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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Start of a new project

Unfortunately we live in a time where all kinds of nonsense is put into the most basic of foods. Tomato sauces don't only contain tomatoes and seasoning, but a wide range of additives. We have to be very careful of what we consume.

How many times do we scan an item to see if it is halal or not and dump it in the cart because nothing 'stands out'. The fact remains that most of us are not familiar with a lot of these ingredients and since it doesn't straight out say GOAT FAT or BEEF TALLOW we assume its okay. Wrong. Everything else is in scientific terms, so will be those other additives.

After contacting a company they told me if any of their products contain any of these ingredients, it was not halal: stearic acid, lanolin alcohol, and oleic acid. Now honestly, if the definitions of these words were not given to me, I would have assumed they were natural chemicals or something of the sort. However, these words define substances that are all derived from beef or pork! I'm sure many of the everyday things we use contain ingredients and words like these.

I'm no scientist and neither am I good with memorization, so for me to pick up something off the shelf at the supermarket and really read through the ingredients and understand what I'm seeing is not possible. This is the case with most people. We tend to rely on the Kosher sign as the green light to consume products. That is incorrect as well. What's kosher is not always halal. A small example, wine is kosher, but most definitely not halal. And the terms for wine are numerous.

Therefore, as Muslims, who hold cleanliness as half of our faith... it is our duty to be sure we're not only consuming halal, but even our hygiene products are halal too. For example, I eat only halal zabiha meat, but before Jumu'ah salah I hop in the shower and slather pig matter all over my body (sorry I mean a bar of Caress soap) then walk over to the masjid and stand before Allah thinking I'm clean... it just doesn't seem right. We need to contact these companies and see what they put into their products and avoid that which needs to be avoided inshaAllah.

I know some of us don't have this on the top of our to-do lists... or don't see it as a big deal. What's worse is sometimes when I tell people something is haram, they 1) Think I'm being extreme, 2) tell me they were better off not knowing and now because I told them they "can't" use it, which is a totally immature way of thinking, 3) Don't seem to care. Hmm.. now why go out of your way to eat only zabiha meat, deprive yourself of all the food places you could dine out at and all the precooked "tv dinners" you could stash in your freezer and yet still use products with beef and pork gelatin in it? What's the difference? It's still being consumed just not in the form of shawarma, steak, or a plate of biryani.

So this is what I plan to do about it. I know there are websites and books out there listing halal and haram products, but I don't see explanations. People want to know why, understandably. Why is my drink haram? What makes my cheese unlawful? What could they possibly put into fabric softener making it haram?! We're entitled to these answers most definitely. I know some people are busy or don't put much effort into getting this information from companies, but inshaAllah that is what I will be trying to do. I'll post the responses for people to see, and after that it's between them and Allah if they continue using something or not. Please do pass the word around to other brothers and sisters about widely used products inshaAllah. Please don't play the game where no one is looking and you think it's okay or you act like you didn't just read what you did because you don't want to face the facts - we're all going to be held accountable for our actions, even food consumption. Really, people make finding out these things a bigger deal than it is, when it's quite simple. But for those busy ones, inshaAllah they can come by here and see what's been discovered, rather than going through the steps of contacting the company.

Now another thing, there are people out there who do believe that non zabiha animal derived ingredients are not haram, and so I'm not here to argue with those people. Personally, I prefer to be on the safer side and avoid these foods. Better safe than sorry, Rasulullah (SAW) said when something is doubtful, avoid it. Come on guys, it's just Goldfish and Kraft Mac n cheese, I know it tastes good, but the foods of Jannah are better, inshaAllah ta'ala! Yes, so please don't come to me and cop an attitude or doubt the companies responses if proof is staring you in the face. I too was not a happy camper when I got the email from Pepperidge Farm confirming beef in their goldfish, but it is what it is. The best thing we can do is send emails to these companies asking them to consider more natural ingredient and if they see many suggestions for that, they may change. Kraft mentions they are working on more naturally derived ingredients because of many Vegans and Jews contacting them - what about the Muslims? When the Mar's chocolate scare came out about them wanting to use beef derivatives in their chocolates, the Muslims forwarded emails and lashed out on their blogs but who really emailed Mars or called them? It was the Vegans who took a stand. We're so lazy! When I emailed Caress about their bar soaps they said no one really mentioned before wanting only naturally derived ingredients in the soap and they never really explored the idea or thought it even mattered!

But back to what I was saying, if you don't eat zabiha meat, please don't come here and spew hate. You're welcome to read and discuss but no saying 'this is extreme', 'this is overboard', 'then what can you eat? nothing!' 'youre wrong!' There are many other alternatives for haram foods out there, it's just parting with the ones we've gotten comfortable with and finding better ones inshaAllah.

Please feel free to leave suggestions of companies/brands to contact in the most recent entry's comment section inshaAllah and I will try my best to get in touch with them. I am benefiting from this as much as others will be inshaAllah. Of course whatever products I use I will contact, but there are so many products out there you and others use that we need to know about too, so if some things slip my mind, help me out!

I hope I can provide direct answers as to what makes some of our favorite brands unlawful rather than just seeing a black and white yes or no.

Right now I'm waiting on responses from maybe a dozen companies. So sit tight until I get a proper response inshaAllah.

JazakumAllahu khayran
-Lazeena Umm Yusuf

15 comments:

Autumn Plains said...

As salamu alaykum

Honestly it's difficult to always find halal and the sisters in my neighborhood also agreed. We only have one halal meat store in the neighborhood which doesn't look very clean (I went in there) and my parents wouldn't cook halal meat because they have that Western thing where they think Muslims are dirty.

OmAbdullah said...

asalamu alaykum
I just want to say mashaAllah on this new blog ! May Allah reward you for your efforts sister. InshaAllah this will be very beneficial to many muslims. JazakaAllah Khair!

Halal Honey said...

MashAllah, this looks like it's going to be the start of a great project! Maybe you could add some halal and haram beauty tips for us sisters too? Like body hair removal (is it halal or haram?), light eyebrow shaping or straightening (halal or haram?), and perfume and fragrances which contain alcohol (halal or haram, i've done some research and come scholars say it's okay). Anyways, just throwing a few ideas out there.

Ma'salamma!:)

Zahra Billoo said...

Sounds awesome! Jazaks for putting this together!

Inexplicable Muslima said...

It;s official!!! I LOVE THIS SITE!!!! I seriously go looney trying to figure out if the food is Halal or not.

And I'm obsessive over this additive L-Cystine... It's in A LOT of stuff.... It's made from hair or feathers.

EWW!!!

Hajar said...

Assalamualaikum,

Love the whole project concept.

On my part, it's fairly easy to find halal food @ products where I'm at albeit it becomes a problem when I go overseas. When that happens, I'll dish out my list of non-halal emulsifiers. *sadly, I've lost it years ago*

Really, it'd be awesome if you can compile the chemicals list. Wishing you all the best in achieving your directions. :)

dilson said...

As salamo alaikom.

I really enjoyed reading your article, that was terrific. I am living abroad but we are so careful about our eating. We only buy meet and chicken from the especial places. But i have a question about chocolate eg nestle company. In some of them there is licor of something like licor de cacao. Does it contain alcohol?Some say yes but some say no. Could you please give me an answer?

wantowearhijab said...

salam alikom sister, I just came accross your blog. MashAllah. My husband and I never read ingredients (i just always forget to, from my pre-Muslim days). I noticed u said there are lots of websites that say what food is halal and haram. Could u please give me a few site addresses? Shukran.

Anonymous said...

AOa Sister, Jazakallah for such a great work. We our on the same side. We prefer to be safe then sorry. Really! we are not going to die if we dont eat cheetos or kraft cheese, right?. I want to attach a link of website if its ok. Its makes our life much easier to go n quick grocery. You can find almost everything here.
http://www.muslimconsumergroup.com/

Keep up the good work.
May Allah give you best reward for this in Dunya n Akhirat.

Adeel said...

Asalamu Alaykum Sister,

Two words, Good Job (MashAllah).

I live in Australia and after reading your first blog post, I think I share the same agony. It is really hard to go through the list of ingredients every time you go for grocery shopping. And I am really tired of being part of conversation where the question “is it halal?” is raised and nobody has any idea what they are talking about. Especially, when it comes to ladies who try to use different products and most of the time the answer you get is, “a friend of a friend told my friend that it is Halal”

I have been thinking about doing the same for Australia but wasn’t sure where to start from. Then finally I came across your blog and it gave me the final push I needed. I am going to refer your first post in my blog (hope you don’t mind), which explains the idea behind the effort.

Good luck and keep up the good work.

Allah Hafiz

- Adeel bin Khalid
http://isithalalinaustralia.blogspot.com.au/

ateeq said...

Taking it to the Next Level

I am a Pakistani who has spent some time in the US and recently moved to Australia. I was an avid follower of muslimconsumergroup.com while in the US. Unfortunately, there is no such web site here and I am hoping that someday there would be. A few people like yourself are making brave attempts and I wish you all the luck.

I would like to start by addressing a common misconception: in countries like Pakistan, there is no need to check the labels, i.e. everything is halal. I can tell you that many items commonly available in the Pakistani market are NOT halal. Unfortunately, there are no strict regulations for what enters the country, and people smuggle or even legally import products and put them up for sale. This casts a strong suspicion as well on those products which are manufactured locally but with imported ingredients. What's more... since one never knows from reading the label what's imported or not, one is left in a situation similar to any non-Muslim country. Incredible, isn't it? For those living in Pakistan, therefore, I would like to share my personal experience of sticking to SANHA-certified products as much as possible or those companies you know about well.

Coming to the main purpose of this post, I would like to take this discussion to another (more extreme, yikes!) level.
Having been involved in this process of checking out halal/haram, and painstakingly fretting hours online and in stores, and writing to consumer service departments for several years now (including checking for trace amounts of alcohol), I have come to a realization. This realization in part comes after going out in the path of Allah and building Imaan to some degree. And the realization begins with the question "What are we doing by scouting products?" Yes, we includes those who are particular about our ingredients. A bigger question: What is the purpose of our existence? Is it to seek out a non-Muslim lifestyle and see what conforms with the Shariah and then indulge wholeheartedly to satisfy our nafs? I mean how many Muslim brothers and sisters should be proud of seeing that the next Skittles variant or Lipton Cup-a-Soup flavor does not contain foul ingredients and we as Muslims should be all set to party. What would happen if we did not eat mayonnaise (I mean altogether) or drink soda in our lifetimes? Did our exemplary ancestors in religion do it? What would they say if they saw us doing it? Would we die? No, not in the least - many vegans and health conscious people do it. Unfortunately, we live in a society driven my materialism and we get carried away by seeing others (non-Muslims and those Muslims who are not particular about their food) that we who are particular have to cater to our nafs as well. That is it. We are catering to our nafs just like any non-Muslim would. We spend hours identifying ingredients and still cynical about whether the lunch we had earlier today was halal or not, when there was always an easier solution. Not a Shariah compliant, fatwa solution BUT an avoidance, taqwa solution.

So what is the solution? It is to adopt a simpler lifestyle. We should not be worrying about products we have no business with - which were non-Muslim made and meant for indulgence. We just eat simpler, limited variety and more natural foods. There is a hadith which more or less says that simplicity is part of Imaan. I believe, among other things, simplicity should be part of our diet.

ateeq said...

So I have personally started to TRY to practice this. For instance (among other things), I have cut out soda from my diet. I am now sticking to basic (the ones without 20 different ingredients), trusted and, if possible, Muslim brands. I prefer natural nuts and fruits. I believe this is one small step moving towards bigger and better. Please note this is different from labelling anything as haram for yourself or others. I am not a Mufti. It's a matter of personal choice - we are free to leave something as we are to eat it.

The question will come that what do we do about peer pressure or when we are at some friend's place. The answer is that when we are determined, things will be difficult at the start but ease out eventually. People will begin to understand and will cater to serving you natural stuff or respect you for your values. Does that mean we be rude? No. We be polite but firm and try to educate with hikma. I read something online which was lovely and went something to this effect: why do we insist others eat whatever we prepare as hosts, when we can easily ask them beforehand what they are comfortable with and make accordingly; atleast that way both parties have their wishes met. So we should also be respecting when we host others as well.

Also note that I am not saying that every one can achieve this level. Perhaps some have achieved it and even exceeded it and some won't ever reach it, but the important thing is to TRY and and make intention to do so and also commend others to do so. Not commend by saying this is or that is haram, but commend by suggesting a simpler lifestyle. After all, if we don't eat that chocolate, are we going to die?

The second point of this post is to see this discussion of halal/haram from another angle. The question is why do people who live in bigger cities like Chicago or Sydney have to resort to products manufactured by non-Muslims? I have asked some people in Pakistan: would you like a non-Muslim to prepare your salan (gravy) and roti (bread) today? And the answer is a categorical NO. And then I ask why is it that you eat Nutella chocolate spread or Oreo cookies which are manufactured by non-Muslim companies and most likely by non-Muslim hands. The answer I get is that the manufacturing is done in machines and not by some person (i.e. not hand-made). The truth, however, is that it is still being manufactured by a non-Muslim; directly or indirectly a non-Muslim is usually making YOUR food by running machines, pouring ingredients, etc. The truth is also the possibility of incomplete ingredient information and untold behind-the-scenes mix ups which are swept away under the carpet (I was at a Muslim place in Chicago where the counter-person actually pushed all the veggie samosas into the beef samosas container and then took them out to the proper container - an event like this is quite a possibility in any organization/restaurant e.g. using the same pizza cutter for vegetarian and non-veg pizzas or using a tub to make non-halal confectionery followed by Sharia compliant one).

And the real answer to my question is that we are trying to dodge the bullet. The implication is that we are ready to go every inch of the way, blindfold ourselves and curb mountains just to see that products are Sharia compliant, feel content about this discovery and then indulge to satisfy our heart's desire. This, of course, is quite antithetical to Islam which promotes inhibition of the nafs and suppressing our desires. Just look at the life of Prophet Sallallahu Alahi Wassalam and the Sahaba RadhiAllah Anhuma Ajmaeen. What were there lives like? They didn't even a square meal for several days. Their diets were simple... extremely simple. They ate natural foods like dates, water and gourd. Are they not the example we should be following in all aspects of our life (simple dress (no fancy jubbas or niqabs please), homes (no televisions please), etc) including our diet? Why are we trying to emulate the 'West'? This is a dilemma, a quandry and its mind-boggling.

ateeq said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ateeq said...

At the same time, I ask why are we not promoting Muslim-made products in the bigger American/Australian/Western cities? Can't we have a Halwani (Saudi) date biscuit or Bisconni (Pakistani) chocolate chip instead of an Arnott's; Almarai cheese spread instead of Philadelphia; or Basma (Egyptian) mix vegetable instead of Pillsbury? Are we not ready to compromise that much? Are we so caught up in the world of connoisseur-ship that we can't bring our taste buds down to protect Muslim manufacturers and eat from a maker of your food who is more likely (yes, I agree not entirely confirmed) to be a Muslim than a non-Muslim? Can't we drive an extra kilometer or two in our lavish automobiles or take out a few extra minutes from our time-poor, "busy", spoilt lives to buy Muslim, eat Muslim. I think I it is time that all of us read up on some of the Ahadith that mention the virtues of a believer (momin).

In summary, we as an Ummah really need a thorough redressing of our mindsets and lifestyles. This includes the Muslims in the West for a long time, the people living in Muslim countries like Pakistan and U.A.E. trying to emulate the West and also those people who recently moved to the West and are adopting a Western life (it irks me that the person who until yesterday did not have chocolate [imaginary example] till yesterday in Pakistan, can't start his day without Coco Pops and Nutella on the breakfast table living in the U.S.). According to part of another hadith whose more or less meaning is that this dunya is a prison for the momin, I again ask what are we doing. Sadly and contrarily we are taking the ease of modernity and better standard of living in developed countries to lead liberal, cushy lives. To reiterate, this requires severe self-reflection of our existence and our lifestyles from all who are part of this Ummah.

I hope this discussion has been food for thought. If it stirred you in the wrong manner, I apologize for offending you. But if it provoked you positively (even in the least bit and even if you believe you won't act on it), I would request you to spread the word around and feel free to copy/paste this wherever you want. I would welcome any comments on the email z.ateeq11@gmail.com

Jazakumullah khair for reading and giving me time. I hope we can unitedly preach and practice to become more like our role models in Islam.

Mohammad Palwala said...

Assalamualikum,

The amount of work you are doing is wonderful MASHALLAH.
I would like to give some of my research but in order to join your blog do I need to have yahoo/google ID? I am little confused when it comes to signing in into your website.

Recently I found a very good website build by Jewish community where they have a long list of products mentioning if the product has any animal derivative or not.

Rgds,
Taha Palwala
tahapal@hotmail.com
NY, USA