Halal/Haram: The Fundamental Distinctive Features

According to Nakata, the Muslim way of thinking is jurisprudential in essence.[1] As mentioned earlier, he expressed the most jurisprudentially ideal and most Muslim-like pattern of thinking and action as follows: if an alien appears, one should judge, whether it is edible or inedible.[2] If it (or she or he) is not edible but is surely a living being given the capacity for autonomous thinking, one should introduce it (or her or him) to the Qur’an to teach, as the Qur’an will not have been revealed to it (or her or him), because it is revealed only on earth.[3]

Nakata’s view demonstrates the basis for judgement, classification, distinction, or cognition during the first moments of an encounter with the Other. The discrimination between ‘edible or inedible’ basically stems from the question of whether it is legally permitted to eat or not eat something. Tanaka Machi (1960—) labels such an attitude as ‘looking at things through the Islamic framework’ (isuramteki na wakugumi de mono wo miru) and introduces the following episode: a Muslim father shows his son an illustrated encyclopaedia of animals and explains which animal is ‘halal’ (legally allowed to eat) and which is ‘haram’ (legally not allowed to eat).[4] The distinction between ‘halal’ and ‘haram’ is thus fundamental to the articulation of experienc_ed surroundings, worlds, and objects or to the arrangement and organizing system and method.

Needless to say, food and drink are central to survival. This means the perspective or articulation of food is one of the most important factors for human life. From a Muslim perspective, the judgement of ‘edible/ined- ible’ is the fundamental distinctive criterion for recognizing the world. It lies at the basis of the relationship between the Self and the world and, above all, is legally defined within Islam. In other words, the most essential aspect for sustaining human life is incorporated within the ideal of consuming those specified animals which are accepted by law or which may be slaughtered while usually quoting Quranic expressions, in order to sanctify these animals.[5] In this process of judging food, a culinary ideal is realized, based on the perception of the sacredness of food, which creates a Muslim identity.

When buying (halal) foods in a (halal) shop in Muslim areas, a Muslim does not: have to consider whether or not it is halal. In these places, Muslims do not need to be conscious of halal-ness. In non-Muslim areas, however, Muslims should be aware of the halal- ness of their acts and the products they indulge in. Nakata discusse_s this matter as follows: on each occasion, one should determine what is halal at one’s own risk and on one’s own account.[6] [7] If one does not make an independent decision, one gives away the chance to connect with God. Following halal certification, authorized by a state or a particular organization, is equal to shifting one’s responsibility for being a Muslim and living according to Islamic law to someone else, as one unconsciously accepts the jurisprudential theological authority of such an



Muslim jurists can express their own opinions, but these are nothing but suggestions for reference, which have no compelling force. Muslims [individually] read the Qur’an and the Hadith, for they should finally decide and take the responsibility for their decision.[8]

The ‘Hadith’ mentioned in this quote literally translates as ‘report’ or ‘narrative’, and is the collection of what the Prophet Muhammad said as well as the reports of his actions. Besides the Qur’an, the Hadith is without question the second most important source of all judicial judgements for Muslims.[9] Nakata concisely explains the following fact: the interpretation of the Qur’an and the Hadith as undertaken by each Muslim is the only criterion for himself or his actions and the interpretation or opinions published by jurists have no essential authority in this case (Muslims can refer to them, but not necessarily). This is why each Muslim has to read the Qur’an and the Hadith individually so as to take action. Nakata claims that judicial judgements are no more than reference information that aids thought and independent decision-making:

There is perhaps an image that Islam is bound to rules. However, that is not correct. Primarily, it is Islamic to make a decision based on one’s own judgement on the authority of the Qur’an without resort to any other authority. Therefore, even if you eat pork, you are not accountable, if you have no idea that you have been eating pork.[10]

In Nakata’s opinion, when one cannot avoid haram foods, because one was not informed, one cannot be held accountable for one’s own actions.[11] One has to think jurisprudentially (i.e. in the legally founded systematic way) and by oneself. It seems that Nakata’s judicial position is typical for the Hanafiya, which attaches much importance to ‘individual reasoning’ (Arabic: ra’y) and explains why Nakata calls Islam ‘jurisprudential thinking’.[12] He is, of course, aware that the concept of law and jurisprudence mentioned differs from modern law.[11] However, as non-Muslim scholars also claim, the articulation of halal/haram is not fixed, but depends on the situation. For example, mainly based on Yusuf al-Qaradawi (1926-), Yagi Kumiko (1958—) argues as follows: if one has not eate_n nor drunk anything for days on end, one fears for one’s life, and if there is only pork or beer, one has no choice other than to accept pork or beer, then it could be allowed (of course, this decision depends on the person facing such a situation).[14] This means that the act of eating pork is consistently forbidden, only under circumstances in which a person has alternatives.[15] Surely, this is an extreme and unrealistic example. But the point she wants to make is that the articulation of halal/haram depends on the person and the situation and it cannot be decide_d nor standardized uniformly and universally, since Islamic law only provides the fundamental context-sensitive principles as Muslim codes of behaviour, but is in nature not a legal positivism.[16]

The thoughts by Yagi and Nakata can be summarized as follows. The nature of legal positivism, which focuses on the individual as an object and provides legal standards, has an affinity with globalizing logic and neoliberalism. One can say, neoliberalism is standardization oriented, while classical liberalism defends diversity, which establishes individuality as the principle of contra-universalism. As natural law, Islamic law functions as a universal norm, provides the foundation for self-determination, and promotes the diversity of opinion.[17] In this sense, Yagi and Nakata’s understanding of the halal ideal within Islam has more affinity with classical liberalism. Two _points, however, contradict each other, which Yagi and Nakata pointed out as problems of halal. On the one hand, Muslims should be clearly cognizant of their situation and act accordingly. That means, Muslims should think about, and decide on halal for themselves on a case-by-case basis, and should be aware of their jurisprudential origins of Muslim-ness in every particular situation. On the other hand, in accordance with standardized halal products, Muslims do not have to think each time of their jurisprudential origins, but with an easy mind can generally consume standardized halal products.

  • [1] Nakata, Isuram, 32—67; idem, Isuramu ho, 2015.
  • [2] Tanaka, ‘Kaisetsu’, 223.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid., 224. These Arabic terms ‘halal’ (permissible) and ‘haram’ (impermissible) are not onlyused in relation to food, but also to all things, events and actions of daily life.
  • [5] 1 wish to express my thanks to Dr. Nurullah Sat (Ankara University) for his suggestions.
  • [6] The relation to halal/haram in Muslim self-awareness is a matter of eschatology. In the contextof halal foods it is the fear of God. That is the core of Muslim identity, as will be discussed below.Cf. Nakata, Isuram, 48.
  • [7] See Nakata, Watashi wa naze, 62—66; idem. Isuram, 63—64.
  • [8] Idem, Watashi wa naze, 64.
  • [9] Idem, Isuram, 42—45.
  • [10] Idem, Watashi wa naze, 65.
  • [11] Idem, Isuram, 34—36.
  • [12] Idem, Isuram, 32—34.
  • [13] Idem, Isuram, 34—36.
  • [14] Yagi is a non-Muslim Japanese scholar and specialist in religious and Islamic studies. Her recentpublication is the most comprehensive research on halal in Japanese, which deals with the actualglobalizing Japanese situation and Muslims in Japan. Cf. Yagi, Jihibukaki kami, 2015; Yagi’sargument is based on the following text: al-Qaradawi, Min hady al-islam, 2003. al-Qaradawi isone of the most influential jurists and thinkers in the Muslim world.
  • [15] Concerning identity, Yagi advocates habituation in the sense of rendering unconscious theconsciousness of halal. Muslim self-awareness stems from such a consciousness of what one shouldchoose in a given situation. Cf. Yagi, Jihibukaki kami, 116. In this point, Yagi and Nakata share acommon logic. However, the embodiment, which Nakata emphasizes, has more function thanhabituation in the sense of rendering unconscious. Nakata does not unfold his idea but I think it isindispensable to discuss its background and range, in order to understand Muslim identity.
  • [16] 1 summarize Yagi’s discussion as follows. The law can be separated into two orientations, factsand norms. The former does not deal with behaviour, but individual objects (things like pork oralcohol), while Islamic law deals with legal and moral norms of Muslim behaviour regarding howone should act in a certain situation. Yagi, Jihibukaki kami, 73—75. Nakata argues in the samemanner. Cf. Nakata, Watashi wa naze, 54—77.
  • [17] The principle of classical liberalism is regarded as ‘the absolute and essential importance ofhuman development in its richest diversity’ (Wilhelm von Humboldt) as John Stuart Millemphasizes in the famous epigraph of On Liberty. See also, Wallerstein. ‘Islam, the West, andthe World’ .
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