My letter to the OED suggesting a need to review its definition of the word “halal”

I have published my letter to the OED by way of inviting others to make a similar and hopefully more scholarly contribution that I can provide.

Good Morning All

I am researching the etymology of the English word “holy”. Linguistically its Germanic roots link to the Hebrew “halachah” but that’s not why I write.

I respectfully suggest that the OED reviews its entry for the word “halal”

My research took me to the OED entry “halal”, first in the local library’s 1989 print edition, where it come after “halacha” and its derivates. Odd, I thought, but not necessarily unreasonable for the time. Many people then very likely did not understand Islam well enough to know that “halal” has a seriously wider meaning. It’s more than:

“To kill (an animal) in the manner prescribed by Muslim law”

The 1989 OED entry was probably written much earlier than the publishing date. It may well have reflected the general understanding of what Islam was at the time that it was written. But we are now in 2014 and our awareness should have changed yet the current online entries have barely changed.

“Halal” and “halachah” has the same linguistic origin – appertaining to “the way”, “the way to go” thereby pointing to a “way of life”. Within that concept, the humane slaughter of animals called “dhabiha” or “zhabiha” (different transliterations of one word) and hygienic processing of the meat from the animal is just one element of a whole code of moral and social conduct. The corresponding Jewish/Hebrew code is now commonly referred to as “kosher”.

In Biblical times, a halal, especially dietary, lifestyle would have been important to public health. Bad food  processing, especially of meat, would have been associated with gastro-intestinal diseases such as dysentery. In the Prophet Mohammed’s time in the seventh century CE most people were illiterate and access to written documenation would have been limited. Good practice was taught by “rote”, by word of mouth, and was practised as a form of habit or “ritual”. Much was codified or written down in the Prophet’s time or era – hence the concept of a new religion. Today we mistakenly think of halal codes as having a theological basis. Such is our understanding of our ancient history.

The reality is that many of these good practices were applied by different peoples, communities or sects. These practices existed outside religions as we tend to think of them today.

Referring to linguistic associations, written Hebrew and Arabic use different visual alphabets but it is clear that when spoken there was great similarity between these and similar languages. This evidenced by the shortened Jewish and Muslim greeting transliterated respectively as “shalom” or “salaam”.

The full terms are “shalom aleichem” or “salaamu alaykum”.

I cite these connections because they help demonstrate the true or correct relationship between the Jewish “halachah” and Muslim “halal” that is not reflected in any way shape or form in the OED.

My authority is limited. My researches are not that well advanced and my liguinstic skills are limited but I recommend that the OED apply a scholarly review of the current dictionary entries.


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