It’s always great to hear from our international listeners, and we have a follow up to the recent Burger King episode, and it comes from Grant who lives and ministers in North Africa. He asks, “Pastor John, I’m a Christian worker in a Muslim country. A few nights ago, I was catching up on APJ episodes while cooking my dinner. I found myself affirming everything that you said in that episode, until I looked into my frying pan with horror. All meat here is halal (prepared according to Muslim law). Whether purchased at a grocery store, from a butcher, or eaten in a local home, all available meat is slaughtered by praying Allah’s name while the animal is faced toward Mecca. Often, there is even a stamp on food verifying it as halal. I have pondered over this, and I am baffled, knowing both that the Muslim ‘Allah’ is misconception of God and that sharing meals with locals is a key part of missionary work. What might be a wise course of action both here in a Muslim context and in the homes of Muslim friends stateside?”
Well I had to do a little poking around when the word halal was used, because I have seen it in the stores, and I haven’t been sure what this was. To my knowledge, the halal preparation of meat by Muslims only makes it permissible to eat. That is what the word means — permissible or allowed. It doesn’t make the eating of it when it gets to your table an act of worship. Haram means that a meat is forbidden — pork is always forbidden — but halal simply means, “Okay, now this has been duly and properly slaughtered, and the blood has been handled correctly, and it is permissible to eat.”
Freedom to Eat?
When we apply the Bible’s teaching about meat offered to idols, it seems to me there are two ways that the Christian is free to eat halal meat. I had better defer to others who know the situation better than I do but let me give my sense of how this is permitted.
First Corinthians 10:18–28 is the key passage for this discussion. Let me just read through it and make some comments as we go: “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” So here is a real sacrifice and a real sacrificial ceremony, including priests and offerers who bring the sacrifice — they eat together. This is real worship being described here.
Participating with Demons?
Verse 19 continues,
What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You can not partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
So up till now, it seems to me he is saying, There is a situation when eating what pagans sacrifice would be participating with demons — sharing the table of demons, sharing the drink of demons. And now the question is, What situation is that? And how can we avoid it?
Heart to Affirm an Idol
Keep reading in verse 23:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor — there is the principle, now here is the specific case — Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
So this is my comment now. Our default position is that all things are lawful for us to eat, and even if they were offered in sacrifice to demons, we may eat. Since neither they — our hosts — nor we are turning this supper into a participation in worship. It is not the meat that defiles. It is the heart intention to affirm an idol (see Matthew 15:11).
Then Paul says in verse 28, “But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience.” In other words, if your guest turns the supper that you are now going to share with him into a worship service, expecting you to participate in the meaning that he is now attaching to the meat that was offered, then you politely decline.
Two Reasons for Freedom
So it seems to me that there are two reasons that halal preparation does not rule out halal meat for Christians to eat. Number one, the slaughter does not seem to be a formal worship event that turns the eating of the meat into a participation in worship. Now if I am wrong about that, then those who know better would apply the principle appropriately. But that is what it seems to me. It is more of a ritual obedience to the letter of the law that makes the meats permissible because they are slaughtered in a certain way. So the slaughter is not making the eating of the meat into an act of worship. It keeps it from being a sin as far as the Muslim is concerned. And so, joining with a Muslim in eating halal foods is not joining in an act of worship to Allah.
Here is the second reason for being free to eat halal foods: even if they were offered in an act of worship to Allah, this would only be a hindrance to Christians eating it if the Muslim hosts at the supper made it clear that the sharing in this food is a sharing in the worship of Allah. And I think that is wrong — joining a Muslim in worshiping Allah — because what a Muslim means by Allah, and what a Muslim does in worship, is radically different from what a Christian does in approaching God through Jesus Christ.
So my counsel to Grant is, You are free. You are free to eat halal foods at home, and you are free to have Muslims over and serve it, and you are free to go to their house and eat it, because, I think, Paul has addressed the situation incredibly similar to yours and solved it that way.