In Arabic, halal means literally that which is permitted, authorized, or prescribed, as opposed to haram, which refers to that which is forbidden and not permitted. In contemporary Muslim societies, halal and haram primarily refer to dietary restrictions that Muslims are expected to follow. Muslims are not permitted to eat the meat of an animal that has not been ritually slaughtered according to certain rules and rituals. Halal dietary restrictions are similar to the Jewish practice of observing kosher rules regarding food and have a similar range of strictness regarding its observance. In the pluralistic societies of a globalized world, maintaining halal practices can be arduous, but it also provides a distinct marker between observant and nonob-servant Muslims.
When North African immigrants first began to emigrate to Europe during the 1950s and 1960s, eating halal food was not a major issue. The first generation of Muslim migrants in Europe were poor or working class and were not in a position to insist on proper halal preparation of the meat that they purchased and prepared for consumption. Later generations of Muslims, however, are better educated and paid and have tended to stay in immigrant communities that are able to replicate the customs of their places of origin, and they have been more insistent about keeping halal food practices.
Since the 1990s, there has been an emerging demand for halal-approved food in public restaurants in Europe and America, especially in areas dominated by Muslim immigrant communities. The public debate about halal food in France began in 2002, when a food store in Paris limited its offerings to halal food and stopped carrying alcohol and pork, thereby becoming the first market to shift to le Tout Halal (“the full halal”). Several years later, Quick, a fast-food hamburger chain that competes in France with McDonalds, experimented in 14 of its restaurants by offering its customers the choice of having halal beef in their hamburgers and having the bacon in bacon burgers replaced by smoked turkey. The experiment was an overwhelming success, and the chain quickly expanded these offerings to dozens of other restaurants in its network. The marketing ploy was not without controversy, however; some politicians decried the move as being contrary to French secular values, and a local mayor accused the chain of funding Muslim clerics with the fees that it provided them for certifying that the meat used in their burgers was properly halal.
The social impact of the dietary laws and food customs in the immigrant Muslim communities is their ability to help provide their groups a cultural distinctiveness and shore up the communities' sense of identity. In a postmodern world, the need for expressing a sense of communitarian identity is acute, and for Muslims living in Europe and America, the practice of halal food consumption is one way these cultural and social ties are enhanced.
Diaspora, Halakha and Shari'a, Islam
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