May 18, 2009

The Meaning of the Word "Halal"

We Muslims use the word halal on a daily basis, using it normally to describe various foods, drinks or behaviors that are acceptable ("legal") in Islam. However, for those of us whose mother tongue isn't Arabic, we may miss out on some of the deeper meanings of even familiar words that have made their way into English language discourse about Islam between Muslims and even non-Muslims.

One such word is halal, which, as we Muslims know, means "that which is allowed, permitted or permissible, legal, licit, legitimate." But did you know that it also means "to loosen a knot?"

Hallun originally meant to untie a knot. In Surah Ta Ha, 20:27, Moses (pbuh) asks Allah (swt) to "loosen the knot from my tongue." Apparently, Moses (pbuh) was a stutterer, and was asking for Allah's (swt) help in order to be able to speak more clearly when facing off against Pharaoh.

Halaltu was used to express the idea of untying knots of the luggage to stop on a journey. Likewise, the second half of verse Ibrahim 14:28 (wa ahallu qawmahum darul bawaar) meant that the kufran caused their people to alight in the house of perdition:

Hast thou not turned thy vision to those who have changed the favor of Allah into blasphemy and caused their people to descend to the House of Perdition?-

Likewise, someone who unties his ahraam after the hajj is said to have become halal: "But when ye are clear of the sacred precincts and of pilgrim garb (wa idha halaltum), ye may hunt..." (fas-Taadoo; see Surah al-Ma'idah 5:2).

Another passage that refers to halal is Surah al-Ahzab 33:50, which reads in part, "We have made lawful to thee thy wives..." (inna ahlalna laka azwajaka). The husband is haleel and the wife haleela. They are haleels to one another.

So how does halal relate to food? While halal-uqdah means untying (i.e., solving) a (problematic) knot, the expression metaphorically refers to the slaughtering of an animal when the "knot" of its neck is "untied," thus becoming permissible to eat.


(Based upon pp. 141-42 of Muhammad Umar Chand's book, Halal and Haram: The Prohibited and the Permitted Foods and Drinks According to Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures.)

2 comments:

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Sonnet said...

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