Islamic Laws Concerning Food
(All advice hereby given is in accordance with the general consensus among the Maraaji' al -Taqlid, except where specifically stated)
Almighty God says:
"O people, eat from the land what is permitted and good and do not follow in the footsteps of the Shaytan for he is for you a manifest enemy ". (al-Baqara, 168)
Among God's blessings to humanity is that He made the basis for juridical decisions permissibility and therefore the basic rule for any substance, which it is possible to eat, is that it is permissible except where there is proof from the Shari'a to the contrary. Since eating is a necessary human action and obviously something one cannot do without, we find that the Divine Lawgiver has designated to it a prominent position in fiqh, manners and behaviour and has made it not only a means by which a Muslim remembers God Almighty and His countless bounties but also a test of his commitment to his religion. Furthermore, God has made the habit of eating an important factor in helping to establish social solidarity, in that He stresses the merit of giving food to the poor and needy extolling those who do so with the highest praise:
"Those who proffer food, even though they love it, to the poor man, the orphan and the prisoner. We do this only for the sake of God, we do not wish from you ( viz. the poor man etc.) reward or thanks". (al-Insan, 8-9)
Also He has made giving food an obligation in cases where it is a reparation (kafaara) for certain transgressions and shortcomings: the reparation for eating during the days of Ramadhan and for breaking an oath or a covenant, and so on. From the above, we notice that this subject covers a wide and important area of Islamic topics but since these pages are intended primarily for fiqh we shall concentrate here on matters of a juridical nature. Food / foodstuffs can be divided primarily into two main sections:-
(1) Plants, fruits, grains and vegetables: all these can be eaten as long as they are not harmful to human beings or contain poison, narcotic substances and the like.
(2) Living creatures: These can be divided into three:-
A- THOSE THAT LIVE IN THE SEA
B-THOSE THAT LIVE ON THE LAND
(A) Sea Creatures
You are allowed to eat what is commonly called a" fish "on the condition that it has scales:
Thus fish that do not have scales are forbidden including fish where there is some doubt as to whether they have scales or not. Not all other kinds of sea creatures such as whales, frogs, turtles, eels, lobsters, crabs and so on are permitted since they are not classed as "fish". Although a shrimp/prawn is not considered a fish, nevertheless one is permitted to eat them since they are an exception to the above rule on the basis of a particular hadith. However, creatures belonging to the same family, even if they are similar in appearance to a shrimp / prawn are not allowed.
Here we would point out that the prerequisites for making a fish halal (known as the dhakaat) are fulfilled at its very extraction from the water, alive - by whatever means and whether or not the person doing it was a Muslim. Thus fish (which have scales), in tins or frozen, imported from non-Islamic countries can be eaten.
(B) Land creatures.
This term covers all creatures that move on the face of the earth. For various reasons, which cannot be gone into here, the Shari'a permits some to be eaten and forbids others. God Almighty says;
"O you who believe, keep to your covenants. You are allowed to eat grazing animals except those that are recited to you". (al-Ma 'ida, 1) In the same sura (3) the Al-mighty says; 'It is forbidden for you [to eat] al-Mayta (dead creatures without dhakaar), blood, meat of the pig and what has been dedicated to anyone but God ". In the following ayah we read: "they ask you what is permitted for you. Say, the good things are permitted (for you) and [also] that which the (most suitable) predatory beasts and birds of prey you have taught to hunt, having trained them. You teach them of what God has taught you, so eat of that which they catch for you and mention the name of God upon it and fear God. God is indeed a swift reckoner".
The jurists (the fuquha') have general principles derived from the Holy Qur'an and the pure Sunna and on that basis determine what can be eaten from among domestic animals, namely camels, cows, sheep and goats - which all possess a hoof or cloven hoof. From among wild animals, by which is meant animals which neither live in enclosures nor are reared by humans, are permitted mountain sheep, wild cows and asses, gazelles and deer. Sayyed al-Khoei (RA) does not consider it unlikely that, in fact, permissibility extends beyond these five categories. Although the jurists are unanimous that it is permissible to eat the meat of horses, mules and donkeys some see, however, an aversion (karaaha) in the eating of such meat.
Creatures that are not permissible to be eaten are all those which possess canine teeth or fangs such as lions, foxes, cats, dogs, rabbits, lizards, jerboas, elephants and monkeys. Likewise, it is not permissible to eat reptiles, such as snakes and tortoises, and insects, such as lice, chinches ( bed-bugs) and fleas but locusts, on the supposition that they are not to be classified as insects, are, however, permissible.
Birds that comply with the following two conditions can be eaten:
(1) The body must be covered with feathers. On this basis, bats and other members of the species are not permissible.
(2) They are not classed among the birds of prey (that is possessing talons) whether they are strong enough to prey upon other birds, like the falcon or the hawk, or not strong enough, such as eagles and vultures.
There are two other principles by which one can distinguish between birds which are permitted and birds which are not permitted.
(a) Every bird, when in flight, whose spreading out of its wings is greater than the flapping of its wings possesses talons and therefore must not be eaten. In other words, a bird in flight whose wings move more than they spread out and rest is allowed to be eaten.
(b) If a particular bird's movement is unknown it must be inspected on being served, before being eaten. If it possesses one of the following it is permissible to consume it, a craw (where grain and the like collect together in the region of the throat); a gizzard (where tiny stones which a bird consumes collect); and a projection (like the spur of a cock), an appendix which, fork-like in appearance on the bird's foot, performs the function of a talon.
Sayyed Khoei forbids ravens and all other birds of the species (crows, rooks, jack-daws, magpies and so on). Sayyed Seestani considers it a compulsory precaution to avoid eating ravens and all birds of this species, including crows.
Based on the guidelines set out above, chickens, pigeons, all small birds and even the ostrich are permissible. As for the peacock, Sayyed al-Khoei forbids it whereas Sayyed Seestani considers that its permissibility is more probable.
Hunting and Slaughtering.
All the creatures (animals and birds) which in principle are permissible to be eaten and which can be identified on the basis of what we have set out above are, nevertheless, forbidden to the Muslim until the slaughtering or hunting of them has been carried out according to the laws that God Al-mighty has ordained. God says;
"And why do you not eat from what has had the name of God mentioned over it since He has shown clearly what he has forbidden for you, (except what you must eat out of necessity); and indeed many mislead (others) due to their caprices, out of ignorance. In truth, your Lord best knows those who exceed the limits ". (al- An'aam 119)
The jurists have set out a number of conditions which must be fulfilled in hunting or slaughtering and only then can the creature be described as mudhakka, (or in a state of dhakaat), that is it can be eaten, the prerequisites for its consumption having been fulfilled; or considered " slaughtered according to the Islamic method (madhbouh 'ala at-tareeqa al-Islamiyya). However, if one or more conditions are not carried out the creature will he described simply as mayta, that is dead but not mudhakka:
God Almighty says, It is forbidden for you to eat (al-mayta) (al- Ma' ida, 3).
Since slaughtering is the more usual method of ensuring that the creature is mudhakka we shall detail, firstly, the conditions by which dhzakaat will be achieved for slaughtering, leaving the conditions relating to hunting to be discussed in due course.
Method of Slaughtering
The correct method of slaughtering is to cut completely the four audaaj (tracts, sing. wadaj) which are situated beneath the projection of cartilage at the front of the neck (known as the jawza). These tracts are the gullet,the windpipe and the two large jugular veins.
Conditions for Slaughtering
(1) The one who carries out the slaughtering must be a Muslim, - a man, woman, or even a child who is capable of rational behaviour. It is not a condition that he or she be an Imami Twelver Shi'a Muslim.
It is not permissible to eat what has been slaughtered at the hands of a non-Muslim, whether or not he is of the People of the Book, neither is it permissible at the hands of a Muslim who bears enmity towards the House of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny).
(2) If possible the slaughtering ought to be effected by an instrument made of iron. If the latter is not available, anything which can cut the audaaj can be used whether it is made of glass, sharp stone or any other metal. No other condition is required for the actual instrument by which the slaughtering is carried out. Thus it can be a mechanical gadget or a knife and the gadget/machine can be automatic or operated by hand.
(3) The creature to be slaughtered must face the direction of the Holy Ka'ba (viz..the Qibla). The conditions required are the same as those for a human when praying (whether he/she is in a standing or sitting position). If the creature is lying on its right side or on its left then the nahr (the pit above the breast between the collar bones and the stomach) must be turned to face the qibla. If the animal prepared for slaughter is not faced towards the qibla, and this action was omitted deliberately, then the slaughtered animal is forbidden.
(4) The Tasmiya: this means that the one performing the slaughtering must mention the name of Allah, with the intention of slaughtering, when he commences the action or, as is customary, along with the action. It is sufficient in the tasmiya to mention God Al-mighty together with glorifying Him as, for example, saying; "Allahu Akbar Wa-bismillah " and that is conforming with the decree of God Almighty;
"And do not eat from what has not had the name of God mentioned upon it for that is iniquity. The Shayaateen inspire their followers to dispute with you and if you obey them then truly you will be idolaters" (al-An'aam, 121)
Here we should like to draw the attention or some of our Muslim brothers to the fact that the saying of the Bismillah over meat which is NOT known to have been slaughtered according to the Islamic method, (that is the meat is considered mayta), does not thus achieve anything and, consequently, does not make the eating or such meat permissible. So the meat remains haraam.
(5) A normal emission of blood. The meat is not permissible if blood has not issued forth from the slaughtered creature or if the amount was abnormally small in comparison with the type of animal and its size.
(6) The slaughtered creature must be shaken, if only with a slight movement, after the completion of the slaughtering if there existed doubt as to whether or not the creature was alive at the time of the actual slaughtering. However, if the animal was definitely
alive moments before the act of slaughtering then there is no need for any movement afterwards. The above conditions are what the majority of the jurists have laid down. Some of them, however, differ among themselves in points of detail. For greater clarification, the reader should consult the various Risalahs.