Istihalah and Its Potential Significance for the Halal Industry

At the Malaysia International Halal Assembly 2018 last year, a fairly interesting point was raised during the Knowing Your Halal Ingredients session on the potential significance of Istihalah within the global halal industry.

To understand Istihala, one must first understand the five principles of halal adulteration in Islam. They include the fact that:

      1. Everything that is created by Allah The Almighty is permissible, except that which has been prohibited in al Quran and al-Sunnah;
      2. The determination of the product’s halal status is based on its raw materials or ingredients;
      3. Any process that has been contaminated with haram materials, the end product is also considered haram;
      4. Doubtful things/elements should be avoided; and
      5. Halal adulteration is permissible only with an intention to make a halal end product.

Among the materials classified as haram include Carrion (al-Maytah), Animal Blood (al-Damm), Pig and any of its derivatives, Intoxicants (Khamr), Impurities and filth (Najs and Khabaits), Human organ (al-Insan) and finally Insects (al-Hasyarat).

To understand Istihalah, one also has to understand what is meant as adulteration. Adulteration refers to the act of making any food or drink less pure, by adding another substance to it and thus, lowering the quality of the food or drink.

Food adulteration can range from the simple act of adding natural compounds to the food, or contamination with harmful substances, which is more serious. Some of the more prevalent issues within adulteration include from pigs and its by-products (e.g. pork, lard and gelatin), enzymes (e.g. rennet), emulsifier (e.g. E471 or mono and diglycerides), alcohol (ethanol) and also biotechnology and GMOs (or genetically modified organisms).

So what is Istihalah? In its literal sense, Istihalah means transformation or conversion. Based on Islamic legal terminology dictionary the Mu’jam Lughah al-Fuqaha’ by Qal’aji, Istihalah means a substance shifting from one form to another without the possibility of returning to its original form.

Wahbah al-Zuhaily meanwhile defined Istihalah as a total conversion of the composition and properties of a filth (najs) material into a pure (al-Tahir) one. This is in agreement with Nazih Hammad, who defined Istihalah as a transformation of a filthy (haram) material into another material; involving, for instance, changes in physical appearance and properties such as name, odour, taste, colour, even nature or state. Aizat and Anuar meanwhile define it as a complete transformation of a product, both physically and chemically.

There are three basic components of Istihalah, including Raw Material state as its first component, Intermediate Process as the second and End Product as its final component.

Through the integration of science and Islamic law, the fiqh (jurisprudence) of Istihalah consists of the mixing process of raw materials; the natural and artificial process of conversion agent, and through a conversion process, a finished product is produced.

There are two main schools of thought with regards to Istihalah, with the Shafii and Hanbali madzhabs recommending a limited application for Istihalah, while the Hanafi and Maliki madzhabs allow for a wide application of the process.

One of the most common Istihalah applications for alcohol is the fermentation process of ethanol to acetic acid or vinegar.

Alcohol, which is obtained from the fermentation process of fruits or grains, with the existence of yeast, sugar or starch, becomes one that is colourless and highly flammable.

Through natural conditions acting as the conversion agent, alcohol’s raw material ethanol undergoes a fermentation process and is converted into vinegar as its final state.

Meanwhile, gelatine is another popular ingredient that has undergone the Istihalah process. It is a protein derived from partially hydrolysed collagen, obtained mainly from skins and bones of vertebrates.

Collagen consists of the tertiary, secondary and primary structures. Partially hydrolysed collagen could also mean the breaking down of tertiary and secondary structures into smaller molecules.

Meanwhile, primary structure of gelatine consists of amino acid, which is the smallest molecule found in gelatine. According to Schrieber & Gareis (2007), the composition of collagen encompasses all 20 amino acids. Glycine, proline and hydroxyproline are the largest numbers of amino acid that exist in gelatine.

Gelatine has high value-added properties in the food industry, making it widely used as a texture stabiliser, foaming agent, emulsifying agent, and thickener. Gelatine can also be found in various food products such as ice cream, yoghurt, jelly, puddings, beverages and meat products.

Despite this however, the wide usage of gelatine in food products has led to a breakdown of confidence in some Muslim consumers, becoming a source of continuous controversy in the ummah due to its questionable sources.

It is true that the Gelatine Manufacturers of Europe had announced in 2011 that the main sources of edible gelatin have been extracted from pigskin (80%), and cattle hide split (15%), with the remaining 5% coming from pig and cattle bones, poultry and fish.

The transformation begins with the raw materials added together with gelatine to form a triple helix. The mixing process, coupled with physical and chemical treatments, results in the total degradation of gelatin as a conversion agent. The ensuing conversion process would later produce the end product, with amino acids remaining intact in the final form.

As a conclusion, it is actually becoming harder and very challenging for Muslims to guarantee and confirm the status of their halal food within modern technological development.

However, properly processed and certified halal food is deemed vital in capturing the lucrative halal food market. Adulteration of non-halal ingredients in halal food, should, therefore, be a major focus for food processing and food production industries.

New analytical methods to detect adulterants are urgently needed for halal food verification and certification.

Istihalah actually addresses three different levels of conversion, which include transformation via physical, chemical, or both chemical and physical.

However, Istihalah can only be accepted if there is a complete change of state (Tammah). An analytical method to prove the Tammah aspect of Istihalah should be verified and authenticated by Halal food authorities worldwide.

** As published in the H MAG 2019, a special edition print in conjunction with the Global Halal Summit (GHaS 2019), Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, April 2019. For further inquiries or insights, kindly get in touch.
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