Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Halal Food Fest 2013: A Review




Despite living in Toronto for almost all their married life, my parents were always strict about eating halal. Therefore, even as a child, the juicy Big Macs, scrumptious KFC chicken, and oowey goowey good pepperoni pizza that I saw on billboards, television, and school, were forbidden for me. During lunchtime in school, while I saw classmates and friends eating, well, yummy food, I had to settle for jam and butter sandwiches (the odd time I also received qeema sandwiches!). At home, we ate the typical Pakistan dishes… everyday.


Those times are a relic of the past. Today, the Greater Toronto Area boasts an incredible number and diversity of halal restaurants, not only including the typical shawarma, biryani, and pizza joints, but also foods such as gourmet burgers, poutine, ribs, steaks, sushi, Thai pad, Peri-peri chicken, and more. And since Toronto is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, one can find halal foods from almost any culture, including Italian, Thai, Chinese, Caribbean, Greek, Malaysian, Mediterranean, Japanese, Afghani, Persian, Somalian, North American, etc.

Websites such as zabihah.com, halalfoodie.ca, and dine-halal.com have been instrumental identifying, promoting and rating different halal restaurants in Toronto.

The growth of halal food establishments in Toronto recently culminated in the 2013 Halal Food Fest. The Halal Food Fest was a 2-day exhibition that showcased different halal food providers, allowing visitors to sample the different foods the exhibitors were offering. The exhibitors weren't just halal restaurants, meat distributors, and caterers - they also included establishments of supplements, honey products, organic cereals, Canadian cheese, cakes, and more. To top off the event, there were seminars on eating halal, cake decorating competitions, healthy eating demonstrations, grilling contests, and much more! 

The Halal Food Fest also had an outdoor an indoor food court with stalls by mostly newer establishments (in fact, most of the establishments in the exhibition area were new, which made sense since the exhibition offered new establishments the opportunity to publicize and market themselves). I tried ribs, a chicken burger with teriyaki, poutine, ice cream, freshly squeezed orange juice, and more - but my favourite was Karachi Kitchen's Philly steak sandwich. Yum.

All in all, the Halal Food Fest was a success - in fact it was more successful than perhaps the organizers thought it would be - they were expecting 8000 people to show up, but there were over 17,000 people there!

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Twenty to thirty years ago, a Halal Food Fest in Toronto would have been unimaginable. I certainly didn't fathom it as I ate my jam and butter sandwiches. But like our family, there were several others in Toronto that held firm to eating halal. And that commitment to eating halal eventually led to halal options in grocery stores, then halal restaurants, caterers, and banquet facilities, and now the Halal Food Fest. Toronto could have done what some other communities in the west opted to do - that is, to take fatwas that permit meat of animals not slaughtered according to the Islamic rites of slaughter. Unfortunately, by falling back on such fatwas, those communities have made no effort to establish safer halal alternatives, and simply continue to consume meat that many would consider impermissible.

The halal food scene in Toronto illustrates a general principle: for people who hold firm to established, safe positions concerning the shari'ah, who are afraid to fall into sin, Allah opens doors for them in unimaginable ways. "And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And if any one puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is (Allah) for him. For Allah will surely accomplish his purpose: verily, for all things has Allah appointed a due proportion." [65:3]  

Dispensations obviously have a place when the need arises, but they are meant to be temporary by definition, not to become the standard. But when people needlessly take dispensations (especially) for personal benefit, they lead themselves down a slippery slope. Moreover, people who take dispensations rob themselves of the benefit associated with following the shari'ah. For example, eating halal is not just a matter of religious obligation, it also has implications on one's internal state (haal) - it will inevitably affect the quality of one's worship, the condition of one's heart, and the acceptance of one's supplications. The Prophet  said, "There was a dusty, dishevelled man lengthening his journey and stretching out his hands in the sky (saying), "O Lord! O Lord!" While his food is Haram, his drink is Haram, his clothing is Haram, and his nourishment is Haram, so how can his dua be answered!" (Muslim)

Moving forward, we also need to consider eating not just 'halal' food, but also 'tayyab' food, i.e., pure, wholesome, nutritious food. Allah says, "Eat of the things which Allah hath provided for you, lawful (halal) and good (tayyab); but fear Allah, in Whom ye believe."[5:88] Even the Messengers were required to eat tayyab: "O Messengers! eat (all) things good (tayyab), and work righteousness: for I am well-acquainted with (all) that ye do." [23:51] As someone who grew up watching others eat fast food while I ate jam and butter sandwiches, it has been gratifying to be able to eat the halal versions of those same fast foods today. But the reality is, burgers, poutine, fried chicken, etc., mostly isn't tayyab - it's not good for anyone's body to consume such foods on a regular basis. Eating the right kinds and quantities of food - food that will make us healthier and give us vitality is critical to one's personal development. Therefore, now that Toronto's taken care of the halal, it's time to get on with the tayyab, inshaAllah. Tayyab Food Fest anyone?







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