The essential rules governing Halal
The Principles of changing state (istihala) and of dilution (al-istihlak)
Extract from the book Le Marché du Halal, entre références religieuses & contraintes industrielles, Mostafa Brahimi & Fethallah Otmani.
After having defined more generally the basis for the elaboration of legal rules, we are now going to focus on the lawful and unlawful (halal / haram) in the area of food, specifically meat consumption. To determine whether a food is lawful (halal), Muslim scholars use the following tools:
- Texts from the Qur’an or Sunnah.
- In the absence of relevant texts, scholars invoke the principle of the original permission because food is part of the muamalat (the believer’s relationship with both society and the environment) where as a primary principle all things are lawful unless expressly forbade by God. However, meat products fall outside the framework of the original permission, as we shall see in more detail below.
Then they consider two principles that concern the product itself:
- If a product (whether impure or pure) undergoes a chemical transformation (istihala) to the point where it becomes a different product, then should we reconsider its legal classification (halal / haram) and apply one that conforms with its new identity?
- If an impure product (and haram) is highly diluted (istihlak) within a pure product (and halal), then the later retains its purity and thus remains halal.
But the legal framework surrounding the consumption of meat products is informed by very explicit authoritative Texts. There are notably three verses:
“O you who have believed, eat from the good things which We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship. He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
“Say, « I do not find within that which was revealed to me [anything] forbidden to one who would eat it unless it be a dead animal or blood spilled out or the flesh of swine – for indeed, it is impure – or it be [that slaughtered in] disobedience, dedicated to other than Allah”. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], then indeed, your Lord is Forgiving and Merciful. »
“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…” [Qur’an 5/3]
Some hadiths either supplement or clarify these verses.
Principle of the original lawfulness
As we have seen, in the absence of authoritative Texts, the principle of original lawfulness takes precedence. This principle states that, within the realm of relationships (muamalat), « at its core, the permission rules in all matters ».
The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) said: “What Allah has made lawful in His Book is halal and what He has forbidden is haram, and that which He is silent about is allowed as His favour. So accept from Allah His favour, for Allah is not forgetful of anything.” [Al-Hakim et Tabarani]
However, the original lawfulness cannot be extended to any element likely to be prejudicial to an individual, a community or even to nature. In such cases, it is the precautionary principle (adh-dhara’I – challenging legal rulings if they lead to illicit objectives) that prevails.
Only two areas of muamalat are not subject to the rule of original lawfulness but are instead governed by the principle of prohibition.
These two areas are :
- sexuality: all sexual relations are forbidden except within the framework of marriage;
- consumption of meat: this is also prohibited except for what is permitted by the Texts.
The texts – the Qur’an and the Sunnah – have largely addressed these two aspects of the life of a Muslim and have enacted what is permissible and what is forbidden on the subject of sexual relations and meat consumption (especially verses 2 / 173, 5/3, 16/115 and others).
These two aspects are fundamental not just for the preservation of an individual’s health and personal hygiene but also for the construction of a healthy and moral society. This is why the Texts abound on this subject; besides, recognizing the specificity of those domains, scientists have established the following rule: « In sexual relations and meat consumption, the rule is prohibition except what the Texts allow. «
Thus, on the basis of this principle, the believer must refrain from consuming any meat which is of an unknown origin, and/or if he/she is unsure whether it is halal or not (slaughtered according to the Islamic obligation). In such a case, it is the prohibition that prevails (conversely to the principle of original lawfulness). In this sense, several hadiths of the Prophet mentioned cases in which doubts were expressed concerning the lawfulness of a prey, especially in the field of hunting.
Thus, the legal framework is punctuated with solid references that call on the believer to abstain in the area of meat consumption in cases of serious doubt.
Principle of changing state (al istihala)
The principle of changing state (istihala) by chemical transformation consists in qualifying the thing according to its present state, not according to its initial state.
The verb istihala means linguistically « to change state », « to transform ». In the sciences of fiqh, the same definition can be found, namely the natural transformation or the transformation by a foreign body. The transformation can be natural or be undertaken by chemical processes.
For example, the body of an impure and illicit animal becomes lawful when it is burned and turns to ashes, because its nature has changed. Similarly, the body of an illicit animal that falls into a salt mine eventually dissolves and loses its illicit character. Thus, by their transformation, these bodies that are in principle impure (najis) become pure (tahir). Such is the opinion of a great number of scholars belonging to the Malikite and Hanafite schools (except Abu Yusuf), as well as Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiyya and Shawkânî.
Grape juice is another very explicit example: at its core, it is licit for consumption. But if it ferments and turns into wine, then it becomes, by its new nature, forbidden. If we continue the process of transformation and the wine becomes vinegar, then the prohibition ends, and vinegar becomes lawful.
For these scholars, the same goes for impure fats transformed into soap, or the bones of animals, deemed impure for consumption, turned into creams and ointments. All become lawful through the effect of transformation. Therefore, the previous state of the element concerned does not matter; what matters is its current state.
However, the same cannot be said about the addition of an element considered as an impurity. If vinegar becomes lawful when transformed from wine, adding wine to a dish or beverages remains unlawful.
Scholars differ on the issue of the changing state (istihala):
- For the Shafi’ite school, for example, if the product is initially illegal, it will remain so, regardless of the transformation.
- Conversely, for most scholars, the transformation is sufficient to declare the lawfulness of the new product, provided of course that it is not harmful.
The Islamic Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League has published a document that includes studies on the principles of transformation and dilution. Dr. Mohammad Alhawari and Dr. Wahbah al-Zuhayli, who have conducted two large studies on the subject, assert that for the product to become lawful, the transformation must be complete: it must be both physical and chemical; it must lead to the obtaining of a new entity different from the original in its characteristics and its denomination; there must be nothing left of the original product as an entity. Finally, if the product obtained by transformation can be harmful to the human being, then it becomes makruh (recommended not to use it) or even illicit (haram).
Principle of dilution (al-istihlak)
Dilution (istihlak) is a process used very frequently in consumer products and consists of introducing a tiny amount of a product to a large volume of liquid.
From a legal perspective, if a minute quantity of an illicit product or an element considered as an impurity is incorporated into a large volume of pure and licit product, then the entire product remains lawful. The integrated illicit product does not contaminate the rest of the product as long as it does not affect the taste, smell or color. Qurtubi, in his commentary to verse 2/173, says, “the insignificant amount of impurity is pardoned if it is mixed with a large amount of liquid.”
Ibn ‘Umar reports that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked about the water spring located in a desert land, from which animals and wild beasts were drinking. He replied: “If water reaches two large pitcher’s full (qullatayn) it does not bear ritual filth « [Tirmidhi (62), Ahmad (4376), Nasa’î (326) …]
Tirmidhi adds this comment to the hadith: « This is the opinion of Shafi’i, Ahmad, and Ishaq who said: « If the volume of water reaches that of two large jars, it is not soiled as long as there is no change in smell, taste or colour (due the addition). »
 Page 33 to 39, Tawhid, AVS
 Muslim world league, 17th session, Mecca, 13-18 December 2003.