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According to the Islamic worldview, all food and drinks can be classified under one of the following categories:
‘Halal’ is an Arabic word which means lawful or allowable. Any food or drink which falls under this category is permitted for consumption. Most food and drinks are considered Halal unless they are stated clearly in the Quran (holy book of Islam) and Hadith (prophetic sayings) as forbidden or non-Halal.
‘Non-Halal’, also traditionally known as ‘Haram’, means unlawful or unallowable. As the name implies, any food or drink which is classified as non-Halal is prohibited for consumption. In general, all harmful things are non-Halal. Examples of these include the meat of dead animals and birds, flesh of swine, intoxicating drugs and alcoholic beverages.
Any food or drink which lies within the grey area and does not fall clearly under the Halal or non-Halal category is classified as ‘Syubhah’, alternatively called questionable or dubious.
One example of a Syubhah ingredient is lecithin. Lecithin can be derived from plants or animals. It is considered Halal if the lecithin comes from plants but non-Halal should it come from pigs or animals that are not slaughtered in accordance with the Islamic law.
Until the status becomes clear, Muslims should avoid consuming Syubhah food or drinks. The Prophet (pbuh) has given a guideline concerning Syubhah matters. It is reported by Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Daud, Ibn Majah and Darimi, as follow:
الْحَلاَلُ بَيِّنٌ، وَالْحَرَامُ بَيِّنٌ، وَبَيْنَهُمَا مُشْتَبِهَاتٌ، لاَ يَعْلَمُهَا كَثِيرٌ مِنَ النَّاسِ. فَمَنِ اتَّقَى الشُّبُهَاتِ اسْتَبْرَأَ لِدِينِهِ وَعِرْضِهِ. وَمَنْ وَقَعَ فِي الشُّبُهَاتِ وَقَعَ فِي الْحَرَامِ...
Which means: What is Halal is clear. And what is Haram is also clear. And in between those two is a dubious area in which many people do not know about. So whoever distanced himself from it, he has acquitted himself (from blame). And those who fall into it, he has fallen into a state of Haram.