When it comes to food, halal is the Muslim equivalent of kosher, albeit a bit stricter.
The term “halal” literally means permissible, as opposed to “harem,” or forbidden, but the intricacies of determining which food gets labeled what almost requires a degree in religious studies.
Pork products are outright forbidden in the Muslim world, but most meat is permissible so long as it is slaughtered, processed and prepared according to a prescribed method.
The meat of a vegetarian animal can be consumed only if it receives a blessing before Allah prior to being slaughtered. Even then, the animal must be slaughtered with a sharp knife in a way that allows for the blood to be drained without cutting the spinal cord.
Also forbidden are blood and blood byproducts, alcohol and other intoxicants, carnivorous animals and birds of prey and land animals without external ears.
Paul Moses Habhab, managing director of Islamic Services of America, provided his expert opinion on halal last year to the appeals court that ruled against Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
His group, based in Iowa, provides halal certification and related services to food companies and other product suppliers around the world.
Habhab said halal food is a $3 trillion industry, most of which is based in the United States.
“The U.S. is one of the largest producers of halal foods in the entire world,” he said. “But there is very little halal production being done in the U.S. when it comes to animal slaughter. Very, very little in comparison to the need.”