of Islam about food, cleanliness, justice, and fidelity are recapitulated” as Yusuf Ali claimed.(The Holy Quran, page 237) So, the prophet thought that, it was his duty as the messenger of God, to purify the polluted religions introducing the correct, pure, and divine customs and practices for human beings on earth to ensure happiness in heaven. He told them that their religions had been corrupted by crude, impure and superstitious customs, and practices which, according to him, were against the will of God. So, he wanted to perfect their religions by prescribing refined humane and divine rituals, customs, and practices. Hence, he introduced a new food habit which, he claimed divine, as one of the steps to purify Judaism and Christianity.
Basically, halal is the food habits prescribed by the prophet for the Muslims to keep up purity in the practice of Islamic faith. A true Muslim should practice halal food habits as and when he/she eats meat as part of food and it has nothing to do with the non-Muslims. In this sense, halal is the food habits prescribed by the prophet for the Muslims all over the world. The Quran specifically says that, “Forbidden to you (for food) Are: dead meet blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than God; that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been partly eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); forbidden also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety”. (Quran, chapter v, aphorism 3) These instructions are directly related to the permissible and non-permissible methodology of slaughtering animals and preparation of meat for eating. This part of the Quranic aphorism, is prescribed only for the Muslims. The butchers who slaughter animals for Muslims must listen to the instructions and the Muslims who eat meat must verify the slaughtering methodology before eating meat. Hence, normally, it need not be the concern of vegetarians because they do not eat meat and non-Muslims as they do not insist to get halal meat.
According to these doctrines, the primary condition is that, one must make it sure that, animals have been slaughtered only after rendering Bismi, the religious prayer prescribed by god to purify food, by a competent person. A Muslim believes that, rendering the specific prayer from the Quran by a competent person makes the meat eatable and divine removing all the inherent impurities. It also reminds him that one must eat meat only in the name of God. The aphorism narrates the details of the process of slaughter and preparation of eatable meat. This is applicable only to the Muslims because it is silent on the duty of the non-Muslims when they eat meat. Hence, they have no stake in it. But the next part of the aphorism says that, “This day have those who reject faith given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear me. This day have I perfected your religion for you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion”. (Quran, chapter v,4) Commending on this aphorism Yusuf Ali, the widely accepted commentator of Quran says: “The fourth verse contains the memorable declaration: ‘This day have I perfected your religion for you’: which was promulgated in 10 H., during the apostles last pilgrimage to Mecca. Chronologically it was the last verse to be revealed.” If, it was the last verse of the last prophet of the last and the perfect religion in accordance with the will of the only one God who selected him as the prophet then, it needs the logical scrutiny to ascertain the veracity of the same.
The concepts that there is only one true and perfect religion named Islam, the Quran is the only one valuable and true text of purity, and Mohammed is the last prophet have been accepted as part of belief by the Muslims. Hence, a true Muslim has no option but to accept the same beyond the logical scrutiny. But the non-Muslims do not have the commitment to accept the revelations of prophet Mohammed as true statements if such statements do not pass test of logical scrutiny and contextual applicability. A prophet is free to say that he is the last prophet of God and he has been chosen by God to reveal his will to the people. But the prophet also has to admit that, every other person enjoys equal right to reject his claim as a false statement. Hence, these claims can be considered as highly objectionable and debatable proclamations from a prophet who believed that, God reveled him the ultimate truth and the secrets of perfect religion for the people all over the world because, the veracity of these claims remained unverified. There is no factual evidence and logical proof to accept that Mohammed was the last prophet. How such an intelligent and all-powerful God can be that much a nepotist to eliminate the chances of other persons to become more loyal and submissive slaves to him than Mohammed? The last prophet issued an unconditional instruction to the non-Muslims to obey his commands. But he never sought the consent of the other people to ensure whether they were ready to obey him or not. How God can be that much cruel to issue a command to give up the very idea of unconditional love towards all, ignoring enmity and friendship, as preached by Jesus? The command was issued specifically to Jews and Christians to give up their religion to embrace Islam. Naturally, such a command did not convince them. Hence it was not acceptable to all Jews and Christians.
Moreover, he believed that he had perfected the other religions as commanded by God, only because he thought that, he had the authority to correct the teachings of the other prophets like Moses and Jesus which need not be acceptable to the followers of those religions. His commands were based on his belief that the believers of other religions, especially those who laid their faith in Judaism and Christianity, had contaminated the essence of their faith by irreligious and impure rituals and customs. Naturally, he concluded that, they lost fear of god. If, the issues are related to the practices of rituals and customs which resulted in the contamination of religions then, one is free to give suggestions to correct the same only at the demand of the people of those religions. Instead, the prophet asked them to give up both the theory and practice of their religions in the name of God need not be a convincing argument for the non-Muslims. Normally, such a suggestion need not be acceptable to the believers of Judaism and Christianity. Hence, they refused to obey his commands and they considered those instructions as the imaginative interpretations of a person who claimed that, he was the last prophet sent by God to correct the people without submitting valid reasons. So, the commands issued by the prophet Muhammed that, the people belonging to other religions must keep fear for him in their minds had been outrightly rejected. He further revealed that, he had perfected their religion and he suggested that Islam is the perfected form of religion for all people. Hence, he commanded them to embrace Islam as their religion. This command is the root cause of forceful conversion of the people belonging to other religions to Islam as part of jihad.
If, chronologically this was the last aphorism revealed by the prophet, as Yusuf Ali claimed, then, this could be considered as an open challenge and war cry against the very existence of other religions because he commanded the people belonging to the other religions to embrace Islam by giving up faith in their religion. Further he clarified that, he had been asked by those who laid faith in Judaism and Christianity regarding the purity of eatable foods. Then he said: “They ask thee what is lawful to them (as food) say: lawful unto you are (All) things good and pure:” (chapter v, aphorism 4) He believed firmly that he was the competent authority to adjudge what was lawful, pure and good for the other people because he thought that, he was the last prophet chosen by God and he had claimed that God revealed his will for the welfare of the people to him through Gabriel, the designated angel of God. Prophet Muhammed did not get direct contact with God. His contact was through a mediator and he got revelations not directly from God. But he got all the revelations as told by the intermediary angel. Whether God really revealed these aphorisms or not is a question that deserves logically convincing answer. The only answer given by the prophet is to lay faith in God, the angel, the prophet, and his revelations.
He categorized the food items available in the world into two classes, halal and haram exercising the authority given to him by god as his messenger. As a messenger, he never examined the veracity of the message because, he thought that, asking questions to God regarding the contextual relevance and logical validity of the message amounted to blasphemy. Hence, he prescribed what is good and bad for human beings and commanded his followers to eat only good and pure items as they alone are the halal items and the rest, he included in the class of haram items which, according to him, had been forbidden by God. As, it is not possible to prescribe food items universally applicable to all human beings, who have already borne and to those who have not yet borne, the efforts taken by the prophet to impose uniformity in the food habits of all human beings cannot be accepted as an unquestionable dictum. The food habits prescribed by the prophet may have contextual relevance to the people of Arabia. But such prescriptions have little relevance in the Indian context and as an Indian I am not bound to accept anything from any text if it does not agree with truth and logic; mere faith is not enough to accept anything from any text as true statements.
Unfortunately, the followers of the Islamic faith accepted the concept of halal as a universal law and extended its application to all the basic needs of human beings including clothing, shelter, medical aids, and education apart from food habits. The Wahhabi brand of Islam tried to extend the halal system of religious practice to trade, commerce, industries, banking etc. as part of their effort to establish a pan-Islamic world order. Wahhabism was introduced by a Sunni Muslim scholar, Muhammed bin Abd al Wahhabi, lived in Najd, central Arabia, who believed in the correct and pure form of Islamic practice. The Wahhabi brand of Islamic practice was adopted by the Saudi family in 1744 and Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the two prominent Islamic states which practice Wahhabism. It is an extreme form of the correct Islamic practice which identified the Shirks or un-Islamic practices and insisted for the practice of pure Islam. What are the pure and the impure forms of Islamic practices had been determined by the Mohammed bin Abd al Wahhabi in the beginning. Later on, the politically and economically powerful Islamic states adopted Wahhabism as the correct form of Islam. The power of the Petro-dollar and the political will of the Saudi Arabia, the most powerful among the Petro-dollar oriented Islamic countries, paved the way for the spread of Wahhabism among the Muslims of the other countries in the second half of the twentieth century. It continues in the present century also.
The Wahhabism and its mode of operation have Arabized the food habits, dress code, banking system etc. apart from having been imposed of the said to be pure religious rituals of Islamic practices even in the remotest part of India. The wide spread imposition of the purdah dress code on the Muslims who, live in the Malabar region of Kerala, which was unfamiliar to most of the Muslim community of that region, before quarter of a century, and the establishment of Islamic banking, introduction of Arabic restaurants etc. are the visible symptoms of the presence of Wahhabism in Kerala. Wahhabism demands separation of the Muslims, keeping distinct identity from the rest of the people of a country in which they live, as the first step of Islamization of the whole country. The practice of the Wahhabi brand of Islam virtually alienates the Muslims from the context in which they live. It need not be elaborated that; the Arabian tastes of food and the Purdah dress code do not suit with the contextual necessities of Kerala. But such systems of practice have been imposed on the Muslim community by the Islamic clergy as part of the strategy of pan Islamism. It is part of an honest effort of the clergy that, Muslims as a community is a distinct group which has nothing in common with the rest of the population.
Then, the clergy make the Muslims to believe that, they are the superior religious group of people who should not be mingled with the non-Muslims because they are inferior when compared to the Muslims. The Wahhabi-madrasa education inflicts enmity and negativity against the other religious groups in the tender minds of the Muslims. Sufficient and more aphorisms are available in the Quran to justify the enmity negativity against non-Muslims. It has been taught that, it is the duty of the Muslims to do jihad because, doing jihad would ensure a proper place in the heaven. The act of conversion of the non-Muslims to Islam is considered as an act of jihad because an act of conversion is an act of leading the people to the correct path of life from the incorrect ways of living. Naturally, the Wahhabi brand of Islam keeps the non-Muslims as untouchables until they embrace Islam because, according to Islamic faith all the non-Muslims commit blasphemy in one way or the other. It is within this context that, we have to think of the implications of the practice of halal in the societal functions in a democratic polity. The basic tenets of a democratic society are the belief in the pluralistic practices of societal functions and the rights of the other to dissent with one and all. The Islamic faith annihilates pluralism and it keeps intolerance to the rights of the other to dissent with it.
According to the Wahhabi brand of Islamic faith, the fundamental human needs , such as, food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and education, are to be determined by the halal dictum. So, it ultimately segregates the society into water tight compartments which excludes the Muslims from the non-Muslims, that is, these two categories remain as mutually exclusive classes. The act of exclusion, whatever be the criterion of exclusion, paves the way for the practice of untouchability. In the case of Islam, the basis of practice of untouchability is religion. In India, at some point of time, caste was the factor to determine the nature of food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and education which resulted in the creation of the practice of untouchability based on caste. If, discrimination based on caste is a sub-human act then, there is no doubt that, discrimination on the basis of religion also is a sub-human act. It has been widely accepted that discrimination based on caste and the resultant untouchability are against the spirit of democracy. So, the practice of halal which aims at the division of society based on religion is fatal to democracy. Therefore, the practice of halal in the name of religion is contradictory to the basic tenets of the constitution of India because it negates the doctrines of equality, liberty, and fraternity as guaranteed by the constitution.
(The author is an academic, writer, and orator)