THE ISLAMIC PRINCIPLES PERTAINING TO HALAL AND HARAM
The question of what ought to be halal (lawful) and haram (prohibited) was one of the matters concerning which, prior to the advent of Islam, the peoples of the world had gone very far astray and were utterly confused, permitting many impure and harmful things and prohibiting many things that were good and pure.
They erred grievously, going either far to the right or far to the left. On the extreme right was the ascetic Brahmanism of India and the self-denying monasticism of Christianity. In addition to these two, there were other religions which were based on the principles of the mortification of the flesh, abstention from good food, and avoidance of other enjoyments of life which Allah has provided for human beings. Christian monasticism attained its peak during the Middle Ages when the avoidance of good and pure things among the monks, thousands in number, reached the point at which washing one's feet was considered a sin and entering a bath was something to regret and repent. On the extreme left, the Mazdak philosophy emerged in Persia, advocating absolute freedom and allowing people to take whatever they wanted and do whatever they pleased, even exhorting them to violate what is naturally held inviolable by human beings.
The Arabs of the pre-Islamic era provide a noteworthy example of utter confusion regarding the criteria for making lawful or prohibiting things and actions. They permitted the drinking of alcohol, the taking of usury at exorbitant rates, the torturing and secluding of women, and many similar practices. Those who had diabolical minds made alluring to many of them the killing of their own children, until, suppressing their natural paternal feelings, they obeyed them. As Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala says: Thus have their partners made alluring to many of the idolaters the killing of their children, in order to destroy them and to confuse for them their religion. (6:137)