Simply put, halal is an Arabic word that means “permissible” or “allowable.” While this writing pertains to food items, the word halal is a term that can refer to anything that a Muslim can do, wear, eat, say, or otherwise occupy their time with. The opposite of halal is “haram,” which means “disallowed” or “impermissible.”
The rulings for what is permissible is from the scholarly understanding of the Quran and Sunnah. Fornication is haram, marriage is halal; interest is haram, business is halal; pork is haram, most other food is halal; and so on. If someone is earning money through means not allowed in Islam, they are said to be earning a haram living, the opposite of having halal earnings through a permissible job, which can actually be considered worship if one is working for the right reasons (but that goes beyond the scope of this post).
Regarding food, while the Islamic position is actually quite easy, allowing most foods in some capacity, Muslims in the West should be careful that they are not consuming food products that contain haram ingredients. This means more than avoiding pork and alcohol. Certain types of enzymes and gelatin used for the production and/or preservation of many common items fall under the scope of impermissible food items. This is because they are from impermissible animal sources, such as slaughtering animals contrary to Islamic rulings.
Zabiha refers only to meat products. The term signifies the meat is from animals who were the slaughter is in a permissible way. Again, the rulings regarding the killing of animals are actually quite simple. Beyond invoking the name of God at the beginning of the slaughter, careful attention must be paid to ensure that the animal feels as little pain as possible.
In order for meat to be considered zabiha, the animal must be slaughtered by an adult Muslim. The Muslim should be of a sane mind. As mentioned, they must invoke the name of God before they kill the animal. They then slit the throat in one swift motion, severing the jugular veins, esophagus, and windpipe. The animal must then be allowed to bleed out successfully before the meat is further processed for consumption or distribution.
To highlight the humanity of the zabiha slaughter, it is important to note that the killing of the animal must not be in the presence of the other animal being killed. In addition, the sharpening of the knife cannot be done in the animal’s presence. Allowing the animal to live a happy life before the killing is imperative. It must also be in a comfortable position while its throat is being slit. Also, one must carefully check the knife for any damages that may impact the slaughter, or lead the animal to feel any pain.
For the purpose of meat, the terms halal and zabiha are often interchangeable. Therefore here they do in fact mean the same thing. The clear distinction, however, is that zabiha is for meat derived from an animal that was slaughtered by a sane Muslim adult across the throat without feeling any pain, while halal is used for anything allowed under Islamic law.