We are a walking product of our surroundings and what we fill ourselves with. A few years ago I found myself walking through the Haram in Mecca, during Ramadan after completing my umrah, experiencing sheer joy, closeness to Allah, contentment, a fullness that nothing else in this world can quite match up to. Yet moments later, we were filling our stomachs with processed food that was close to plastic, and everything else that would be considered impermissible from fast-food chains just meters away from the Kaa’ba. Not one organic, healthy, clean, halal, vegan alternative option insight. Just floors and floors of fraudulent food, that potentially impacted our ability to wake up for fajr with vigour, pray with concentration, our spirit tainted merely moments after the best kind of cleaning, that could have potentially discounted my Umrah. We go through this spiritual cleansing process, which at times occurs as a result of us saving endlessly to make the trip, yet almost instantly we fill ourselves up with food that is not fit for physical nourishment let alone spiritual. The worst part? Our obsession and indulgence in fast food being largely a Muslim majority country problem, according to the Economist, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are the top Muslim majority countries with the highest percentage of obesity rates from 1999-2003. As consumers in the US become more health-conscious fast-food sales or plateauing, but in Kuwait, they’re only going up.
If we feed our bodies food that is built from and upon deceit, workers’ lives, waste, impurities, and gluttony, how do we expect our hearts to be free of sin/dirt? How do we not equate the bad energy accumulated through layers of darkness, sinning, oppression, and anxiety to not somehow find its way into our bones, muscles, veins, and cells?
“Muslim cuisine once the envy of the world, produced in the homes of the believers with love and the remembrance of Allah’s blessings are being replaced with techno food, which is not produced or livestock but a pre-packaged product bereft of barakah. Muslims have forgotten that food is the foundation of behaviour. According to our scholar’s understanding of Allah’s words, ‘O you messengers, eat of pure things, and do righteous deeds (23:51)’. Pure food is being replaced with fast food made with haste and waste, two attributes of the devil. Sugared sodas replace natural milk, water, and juice. Corporate fast food chains with their mass-produced, diseased ridden, pathogenic food, now appear everywhere, even in the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina.” (Agenda to Change our condition reference)
Halal Gems Founder Zohra Khaku said, “The impact of overindulging is spiritual in some sense, as we devalue the life of the animal we have killed. Its emotional in some sense since overindulging means we’ve lost respect for the fact that this was a living being. It also leaves us in denial about where our food comes from; if we are so disconnected from our food chain that we just eat end products without realising the impact our actions have on the environment, our souls, and our health, then something is very wrong.”
The Halal food industry according to the Halal food market value, was approximately a shocking 1.4 trillion US dollar business in 2017 and is set to reach 2.6 trillion dollars by the year 2023. Sounds a little too farfetched? Let’s break it down.
Bee Wilson in her book, “First Bite How We Learn To Eat” discusses how oil money has made Kuwait one of the richest In the world per capita, facilitating a culture of eating out and carrying around wads of disposable cash for snacking.
“Kuwait’s obesity crisis brings to the surface, traditional ideas about feeding, going badly wrong in a modern prosperous food supply. Experts on Middle Eastern food, note that to be a good guest, in traditional Arab cultures, is if one is satiated, one should nevertheless continue to nibble at a dish from which others are eating, since if one person stops eating, everyone else may be compelled to stop too. The wealth of Kuwait means that excess food has become affordable to many. Hence weight gain has become less apparent in poorer countries like Syria and Algeria.”
After extensive research was conducted, they had found 47% of Kuwaiti boys had shown they had an eating disorder, or a disordered attitude to eating, with 43% of girls having disordered thoughts of eating. Interestingly enough, Kuwaiti students claim to dislike the western consumer culture.
Halal literally translates to ‘permissible’ ‘acceptable’ ‘sanctified’. According to the Islamic Council of Victoria, Muslims should try to endeavour to:
However, one fundamental part of the whole ‘Halal’ preparation, is that the meat should be prepared in a way that adheres to Islamic laws, i.e. ethically. Those who are slaughtering the animal must rear it in a “welfare friendly and environmentally sustainable manner” and treat it extremely well during its lifetime in a farm. The animal must not see the slaughter knife that may cause anxiety or fear, the one slaughtering the animal should whisper, “In the name of God – God is the Greatest/Bismillahi Allahu Akbar” which has been recorded previously to have helped the animal to calm immediately before its death. The one slaughtering must kill the animal instantly, by cutting the jugular to prevent suffering. Halal products and non-Halal products must be separated. The key ingredient is the treatment of animals during rearing and death, essentially their whole life. Both the life and death of an animal is shrouded in integrity, respect, and mercy. Islam also tells us what is prohibited;
“Prohibited to you are dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah , and [those animals] killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a head-long fall or by the goring of horns, and those from which a wild animal has eaten, except what you [are able to] slaughter [before its death], and those which are sacrificed on stone altars, and [prohibited is] that you seek decision through divining arrows. That is grave disobedience”. (Al-Mā’idah 5:3)
Daniel Weary, an applied animal biologist at the University of British Columbia, worked with his colleagues for years to improve the lives of dairy cattle, one of his extraordinary but unsurprising findings was that “dairy cows possess surprising intelligence and emotional sensitivity”. Abrupt early weanings of the calves from it’s mother, triggered further isolation causing distress in both of them. “It does bother the animal. It bothers them enough that their mood state changes for at least a couple days.” They also found that calves housed individually, typical for most dairy farms, “resulted in anxiety and cognitive deficits.” Research also suggests stress in animals translates to the livestock, leading to change in colour, tenderness, and perishability. Where,”Stress alters protein composition, vitamin content, and minerals. The animals that yield prime meat quality are the ones that have not been subjected to stress,” An animal husbandry Eli Gjerlaug- Enger says.
A researcher at the Department of Animal and Aquaculture Sciences at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences at Ås (UMB) said, “If an animal is mistreated, causing infections, it’s reasonable that this can affect nutritional content,” she says.
So Halal in its truest form, is ensuring the animal is treated well and with respect in life and death, with this, its anxieties will not be passed to us, and or diseases.
It is incredibly important to unpick triggers in our minds and understand them, for example, I have a theory that more Muslim kids are scared of dogs than non-Muslim kids, and we carry this into adulthood. We do this because of the negative associations we had growing up with trying to pet a dog and being scowled at by our parents who told us “no” because dogs are najis (unclean) and will interrupt our ability to pray when out and about. Yes, that might not have been indicated or communicated to us very well, so the mind naturally made its own negative associations with the dog without understanding the logic and reasoning behind ‘staying away from’ or not touching one. I love dogs by the way, happy to pet them too. Let ‘s take Pork as an example, we LOVE to indulge in negative mind associations with pigs, a creature created by Allah. Because they are deemed Haram to eat, quite a few times in the Quran.
He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah”. (Al Baqara 2:173)
They have been deemed so because Allah ordained this, but to humour our cute human need to give some sort of logical reasoning for this to be a law, they are regarded as “impure”, and “unhealthy” due to the fats, toxins, and bacteria they contain, which can be harmful to us to eat. Logic! A scientist, Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg, argued that certain populations who ate pork carried more diseases than other populations who did not eat pork. The eating of pork has been linked to over 70 different types of latent diseases. This is so because it is filled with toxins, and parasitic worms such as tapeworm, roundworm, pinworm, and hookworm. *Wince* According to the British Medical Journal, it was revealed that “people who ate the reddest meat were 26 percent more likely to die of nine diseases than those who consume the least.”
We don’t have a healthy relationship with our food, it’s abusive, and largely emotional, a form of self-harm if you will. We have learned to trick and condition our body into enjoying all that is toxic, the perfect ploy of shaytan, hating that which will purify, clean, and nourish it. We call it a treat when we overindulge on sugar, fatty meals, artificial processed meat from fast food conglomerate chains and think it won’t have a tremendous impact on our spiritual health, let alone mental and physical health. We use religious holidays to justify overindulgence, and gluttony at the dinner table, and call it ‘Sunnah’. We shame each other from family to family if the meat isn’t big enough if the oil isn’t in abundance if the salt isn’t sprinkled over virtually everything if she didn’t spend her week in the kitchen preparing it all. Not to mention an Instagram lifestyle we try to keep up with, that some just cannot afford. To buy meat for every day of the week or most days or to keep up with Instagram worthy halal restaurants, not only have a tremendous impact on your blood pressure, heart, and pocket but more so on your spiritual wellbeing.
Hanan has a Masters in Media in the Middle East from SOAS University. Trainee of the Muslim Women in Media institute Annual Cohort at UC Davis, California. Her interests lie in ethical fashion, modern-day slavery, and when not making Youtube videos she is somewhere in between Ballet and Kickboxing. King Julian is her spirit animal.