This page gives an overview of zabiha, halal and kosher food. For detailed references from the Quran and sunnah, please read this.
Zabiha is the Arabic term for the Islamic method of slaughter, derived from the Quran and Sunnah. A brief outline of the zabiha method is as follows:
Zabiha slaughter is believed to cause the least amount of pain to animals. It is important to perform the slaughter with respect and compassion. The slaughter is to be performed by an adult of sound mind, who may be Muslim, Jewish or Christian (People of the Book). Using a sharp knife, a swift, deep incision is made into the neck, cutting the jugular vein while reciting the Takbeer, i.e. Allah o Akbar (God is the Greatest). After exsanguination, all the blood is allowed to drain from the animal’s body. Thereafter, the meat may be cut as required.
Islamic dietary laws give a detailed account of the animals (along with birds, insects etc) that are permissible for Muslims to eat. All such animals are halal, the Arabic word meaning lawful. Anything unlawful is known as haraam.
Exceptions may be made where haraam can be consumed in a life threatening situation when halal is not available, but just enough so that the person can survive and be able to reach to a point where halal may be obtained. This is known as the law of necessity.
It is important to note the difference between halal and zabiha. Halal animals are the ones that Muslims are allowed to eat. However, all halal animals (except aquatic animals) must be slaughtered in the method prescribed, i.e. zabiha, before they are considered suitable for consumption by Muslims.
It is easy to get confused as ‘halal’ has become the colloquial word for zabiha today.
What is kosher?
Kosher (derived from the Hebrew kashur, meaning fit) is the English term for food which is prepared in accordance with Jewish laws. Kashrut is the body of Jewish dietary laws, and sechita is the method of slaughter according to these laws. Kashrut is much stricter than Islamic dietary laws in the animals that may be eaten and in the rules of slaughter. There are very detailed requirements of the animal (it should have split hooves and chew its cud), place of slaughter, shochet (the ritual slaughterer), the knife to be used and so on.
Can Muslims eat kosher?
Muslims are allowed to eat of what has been made lawful to Jews and Christians. However, kosher as we know it today is a point of contention among Muslims. There are a couple of points of debate:
1. Kashrut allows food that is haraam. In the case of animals, fish, insects and all other living things, this is not true. Kashrut is at least as or more restrictive than Islamic law. For example, camels are unlawful to eat for Jews because while they have split hooves, they do not ruminate. Their requirements for slaughter are also extremely strict. Then, the animal has to undergo a rigorous inspection for injuries, diseases and abnormalities. Certain parts of the animal are not considered lawful and must be removed completely. The list goes on.
However, where this argument does stand ground is in the case of alcohol. Kashrut allows the consumption and usage of alcohol which is strictly and completely forbidden in Islam. Any kosher products that do contain alcohol, therefore, would be considered haraam.
2. The name of Allah is not pronounced while performing the slaughter. A blessing is usually said before performing any Jewish ritual, inciting the name of God. This blessing is assumed to cover all the animals that are being slaughtered at the time and is not said over each animal individually. However, this blessing is not an essential part of the slaughter and the meat will still be considered kosher if it is left out.
Other than that, both Islamic and Jewish laws require that all animal products and derivatives such as gelatin come from zabiha/kosher animals, utensils and work surfaces must be clean and free of the risk of cross contamination from unlawful sources.
Under these rules, I believe kosher products are fit for Muslim consumption as long as products containing alcohol are avoided. The shochet is expected to say a blessing, and we can assume that all kosher slaughters were blessed. Just like we do not witness every Muslim slaughterer saying Takbeer over every single animal, but we assume it to be true. But again, to avoid kosher under this pretext in order to please Allah might be a better course.
What about Christian dietary laws?
Most Christians today do not follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament. Allah has clearly stated that Muslims may eat of what has been made lawful to Christians. But since most Christians consider these laws to be redundant, I don’t think this argument can be used by Muslims to eat everything that Christians eat. Pigs, for example, are strictly unlawful in Islam. Following this argument would mean that Muslims are allowed to eat absolutely everything, which they clearly are not.
Is the USDA method of slaughter acceptable?
Some Muslims believe that because all the blood is drained out of the animals, and no other god’s name is pronounced over the slaughter, that it is acceptable for Muslims. I don’t believe this is supposed to be a case of ‘best of three.’ Pronouncing Allah’s name during the slaughter is an essential step.
Moreover, they think that because the animals are drugged, that it is more humane and causes the animals less pain. Interestingly, Jews absolutely reject this method and Muslims are divided. I have to side with the Jews on this. I believe that no person in this world could ever have the compassion and mercy that Allah has for His creation, and so the method prescribed by Allah must be the best.