Quran Read-A-Long: We Learn about the first Halal Laws in the Cow 168-176

Making the Dietary Laws as Serious as Possible

I think that the opening line here begs a question: how do we know what things of the earth are lawful and good to be eaten? That is, what’s Halal? As we read on and see that verses 168b-171 all relate to not following Satan and only obeying God, and that they are sandwiched in by lines 168a and 172, both about eating the good food given by God. We come to think (at least I did) that the food being spoken of is not your typical french fries and hambuger (or humus and falafel if you prefer – yum!), but rather, the spiritual nourishment and guidance provided by God, particularly through the right words of the Quran.

But then suddenly, we’re right back into the food again. So my question becomes, are these interim lines an intentional blurring of concepts here so that we come to equate eating what is right and following God’s law with being a good person and following God spiritually? It would certainly serve to make the commands weightier, and this seems to be further echoed by the verses that proceed the list of taboo foods as well.

The Specific Foods

The actual list of forbidden foods is fascinating, I think, because each is paralleled in the Torah, which is to say the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut (that’s why many in Israel who are not fanatical about what they eat but just don’t want to eat anything really wrong will eat at both kosher and halal restaurants since it’s effectively the same).

No blood, which is forbidden in the Torah because it was considered the lifeforce of the animal and that part was reserved explicitly for God. Somehow I think that Islam’s commandment was based on something less religiously primitive. No carrion birds for Jews or Muslims either, and of course nothing that was sacrificed in the name of any other God.

No pig, which is interesting, and many theories have been derived for why. After noticing that it was forbidden in both religions, one scholar concluded that the pig is a terrible animal to raise in the desert climate of the Middle East because it needs to be kept cool, and without adequate water will resort to filthy means of doing so (rolling in its own feces). Thus, that law insured that people would not waste time keeping and tending to pigs. Just a theory though. There are numerous theories for laws that don’t seem to have a scientific basis – all interesting – but all just that: theories. We don’t really know why it is that such things were forbidden, though the consistency in God’s commandments in the Torah and Quran is noteworthy.

Please feel free to comment on and add anything that I missed or said. What are your thoughts upon reading these verses? Do you keep halal (is that the phrase – it’s keep kosher)? What do you think the correlation between the texts and religions is here?

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The Cow 168-176

168. O men, eat only the things of the earth that are lawful and good. Do not walk in the footsteps of Satan, your acknowledged enemy. 169. He will ask you to indulge in evil, indecency, and to speak lies of God you cannot even conceive. 170. When it is said to them: “Follow what God has revealed,” they reply: “No, we shall follow only what our fathers had practiced,” – even though their fathers had no wisdom or guidance! 171. The semblance of the infidels is that of a man who shouts to one that cannot hear more than a call and a cry. They are deaf, dumb and blund, and they fail to understand. 172. O believers, eat what is good of the food We have given you, and be grateful to God if indeed you are obedient to Him. 173. Forbidden to you are carrion and blood, and the flesh of the swine, and that which has been consecrated (or killed) in the name of any other than God. If one is obliged by necessity to eat it without intending to transgress, or reverting to it, he is not guilty of sin; for God is forgiving and kind. 174. Those who conceal any part of the Scriptures that God has revealed, and thus make a little profit thereby, take nothing but fire as food; and God will not turn to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor nourish them for growth; and their doom will be painful. 175. They are those who bartered away good guidance for error, and pardon for punishment: How great is their striving for the Fire! 176. That is because God has revealed the Book containing the truth; but those who are at variance about it have gone astray in their contrariness.

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7 Responses

  1. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Wonderful New Year!

    Jay–you are pretty good at understanding the Quran. Will comment soon……

  2. Law–We have already encountered the idea of “tawheed” or “God-consciousness”. In Judeo-Islamic “Law”, God is a witness to all our actions and transactions. According to Rabbi Barry who was comparing Islam and Judaism, –there are two areas of Law, one is between Man and God, and the other between Man and Man. The dietary law would be one between Man and God. (—-Interestingly, the word “Halaka”(hebrew) and “Sharia”(arabic) mean “path”.) In the area of laws between Man and Man, (Fiq (arabic) or jurisprudence) Humans have certain “rights” over each other, for example, the right to justice. So an injured party has the right to seek justice from the one who injured them.

    Blood–I think muslims do not consume blood because it is considered unclean.

    Pig–Though it is important to understand the Quran within the context of the time it was revealed, the Quran is not confined in time—that is, we can also apply today’s knowledge to understand many of the verses of the Quran. In China, where pigs, humans and other animals live close together, the pigs often act as labs/incubators for viruses. The pigs catch these viruses from birds (other animals)and they mutate within the pig and can infect humans. (the pigs also have parasites) —when muslim kids today ask questions about pigs—some of these explanations can be added to the traditional explanation that pigs are considered unclean.

    Pleasure —There is a range of opinion on this issue within Islam–but in my opinion, when the Quran is read on its own without “traditional” bias—we find that it encourages reasonable enjoyment of life, whether it is good food, or beautiful clothes or the pleasure of intimacy within marriage. We are meant to enjoy “life” so that we can be grateful. However, as with all blessings, the pursuit of pleasure also comes with the responsibility to not go to excess.

  3. I think that the opening line here begs a question: how do we know what things of the earth are lawful and good to be eaten?

    Actually, there are a number of verses that spell out what foods are halal and haram; they are ayat 5:1, 5:3-5, 5:96, 6:118-119, 6:121, 6:142, 6:145-146, and 16:115.

    …but rather, the spiritual nourishment and guidance provided by God, particularly through the right words of the Quran.

    There’s that, too. Very good. 🙂

    …are these interim lines an intentional blurring of concepts here so that we come to equate eating what is right and following God’s law with being a good person and following God spiritually?

    I don’t know that you could say “an intentional blurring” (Allahu alim); however, I do believe there is a connection between “eating what is right and and following God’s law with being a good person and following God spiritually.” Yes. Eating is one of our most fundamental daily activities; if you can’t follow through on eating a halal diet and you have the means to do so, how can you follow through on all the other aspects that make up a halal lifestyle? Now, in all fairness, this was a concept that took me some time to learn. Living in Korea, I found it very difficult to have a strict halal diet. I abstained from things like pork and alcohol, but it would have been extremely difficult for me to have the same level of halal diet there that I have in Singapore and Malaysia. Due to the large Muslim communities in SE Asia, following a halal diet is very easy (and, yes, I do “keep halal” here). But a person like Kay might find keeping to a halal diet much more difficult; of course, if she does, the potential reward to her for doing so should be greater for her, insha’allah, than it would be for me because she is making the greater effort. That was what I hadn’t considered when I lived in Korea.

    We don’t really know why it is that such things were forbidden…

    As you said, “theories abound.” My own theory is that the Qur’an promotes good health. By maintaining a halal diet we avoid foods that are potentially harmful to us. Blood, carrion, carnivores, pork (of which they are omnivorous and once more haram), insects, amphibians, all of these can cause significant health problems if eaten (it doesn’t mean that they aren’t edible and will cause health problems if eaten, but health problems are minimized if they aren’t eaten). Likewise, alcohol and other intoxicants are also prohibited; people generally live longer if they don’t imbibe. Smoking isn’t prohibited, but I think there’s a slowly growing movement among Muslims against smoking, both on the basis of good health and the Islamic prohibition against suicide. Allah (swt) has provided for us these bodies, and we need to provide for their care just as much as any other thing we are responsible for. After all, they will have the ability to testify against our souls on the Day of Judgment, insha’allah.

  4. Thank you both so much for your comments! And a very Happy Islamic New Years to you both! And a happy secular New Years as well 🙂 May this year be your happiest, healthiest and most successful yet.

    I never thought about the fact that greater reward should be proportionate to the difficulty of following particular laws. That’s interesting. What I had thought, without arriving at that conclusion consciously, is that in Israel it’s unreasonably easy for people to keep kosher, particularly in Jerusalem. They don’t even have to try because most restaurants are kosher and you couldn’t find anything unkosher in grocery stores (unless you seek out a particular one).

    Many American Jews who visit say things like, “Well I’m in Israel I should keep kosher,” but I’m never impressed by this life decision, because they’re only doing it because it’s easy and accessible. Those Jews who keep kosher in Israel (whether American visitors or not) think they’re doing something particularly challenging and pious but honestly they’re hardly doing a thing – they never have to think twice about it (unlike, for instance, American Jews or Muslims who have to make an effort). As for the visitors, when they leave, many revert to their regular dietary practices.

    Now, this isn’t to say that a. keeping kosher or halal is not important for those abiding, special no matter where you are or b. how easy or hard it is for any one person, or c. that I do either and am passing judgment on the act of doing so or not.

    It’s just interesting that you equated difficulty with reward, and I had noticed these facts about the practice of keeping kosher.

    I didn’t know that sharia also meant path. The similarities and relationship between these languages, cultures and religions never cease to amaze me.

  5. Thanks for your wishes Jay, and I wish the same for you. JD,great to hear from you.

    The conversation seems to be going in an interesting direction—

    Proportionate reward—–If a Jewish/Muslim person lived in a society that supported their dietary laws so that they had “no choice”—then intentions might weigh a lot. (Notice verse 170—“….follow God’s laws….no we shall follow our fathers….”). Thus a person unthinkingly keeping “halal/Kosher would be simply doing “something their fathers were doing”. One must have the intention of being “God-conscious” for the act to have more merit. On the other hand a Jewish/muslim person living in a society that supports their dietary laws but also has a variety of other choices—would require the believer to make a decision to choose to keep halal/kosher and avoid tempting yet non halal/kosher foods. Freedom of choice demands an act of will on the part of the believer to deliberately make the right choice and avoid the wrong. For our spiritual progress, it seems choice is essential.
    —–Politically—-this could bring up the debate of an ideal society —would a country or society that is “Islamic” or “Jewish” be better (spiritually) or one that offers many choices? (Surah 5, verse 48–“…to each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If God had so willed, he would have made you a single people, but (his will) is to test you in what he has given you….”) —need to think about this one—–what are your opinions?

    Health and spirituality—The combination of these concepts is expressed well in the practice of fasting (during Ramadan) when both the body and spirit are cleansed.

    Similarities between Torah & Quran—-The Quran was revealed to Arabs who did not know the Torah and its laws. Though Jewish tribes existed in the region–they followed their ways and the Arabs followed their code called the “muruwah” (chivalry). So, they would have to be given “Guidance” as was promised to Prophet Abraham (pbuh)
    These days there are some interfaith efforts being made between Judaism and Islam which is exciting.

  6. …this could bring up the debate of an ideal society —would a country or society that is “Islamic” or “Jewish” be better (spiritually) or one that offers many choices?

    Why debate about “ideal” societies? Take current states as examples. For example, Malaysia and Singapore offer many choices in terms of halal and non-halal foods at both restaurants and grocery stores. Likewise, both governments have made it easy for Muslim customers to search out locally produced halal foods (as have a number of others, such as Thailand and Australia) through the use of special halal labels/certificates. However, for foods coming from non-Muslim countries such as the US, a Muslim here has to be a food detective, looking through the list of ingredients to see if there is anything haram in them. For example, I keep my listing of haram emulsifiers in my wallet in case I need to determine whether the food is halal or not. (Singaporean and Malaysian halal certificates are only granted if the process by which the food is processed is halal as well.) In which case, even in these societies where there are many choices, there’s still a need to be careful if one wants to eat a strict halal diet, as my wife and I do.

  7. debate—The two sides of the issue would be –freedom of choice versus “difficulty” in that the Quran says religion is not meant to be a burden (I forget the verse—sorry). Thus —a society that caters to all aspects of a particular religion would be the least burdensome to those of that faith…….on the other hand…………

    SE Asia —certificates do make things easier. ( Brazil also has certificates) Those places that do not cater to halal, muslims have gotten together to publish lists on the net to let other muslims know what foods are halal and which are not—the lists are not complete though….anyway—I think all muslims would prefer halal if the choice were available and halal can be consumed by non-muslims so it is a good strategy for food industry to consider going halal.

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