A food label is stamped halal if the contents of the food conform with Muslim dietary laws. This certification is analogous to a kosher certification, in that it is provided by a certified third party agency, but kosher food is not necessarily halal, and halal food is not always kosher. For Muslims who are concerned about obeying the Sharia, or Islamic law, this label acts as an assurance that the contents of the food are not haram, or forbidden.
In Arabic speaking nations, the word is used to refer generically to anything that is permitted by the rules of Islam, as the word in Arabic means “lawful” or “permitted.” In the rest of the world, it applies specifically to foods. Most nations have food labeling laws to protect both halal and kosher certification, to ensure that food labels are accurate.
Under Muslim law, Muslims are forbidden to eat pork, blood, land-based carnivores, omnivores, carrion, and intoxicants. The prohibition against pork is one of the most difficult aspects of a Muslim diet, because of the inclusion of pork byproducts in many foods. A long ingredient list may conceal a pork-derived product, so devout Muslims look for a label that indicates that the food is acceptable. In addition, there are restrictions on seafood; many Muslims believe that only fish with scales are halal, excluding shellfish and crustaceans as haram.
The important distinguishing feature of meat with this label is that the animal must be slaughtered in the name of Allah. Any Muslim can slaughter an animal for food, as long as he or she slaughters the animal by quickly severing the major arteries of the neck, and utters the name of God as the animal is killed. Animals killed in other ways are haram, as are those slaughtered in the name of false Gods, or animals that are not dedicated to any deity when they are slaughtered.
In Muslim countries, finding halal food is relatively easy, as stores and restaurants are often run by Muslims who obey the Sharia. Outside of Muslim countries, however, adhering to the law can be very difficult, especially with processed foods. Some Muslim organizations have published lists of ingredients that contain pork and those companies that make food that is safe to eat. In Muslim communities within non-Muslim nations, there is often a plethora of restaurants that are certified, and there may also be a halal butcher.