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Opinion: When Haram Can Become Halal – Part II

| 28/12/2010 | 1 Reply

By Dr. Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad, Senior Fellow / Director, Center for the Study of Syariah, Law and Politics, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM)

[Note: This article was published by The Star (Malaysia) on December 14, 2010. However, it was edited to the extent that I believe may distort readers’ understanding of the issue. Here is the full version of the writing].

This is a corollary, a continuation of my earlier article, “When haram can become halal,” (see HalalFocus) published by The Star on December 7. These two pieces must be read together before one can make any appropriate conclusion on the subject matter discussed.

The entire issue is extremely sensitive to Muslims and technical in nature. Thus readers are to go through the whole writing with patience and passion to the very end.

The second Islamic legal principle that complements my deliberation on istihalah last week is istihlak, or ‘extreme dilution’. Readers must be careful here so as not to confuse the two.

This concept materializes when a particular entity is entirely obliterated inside a second entity in such a manner that the former cannot be considered as part of the latter.

In our context, it refers to a situation whereby a prohibited substance is diluted in a lawful medium to the extent that none of the known properties of the prohibited substance are noticeable in the lawful medium.

When this takes place, the prohibited status of the first substance can be ignored, meaning it’s unlawfulness has no legal effect on the second medium.

To illustrate, if animals urinate in a lake, the water of this lake is still pure and lawful for drink and ablution, provided the noticeable properties of the water, i.e. its colour, smell and taste are unchanged by the urine.

Similarly if a drop of wine/blood founds its way into a glass full of clean water and becomes diluted in it, the water is still pure so long as the properties of the water remain unchanged. Here, the drop of wine/blood loses its identity. Hence the applicability of the law prohibiting intoxicant/blood ceases to exist.

This ‘extreme dilution’ principle is based on a hadith when people asked the Prophet about a well in which a carrion fell (carrion is considered impure and anything contaminated by it is equally impure). The Prophet SAW explained that if the water is more than a specified amount, then there was neither harm nor prohibition in using it. (The specified amount of water is required to ensure that the carrion will not change the properties of the water).

Another hadith supports the above. During the Prophet’s time, his companions continued to drink fruit juice until it showed signs of fermentation. They would only stop drinking the ‘juice’ if its smell or taste indicated that it had changed to wine, suggesting the presence of a considerable amount of alcohol in it.

But even before the fruit juice becomes wine, a certain amount of alcohol was already there. However, the amount of alcohol was too insignificant to affect its taste or smell. Thus the companions consciously ignored its purported prohibition.

The above shows that the mere presence of alcohol is not the determining basis for the prohibition of such a beverage containing it. This kind of beverage is declared unlawful by virtue of its intoxicating effects. A number of other hadiths affirm this.

Allow me to digress a bit. Alcohol here refers to ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, the intoxicating element in wine, beer, spirit and so on. It is produced by means of fermentation or distillation. Generally, the content of alcohol in beer is between 4 – 6%, in wine 9 – 16% and in spirit more than 20%. The fact that ethanol is added to other material to form liquor indicates that it is extremely harmful to be consumed in itself.

Khamr’ as related in the Qur’an is not this ethanol. The forbidden khamr here refers to the fermented liquor, and extended, by analogy to include any intoxicating beverages or drugs. Therefore, it is not ethanol per se that is prohibited by Islamic Law, but rather any beverages with intoxicating effect that wipes out one’s sanity.

If the mere presence of alcohol is the defining factor for prohibition, many other beverages, food items or other products containing it are to be equally declared so. Consider the following examples.

A certain amount of alcohol exist in ‘tapai’ (a delicacy made from rice or tapioca fermented with yeast), ‘tuak’ (a drink extracted from coconut tree, very popular in Kelantan), carbonated drinks and colas, or even in ‘budu’ (a sauce made from fermented salted anchovies/fish), all of which are consumed by a large portion of Muslims. But none of them is haram despite the presence of alcohol.

Let’s go back to our actual discourse. One might argue the validity of istihlak by citing the well known and authentic hadith to the effect that if a large amount of an intoxicating substance is prohibited, then a small amount of it, perhaps even a drop, is also forbidden.

My response goes as follows. The said hadith is literally applicable under normal circumstances. However, in our context here, the syari’e texts are to be interpreted wholistically by taking into consideration other relevant textual evidences as well.

Taking one particular verse from the Qur’an or one hadith in isolation of other related texts can lead to strange, irrational and contradictory rulings.

In light of the hadith referred to above, Muslim scholars have interpreted and qualified it in combination with the previous two situations (the carrion and fermented juice cases). Therefore, under special circumstances, or any situations comparable to that embodied in the two traditions, the ‘one drop’ hadith does not prevail.

As pointed out, a certain amount of alcohol is also present in tapai, tuak, colas, budu and so on. But, in reality, despite rigorous consumption, one is hardly affected by the alcohol contained in them since its amounts and concentration are so minimal and thus negligible.

Similarly, most cheeses are made with the help of milk-coagulating enzymes, such as pepsin or rennet, which can be taken from pigs or other animals. However, enzymes are catalysts, in the sense that they do not actually become part of the cheese itself. They only aid in its formation.

After the milk coagulates and the curds fall to the bottom, the remaining liquid and enzymes are drained off. While it is possible that some enzymes remain in the cheese, the concentration is minimal.

Another case of istihlak is the medicinal use of certain chemical compounds extracted by dissolving plant tissue in alcohol. The end product is virtually free of alcohol although it might contain some infinitesimal traces.

From the foregoing discussion, I would say that there is something common between istihalah and istihlak. This commonality, at least, refers to the inconsequential amount of prohibited substance in things Muslims consume or use.

All cited examples illustrating the two principles are real, pointing to the fact that the amount is too insignificant to the extent that it can only be traced by special machines or detectors, if any, with capabilities that go beyond what our naked senses may capture.

The question here, as Muslims, are we strictly supposed to go into that minutest details in ascertaining the lawfulness of things we use? Are we supposed to conduct a DNA test or employ other scientific methods to determine a 100% permissibility status of things?

Of course, every Muslim is obliged to be conscientious about what he/she does, be it the consumption of beverages/foods, nutritional supplements, medicinal, pharmaceuticals or cosmetic items.

But I am of the opinion that generally Muslims are not required to go and investigate into such a microscopic detail for every occasion of ambiguity. Until and unless convinced otherwise, I believe that the law pertaining to halal and haram is not applicable at the molecular or atomic level of things.

If we were to accept that the law is still relevant, say, at the DNA level, then we have no choice but to consider the excrement, blood and milk of cattle (the illustration for istihalah) are all haram though all of them come from the very same halal source.

For a lay Muslim, if he wants to buy a birthday cake, it is not strictly necessary for him to check whether or not the gelatin used is taken from pig or cattle, to the extent of visiting the factory manufacturing it in Canada for example, or by tracing the animal (if not pig) up to its farm in Argentina, or going to abattoirs in New Zealand to determine whether or not the animal was Islamically slaughtered.

One is also not supposed to buy a specially made device to detect the amount of prohibited substance down to its smallest measurable unit. All the steps mentioned are too troublesome for one to carry out every time one encounters such an uncertainty in any product.

It is sufficient for one to rely on what is manifest from the external noticeable features, or what the public perception say on it. In fact, in Islamic jurisprudence, most legal rulings are concluded based on what is obvious to the senses, decided so by general agreement of the community, endorsed by scholarly observation and rational arguments of majority jurists by means of preponderance probability (ghalabah al-zann), a legal principle that entails positive knowledge.

But for Muslim entrepreneurs, businessmen and other industrial players selling or producing items consumable by Muslims, it is their duty to ensure that their goods and products are safe from any noticeable prohibited substance. 

Though I am personally inclined to say that perhaps the principle of istihalah is applicable to them in certain situations, there are other legal opinions saying that if they have the knowledge, it is haram for them to ignore such a prohibited substance.

To be on the safer side, a Muslim cheese manufacturer, for instance, is not supposed to use porcine originated from pig in his products if he can look for alternative material like bovine extracted from cattle.

This fraternity of business people must enjoy their profits and commercial gains responsibly, religiously, legally.

Now, Muslims must bear this in mind. Allah the Almighty admonishes the believers not to ask questions about things which if made plain and clear to them may cause them trouble (al-Ma’idah, 5: 101).

If they do not pay heed to this, they will become like the Jews, who, when Allah straightforwardly commands them to sacrifice a female cattle, they reacted by asking silly questions making its execution even more difficult for themselves, almost calling it off (al-Baqarah, 2: 67—71).

Commenting the story, Abdullah Yusuf Ali says those Israelites were actually treating the divine command as a jest.

Taking lesson from this event, Muslims today must never imitate or seen to reprise these attitude and behaviours, ‘mocking’ religious instructions and making life troublesome unnecessarily!

The Quranic reminders aforementioned are substantiated by the hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). His mission was never to inflict hardship on people, but to bring mercy to the whole creatures of the universe.

He counsels that religion is easy and always prefers an easier alternative from two or more options.  He demonstrates this, for instance, by not having long recitals during prayers and never imposed that tarawih prayers during Ramadhan must be performed 20 cycles.

Having said all the above, I am not advocating that Muslim scientists have to give up their R & D and halt inventing devices to trace prohibited substances in any products related to Muslims.

On the contrary, it is their collective responsibility (fardhu kifayah) to do so. In fact, under certain circumstances, this responsibility may change to become personal obligation (fardhu ayn) to certain individual scientist.

But, if they manage to come out with any scientific gadget, such a device is not to be first marketed to the general masses.

It is quite ridiculous for those scientists to expect that ordinary members of the public will have to dig out their pockets to buy, say, a RM10K detector and to make it available in every household for one to inspect whether or not one’s vegetables contain a certain ‘nanogram’ amount of prohibited elements traceable to pig.

What is more advisable for those scientists is to go and urge the authorities responsible for Muslim affairs or even the government to take actions to protect and enhance the interests of Muslims in all aspects of life.

In the midst of abundant obscurities pertaining to the lawfulness of thousands of products used by Muslims, and upon discoveries made through those scientific devices, those authorities and government must take measures, for example, to encourage and to financially support more Muslim industrial players to produce halal gelatin and so on in huge entities.

But, often times, on the one hand, I am annoyed with the kind of ‘religious overzealousness’ of our people. On the other, as an academician, I am equally disturbed, flabbergasted, with what I perceive as the lackadaisical attitude, lack of commitment, lack of political will and sincerity of our political leaders.

While I applaud the ongoing efforts to make Malaysia the world’s best halal hub for mankind, I just hope that the people entrusted with the amanah mean business and are really serious about it, giving utmost priority to religious considerations as their inspirations, rather than personal or organizational gains.

Last but not least, as guidelines, the right attitude for Muslims to hold includes the followings:

(i)             In cases of doubt and one fears that one may compromise one religious belief and principles in doing or consuming anything, then one may distance oneself from such a thing. This is actually the spirit of the very first hadith referred to in this article (the first part).

(ii)           Any product that contains a considerable amount of a prohibited substance, or in which the properties of a prohibited substance are noticeable, is in itself prohibited, and thus to be avoided.

(iii) If the amount of a prohibited substance is significantly inconsequential/infinitesimal to affect the noticeable properties of a thing, then the prohibition may be ignored.

In short, as a general rule, Muslims are not rigidly required to unnecessarily putting themselves into severe hardship in identifying the lawfulness of things. If one insists that such an action or process of determination is imperative on Muslims no matter what, then one would not find anything lawful on the face of this planet!

In this regard, Muhammad b. Allan al-Bakri, a traditional Shafi’i jurist, has reportedly said: “Complete certainty that something is lawful is only conceivable about rainwater falling from the sky into one’s hand” (see Dalil al-Falihin li Turuq Riyad al-Salihin).


Category: Asia, Halal Integrity, Ingredients, Opinion, Shariah Issues

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  1. There are various definitions of “Dilution” such as in chemistry it is reducing the concentration of chemicals, reducing the amount of soluble solids in a solution of solvent and soluble solids. Other such as a process of making weaker. But it will not eliminate the composition of added material. Even if added material is 100% soluble in water, the added material remained as soluble solids.

    First fall the author did not mentioned on what Mazhab he is writing these examples. For example under the Hanafi Sharia, if wine or urine accidently fell into the drinking water well, it will not leave as is on the principle mentioned by the author that the Haram material will dilute into well water and no need to do anything. Hanafi sharia has provide specific methods to take out the effected water from the well. There are specific method to calculate amount of water present at that time. Because water from the bottom of the well is always going into well. The Hanafi Sharia rule is in fiqah required to take out affected water from the well in order for the well water to be used for drinking purpose.
    There is one hadith for example praying two rakat sunnah before maghrib faraz prayer, Imam Abu Hanifa RA did not follow this sunnah because Prophet Mohammed Sallallahu Alaihi Wasalum did only one time not repeated. So there may be several reasons when Imam Abu Hanifa RA did not follow the hadith mentioned by author.

    The author also forgot the Jalala procedure where a Halal animal made a habit of eating Najus feed continuously. Can Sharia rule required to leave the animal as is so that najus in the stomach of the animal will change. So that Muslim can drink its milk and eat its meat. No, it is not allowed in sharia. Jalala required the affected animal to be quarantine for 40 days on Halal feed so that all the najus feed in animal body get away. At the end of 40 days Muslims can drink its milk and eat its meat after zabiha slaughtering.

    According to Hanafi Sharia rules if a drop of wine or blood fall into glass of water, the water, it became najus too.

    Here is some scientific proof that a drop of wine/blood drop into a glass of water. Only those constituents of wine/blood which are soluble in water will dissolve in water in the glass and due to this, the original water characteristic or total soluble solids content of water increase so water is not chemically in its original stage before dropping of one drop of wine/blood. It does not matter how little added soluble solids because there are instruments which can measure parts per million(PPM) or part per billion(PPB).

    Blood including human consists of blood cells which are suspended in blood plasma which is the liquid part of blood. Blood cells is made of red blood cells, white blood cells, leukocytes and platelets. The RBC contains hemoglobin which a iron containing protein insoluble in water. All blood cells are insoluble in water. The blood plasma contains only 55% blood fluid and 45% is solids. This blood fluid contains dissolved protein, glucose, mineral ions, hormones(protein). When glucose or sugar dissolve in any liquids such as water, the total soluble solid content (Brix) increased, although it is dissolved in water but it content can be easily detectable. The bottom line is that drop of blood in a glass of water although diluted but remained as a impurity and there will always a chemical difference between the water in the glass without any contamination and water in the glass contaminated with a drop of blood. The solid content of blood will never became the part of water but remained as suspended solids in water. These suspended solids can easily measure by hand held instrument.

    This same situation with wine, wine is made of 81-82% water, 12% of alcohol and 7% of other which includes sugar, insoluble sulfite, insoluble protein, insoluble vitamins, insoluble mineral, some insoluble flavoring compound and insoluble red pigment if wine is obtained from red grape.

    Every component of wine is Haram, this one thing and other thing is the solids of wine remained suspended in the glass of water and it will be easily detectable by using HPLC High Performance Liquid Chromatography.

    The glass of water will not make the wine or blood drop as its part and the scientific facts showed that the glass of water will consider Haram to drink. According to a hadith a small portion of intoxicant is also Haram such as a drop of wine in a glass of water.

    From above it is cleared that although the properties of prohibited item such wine will be diluted but presence of components remained as is in a very minute amount which will easily detectable by today’s instruments and it will disqualify the Halal status of water in a glass and it also became nagus or prohibited.

    According to ahadith reported in Sahi Muslim and reported by Abdullah Bin Abbas RA that Prophet Mohammed Sallallahu Alaihi Wasalum drink Nabeez and grape soaked in water before end of 3rd day soaking. So there were restriction for how many days the fruits are soaked in water to drink and it is all based of intoxication effect.

    It is true that Khamr is not 100% alcohol. Alcohol was discovered by a Muslim Iranian Mohammad ibn Zakaria Razi (864-930 AD). He found alcohol from wine by distillation and he also discovered distillation process. But ethyl alcohol falls in the category of intoxicant and we should not forget about it. It is also true that ripe fruits and vegetables contains very small amounts of ethyl alcohol due to natural biochemical reactions during maturing process including fermentation. Similarly when Halal yeast is added to make bread, alcohol is produced by Zymase enzyme in yeast cells acting on simple sugar to produce CO2, Water and ethyl alcohol during early minutes of baking because of fermentation process. Fruits, Vegetables and bread are Halal.

    It is true Khamr mentioned in Quran but you cannot separate ethyl alcohol from Khamr although alcohol was not discovered at that time. You cannot assume that since ethyl alcohol was not mentioned in the Quran so it is not the prohibited item but in reality it was prohibited because it was the part of Khamr known after 250-300 years. If you distilled out alcohol from wine or khamr, the resulting sweet fluid will not intoxicate you nor it will not make it Halal because the remaining constituent still Haram, they were produced during wine making and they are part of the wine. This is the problem now days about alcohol free wine which is still Haram because of remaining constituents of wine in it.

    ” A certain amount of alcohol exist in ‘tapai’ (a delicacy made from rice or tapioca fermented with yeast), ‘tuak’ (a drink extracted from coconut tree, very popular in Kelantan), carbonated drinks and colas, or even in ‘budu’ (a sauce made from fermented salted anchovies/fish), all of which are consumed by a large portion of Muslims. But none of them is haram despite the presence of alcohol.”

    This is the problem for far east Muslim countries with above mentioned drinks plus Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce with 2-3% alcohol in it which is made as wine consider as Halal in those Muslim countries even the British Govt. consider it as liquor and applied excise duty on imported naturally brewed soy (with Wheat and soy as main ingredients). I think this is lack of scientific knowledge and local culture.
    It is sorry to say that author is denying one important and well understood Hadith(if a large amount of an intoxicating substance is prohibited, then a small amount of it, perhaps even a drop, is also forbidden) among Muslims all over the world.
    The author is forgot about his own statement about presence of ethyl alcohol in ripe fruits and vegetables, if soft drink companies uses same fruits as a source to make the natural flavor in soft drinks without adding any alcohol as a solvent in natural flavor. The ethyl alcohol peak stilled showed up on HPLC.

    Alcohol is a choice solvent for many flavor companies because it will give clear appearance, no offside flavor to soft drink but it can be easily replaced by Halal Propylene Glycol solvent since it will provide cloudy appearance but this can be overcome by adding caramel color which is a common ingredients in many colas.

    So there is alternate to ethyl alcohol and Muslim countries should demand that the soft drinks cannot be made with alcohol if the soft drinks are made by western food companies. Although Muslim government has the buying power but do not utilize it.
    The author is talking about the old days of cheese making, at present in US about 90% of cheeses is made with Halal microbial rennet enzyme and some hard cheese such as Parmesan etc still used the animal rennet because of specific cheese flavor.

    The author do not have any science background because when rennet is added to milk, it became the part of the cheese but only inactivate due to heating process during cheese making. It remained as denatured protein in cheese like in bread the flour gluten became denatured during baking and remained as the part of the bread.

    ” After the milk coagulates and the curds fall to the bottom, the remaining liquid and enzymes are drained off. While it is possible that some enzymes remain in the cheese, the concentration is minimal”

    The author do not have technical knowledge of cheese making because the whey which is liquid left after milk coagulate do not contain any rennet. There is no research showed that rennet is transferred to whey. He has to provide the technical reference to verify his untrue statement about rennet.

    There are many medicine specially the cough syrups in USA are free of alcohol and he can find it out on going to our website

    Yes Muslims should go into minor details because of this Hadith as reported by Abdulla Bin Abbas RA that Prophet Mohammed Sallallahu Alaihi Wasalum said Allah will not accept Muslims dua for40 days if he knowingly consumed even a bit of Haram food.
    This hadith is basis of my efforts to provide all technical knowledge about food products and ingredients on our website so that Muslims can follow the above hadith to stay away from Haram food products.

    The author is confusing Muslims because of one sided thinking on sharia matters and lack of food science knowledge.

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