Our Food

What is in Our Food…? Is It Permissible?

By Syed Farhatullah Quadri, Ph.D., Mariam Majeed, and Mujahed Khan; Food Scientists, IFANCA

As Muslims, we are constantly striving for perfection in all facets of life. As a result, we are constantly trying to gain knowledge so that we may further progress. The reality is that while we aim to perfect our relationships, our roles at work, and our habits as students, we sometimes fail to realize that there is a catalyst that will help facilitate this quest for perfection, and that is food. While our bodies are nourished by the food we consume, our souls too are nourished by the permissibility and purity of that same food. Those who strive to consume only that which is halal (lawful) and tayyib (pure) are blessed with their bodies striving towards that which is halal and tayyib. As a result, as Muslims, we need to make a conscious effort to answer the question, “is what we buy and consume everyday really halal?”

IFANCA, an internationally recognized halal certifying organization, is staffed by a qualified scholars, technical staff and administrators. It is registered as a not-for-profit organization in Illinois and is recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and several halal regulatory agencies in countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the UAE. During the last three decades, IFANCA has certified thousands of products and ingredients, including processed food; meat products; pharmaceuticals; nutraceuticals and cosmetics for more than 2,200 companies world-wide.

The mission of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) is to promote the concept of halal and educate Muslims regarding mashbooh (doubtful) ingredients, including those that are present in food; nutritional supplements; pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

IFANCA serves the Muslim community worldwide by conducting conferences and seminars, responding to consumer and industrial inquiries about ingredients and products and assisting correctional facilities to establish partial halal kitchens in the prisons to satisfy the dietary needs of Muslim inmates. IFANCA has recently resumed educational workshops and presentations in various Islamic institutions in the Chicagoland area and will soon offer these services to neighboring cities and states. The focus of these presentations is to create awareness of the permissibility of foods. A description of the important points will be discussed in the paper below. Readers are also encouraged to visit www.ifanca.org and www.halal.com frequently for the current information about certified products and halal news and resources. Furthermore, if you are interested in organizing an informational session in your local community please contact IFANCA.

  1. Responsibility Of Muslims:Our main goal is to please ALLAH (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) alone by obeying HIS commands on all matters including issues of halal and haram, as well as following the sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam). Several verses of the Noble Quran have been revealed regarding food. A quick look at a few verses allows us to see the importance HE has put on the consumption of food:“O you who believe! Eat of the good things from what WE have provided you, and render thanks to ALLAH if it is HE whom you worship.” (2:172)“O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and wholesome in the Earth, and follow not the foot-steps of the devil. Lo! he is an open enemy for you.” (2:168)“O you who believe! Forbid not the good things which ALLAH has made ‘lawful’ for you and transgress not. Lo! ALLAH loves not transgressors. Eat of that which ALLAH has bestowed on you as food ‘lawful’ and good, and keep your duty to ALLAH in whom you are believers.” (5:87-88)There are many more verses in the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam) that speak about other aspects of halal and haram. We should look into such commandments and understand them for our own betterment.
  2. Muslim Population:Currently there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and the number is increasing, particularly in the major metropolitan cities across the U.S. In other published reports, it is quoted that the global halal food trade market is about $150 billion with the Muslim buying-power at about $600 billion. In the US alone, the buying-power of Muslims is about $20 billion strong. These figures are very promising. More information can be found in the May 25, 2009 issue of TIME magazine. Because of the efforts of some organizations, various states have passed the Halal Food Act in their legislation. The bill was signed into law in New Jersey in 2000, Illinois and Minnesota in 2001, California and Michigan in 2002, Texas in 2003, and New York in 2005. Insha’ALLAH many more will follow. As the number of Muslims and halal consumers continues to grow, we are seeing more American companies extending their halal certification from export products to domestic ones. We are also seeing increased marketing of halal-certified imported products. This is also likely due to the increased feedback and strong support from halal consumers to companies demanding halal certified products.
  3. Ingredients:There are various kinds of ingredients found on the labels of products we buy. Some of them are simple or single components, like salt, sugar and water. Others are complex or compound, such as colorings, cheese powder, flavorings, seasonings, shortening, spices etc. On some labels we see the ingredients are listed by their functions, such as antioxidants; emulsifiers; preservatives; supplements and thickeners to name a few. Sometimes the questionable ingredients such as alcohol; enzymes; fats and gelatin are not clearly listed but are hidden in flavorings; cheese, gums and ice cream. As Muslims we should know if the ingredients we see on the label are halal, since they could be obtained from animal, plant, microbial, or synthetic sources. A list of such items is given below for a quick reference and can be copied and carried along for shopping convenience.
  4. Classification Of Foods:Halal – We all know very well the terms halal and haram and have a clear idea about the food items we consume. For Muslims the Halal or permissible items are:
    • All vegetable materials except intoxicating ones
    • The meat from humanely-handled halal animals and birds slaughtered by a sane Muslim after pronouncing Bismillah and ALLAHu Akbar, followed by blood draining
    • Fish and most seafood
    • Milk and eggs from halal animals

    Haram – Alhamdulillah, we have a very clear understanding of the haram foods, and we all refrain from consuming items such as:

    • Alcoholic drinks and intoxicating drugs
    • Pork and its by-products
    • Meat of dead animal
    • Blood
    • Meat of animals not slaughtered according to Islamic requirements
    • Products that contain any of the above items

    Mashbooh – For all Muslims, this group of consumables consists of ingredients that are doubtful or questionable and it causes us to stop and ponder whether we can use them or not. IFANCA provides you with the information that will take the “doubt” out of these doubtful items. When a consumer sees an ingredient listed in the tables below titled “Mashbooh (Questionable) Food Items”, “Hidden Ingredients”, “Ingredients by Functions”, and “Halal Shoppers Guide”, e.g. Animal fat or proteins; Antioxidants; Dairy products; Emulsifiers; Enzymes; Flavorings; Gelatin; Glycerin and Vitamins, he or she should immediately think of its probable source and verifying it by calling the manufacturer. All such items are derived either from animal, plant, microbial or synthetic sources. If it comes from an animal source, then we need to know if the animal was halal and if so, was it slaughtered properly or not. If yes or if the source is plant or certified-microbial, then alhamdulillah, we can eat it.

  5. Solutions & Suggestions:It is every Muslim consumer’s responsibility to be conscientious of what he/she does, whether it be the consumption of food, nutritional supplements, pharmaceuticals or cosmetics items, and to please ALLAH (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) by following HIS commandments. We should:
    1. Look for a registered halal logo such as Crescent M or others on the packaging of the product.
    2. Always read the ingredients on labels carefully.
    3. Avoid products that contain Mashbooh ingredients.
    4. Look for pertinent information by visiting reliable web sites (such as www.ifanca.orgwww.halal.com or by calling the manufacturer directly.
    5. Share correct information with relatives and friends and refrain from rumors.
      • Be halal certified for US consumers and
      • Have halal logos on their products.Ask the manufacturers if their products can:

As A Halal Consumer, I Should Learn The Classification Of Foods


  • All vegetable materials except intoxicating ones
  • Meat from halal animals and birds slaughtered according to Islamic requirements
  • Fish and most seafood
  • Milk and eggs from halal animals


  • Alcoholic drinks and intoxicating drugs
  • Meat of halal animals/birds not slaughtered properly
  • Meat of dead animals
  • Blood
  • Pork and its by-products

Mashbooh Food Items

  • Animal fat or protein (halal animal, halal slaughtered?)
  • Anti-oxidants (animal or plant source?)
  • Dairy Products (enzymes/cheese/whey?)
  • Emulsifiers (animal or plant source?)
  • Enzymes (animal/microbial/plants?)
  • Flavoring agents (non halal ingredients?)
  • L-Cysteine and other amino acids (source?)
  • Gelatin (animals, halal certified?)
  • Glycerin (animals or plant?)
  • Vitamins (carriers?)

As A Halal Consumer, I Should Be Familiar With

Different Types of Ingredients

Simple or Single

Salt Sugar
Flour Water
Honey Vinegar
Ascorbic Acid Aspartame
Benzoate Gelatin
L-Cysteine Onion Powder
Phosphate Propionic Acid

Complex or Compound

Batters Breadings
Colorings Flavorings
Cheese Powder Enriched Flour
Enrichment Mix Seasonings
Shortenings Spices
Vitamin Mix

As A Halal Consumer, I Should Know Hidden Ingredients In Common Foods

Food Ingredient
Liquor Chocolate
Gelatin Ice Cream and Pharmaceuticals
Lard Maple Syrup
Pan Grease/Lard Bread/Baked Goods
Polysorbates Dairy Products
LPork Lipase Cheese
Stearates Chewing Gum

As A Halal Consumer, I Should Be Aware Of Ingredients By Function

Function Ingredient
Antioxidants BHA, BHT, Ascorbic Acid
Acidulates Citric Acid, Carbonic Acid
Colorings Blue, Red, Yellow 5,6 etc.
Emulsifiers Lecithin, Mono Di-Glycerides
Flavorings Flavorings
Flavor Enhancers Artificial/Natural Flavors, Spices
Fortifiers Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Preservatives Thiamine, Vitamin A & D
Stabilizers Benzoic Acid, Propionic Acid
Supplements Alginate, Gelatin, Phosphates
Sweeteners Amino Acids, Minerals, Vitamins

Halal Shopper’s Quick Reference Guide II Common Foods That May Be A Concern

Products Examples of Mashbooh (Doubtful) Ingredients
Bread Lecithin, Mono/Diglycerides
Bagels Cysteine hydrochloride, Enzymes, Folic acid, Niacin
Candy Glycerin, Gelatin, Mono Glycerides, Whey, Natural & Artificial flavors, Stearic acid, Magnesium Stearate
Cereals Artificial/Natural flavors, Vitamin A, B2, C, D
Chips Cheese
Cookies Folic acid, Thiamine
Granola Bars Flavorings
Coffee Creamer Artificial/Natural flavors, Mono/Diglycerides
Cakes Artificial/Natural flavors, Mono/Diglycerides
Donuts/Pastries Mono/Diglycerides, Flavors, Lard
Ice Cream Whey, Artificial flavor, Mono/Diglycerides
Jell-O/Puddings Gelatin, Artificial/Natural flavors
Cheese Enzymes
Shortenings Animal fat, Mono/Diglycerides
Peanut Butter Mono/Diglycerides
Colas Natural flavors
Ketchups Natural flavors
Yogurts Flavors, Gelatin, Whey
Gums Glycerin, Stearic acid
Mouth Wash Alcohol, Flavors, Glycerin
Nutritional Supplements Gelatin, Magnesium Stearate
Soaps Sodium Tallowate, Glycerin
Toothpaste Sodium Lauryl Sulfate