By Ryan Hilliard
Ramadan 1439/2018 Black Muslims Reflect on the Quran—Juz’ 6
One of my teachers, Imam Dawood Yasin, has advocated for acquiring wholesome food and means for years. As an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman, he encourages his students at Zaytuna College and elsewhere to “get your own halal”; that is that Muslims should hunt and gather natural and wholesome food and other benefits for ourselves instead of relying solely on the conveniences of our times whose quality may be questionable.
I thought of him as I read and reflected on Juz’ 6 (4:148–5:81), as this section of the Qur’an is replete with admonitions and commands that form the legal framework of Islam. The theme of adherence to the Sacred Law and avoidance of transgressing the boundaries thereof, which the late Charlie Murphy would refer to as being a “habitual line-stepper,” is consistent throughout this juz’. Allah comes straight to the point at the outset of Surah al-Ma’idah (5) when He speaks about the permissibility of specific things to the Muslims:
They ask you, [O Muhammad], what has been made lawful for them. Say, “Lawful for you are [all] good foods and [game caught by] what you have trained of hunting animals which you teach as Allah has taught you. So eat of what they catch for you, and mention the name of Allah upon it, and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is swift in account. This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you, when you have given them their bride-gifts and married them, not taking lovers or [secret] mistresses. And whoever denies the faith – his work has become worthless, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers. (5:4–5)
What is the common denominator in these examples that Allah provided in His Book about the lawful and unlawful for the believers? Examining the common traits between foodstuffs, relationships with other faith communities, and the ever-intimate marriage may help us to understand why they are classified as halal.
Concisely, there are three strong traits that can be surmised. First, Allah the Exalted is remembered throughout the relationship. Game and slaughtered animals can only be consumed if Allah’s Name is remembered during the hunting and killing thereof. Consuming the food and produce of the People of the Book (ahl al-kitab) is allowed so long as they communally recognize and remember Allah the Exalted in His Unicity. Marriage between Muslims and, if so sought, members of other faith communities are allowed inasmuch as they, again, remember Allah as He is supposed to be known.
Second, there are intrinsic qualities that are wholesome and holistically beneficial that can be found in such relationships. As far as meat and other foods are concerned, and what Imam Dawood teaches, is that what one consumes has to benefit both the consumer and the consumed. Our food should be valued for its nutritional benefits, as well as the high standards by which the food was produced and provided (organic, GMO-free, cage-free and/or free-range, high nutritional content, etc.). The relationships that we establish with the aforementioned faith communities known as the People of the Book (i.e. Christians and Jews) should be based on the shared understanding of Allah’s Unicity (Arabic: tawhid) and the possibilities of helping each other live our best lives according to the Sacred Law that binds us all. Furthermore, marriages to Muslims and the People of the Book likewise are sought for the ease by which Allah’s remembrance manifests in the marriage and how it informs the way men and women should interact intimately with one another.
Third and closely related to the second point, the rights and dignity of creation are honored by the virtue of Allah the Exalted having created these things, and never dismissed. The plants and animals that become our foodstuffs are not abused or treated in such a way that we would not like to treat ourselves, with unnecessary violence or chemicals that can unnaturally alter our biological makeup. The public and private rights of women and men must be matched and protected at all costs, and such illicit relationships like side-chicks and man-hoes do nothing but harm the integrity of those rights.
It is essential and requisite for the Black Muslim community, and the Black community at-large, to remind ourselves why maintaining Divine lawfulness in our relationships with all of creation will allow us to continue to be examples of justice and balance in the world. In his Friday sermon delivered in 2016 in Texas, Imam Dawood related the story of ‘Abdullah ibn Umar and his conversation with a shepherd, whom the former hypothetically tested the young caretaker with a proposal to buy a sheep directly from him without the involvement of the sheep’s owner. The shepherd replied to Ibn ‘Umar by saying, “Where is Allah in this transaction?” (fa ayna-llah fi hadha tijara)
If we, as individuals and as a community, cannot challenge ourselves to ensure the recognition and remembrance of Allah the Exalted is as consistent in our mundane affairs as it is in our religious ones, then our efforts to spread justice and balance in the world on behalf of People of Color around the world is no more than a futile and heedless exercise.
We cannot lie to ourselves and others by putting forward that we believe in doing good and forbidding evil, but it does not appear even in the food that we eat or the relationships we foster. Our spiritual condition directly and intrinsically affects our emotional, intellectual and behavioral output; and our “diet” of the things we consume must be permissible (halal) and holistic (tayyib) in order for the energy we put into our affairs to be of benefit to ourselves and others.
Consumption of the halal and the tayyibat that Allah commands of us gives us the complete energy we need so that our continual struggle against external enemies like white supremacy and systematic injustice, and internal vices like laxity and indulgence. Furthermore, spiritually-healthy consumption keeps our connection to our Creator healthy in like fashion, Who in turn gives us the clarity to be the God-conscious servants we are meant to be.
In short, get your own halal. Our Islam depends on it.
Ryan Hilliard @rynbhllrd (Religion Editor) is a Chicago native serving as the visiting speaker-in-residence at The Green Room, a safe space for Muslim youth in northern Alberta, Canada. He is the former Youth Director for the Islamic Association of Collin County in Plano, Texas, as well as US Liaison for SeekersHub Español. He currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta with his wife and daughter.