Essentially all types of seafood are Halal suitable, based on verse 5:96 of the Qur’an, which states, “Lawful to you is what you catch from the sea and use for food as provision for yourself and for the travelers...” Because this states broadly that what is caught from the sea is acceptable, it includes plants like seaweed too! Of course, it excludes anything harmful, such as poisonous fish and plants of those that cause an allergic reaction – avoiding harm always trumps food permissibility.
Because they are acceptable, fish and shellfish are popular parts of dishes in many Muslim-majority countries. Seafood is also a popular option for Muslims around the world since it is a tasty protein option that avoids non-Halal meat. Since the permissibility of seafood is dealt with differently in the scripture than land animals, it does not require the same kind of religious ritual slaughter that is prescribed for other Halal animals such as cows, goats, and chickens.
This makes the determination of Halal suitability somewhat more straightforward, especially for whole fresh seafood products sold by trusted vendors.
However, like any processed food in the age of global supply chain, each unknown step introduces a layer of doubt. Much seafood is sold far from its point of origin, partially processed, and frozen. That makes it more difficult to determine what a product actually contains and to make any assumptions about the process. Were there unacceptable additives used to flavor or preserve the fish? If part of a prepared product, were they prepared on production lines that also process pork or other non Halal products? Might they even contain pork, wine, or other prohibited ingredients? For example, bacon is a common ingredient in many clam chowder recipes, and white wine is often used in cooking mussels and other fish.
Other processed seafood products like fish sticks or crab cakes might contain less obvious haram ingredients in the form of unacceptable flavorings or additives. And, while unlikely in many regions of the world, Halal certification also provides the assurance that the fish or shellfish being sold is completely safe to eat, and is not a species that could harm the consumer.
Aquaculture, or farmed seafood, also raises issues. Whereas wild-caught species are typically Halal suitable, farmed species could have potentially been fed pork or other impure animal byproducts, which would render them unacceptable by Halal standards. For example, European Union regulations allow fish to be fed with processed animal protein derived mainly from pigs and poultry, and these kinds of alternative protein sources are becoming more common due to the increase in wild-caught fishmeal prices.
Since over 50% of the global fish supply comes from fish farms, this is a bigger issue for Halal and other health conscious consumers than most people realize. Seafood is usually labeled as farm-raised or wild, which would help clarify this particular issue, but since it is a commonly adulterated food, Muslim consumers would be right to be wary of any uncertified products.
Major seafood brands have already realized that consumers are looking for the assurance of quality and purity that comes with Halal certification and adding it to their products. Peter Pan Seafood, for example, offers a wide variety of Halal-certified salmon products, and Chile, with its thousands of miles of coastline, is home to many Halal-certified salmon farms supplying a strong export market.
There is another element of seafood’s treatment in Islam that makes Halal certification important. Interestingly, while all four major schools of Islamic thought consider fish Halal, one school, the Hanafi school of thought, considers non-fish creatures to be impermissible. This would include squid, octopus, mussels, and other similar sea creatures. However, many Hanafi scholars considered prawns and shrimp to be permissible because they have a vertebra and are considered “fish”, though they and other creatures such as crabs and lobsters are debatable within their school of thought. This view is considered a minority view within Islamic jurisprudence, and many Muslim cultures enthusiastically include shrimp, crab, lobster and more in traditional dishes. Yet, it can lead to confusion in some cases for consumers who have heard conflicting opinions.
Since trusted Halal certifiers such as Islamic Services of America work closely with Islamic scholars, they are trusted by Muslim consumers to provide theologically accurate judgments on the acceptability of different products. This saves consumers the time and energy needed to evaluate each product individually. Halal certification helps clarify any uncertainty about whether or not your seafood-based products are acceptable.
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