Lawful & Unlawful Food

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In recent times, with the rapid means of communication, the Muslims are increasingly coming into the contact with the western countries more than ever before. Owing to their special dietary laws, the Muslims are confronted with the question of the consumption of the meat of animals slaughtered by the Christians and Jews.

During the advent of Islam, the Meccan society in general and the poor people in particular were running into tremendous economic problems in their daily life. The poor people were obliged to borrow money from the Meccan bankers at heavy interest. In addition, the religious taboos in Meccan society, concerning the consumption of the flesh of several kinds of animals, made life almost intolerable. It is against this grim background that the greatness and freshness of the divine message can fully realized. They had seen a long list of prohibited foods and the exploitation of the bankers. Under these conditions, the Prophet was asked as to what foods were prohibited. He replied in the words of the Koran: �Say: In all that has been revealed to me, I do not find any thing forbidden to eat, if one wants to eat, thereof, unless it be carrion, or blood poured forth, or the flesh of swine-for that, behold, is loathsome-or a sinful offering over which any name other than God has been invoked. But if one is driven by necessity-neither coveting it nor exceeding his immediate need-then (know that), behold, the Sustainer is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace� (6:145).

It infers from the above verse that everything in principle is lawful to be consumed by a Muslim, and God alone has the right to forbid some harmful things to be consumed as foods, for He being the Creator alone knows what is good or bad for His creatures. Besides, prohibition of a particular food can be made only through a clear injunction. Another extraneous source of prohibition would be against the spirit of the teaching of Islam.

While the people were brought up in an environment deeply influenced by centuries� old custom, religious superstitions and prejudices, it was not easy to break down the barriers, because their minds agitated by doubts, which could be, as they wanted, removed by further instructions. That is the reason that the Koran repeatedly made statement dealing with the various kinds of foods lawful or unlawful to Muslims. Thus, the second time a statement akin to the first one (6:145) was revealed: �So eat of what God has provided you, lawful and good; and be you thankful for the blessing of God, if it be Him that you serve. These things only He has forbidden you carrion, blood, and the flesh of swine, what has been hallowed to other than God. Yet whoso is constrained, not desiring nor transgressing, the God is Forgiving, Merciful. And do not say, as to what your tongue falsely describe, �this is lawful and this is forbidden,� so that you may forge against God falsehood, surely those who forge against God falsehood shall not prosper� (16:114-118).

In order to emphasized once again, the Koran repeated the same injunction: �O you who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you, and give thanks to God, if it be Him that you serve. These things only has He forbidden you: carrion, blood, and the flesh of swine, what has been hallowed to other than God. Yet whoso is constrained, not desiring, nor transgressing, no sin shall be on him, surely God is Forgiving, Merciful� (2:172-3).

And for the fourth times, the Koran says, �Forbidden to you are carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, what has been hallowed to other than God, the beast strangled (munkhaniqa), the beast beaten to death (mawqudha), the beast fallen to death (mutaraddiya), the beast gored (natiha), and that devoured by beast of prey (ma akala l�sabu�u) excepting that you have sacrificed duly as also thigs sacrificed to idols, and that you divide by the arrows, that is transgression. This day, the unbelievers have despaired of your religion, therefore fear them not, but fear you Me. (5:3).

It clearly means that the following four things are expressly prohibited in the Koran:

Firstly, the animal dies itself. The word mayta means corpse. If an animal had died by accident and had not been slaughtered before death, it would be considered as a dead animal or carrion. Secondly, the blood (damm), which is poured forth. This was also forbidden by the law of Moses (Lev. 7:26). Thirdly, the flesh of swine (lahm khinzir). This was also forbidden by the law of Moses (Lev. 11:7). Jesus Christ, like a true Jew seems to have held the swine in abhorrence: �Neither cast ye your pearls before swine� (Mt. 7:6). He is also reported to have cast out a number of unclean spirits, which he then allowed to go into a herb of swine, causing it to perish thereby (Mt. 8:30-32; Mk. 5:11, 12). This shows that he looked upon the animal as unclean. Fourthly, the food over which any other name than that of God has been invoked at the time of slaughtering it, or the meat consecrated to anything other than God. The custom of reciting name of a deity was the practice of the pagan Meccans, but the Koran opposed it in very strong terms. It is related that some Jews asked the Prophet, �We eat flesh of an animal cut by ourselves and not cut by God�. By �not by God� the Jews meant corpses of dead animals. It was at this time the Koranic verse revealed: �Do not eat on which the name of God has not been mentioned, for it is a sin� (6:121).

According to the law of Islam, all animals that are allowed as food must be slaughtered in such a manner that blood flows out. The Arabic word for slaughter is dhabaha, means he cut or divided lengthwise; in a general sense, he killed or slaughtered, and technically he slaughtered an animal in the manner prescribed by law, i.e. by cutting the two external jugular veins, or by butting the throat, from beneath, at the part next to the head. According to the law, four veins are cut off in slaughtering an animal, hulqum or the windpipe, mari� or the aesophagus and the wadajan or two external jugular veins. In the Koran, however, this word is used in a general sense, while the technical word for slaughtering an animal for food in a particular manner is tadhkiya, which occurs in 5:3. The idea underlying this particular manner of slaughter is causing the blood to flow so that the poisons or virus contained in it should not form part of food.

The food of the followers of the Ahl al-Kitab is expressly allowed in the Koran: �And the food of those who have been given the Book is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them� (5:5). Thus, the meat purveyed by Christians and Jews is allowed for food unreservedly, irrespective of their religious convictions and their method of slaughtering the animals, and a Muslim may therefore invite the followers of Ahl al-Kitab to his own table and he may eat at their table.

The Dhabihat al-Arab (Animals slaughtered by desert Arab) is the heading of one of the chapters of Bukhari, and under this is mentioned a tradition that a certain people came to the Prophet and enquired of him about meat, which was brought to them by other people, and they did not know whether the name of God had been invoked over it or not. The Prophet said, �You mention the name of God over it and eat it� (Bukhari, 72:30). This gives a wide latitude in doubtful and difficult cases where a Muslim must depend on food provided or prepared by the non-Muslims.

Shaikh Abu Bakr Mahmud Ghammoo, the Chief Justice of Northern Nigeria, maintains that the verses permitting Muslims to eat the meat killed by the Jews and Christians are combined by a conjunctive particle of waw, and this gives the impression of permission. This is supported by the action of the Companions of the Prophet when they went to Syria. They ate the meat supplied by the Christians without enquiring as to how their animal was killed. (cf. al-Muslimun, Geneva, 1964, p. 53). As for the question about the use of the modern method of slaughtering in the western countries, it can be safely maintained that the humane method of killing is not only permitted but also near the spirit of the tradition of the Prophet, who once said, �God has prescribed kindness to everything. If you kill, then kill in the best way, and if you slaughter, then slaughter in the best manner� (al-Muslim, 6:72).

To save the animals from unnecessary pain, the Prophet recommended the use of a sharp knife for cutting the jugular vein, which was the finest and the least pain-giving method. The modern method of slaughtering animals consists of stunning the animal before cutting the throat with a captive bolt pistol or by electricity, or with a mixture of carbon dioxide gas with air. The captive bolt pistol destroys that part of the brain, which controls the action of the heart; electrical stunning and carbon dioxide anesthesia do not destroy any part of the brain, but prevent the brain from receiving sensations of pain. After stunning by any method the main blood vessels of the neck are severed and the animal bleeds to death. There is little possibility of an animal recovering from the brain damage inflicted by the captive bolt pistol, but animals will recover from the effects of electrical stunning and carbon dioxide anesthesia, if they are not slaughter immediately. �If new means of slaughtering are more quick and sharp, their employment is a more desirable thing. It comes under the saying of the Prophet, �God has ordered us to be kind to everything� (Inna Allah katabal ihsan ala kulli shay�in) cf. al-Muslimun, Geneva, 1964, p. 108.

Abdul Wahhab Khallaf, the Egyptian theologian writes in Liwa al-Islam (Cairo, 1949, p.131) that, �The cattle and all other animals which the Christians and Jews slaughter in a manner which makes it lawful for them to eat according to their religions, are lawful for Muslims to eat.� In his al-Bahrul Muhit (3:431), Abu Hayyan Gharnatiy writes, �The first and prime view is that their (the Christians and Jews) foods are lawful for the Muslims whether they have mentioned the name of God over it or any other name.�

The Mufti of Jordan said, �The jurists have agreed that a Muslim is allowed to eat meat offered by a man of Ahl al-Kitab. It is not right for him to suspect the method of their slaughtering, whether or not the name of God has been invoked at the time of slaughtering. It is not even good to make an enquiry on that matter, because the verses in the Koran are absolute without any restriction (mutlaq). A considerable number of religious doctors have said that animals cut by a man of Ahl al-Kitab are permitted for Muslims to eat, whatever may be the method of slaughtering. The Prophet was offered some roast lamb by some Jews, and he ate without querying its method of slaughter. His Companions also observed his custom by eating meat offered by Christian when they were in Syria. Those who do not eat their meat in Europe and the U.S.A. according to opinions held by some who are against the above mentioned views, have no reason for doing so, save illusion (wahm).� cf. al-Muslimun, Geneva, 1964, p. 111.

The qadi of Medina, Ata (d. 721 A.D.) and Rabee�ah and al-Laythi (d. 791 A.D.), the Mufti of Egypt made similar statements in this context. In his Mabsoot, Sarakhsiy (d. 899 A.D.) writes, �The flesh of animal slaughtered by a Christian is always lawful for the Muslim to eat, whether or not the Christian has invoked the Trinity when slaughtering the animal.�

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Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali is an popular Ismaili Scholar, He has written many books on Religious Practices, Tradition and Culture of Islam and Ismailism, Harm and Halal Food is the topic from his book. Encyclopedia of Ismailism, must read about Lawful & Unlawful Food.

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