Wearing slacks and a polo shirt, Mohammad Sheikh carves a maroon chunk of meat from a thick cow leg lying on the table. He is a butcher and owner of Halal Meat, a Stockton market that sells everything from curry-in-a-box to Pakistani movies.
A customer walks in with his young son resting on his shoulders. Speaking in Urdu, he orders six pounds of ground beef from behind a glass counter. Outside, shoppers and neighboring vendors talk about their weekend plans, favorite foods and offer sodas to those who stop to talk.
In the back workroom of the Hammer Lane market, there is a wall covered with about 20 yellow Post-it notes, each scribbled with customers' orders. They note chicken, ground, lamb and pounds. Each one is to be filled in time for the weekend. His customers need meat for weekend barbecues and family get-togethers.
Sheikh offers something his customers can't get many other places. He sells halal food - food, especially meats, that meet Islamic dietary requirements. Like kosher and vegan products, halal is making its way into mainstream culture as some restaurants and the food industry attempt to provide food for Muslims and a new age of healthy eaters.
Halal literally means lawful. It is the food that the Koran commands Muslim followers to eat. Haram, is the opposite, unlawful. Muslims can eat chicken, beef and lamb if it is prepared correctly. Pork is forbidden. Other items, such as Jell-O, are also not allowed because the ingredient gelatin comes from the collagen-bearing tissues of an animal.
Halal is merging with the already popular vegan and kosher foods. In San Francisco, restaurants that cater to Muslims are stepping away from curry and pita bread and offering mainstream foods. Julie's Healthy Cafe in Berkeley serves halal cheeseburgers to swarms of students and young Muslims. In Santa Cruz, Crepes A-Go-Go offers crepes, panini sandwiches, ice cream and coffee that is halal certified.
In Lodi, D'Angelo's Pizza and More, located at 2525 S. Hutchins St., serves sandwiches and pizzas with salami, pepperoni and chicken that is halal. The items that are usually pork, such as sausage, are made with chicken or turkey.
Arron Caliz makes the pizza at D'Angelos. He is not Muslim, he says he is only Mexican. Although Shafqat Khan, the owner, is Muslim and assures his meat is halal, many Lodi Muslims are skeptical.
"A lot of people don't trust me," Caliz said. "If Shafqat's not here, (the Muslims) will not order from me."
Following the rule of eating halal foods is important to Muslims to preserve a purity of their religion and to be healthy. To eat pork or haram meat would mean consuming food that is impure and not blessed by Allah.
For meat or food products to be considered halal, they need to conform to the Islamic dietary law as specified in the Koran. All items must be free from any ingredient that has been extracted from a haram animal. Food must also be processed and manufactured by only using tools that have been cleansed according to Islamic law. No halal product can ever come in contact with a non-halal product.
Beef, lamb, goat and poultry don't have to be organic, but they must be raised as cleanly and humanely as possible. The most important part is the slaughtering.
"The meat should be slaughtered in the name of God," Bhula Yusuf, former imam of the Lodi Mosque said. "We drain the blood and no bacteria remains."
The animal is laid down and its throat is slit with a very sharp knife to make sure the main blood vessels and arteries are cut. While cutting the throat of the animal (without severing it), the name of Allah is pronounced, or a blessing that contains the name of Allah is recited. Animals are never to be shot or clubbed. Slaughtering ensures that there is a complete drainage of blood, thus, they believe, reducing the chance of microbial infection.
When buying meat for the store and restaurant, Sheikh and Shafqat Khan won't buy halal meat from just anyone. Some companies, like Harris Ranch in Fresno County, specialize in halal meat. If it's done locally, the person slaughtering the animal must be trusted.
At Halal Meat, Sheikh's meat lays behind a glass counter. Rows of chicken breasts are large and fresh. The steaks are thick and red. The ground beef looks like non-halal meat, perhaps a little darker.
Halal is an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. The
opposite of halal is haram, which is unlawful or prohibited. Halal
and haram are universal terms that apply to all facets of life, but
especially in relation to food, meat, cosmetic and personal care
All foods are considered halal, except the following:
• swine/pork and its byproducts
• animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering
• animals killed in the name of anyone other than Allah
• alcohol and intoxicants
• carniverous animals, birds of prey and land animals without external ears
• blood and blood byproducts
• foods contaminated with any of the above products
- Source: Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America
Sheikh has more boxes of curry than Safeway has boxes of Rice-A-Roni. They come in flavors like tandoori chicken, brain masala, garbanzo and chicken, liver, barbecue chicken and kabob. For his customers from Pakistan, Fiji, India and other Middle Eastern countries he carries the different types of rice that they prefer. He carries other items that can't be bought in the mainstream grocery store - cooking oils, yogurt, milk and marshmallows that aren't made from animal fat or animal byproducts.
For the young children who are tempted by Big Mac McDonald's outings, Sheikh carries frozen hamburgers, packages of halal bologna and hot dogs. Pre-packaged foods and microwavable dinners are marked with 100 percent halal logos and brands names like Holy Land Bread.
With busy lifestyles, Muslim people are also becoming accustomed to eating processed foods. Instead of giving a recipe for his favorite curry dish, he hands over a box of curry and a bag of pre-cooked onions.
"These days, everything is ready," he smiles. "Everything you need is inside."
Outside of Halal Meat, Aurangzeb Khan talks about how eating halal has been a part of his life since he was a child. He has never tried a McDonald's hamburger or eaten food with any non-halal animal products. He just knows the halal way is the right way and he never wants to change.
"Forget it. I don't want to eat any of that," Aurangzeb Khan said, referring to anything that's not halal.