HALAL / HARAAM ?
What is Halal ?
The following products are definitely Halal:
1. Milk (from cows, sheep, camels, and goats)
4. Plants which are not intoxicant
5. Fresh or naturally frozen vegetables
6. Fresh or dried fruits
7. Legumes and nuts like peanuts, cashew nuts, hazel nuts, walnuts, etc.
8. Grains such as wheat, rice, rye, barley, oat, etc.
Animals such as cows, sheep, goats, deer, moose, chickens, ducks, game birds, etc., are also Halal, but they must be Zabihah (slaughtered according to Islamic Rites) in order to be suitable for consumption. The procedure is as follows: the animal must be slaughtered by a Muslim. The animal should be put down on the ground (or held it if it is small) and its throat should be slit with a very sharp knife to make sure that the 3 main blood vessels are cut. While cutting the throat of the animal (without severing it), the person must pronounce the name of Allah or recite a blessing which contains the name of Allah, such as "Bismillah Allah-u-Akbar".
What is Haraam?
1. Meat from swine - pork, ham, gammon, bacon, etc
2. Pork-based products and by-products - sausages, gelatine etc
3. Animals improperly slaughtered, or already dead before slaughtering is due to take place
4. Animals killed in the name of anyone other than Allah.
6. Most carnivorous animals, birds of prey and land animals without external ears (i.e., snakes, reptiles, worms, insects etc.)
7. Blood and blood by-products
8. Foods contaminated with any of the above products
While many things are clearly halal or clearly haraam, there are some things which are not clear. These items are considered questionable or suspect and more information is needed to categorise them as halal or haraam. Such items are often referred to as Mashbooh, which means doubtful or questionable. Food falling into this category should be treated as haraam until you know otherwise.
It should be noted that the Qur'an specifies all intoxicants (not just alcohol) as being haraam. An intoxicant is, by definition, a substance eaten, drunk or smoked with the sole intention of becoming intoxicated, or a substance created with that purpose in mind. This basically means alcoholic drinks and narcotic drugs.
Any food which was made with an alcoholic drink (usually wine) is haraam because, although the food itself probably couldn't get you drunk, it's alcoholic ingredient was made for that purpose. In most cases this is obvious - for instance Coq au Vin (chicken in wine) or Beef and Ale Pie. In contrast, some seemingly innocent foods can be made using alcoholic drinks and are therefore haraam - examples are mince pies and teriyaki sauce. Always check the ingredients label!
In contrast, alcohol can be found in some halal foods, such as bread and soy sauce. These sometimes contain minute amounts of alcohol as a result of a natural reaction between certain chemicals during the manufacturing process (as opposed to alcoholic drinks being deliberately added to food to add flavour), and so couldn't be classed as haraam.
Some medicines and mouthwashes contain alcohol - if you can find an non-alcoholic alternative then use that instead. Medicines containing alcohol would be considered halal if there were no suitable alternatives available. It should be noted that only ethyl alcohol (such as methylated spirits and ethanol, the alcohol found in alcoholic drinks) are intoxicating and are therefore haraam. Other forms of alcohol (such as stearyl) are not intoxicating. These types of alcohol won't be found in any food or drink due to the fact that they are generally poisonous, but it is a point worth bearing in mind when buying household goods containing these.
This includes ingredients such as gelatine, emulsifiers, fat and enzymes. All of these are haraam. They also have alternatives that are either halal or vegetarian that can just as easily be used in their place. Items that can contain these pork-based ingredients include:
A note for Muslims in Britain - some fish and chip shops cook their food in lard (pork fat) in the traditional way, especially Harry Ramsden's. As far as I know, most chip shops use vegetable oil, probably because it's cheaper. If you enjoy a good fish and chip dinner like me, you may as well cook it yourself.
Some medicines and supplements (especially Cod Liver Oil) also use gelatine as part of their capsules. It can be permissible to use these, but ONLY if there are no suitable alternatives.
The Qur'an states that everything from the sea is halal, including carnivores such as sharks. You'll see that the list I wrote above says MOST carnivorous animals are haraam. Marine predators seem to be the exception to this rule.
I have also seen some sources stating that prawns, crabs and other crustaceans are haraam based on other verses of the Qur'an which mentions that seawater is bitter. This is not true as the above verse states that all food from the sea is halal.
Some cheeses, including popular types such as Cheddar, are made with an ingredient called 'rennet'. Traditionally, this is obtained from the cow's stomach which, if the cow was not slaughtered according the Islamic rites, would render it haraam. Many cheeses nowadays are made using vegetable rennet, so always choose these if possible.