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Your Guide to Choosing Halal Medicine – Guest Post

Every Muslim understands that there are certain substances that are allowed by Allah (swt) to consume, and there are those that are forbidden. This also applies to substances consumed as medicine. There are a variety of ingredients in medicines, or medicines themselves, that may be considered unlawful in normal circumstances such as gelatine, alcoholic preserves, and those that are porcine-derived. The matter is clearly one that can be quite controversial.


More recently, the Halal quality of medicines have been quite popular topics of discussion. This follows the development of the concept of “Halal certification” in some parts of the world such as Sydney, where medicine ingredients have been analysed by a certifying board and deemed appropriate for consumption. This differs from the process of Halal food certification, as the manufacturing processes are not taken into account. For more on this, go to http://www.halalmedicines.com.au/index.html
Owing to the nature of my profession in the medicines/pharmacy field at the moment, I have been invited by the dear author of this blog to say a few words regarding Halal medicines. It is important for every patient to be actively involved in all aspects of their healthcare including the foods they eat And the medications they take. This will allow for a better understanding of options out there and empowerment in looking after yourself.
I will endeavour not to get too stuck into the religious controversy of the matter, as I understand that each school of thought has their own justification for their stance and I respect their knowledge and decisions. Allah (swt) knows best.

MAIN SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT

Many scholars have taken Quranic verses and incidences of Sunnah into account to make their conclusions. To summarise:
• The medicine must be essential to the life of the Muslim
• No other permissible substitutes are at all available
• The medicine is known to be effective
• Some say the treatment must be guided by an expert Muslim doctor
(This list is not intended to cover the full extent of the issue, and the reader is advised to look into this further).

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR YOUR MEDICINES

Gelatine

In the efforts to avoid (un-halal) gelatine, it is useful to know that many medicines come in a variety of forms, including tablets, powders and liquids. Often gelatine capsules are not the only option so it is encouraged to enquire about this.
Also, certain brands do endeavour to use non-animal sources of gelatine in order to make their products suitable to vegetarians (often called vege-caps).
One other way to avoid consuming gelatine capsules is to ask your doctor or pharmacist whether you can open the capsule. Often the capsule is just a unit for the medicine to be stored in, and has no value in therapy. Some capsules can be opened to reveal granules inside that contain the active components of your medicine, which can sometimes be sprinkled onto food or mixed in small amounts of liquid to consume. However, I do stress that not all capsules are suitable for opening and it is essential to check with you healthcare professional before you tamper with the way the medicine is taken.

Animal-derived medicines
There are a number of medicines or ingredients that are porcine-derived or pig based, or derived from other animals. Over recent years, the majority of these have been replaced by synthetic agents using more advanced development methods. Today, the main categories of medicines may that contain these are some insulins, pancreatic enzymes, and blood thinners. How would you know if your medicine contains animal-derived ingredients?
• Contact the manufacturer’s medicines information department
• The words ‘porcine’ (pig) or ‘bovine’ (cattle) in the name or ingredients
• Patient information leaflet
• Seeking the advice from your healthcare provider

Alcoholic ingredients
Alcohol is commonly used as a sterile vehicle in which medicines can be kept in liquid form. It has been used for centuries in medications as it is inexpensive and easy to access. However, in more recent times, many medicine brands are recognising the market that prefers alcohol-free products. This is why many products now come in an alcohol- or ethanol- free version, and it is a good idea to look into this when purchasing liquid medicines, most commonly used in children or as cough syrups.
Another option is to enquire as to whether your liquid medicine comes in a tablet or capsule form, that you may be able to dissolve or disperse in water or juice (if appropriate) if you require a liquid product to take.

References:
http://www.shariahprogram.ca/eat-halal-foods/using-unlawful-medication.shtml
Mynors G et. al (2004) Informed choice in medicine taking: Drugs of Porcine Origin and their Clinical Alternatives: An Introductory Guide. Accessed July 2012 at: http://www.keele.ac.uk

By Azmena Hussain, Graduate Pharmacist