Islamic Rulings Concerning Food and Drink
(All advice hereby given is in accordance with the general consensus among the Maraaji' al -Taqlid, except where specifically stated)
This article will mention the five categories employed in fiqh, namely what is forbidden, that towards which there is aversion, an obligatory action, what is recommended or desirable and permissibility.
In this article we shall summarize that and discuss other foodstuffs a Muslim is forbidden to eat:-
(a) Mayta: this is any creature that has not been slaughtered according to the Islamic method.
(b) Polluted or unclean things concerning which there is no argument: anything that the Divine Lawgiver has described as polluted and thus cannot be eaten such as blood, faeces (gha'it) and a piece of flesh cut from a living animal. At this point there are many related problems the most important of which we shall now discuss.
(1) Jelly, jello or Gelatine:
This is a substance made from the joints and bones of animals and is used in many foods, medications and sweets. What does Islam say about this substance? The jurists (fuqaha') are in agreement concerning its purity (tahaara) and, thus, that it can be eaten provided that it is extracted from an animal which is mudhakka (i.e. slaughtered according to the Islamic method - see previous article). Therefore, gelatine produced in an Islamic country is covered by this judgement since it is presumed that the rules relating to slaughtering according to the Islamic Shari'a are followed in such a country. Regarding gelatine which has been extracted from an animal not mudhakka or which has been produced in a non-Islamic country, it is pure ( taahir) and so one is permitted to eat it but only if it has been established that a transmutation (istihaala) has taken place. This means that the original animal substance has changed or been transformed in its essence into another substance. We should notice that Sayyed Khoei (RA) is of the opinion that this transformation must have come into effect. If however, a Muslim is absolutely certain in his own mind that the transmutation has not occurred then the substance remains polluted for him and therefore it is forbidden for him to consume it. On this premise we understand that the Muslim must verify this fact for him / herself to make sure whether or not a transmutation has actually taken place. Sayyed Seestani makes the individual responsible for this verification and has not declared that either transmutation or lack of it has been proven.
Which is a substance extracted from the stomach or intestines of a young billy-goat after it has been slaughtered or has died and is used in the making of several kinds of cheese. Is it permitted to eat such cheeses imported from non-Islamic countries knowing that they contain rennet? The jurists are of the opinion that rennet is pure even that which is extracted from a mayta. Consequently, its use in the production of cheese does not affect the purity of such cheese which, therefore, is permitted. However, if cheese contains fatty substances extracted from animals, which are not mudhakka, then such cheese is subsequently polluted and it is forbidden to eat it.
(3) Deadly poisons
These are forbidden and also anything which is grievously harmful. Under this heading are included narcotics such as opium, cannabis (hashish) and heroin and (medical) drugs whether it is a matter of an increase to the prescribed dose or not.
This is forbidden to be consumed except a very small quantity, equivalent to the size of a chickpea, from the earth of Karbala where the tomb of Imam al-Husayn (P) is situated. Sayyed Seestani extends this prohibition to soil, earth and sand but, nevertheless, does not forbid other substances which a human being does not customarily eat, such as stones, wood and metals as, for example, the extremely thin leaves of silver which are used to decorate certain dishes in a number of Islamic countries.
(5) Certain parts of a slaughtered animal are not permitted.
When a creature (sheep, goat, cow or camel) is slaughtered all its meat is permitted to be consumed except for particular parts and elements which are: blood, the male reproduction organ, the testacles, the spleen, faeces, the bladder, the gall bladder, the placenta, the vulva, the vein extending from the neck to the tail, the spinal chord, the glands, the pineal body (in the middle of the brain) and the pupils of the eye. This is the commonly accepted list. Sayyed Khoei (RA) sees a problem in the prohibition of some of the above but considers that they must all be avoided as an obligatory precaution. Sayyed Seestani, however, maintains that the items in the above list are all forbidden with the exception of the vein extending from the neck to the tail which must be avoided as an obligatory precaution. Regarding birds, blood and faeces are forbidden. Apart from those two elements, if other items from the above cited list are found in the birds then, according to Sayyed Seestani, forbidding the eating of them is based upon obligatory precaution.
(6) Where alcohol is being served
Anything that was permitted to be eaten becomes haram when it is put on a table at which an alcoholic drink or any other intoxicating liquor is served and so, of course, it is forbidden to partake of anything which is on such a table. However, if the food is taken off that table and placed elsewhere, the food can then be consumed. Sayyed Seestani considers this prohibition to be on the basis of an obligatory precaution which applies even to the mere sitting down at such a table. Sayyed Khoei (RA) is of the opinion that the sitting down at the table is a forbidden action.
The Muslim man or woman is forbidden to drink the following:
(1) Alcoholic beverages and all other intoxicating liquor whatever it is called, including beer. Almighty God says :
"Intoxicating liquor and games of chance and (sacrificing to) stones set up and (dividing by) arrows are indeed an impurity, the work of the Shaytan so keep away from it ( al-Ma 'ida, 90).
In some hadith the imbibing of such drinks is described as being one of the greatest transgressions. It is related that Imam Ja'far bin Muhammad ( may peace be upon him ) said;
"Intoxicating liquor is the source of wicked deeds and the cause of every evil: the imbiber of such only has to drink for an hour and it will take away his reason and he will no longer know his Lord. He will not abstain from a transgression until he has committed it nor a forbidden action until he has perpetrated it nor will he neglect a close relative in need until he has already severed the relationship nor will he refrain from an abominable deed until he has done it. If he drinks [just] a mouthful, God and His angels and His Prophets and the believers will curse him. If he drinks until he gets drunk the spirit of faith will be rested from his body and a vile, despicable spirit will take its place and his prayers will not be accepted for 40 days.
Many questions are raised concerning alcoholic beverages and alcohol. These include; What is the difference between al-fuqqa' ,barley juice and beer?
According to the understanding of the fuqaha' , regarding these terms it is seen that al -fuqqa' means an alcoholic drink extracted from barley. Therefore it is polluted (najis), intoxicating and drinking it is not permitted. Beer fits this description exactly. Al-though there is perhaps a little difference in the method of brewing , the outcome of both drinks is intoxication. Barley juice, however, although also extracted from barley is produced by a method that will not make it cause intoxication. This is a drink that doctors prescribe to treat certain maladies. Consequently it is pure (tahir) and drinking it is permitted.
What about juice or medicaments which contain a slight proportion of alcohol?
Sayyed Al Khoei (May God have mercy upon his soul ) was asked about this matter and his answer was as follows: " If what is meant by alcohol is like spirit which is extracted from liquids which have not undergone fermentation, then it is pure and there is no objection to it. If however, it is extracted from fermented liquids it is polluted and forbidden since the (description) intoxicating applies to it - and God is the Knower of all".
A study of Sayyed Khoei's decisions regarding this topic indicates that he made a distinction between alcohol extracted from liquids which had not undergone the process of fermentation and between alcohol from those which had. The first category which includes alcohol extracted from petroleum or wood or, for the sake of argument, from any organic substance, solid or liquid, and that is unknown to produce intoxication is considered pure and thus what comes into contact with it is also pure. Thus medicaments or juice which contain it are permitted. The second category is polluted and causes pollution and consequently what has been mixed with such alcohol is forbidden.
(2) Blood, from any source whatsoever. It is forbidden to drink it, lick it or imbibe it in any conceivable form. This prohibition, however, does not apply to blood transfusions given to a sick man or woman who is in need of them. In this case no distinction is made between the blood of a Muslim and that of a non-Muslim.
(3) Milk from an animal whose meat is in itself forbidden as, for example, the milk of lions and monkeys or where there exists an impediment like the milk of a camel (known as jallaala) which has been nourished on the faeces of a human being. While Sayyed Khoei considers the drinking of human milk permissible, Sayyed Seestani says that it must not, as an obligatory precaution, be drunk.
(4) Vile liquids as, for example, sour juices, various kinds of fuel refined from petroleum, spirit and any liquid the drinking of which will cause grievous harm to a human being, like poisonous substances and narcotics.
(5) Urine from animals whose meat is intrinsically forbidden: the urine of the lion, the elephant and so on. Also, as an obligatory precaution, from animals whose flesh is permitted to be eaten -even the camel. However, there is no objection to drinking the urine of the three categories of grazing animals - cows, goats and sheep, as a means of medication and even if cure from a malady is not the aim. This is the opinion of Sayyed Seestani. There are minor differences among the fuqaha' relating to this subject. Their fatwas should be consulted when the need arises.
Everything we have set out concerning what a Muslim is forbidden to eat or drink becomes permitted in the case of dire necessity: God Almighty 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 ". whoever out of necessity does so , not wishing such nor exceeding the limit, commits no transgression. Truly God is all Forgiving and all Merciful". (al-Baqara, 173)
Necessity means in this case that there is not available any permissible food or drink and that the Muslim is exposed to grave illness or even death if he or she does not partake of a little food. It is not permitted to consume more than simply allays one's hunger or thirst. Perhaps such circumstances occur in certain prisons or detention camps, or particular hospitals, or in deserts or desolate places.
At this juncture we should like to draw the attention of our readers to the fact that certain Muslims have memorized the above cited aya (al-Baqara, 173) and reiterate it in those first class restaurants which look out upon the heart of numerous European capitals or are situated in the tourist resorts of many non Islamic countries where halal food and drink doubtless exist in plenty if just a little effort were made to look for it. May we be permitted to point out to those Muslims that such restaurants are not legitimate places for reciting this ayah from the Holy Qur'an as an excuse for, or in order to justify, what they are doing.
There are many recommended , desirable actions associated with food and drink. Some concern the presentation and making available of food for those in need and others on various occasions as, for example, the desirability of having a feast on the occasion of a marriage or on the birth of a child and so on. There are also several recommended actions and desirable things which should be observed before, during and after a meal. These include:
(1) Washing both hands together before partaking of a meal without drying them with a towel.
(2) Washing both hands after a meal, and this time there is no objection to drying them.
(3) The host (or hostess) should begin to eat before the others and stop eating after the others have finished.
(4) The tasmiya (that is, to say Bismillah Al Rahmaan Ir-Raheem ) on Commencing the meal and if there are several dishes on the table spread (sufra), the tasmiya is desirable before beginning each one.
(5) To eat with the right hand.
(6) To eat with three or more fingers, and not to eat with two.
(7) To eat from what is in front of one if there are a number of people around the table spread and not to take food from what is immediately in front of others.
(8) Eating small quantities at a time, chewing well, spending some time at the table (that is, not hurrying the meal) and licking the fingers.
(9) Thanking God after finishing the meal (that is, to say al-Hamdulillahi Rabb al- 'alameen), picking the teeth and picking up and eating what has fallen outside the sufra except when in the countryside and in desert places where it is recommended to leave crumbs and so forth to animals and birds.
(10) One should not look directly at the faces of others whilst they are eating.
(11) One should not eat if one has already had sufficient to eat elsewhere, neither should one overload one's stomach up with food. It is best not to eat food while it is still hot nor blow on food or drink / liquids.
There are many other recommended and desirable actions most of which concern such matters as: respect for what God has provided, avoiding any kind of waste and extravagance, respect for the feelings of guests, eschewing anything which is repellent or repulsive and avoiding all that is unhygienic and incompatible with traditional Muslim conduct.
Imbibing water has its own particular method: for instance water should be sipped, not gulped and should be drunk during the day while one is standing and at night not standing. The tasmiya is said before drinking and al-hamdulillah afterwards. One should remember Imam al-Husayn (may peace and blessings be upon him and his beloved grandfather, Prophet Muhammad) and his kinsfolk and, after drinking, those who went out to kill him Imam Husayn should be cursed. If the drinking vessel is chipped one should avoid drinking at that particular place and also by the handle. One should not drink holding the vessel by one's left hand.