By Malik Ibrahim
Christmas was fast approaching, and my wife and I had decided to invite some Muslim friends over for dinner. One of the couples we invited asked if the meat we were serving was halal, or permissible for Muslims to eat. This was a very important question for them because in Islam all meat must be halal. If I had answered no to this question, then this couple may have politely refused our invitation.
Meat is considered halal when it is slaughtered in a ritualistic manner. The butcher pronounces over the animal the Arabic statement, “Bismillah. Allahu Akbar” (“In the name of God. God is the greatest”). Then the animal’s throat is slit, and all of its blood is drained out. This ritual is performed so that God will be acknowledged as the source of this food.
Since this is how halal meat is produced, the question may arise in a Christian’s mind, “Does eating this meat or serving it to Muslim guests violate Paul’s prohibition in 1 Corinthians 8–10 regarding food offered to idols”?
1 Corinthians 8–10: The question of food sacrificed to idols
In the context of these two chapters, Paul is responding to a letter from the church in Corinth concerning questions about meat sacrificed to idols. Idol worship was rampant in Corinth. Some of the “strong” believers thought that partaking in idol feasts was no problem since the idols were not true deities (8:4-6). Paul objected on two grounds. First, they should not violate the conscience of “weaker” believers. Second, they must avoid fellowship with demons, which the idol feasts represented.
Paul writes in 8:7-13 that going to an idol’s temple is not acting in love since it may cause a “weaker” believer to stumble. These “weaker” believers were converts from idol worship. Witnessing one of their “stronger” brethren partaking in the idol feasts would arouse the old allegiances of the weaker brothers. Thus, these believers may conclude that the food they were eating was offered to a god. This would destroy their commitment to Christ. Thus, Paul’s solution was for the strong to show love to the weak by avoiding these idol feasts (vv.9-13).
He addresses three different settings for idol food in chapter 10: eating food sacrificed at an idol feast (vv. 1-22), eating food at home purchased in the marketplace (vv. 23-26), and eating food in the home of an unbeliever (10:27–11:1).
Using examples from Israel’s history with idolatry, Paul draws a parallel to what is happening in Corinth (vv. 1-13; cf. Ex. 32). The real danger in participating in idol feasts was having fellowship with a demon (vv. 20-22). Just as when believers partake in the Lord’s Supper they are having fellowship with Christ (vv. 16-17), so one has fellowship with a demon when partaking in an idol feast. Paul concludes that this kind of idol worship will incur God’s wrath and judgment just as it did for Israel (v. 22).
In the final section of chapter 10 (vv. 23-33), Paul discusses the questions of food purchased in the marketplace and eating idol food in the home of an unbeliever. In verse 24 Paul brings back into view that the goal of the Christian is to seek the good of others. This rule not only governs interactions with believers, but with non-believers as well.
Regarding food sold in the marketplace Paul appeals to Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (v. 25). Thus, while the food might at one time have been offered to an idol, its ultimate source is God. He concludes that the Christian is free to purchase any food in the marketplace for eating at home.
Beginning in verse 27, Paul discusses what a believer should do if invited to the home of an idol worshiper. In this matter, the believer is free to go and eat whatever is set before him (v. 27). However, if someone points out that the food has been offered in sacrifice, then the believer cannot partake (v. 28). The text clearly identifies that this is for the sake of another’s conscience, not the believer’s (v. 29).
Some have assumed that the person’s conscience in view is that of a “weaker” believer who is at the meal. However, both Gordon Fee and Chuck Lowe agree that the person’s conscience here is not that of a “weaker” believer, but that of an unbeliever. This makes the most sense within the context since the dinner takes place at the home of an unbeliever. The reason that a believer should abstain is that this unbeliever “has pointed out the sacrificial origins of this meat” and “has done so out of a sense of moral obligation to the Christian, believing that Christians … would not eat such food. So as not to offend that person, … one should forbear under these circumstances.” In this way the believer seeks the good of the unbeliever (v. 24) by not placing a stumbling block in his way. By seeking the good of the unbeliever, the believer shows that he is concerned ultimately with the salvation of his friend (vv. 32-33).
Serving halal meat and the prohibitions of 1 Corinthians 8–10
Now let’s look at how these passages apply to Christians serving halal meat to Muslim guests. The focus of 1 Corinthians 8 is on violating the conscience of a brother who was once an idol worshiper. Most Christians who are serving halal meat to Muslim guests have not come from an Islamic background. Therefore, it seems that there would be no danger in violating the conscience of a Christian by leading them back into Islam.
Also, halal meat is not slaughtered in the mosque worship time, or in the presence of an idol, nor is the partaking of it seen as having fellowship with Allah. Thus, it is difficult to draw a prohibition for the serving of halal meat from 10:1-22.
According to 10:25-26, it seems that there is no reason as to why Christians could not purchase halal meat and eat it in their own homes.
The real question arises from 10:27-30. As stated above, the issue here is one of going to the home of an idol worshiper. This is different than inviting a Muslim into your home. However, there is the issue of declaring the meat as being sacrificed to another deity, which is how Muslims view Allah. In the case of hosting Muslims, it may be necessary for Christians to tell their Muslim guests that any meat served will be halal. Otherwise, the Muslim guests may refuse the invitation. On the other hand, would it violate the conscience of the Muslim guest if Christians eat the halal meat?
Again, it is important to keep in mind the conscience of the person being discussed in 10:28-29. The reason this non-believer points out that the meat has been sacrificed to idols is that he believes it is unlawful for a Christian to eat.
Here is where the mindset of this idol worshiper differs from that of a Muslim. Whereas the idol worshiper thinks he is keeping the Christian from eating something that is unlawful, the Muslim will not think in these terms. Surah 5:5 of the Qur’an says, “The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them.” Thus, it is difficult to see why the conscience of a Muslim would be offended if a Christian ate or served halal meat. It is more likely that Muslims would be pleased with Christians who went out of their way to provide it showing honor for God and their guests.
Seeing that there are significant differences between serving halal meat and partaking in food offered to idols, perhaps the issue is more closely related to 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, where Paul discusses that he had “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (v. 22). By serving halal meat to Muslim guests we place ourselves under their dietary restrictions in order to share the gospel with them. We please them in this way, so that they can see the gospel displayed through our hospitality and that ultimately “they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:33).
 P.W. Comfort, “Idolatry,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 426.
 Gordon Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 485.
 Chuck Lowe, Honoring God and Family: A Christian Response to Idol Food in Chinese Popular Religion (Bangalore: Theological Book Trust, 2001), 206.
 Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 485.
 This may raise the question of whether or not halal meat could be served if a believer who has come out of Islam is present at the meal. In private correspondence with Muslim Background Believers (MBB -Christians who have come out of Islam), none of them found a problem with eating or serving halal meat, nor did it tempt them to turn back to Islam. If you are hosting an MBB along with Muslims, the best thing to do is ask your MBB friend if they have problems with eating or serving halal meat.
 The term “The People of the Book” refers to Jews and Christians, who were considered to possess previously revealed Scripture.
 Abdullah Yusuf Ali in his translation of the Qur’an comments on Surah 5:5, “The question is for food generally, such as is ordinarily ‘good and pure’: in the matter of meat it should be killed with some sort of solemnity analogous to that of the Takbir (Muslim blessing, italics mine). The rules of Islam in this respect being analogous to those of the People of the Book…. In this respect the Christian rule is the same: ‘That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.’ (Acts, xv. 29). Notice the bracketing of fornication with things unlawful to eat.” Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary (Elmhurst, NY: Tahirke Tarsile Qur’an, Inc., 4th Ed. 2002), 241 n 699.