Having grown up in a predominantly Muslim country, the so called paradise of the east, Dubai, UAE I never had to worry about if what I was eating violated Islamic dietary law. I mean I could eat pizza with pepperoni, I could eat ice cream that was called Irish cream, even the tiramasu had no alcohol. In fact till I went to university in Detroit I didn’t even know that Pina Colada was an alcoholic drink, I just thought it was pineapple and coconut!!!
A Muslim is allowed to eat everything except for the following forbidden according to Quran (Surah Maidah)
“Forbidden to you are the flesh of dead animals and blood and the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to any other than Allah, and that which has been killed by strangling or by beating or by falling or by being gored, and that which has been (partly) eaten by a wild beast except that which you make lawful by slaughtering (before its death), and that which has been sacrificed to idols….” (Quran, chapter 5, Verse 3)
Very simple and straightforward, WRONG! Thanks to new processes and companies vying for new flavors and methods of preserving items this has become very complicated. One of my friends, a PhD in chemistry who works for a Fortune 500 said that even he couldn’t decipher some of the chemicals listed in the ingredients section of food items. Ten years ago while completing my degree in Architecture and then working in Chicago, I became a vegan, that meant no meat of any kind at restaurants, not even fish as I didn’t know how it would be cooked! I was paranoid. Now, with the magic of the internet and a lot of research and calls to food manufactures like Kraft, Danone etc…, I feel better equipped. Not to mention the Googling for a couple of days that I did, ignoring home and hearth. Here is what I have come up with.
A concept in Islam called Istihala, which means the issue of product change from one type to another.
Istihala is when something becomes pure. It was najis (impure) but it is now taahir (pure). A good example would be maitah (animal carcass): it is najis, but should it be burned and become ashes, or decompose and become earth, then it is taahir, it is no longer najis. This can happen with dung or feces or whatever. Whenever something changes from one property to another, then the ruling likewise changes.
Now the argument goes that because gelatin, or rennet or whatever goes through a complete chemical change then it falls under the category above and hence becomes permissible (halal). This would alleviate all my problems, but I have a hard time accepting this explanation, am I just being rigid? My take on all this is, eat what is fresh, when in doubt do not eat it as not eating cheesecake or jello will not kill me. And make cooking a part of family time so we do not have to eat out, that way we have no problems…
Of course, pizza is another problem, what about the cheese on it? Is there vegetarian cheese? Life was so much simpler when things were fresh and could not be frozen and/or preserved! I miss my grandma’s cooking, the way when we had extra food we invited everyone we knew to come and share instead of freezing it. I yearn for the days when every home had it’s door open and scrumptious smells would waft in the street in my neighborhood. I never thought I would say his, but I want to go back to the ‘slow food’ generation.