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Halal and Haram

Before the advent of Islam, Makkan society had become permissive - value neutral. Those in positions of leadership and the illustrious wealthy merchants, set their own standards of right and wrong thus creating their own norms and value systems.

The Quran (Surah 42:36) describes such people thus:

Whatever you have been given is only the enjoyment of the like of this world.
What is with Allah is better and long lasting for those who believe and trust in their Lord…

Society fluctuated between extremes of asceticism, practicing various forms of self-denial such as mortification of the flesh, continuous abstention from good food, and avoidance of the enjoyments of life which Allah had provided for His creation.

On the other hand existed the concept of absolute freedom allowing human beings to revel in the fulfillment of their desires in the most bizarre sense; violating even the natural sense of decency inherent in every human being.

One of Islam's initial preoccupations therefore was in laying down and establishing the basic rules regarding acceptable and prohibited behaviour. God, out of His knowledge and compassion for His creation, provided a comprehensive code of living for mankind.

For the Muslim the provision of guidance not only enhances the personal relationship between the Creator and created but has also unburdenes man of the difficulties of setting the criteria of moral and ethical behaviour in all spheres of his activity and the consequences his limited capabilities would inflict on him. These principles were incorporated into the legal framework of Islam ensuring that the Muslim is at all times conscious of his limitations which extend over all aspects of life.

The Arabic term Halal is given to what is lawful for the Muslim. It is important to understand that this term, which is familiar to Muslims due to its frequent appearance on shops providing meat slaughtered according to the Islamic criteria and other groceries for consumption by the Muslim community, is not only applicable to food.

It applies to all action and behaviour contemplated or expressed by the Muslim male and female. If it is unacceptable and therefore outside the framework or the Domain of Allah's favours on His creation, it falls under the category of what is deemed unacceptable or unlawful indicated by the Arabic term Haram.

Islam reprimands those who, on their own misguided authority, declare what is Halal – acceptable, to be made Haram - unacceptable. For the human being to prohibit what God made lawful resulting in hardship for mankind is exceeding the limits and unjustifiably narrowing what has been made spacious by Allah for His creatures.

It is well established in Islam that what is useful, wholesome and beneficial for the human being is Halal and what is harmful to the human being in one or all its aspects is considered Haram.

It is important to note that Muslims do not aspire to the theory of ‘the end justifies the means’. Consequently despite the good intentions of the doer or the nobility of his objectives, Islam does not accept unlawfulmethods to be used as a means towards achieving good ends. Everything which leads to Haram is, in itself, also Haram therefore Islam encourages Muslims to carefully consider ones thoughts and actions, the moral and spiritual consequences of such actions both to the individual and society at large keeping in mind that a time of accountability is guaranteed.

The Prophet in the following Hadith referred to personal ability to distinguish between right and wrong action saying:

"Righteousness is noble behaviour and sin is that which creates doubt and you dislike its disclosure to people"

In another instance, in answer to a question relating to right and wrong, and with due regard to the natural tendency inherent in the structure of the human being to differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil, the Prophet replied thus:

"Consult your heart - righteousness is that which contents the soul and the heart feels tranquil. Sin is that which wavers in the soul and moves to and fro in the breast causing doubts, even though people give you again and again their legal opinion in its favour."

Allah makes clear in the Quran what is Halal and what is Haram saying:

" He has explained to you what He has made Haram for you." (6:19)

It is the duty of every Muslim to search for knowledge relating to all aspects of their beliefs. If in doubt it is advisable to consult a scholar or jurist concerning a specific problem. In relation to doubtful matters, Islam considers it advisable to avoid such situations in order to protect oneself from the possibility of indulging in unacceptable actions. The Prophet PBUH said concerning this matter:

'Leave what causes you doubt for what is clear and does not cause doubt’