Halal and Haraam
The purpose of this paper is to give detailed definitions of the words ‘al-halal’ and ‘al-haram’ with an attempt to understand the various concepts they hold in the Arab-Muslim culture. The meaning and treatment of these two words is often misrepresented, underrepresented and sometimes imply incorrect in bilingual Arabic-English dictionaries. The paper will further examine how the concept of halal and haram are used in proverbs, common speech, connotations and collocations. The concept of halal and haram find their roots in Arab-Muslim history, culture, tradition as well as religion, having a deep impact on the day to day lives and mindsets of Arabs.
Several linguists such as Lucy and Hoosain have stated that language is an integral part of culture and is reflected in one’s cultural identity. Wierzbicka further states that every culture has certain elementary concepts that form the very basis of understanding any given culture. Hence, it is important to correctly understand the concepts of halal and haram if one is to have a clarity on the Arab-Muslim identity which is often misunderstood by non-Arabs as well as those who do not speak the language.
1 Defining Halal and Haram
In the Arab-Muslim culture, the word Halal is used to describe the permissibility and lawfulness under religion of everything. Derived from the root verb Halla which is ‘to be or become lawful, legal, licit, legitimate, permissible, permitted, allowable, allowed, admissible, un-prohibited, not forbidden’. Halal also means ‘to untie, unfasten, unbind, undo, unravel, loosen, unloose, unfix, unwind, unscrew, untangle, disentangle, disengage, free’. Halla also means ‘to solve’ or ‘resolve’ . Most non-speakers of Abarabic, halal is perceived to refer to a category of food alone, i.e. food that is permitted to be eaten. However, halal refers to a way of life for Arabs and Muslims, referring to all things tangible and intangible that are permitted by Islamic law.
The word Haram holds the exact opposite meaning, describing the forbidden nature and offensiveness by law and religion of everything. It means ‘taboo, inviolable, sacred, holy, ill-gotten, sin, wrongdoing, offence’ . It root word ‘Harrama’ means ‘to forbid, prohibit, interdict, proscribe ban, bar, outlaw, declare unlawful, to taboo, make illegal’. When referring the Holy Kaaba, the most sacred place where Muslims go for pilgrimage, it is called ‘al beyt al haram’, which the holy cities of Meeca and Medina are known as ‘al Haraman’. Hence, haram also means ‘to declare sacred, holy, and inviolable’ as well as a holy place or sanctuary . As with the word halal, haram is also perceived to refer solely to forbidden foods. However, it pertains to anything and everything that is deemed forbidden by the Islamic law.
The Arab-Mulsim world is governed by the laws that make things haram or halal. Whether is it their dressing, behavior, the food they eat or what they say and do, an act that is deemed to halal is rewarded as a good deed and all actions that are haram are considered a punishable sin. Hence, the understand and proper use of these words is crucial to understanding the Arab-Muslim culture itself.
2 Linguistic Collocations
Considering the vast scope of the meaning of the words halal and haram, their expression and collocation are diverse too, revealing their importance in the Arab-Muslim world. A selection of common collocations of these words are:
1) Ibin al halal – literally meaning ‘a legitimate son’, this phrase is generally used to describe a person who is pleasant, polite, upright and does things in a ‘halal’ manner. For example, when someone helps a person, the person would, in English, say ‘Thank you my good man’, an Arab-Muslim would say, ‘Thank you ibin Halal’.
2) Ibin al-Haram – Opposite of ‘ibin al Halal, this phrase literally means ‘illegitimate or bastard son’. It is also used to describe a man who is indecent and generally acts in a ‘haram’ manner.
3) Al Maal Al Haram/ Al Halal – Al Maal means money and when used in turn with the words halal or haram, it refers to legal or black money respectively. How a Muslim makes a living is considered to be vital in deciding his or her fate in the afterlife. A person making a living in an illegal or haram manner, inadvertently, leads an entirely haram life as everything from his shelter, clothes, food and day to day expenses are funded through haram money. The above mentioned collocations are used in several popular Arabic proverbs, once again showing just how integrated these concepts are in an Arab-Muslims day to day life. Some of the most commonly used proverbs are:
A) Illi Ma Biref Abu Ibin Haraam – The proverb can be translated as ‘If you do not know your father, then you are unlawful/illegitimate’ . Respect and care for one’s parents is pivotal for success in the afterlife as per Islamic tenets. This proverb shows that if you are unmindful of your parents, then you are ‘haram’.
B) Ibin al haraam la tzuqo buqa la halu – Translated as ‘Do not push the son of haraam because he will fall by humself’, the proverb tells those who live unlawfully will face downfall eventually.
C) Illi fuloosa haram biraf baba al mahkama – Translated as ‘The one whose money is ill-gotten knows the court so well , meaning anyone who makes a living through illegal means is well aware of the consequences.
D) La bihalil wala biharam – Translated as ‘He does not distinguish between lawful and unlawful’ , referring to someone who is either too confused or too naïve to know the difference between good and evil.
E) Ibin al haram biftahha wa ibin al halaal bugal fiha – Translated as ‘The son of haram digs a hole and the son of halal falls in it’ , meaning those who are innocent and naïve are easily exploited by those who are evil.
F) Mal al halal la bisharrq walla bigreb – Translated as ‘Lawful money does not cause trouble’ , this proverb shows that those who earn money through legal means do not face problems.
G) Hallat al-mara li al-rajul – Translated as ‘the woman became lawful to marry’ , referring to the permission to re-marry granted to a woman 3 months after a divorce or the death of her husband.
H) aHalla min al-yamin – Translated as ‘became free of a commitment to something that he or she swore to do’ , referring to someone being released from an oath and being permitted to act otherwise.
I) Halil – a devirative of halal, the word is used when speaking about one’s spouse
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