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Going “Beyond Halal”

July 5, 2011

First of all, I want to make one thing very clear: that this post is not much more than a big, sprawling, writerly ad for Beyond Halal, a wonderful initiative that I came across recently.

In order to explain why this movement warrants an ad in the form of a blog post (an ad that was 100% my idea and no one else’s, for the record), let me tell you a story.

As those of you who read my post on food and Ramadan may recall, I said that Ramadan should be an opportunity to examine our relationship to food in two ways:

1. Not just the killing hunger for food while fasting, but killing the need for good food in large volumes all the time
2. Developing a further awareness of and respect for where food comes from

My last post was about #1, but I was struggling with how to write on #2, which is just as important but I did not have the knowledge or experience to substantiate. For I feel that there’s two sides of the coin when it comes to food and deen. As I outline above: one side, the one I focused on in the Ramadan-related post, is not wanting so much food of so-and-so quality all the time. It’s definitely a bit of a monastic perspective. But it is by no means a comprehensive approach.

Monasticism is not the answer when it comes to our deen. We can’t lose ourselves in spiritual bliss and neglect the fact that we have responsibilities in the world and that the earth and its resources are entrusted to us. We’re supposed to understand that food and other temporal pleasures don’t mean much, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t partake of and enjoy what is lawful for us. Food is a necessary part of our being, and we need to know and be conscientous about how our partaking of food affects the environment. We need to know how to be responsible when it comes to the food we do eat to sustain ourselves and strengthen social bonds.

And this responsibility is something I feel haunted and overwhelmed by. A few years ago I read Eating, a book that truly made me understand what veganism was about. The book delved not only into environmental reasons for disavowing meat, dairy, and eggs, but ethical reasons as to why eating animals, thanks to our means of producing food, has become inherently wrong in itself.

Then a short while ago I watched Food, Inc. It was not as revelatory to me as I had already read Eating and Fast Food Nation, but it was still a scary reminder about what food has become today and a wake-up call to do something about it as both consumers and producers.

Because I found myself throwing faith into the equation, or wanting to incorporate faith into the equation, I’ve been wondering about whether the halal meat we eat is from animals that are treated humanely, and whether simply invoking God’s name upon slaughtering them, regardless of the conditions they are grown and fed in, should be sufficient for us. I thought eating less meat would be the answer–I can’t completely disavow what is halal for me, but at least I can decrease my consumption of something that’s not good for the environment and that I don’t need that much of.

But I was still flailing. I understood that Muslims need to be part of this change–at the forefront of this change, even–but I’m not a grower or food activist. When it comes to food, I’m not a leader, I’m a follower. I’m not a farmer, I’m a consumer. What do I turn to? Whom do I turn to? I was tracing the faint boundaries of my thoughts without knowing what I was drawing, and not knowing how to complete the picture.

And then that thought process suddenly exploded in a brilliant burst of colour, when I completely by chance discovered Beyond Halal.

The title itself sold me. That’s exactly what I was driving at. It was beautifully reinforced by the following words from the site’s About page:

In a world where we are increasingly disconnected from the ways in which our food comes to us, Beyond Halal asks, “Is halal good enough?” . . . Just because meat is halal doesn’t mean it is good, but by relying solely on the legal term, we risk losing the ethical values that lie beneath and beyond it.

And I’ll be honest: I’m not only sold because they’re not only doing amazing work. It’s the way they share their message. In a post titled “Tawhid on the Farm,” Krystina writes beautifully on importance of faith and reconnecting to nature:

As Muslims, I believe that we should think carefully about what we put into our bodies, because our food becomes us. We can choose to nourish ourselves and our families intentionally guided by principles of mercy and dignity, or we can ignore where our food comes from and say “alhamdulillah, at least it’s halal,” if that. Insh’Allah, I hope to see Muslims becoming more engaged with food movements, and to really connect with what nourishes us by visiting the farms where fruits, vegetables, and meats come from, getting to know the farmers, and especially by getting involved with growing and raising our own food. Even better, I hope that Muslim children are able to witness the constant miracles of Allah’s mercy through creation.

Needless to say, there’s nothing they say that I can say better, so I leave you with the site itself. And I pray that they be granted much, much success in raising awareness amongst Muslims that halal, in today’s day and age, is not good enough.

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