“No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for the son of Adam are a few morsels to keep his back straight. But if he cannot bear that, then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for his breath.” This hadith by our beloved Prophet, narrated by Ahmad, Ibn Majah and Hakim, reminds us of the mindset every Muslim man and woman should adopt.
Indeed, one’s relationship to food is singular in Islam, because the Creator has a design for human beings. He offers them Islam as the way forward, to live in equilibrium between the two worlds: dunya (this temporal realm) and al-akhira (the after life, or the final stage of life). Muslim women and men begin their lives in this world and will continue it in the afterlife. And to fulfil their fate, God bestows upon them a host of privileges including the benefits of the rest of creation and their environment. In His infinite wisdom, He has offered this creation to the whole of mankind. Whether or not one recognizes in Him the power of Creation, one enjoys the benefits of this world. His perfection leaves no room for disorder or inconsistency. The succession of messages bequeathed to mankind through His messengers, has no other aim, as we navigate this worldly life, than to direct us towards the right Way; a Way that is punctuated with prohibitions, recommendations, permissions, etc.
In our relationship with the rest of creation, God has permitted certain acts, deemed essential to our lives. Creation both supports and is at the disposal of human beings to lead a balanced life. A set of diverse and varied elements composed of minerals, plants and animals have been granted to us. It’s a varied set of lives with their own rules, their own rights, similar to human beings. Testimony to the importance of animals in Islam is evident in the Qur’anic tales, especially those related to prophets, with Surah titled, the Cow, the Bees, the Ants, the Elephant, etc.
It is important to remark that the expression “community” is used in the Qur’an to evoke animals. The Qur’an states that animals form communities, and therefore have a common bond with human beings: “All the creatures that crawl on the earth and those that fly with their wings are communities like yourselves.” (Qur’an 6:38). That human beings can dispose of the rest of creation is a right granted by the Creator, but within the limits that He has established. In His clear-sightedness He has imposed limits to prevent us from the evil that lurks inside every creature. He protects us against the harm of others while enjoying their benefits. While He has decided to prohibit certain types of food, for other foodstuffs He has recommended moderation. The hadith of the Prophet echoes this philosophy.
To Eat halal is to eat naturally
Thus, halal means that God has granted his permission: food is therefore halal if its consumption by humans is authorised by God. Asking His permission before each act of consumption prevents us from sinking into machine-like actions as well as from losing the energizing benefit of the food consumed. Only by seeking permission (through pronouncing the bismillah) are we saved from both forgetting and exceeding our right to consume, which is why the hadith exhorts moderation if we are to avoid the evils of overconsumption. From its beginnings we see Islam, the last divine message, espousing moderation as the best way to avoid upsetting the equilibrium necessary for good health.
And from this balance there naturally flows a respect for creation. By consuming in moderation and with God’s consent, eating halal is a divine command, which maintains our harmony with creation. One should not transgress this natural rhythm and neither should human rights trample the rights of other beings. Our God-given right to dispose of creation does not entitle us a free hand to exploit it in the quest for blind profit. To be attuned to other creatures, to respect their rhythms, is one of the consequences of eating halal. Eating halal must lead human beings to establish a moderate level of consumption and to reach a state of being that is naturally replete. As mentioned earlier by the hadith « a few morsels are sufficient » to live on, and if not enough, food lovers can fill up to “one third” of their stomach with food.
Live healthily here to live wholeheartedly in the Hereafter
If each and every one of us actively ensured that our food consumption was in accord with Islamic ethos, not only would we reduce the ravages of disease suffered by humans and the rest of creation, but we would also leave behind us the path imposed by the outrageous lure of profit. Halal should be a permanent driving force encouraging us to moderation and the preservation of creation. Other core elements of our life should urge us towards ascetic practices such as in the month of Ramadan, additional days of fasting, etc.
Of course, the current eating habits of Muslims is in total opposition with this philosophy, but we must keep our faith in God and hope that with constant reminders we will eventually reverse the trend to become naturally human, just one creation among others. Our nearness to God, the Creator, has the virtue of restoring our trust in Him in order to live humbly in the midst of creation that begins here and continues in the hereafter. Whereas plants and animals do not exceed their needs, the human being is the only exception to this rule. In his inclination to feel superior to everyone he damages both his own and other species. Muslim women and men should strive to make the Hereafter a presence inside the mind and the heart, within a divine perspective, for both their own benefit and that of humankind (despite some being unable to see beyond this temporal realm). Muslim women and men could then be the torchbearers of transformation through their ways of eating and living, encompassing a truly halal ethos.