ON THE PERMISSIBILITY FOR MUSLIMS TO EAT THE FOOD OF THE PEOPLE OF THE SCRIPTURES

In Allah’s name, His mercy is infinite and eternal! Hoping on the Single God, the Posessor of true knowledge and wisdom, I pray to Him for strength and skills to express a humble judgement that would correspond to the truth of God’s Word, and not to the temporal knowledge of this age.

The issue of the permissibility for Muslims to eat the food of the people of the Scriptures – the Christians and the Israelites – is connected with the qur’anic injunctions on the permitted (halal) and forbidden (haram) food.

Allah imposed a number of bans on food such as the prohibition on eating blood[1], carrion, pork and the flesh of the animal slaughtered without mentioning the name of the Single God.[2]

Allah, He is the Most High, enjoins us:”Eat only of such flesh as has been consecrated in His name, if you truly believe in His revelations… Do not eat of any flesh that has not been consecrated in the name of Allah; for that is sinful [towards God]” (the Holy Qur’an, 6:118, 121).

Prophet Muhammad (may the Lord greet and bless him) said:”You may eat the flesh of the beast which has been slaughtered in Allah’s name” (the holy ahadith from al-Bukhari).[3]

In pre-Islamic times Arabs used to offer the flesh of slaughtered beasts to idols. As Islam began to spread Prophet Muhammad (may the Lord greet and bless him) imposed a strong ban on this rite along with other pagan rituals. Muslims were forbidden to mention at the offering any other name except the name of the Single God.

As far as the people of the Scriptures – the Christians and the Israelites – are concerned, the majority of them stick to monotheism and are close to Muslims from religious aspect to the greatest extent. Proceeding from the appearance of certain elements of polytheism in their religious practice some Muslims came to reckon them among pagans. The erroneousness of such opinion including the mistaken view on the food of the people of the Scriptures is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an many times:”All good things have this day been made lawful to you. The food[4] of those to whom the book was given is lawful to you, and yours to them…” (the Holy Qur’an, 5:5).

Though Islam was strict and severe towards pagans and polytheists, it has always treated the people of the Scriptures well, for they are close to Muslims – they believe in the Holy Scriptures, in the prophets of the Single God, in the Day of Judgement, in Paradise and Hell, as well as in other religious dogmas revealed to mankind by the Lord.

Verily, we were enjoined to love the people of the Scriptures and to allow them to get acquianted with God’s last Revelation – the Holy Qur’an.

We, Muslims, are allowed to share food with them, to marry pious and good women from among them as well as to treat them with generosity in everything. All this is done in order that Christians and Isralites may have a possibility to have a complete idea of Islam and to understand that Islam is the religion of true monotheism which was sought by their forefathers, it is the faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus (peace be upon them). So that they may know that the teaching of Islam is free from perversion and human interference, that Islam is the continuation and the completion of the monotheistic teaching that was earlier sent forth by the Lord to the prophets of Israel.[5]

Let us adduce a number of examples from Prophet Muhammad’s Sunna (may the Lord greet and bless him) and the life of his companions.

Abu Darda’ and Ibn Zeyd were asked on whether it was permissible to eat the flesh of the beasts offered for churches. They answered that it was allowed to eat such meat. Ibn Zeyd said:”The Lord made their food lawful to us and did not make anything from it an exception”. Abu Darda’ was also asked wether it was permitted to eat the meat of a sheep slaughtered for the church of Jirjis[6] and presented by priests to Muslims. Abu Darda’ answered:”Forgive me, my Lord! Don’t you know that the food of the people of the Scriptures is lawful to us and your food is lawful to them?”[7]

Many authoritative scholars transmit the words of Ibn ‘Abbas, according to whom the word “food”, used in the above mentioned ayah, implies the flesh of the beasts slaughtered by the people of the Scriptures.[8]

All companions of Prophet Muhammad (may the Lord greet and bless him), as well as the Islamic scholars of the first generation after the Prophet were unanimous in affirming that it was permissible for Muslims to eat the food of the people of the Scriptures.[9]

It is known that Prophet Muhammad (may the Lord greet and bless him) did not reject the food made of sheep which was offered to him by an Israelite woman.[10]

The companions of Prophet Muhammad (may the Lord greet and bless him), being in Syria, ate the food of local Christians and did not consider it to be an offence.

Not a single theologian or scholar has adduced an example from the life of the Prophet or those of his companions which would contradict anything that has been said above, except the case with the tribe Banu Taglib.[11] This tribe, though reckoning itself among the Christians, had not the merest idea of the Christian teaching and did not observe any religious laws. Imam ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) imposed a ban on eating the food prepared by the representatives of this tribe and marrying the women of this tribe, arguing his opinion with that actually this tribe was continuing to stick to heathenism: it did not observe what was obligatory among the Christians and did not keep away from what was prohibited among them either.[12]

As it has already been said above, the word combination “the food of the people of the Scriptures” implies everything that belongs to food, including the flesh of beasts, which is especially underlined by the scholars. All this is permitted except that which is strongly prohibited by the Holy Qur’an: dead flesh, blood, pork and alcohol.[13]

Let us now consider some practical aspects of the issue.

Question: Is the flesh of a beast permitted (halal) for Muslims if there is no direct evidence that the beast has not been slaughtered according to the Muslim ritual: i.e. if it has not been consecrated in the name of the Lord or if it has been consecrated in the name of somebody else?

Answer: If there is no direct proof of the fact that the beast has been slaughtered in the name of the Single God, the flesh of this beast, provided it is sold by Christians or Israelites, is permitted (halal) for Muslims. As for the case when there is a direct evidence for that the flesh has been consecrated in the name of somebody other than the Lord, the opinions of scholars differ.

Some companions of the Prophet (‘Ali, ‘Aisha, Ibn ‘Umar) and certain theologians (Taus, al-Hassan) asserted that Muslims are forbidden to eat the flesh of such beast, for it has not been consecrated in the name of the Single God, therefore, it is prohibited. Whereas those Prophet’s companions (Ibn ‘Abbas, Abu Darda’, ‘Ubada ibn as-Samit) and the theologians (‘Ato, al-Kassim, az-Zuhri, Rabi’a, ash-Sha’bi), who believe that the flesh of such beast is permitted for Muslims, argue that the Lord allowed the believers to eat the food of the people of the Scriptures and through allowing it He originally knew in what name they would consecrate it.[14]

The hadith that has been adduced above, reads that to the question on whether it was allowed to Muslims to eat the flesh of a sheep slaughtered by the Christians and presented for Muslims, the Prophet’s companion Abu Darda’ answered:”Verily, they are those to whom the Book was given. Their food is lawful to us just as our food is lawful to them”. Imam Malik was asked about the permissibility of eating the flesh of beasts slaughtered on Christian holidays as well as the flesh of beasts slaughtered specially for churches and cloisters. He answered:”I censure it, although I cannot prohibit it. I censure it, for it may fall under the prohibition on eating the flesh consecrated in the name of somebody other than the Lord. At the same time I cannot impose a ban on it, for they are the people of the Scriptures and their food was made lawful to us by the Holy Qur’an”.[15]

Question: In order that the flesh of a slaughtered beast may be lawful to Muslims is it necessary that the people of the Scriptures observe the Muslim ritual of slaughter (i.e. cutting the main arteries in order to ensure maximum flow of blood)?

Answer: The theologians of the Maliki school of thought do not consider this ritual as obligatory and do not insist on its performance.

A great scholar Ibn al-‘Arabi[16] writes in his comment on the fifth ayah of the fifth sura:”This ayah is an irrefutable argument in favour of the fact that all kinds of food of the people of the Scriptures were made lawful to us, Muslims by the Lord. Once I was asked whether it was lawful to eat the meat of a chicken slaughtered and cooked by a Christian. I answered:”Yes, it is lawful, for it is their food, as well as the food of priests and monks, in spite of the fact that the ritual of sacrifice does not comply with ours. For the Lord made their food lawful to us. Thus, the flesh of beasts slaughtered in accordance with their traditions are permitted (halal) for  us)”.[17] Certain Islamic scholars add to the point:”Verily, the Lord permitted us to marry the women from among the people of the Scriptures and to have children by them. Can we doubt whether the flesh of beasts slaughtered by them is lawful to us, whereas the permission in both cases is given to us in the Holy Qur’an and the first has far more important consequences than the second!” Ibn al-‘Arabi also writes:”The meat of a beast which has not been slaughtered in accordance with the (Christian or Judaic) ritual of sacrifice and consumed by the people of the Scriptures is dead flesh and is forbidden (haram) to us (as well as to them)”.[18]

The point is that the flesh which is permitted according to the religious laws of the people of the Scriptures, is lawful to us, Muslims, as well, even if the way of the slaughter does not comply with ours. That which is inadmissible according to their religious norms is forbidden to us as well. For our common aim is to free the soul of the beast from the body through bleeding, in order to make the flesh of the beast lawful for consumation.

As today in a modern secular state various methods of the slaughter of cattle do not observe religious canons and religious communities (Muslim, Christian and Judaic communities) have no access to the surveillance over the process of slaughter, Muslims are certainly not allowed to eat meat products sold in shops or used at the works of public catering, unless it is ensured in written or oral form that the meat corresponds to Christian, Judaic or Muslim canonical requirements.[19]

Question: Is it admissible to ask about the origin of meat contained in the offered courses  if one visits  a Muslim, a Christian or an Israelite?

Answer: A well known mudjtahid of our time Yussuf al-Qardawi asserts:”A Muslim should not ask about it irrespective of the level of religious education of the host, be it a Christian, an Israelite or a Muslim”.[20]

Imam al-Bukhari adduces the following hadith in his ahadith collection:”Once the representatives of a tribe asked Prophet Muhammad (may the Lord greet and bless him):”Verily there is a beduin tribe which brings us meat. But we do not know whether they mention the name of the Lord [when they slaughter a beast] or they don’t”. The Prophet answered:”Invoke the name of the Lord yourselves and eat that meat”.[21]

Referring to this hadith, scholars said that as long as there was no convincing argument against this judgement, everything is permitted.[22]

Question: Who is implied under the word combination “the people of the Scriptures” mentioned in the fifth ayah of the fifth sura of the Holy Qur’an in the explanation of the lawfulness of their food to Muslims: the contemporaries of Prophets Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them), in whose times Divine Revelation was free from human interference or modern  followers of Christianity and Judaism?

 Answer: As it can be seen from the ayat of the Holy Qur’an, the Prophet’s Sunna and the behaviour of his companions this issue was not considered thoroughly. According to Islamic scholars “the ayat concerning the permissibility of the food of the people of the Scriptures and that of marriage to the women [from among the people of the Scriptures] were the last to be sent down”[23]. Even before the revelation of these ayat the Holy Qur’an said that the people of the Scriptures had gone astray from the truth commanded by their prophets and had forgotten the injunctions of God’s apostles. By the time the last Prophet was sent down to earth the texts of the Holy Scriptures and the religious practice of the Christians and the Israelites had suffered human interference.

Certain scholars, the majority of them comprise the Shi’ites, believe that the food of the people of the Scriptures as well as marriage to the women from among them are prohibited, for “the people of the Scriptures are reckoned by the Holy Qur’an among mushriks (attributing somebody to the Lord’s partners), pagans and infidels”. Here is one of the ayat they refer to:

“They worship their rabbis and their monks, and the Messiah the son of Mary, as gods besides Allah; though they were ordered to serve one God only. There is no god but Him. Exalted be He above those whom they deify beside Him!” (the Holy Qur’an, 9:31).

Along with this we see in the 221th ayah of the 2nd sura a prohibition on a marriage with a woman from among the infidels:”You shall not wed pagan women, unless they embrace the faith [in the Single God]”.

Disagreeing with these scholars many theologians have advanced the following arguments against this explanation.

First, the Holy Qur’an clearly differentiates between the terms “shirk” (attributing partners to the Lord) and “ahl al-kitab” (the people of the Scriptures) and does not number the Christians and the Israelites among those “who attribute partners to the Lord”:

“The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans did not desist from unbelief until the Proof was given them” (the Holy Qur’an, 98:1);

“As for (a) the true believers, (b) the Jews, (c) the Sabaeans, (d) the Christians, (e) the Magians, and (f) the pagans, Allah will judge them on the Day of Resurrection” (the Holy Qur’an, 22:17).

These and many other ayat obviously prove that the pagans and the people of the Scriptures represent different groups of people and the attitude towards them, as we know from the norms of Islam, is different.

Second, it would be reasonable to assume that:

a) the usage of the term “mushrik [pagan]” in the 221th ayah of the 2nd sura in this meaning (including the people of the Scriptures) was reduced by the ayat explaining the attitude towards the people of the Scriptures (see: the Holy Qur’an, 5:5).

b) the force of these ayat (reckoning the people of the Scriptures among the pagans) was limited in time, for it is well known that the ayat on a particular attitude towards the Christians and the Israelites were sent down later and that Prophet Muhammad (may the Lord greet and bless him) and his companions later on proceeded from these ayat only.

Third, Huseifa ibn Yaman, one of the Prophet’s companions known for his particular intelligence and broad knowledge, married a Jewish woman and was not censured by anybody.[24]

One can conclude from what has been said above: one may not number the people of the Scriptures among the pagans, even if their Scriptures and religious injunctions are far from the true commandments that were sent down to them by the Lord.

Thus, the meat, eaten by the pagans, is stricly forbidden to Muslims, unlike the flesh of beasts slaughtered according to Christian and Judaic norms.

I beg God, He is the Compassionate and the Merciful, to accept this work which has been  produced only with the hope for His kindness and forgive me my probable mistakes and sins, for the only intention I had was to bring good to people who follow His path, He is worshipped by everyone and everything that is in heaven and on earth.


[1] The Muslim ritual of slaughter implies cutting the main jugular arteries in order to ensure maximum flow of blood.

[2]In the Holy Qur’an, last Divine Revelation, the Lord only confirmed His commandments concerning food limitations given to His prophets. The Torah mentions such prohibitions many times. Thus, already Noah (Prophet Nuh), peace be upon him, was enjoined:”But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat” (Gen. 9:4). “Only be sure that thou eat not the blood… Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water. Thou shalt not eat it; that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord” (Deut. 12:23-25). It was strongly prohibited to eat pork and dead flesh (Deut. 14:8, 21). The commandments given to Moses (peace be upon him) include:” And whatsoever man which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof… For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh… whosoever eateth it shall be cut off” (Lev. 17:13-14).
It was strongly prohibited to offer the slaughtered beast to idols (any deity other than the Single God), for a beast must be offered to God only:”… that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open field, even that they may bring them unto the Lord… and offer them for peace offerings unto the Lord… And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils… This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. And whatsoever man bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer it unto the Lord; even that man shall be cut off from among his people” (Lev. 17:5, 7-9).
These prohibitions are confirmed in the New Testament: a council in Jerusalem in which the apostles also participated, having discussed this issue, recommended the Christians: “That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well” (Acts. 15:29). The word combination “things strangled“ stands for the Hebrew word “terefa” used in the original that means “the flesh of a beast which has not been slaughtered in accordance with the custom established by the Lord”.
[3]Al-‘Ayni B. ‘Umda al-kari sharh sahih al-bukhari. Volume 17, p. 233.
[4] All Islamic theologians are unanimous (idjma’) in that it was the flesh of beasts that was meant in this ayah under the word “food”, for vegetables and any other kind of food were not originally stipulated for in the qur’anic ban.
Only the theologians of the shi’it school of thought believe that the adduced ayah implies grain-crops as they are mostly consumed. The opinion of the latter does not damage the general agreement (idjma’), for it lacks argumentation. See: Al-‘Ayni B. ‘Umda al-kari. Volume 17, p. 236; al-Kyassani A. Badai’u as-sonai’ fi tartibi ash-sharai’. Volume 6, p. 230.
[5] Al-Qardawi Y. Al-halal wa al-haram fi al-islam. P. 61.
[6] Jirjis stands for Saint George, the Victory-Bearer in the Christian tradition.
[7] See: Al-ma’had al-myaliki li ad-dirassat al-‘ilmiya. An-nassara fi al-qur’an wa at-tafasit [The Christians in the Qur’an and in the comments on it]. Amman: ash-Shuruk, 1998, p. 300, 323.
[8]See: Al-‘Ayni B. ‘Umda al-kari sharh sahih al-bukhari. Volume 17, p. 237; Al-ma’had al-myaliki li ad-dirassat al-‘ilmiya. An-nassara fi al-qur’an wa  at-tafasir. P. 319.
[9] Ibid. P. 236; al-Kyassani A. Badai’u as-sonai’ fi tartibi ash-sharai’. Volume 6, p. 230; Al-ma’had al-myaliki li ad-dirassat al-‘ilmiya. An-nassara fi al-qur’an wa at-tafasir. P. 311.
[10] Al-Kyassani A. Badai’u as-sonai’ fi tartibi ash-sharai’. Volume 6, p. 231; Al-ma’had al-myaliki li ad-dirassat al-‘ilmiya. An-nassara fi al-qur’an wa at-tafasir. P. 323.
[11] Al-ma’had al-myaliki li ad-dirassat al-‘ilmiya. An-nassara fi al-qur’an wa at-tafasir. P. 323.
[12]See: Al-‘Ayni B. ‘Umda al-kari sharh sahih al-bukhari. Volume 17, p. 237; Al-ma’had al-myaliki li ad-dirassat al-‘ilmiya. An-nassara fi al-qur’an wa  at-tafasir. P. 299, 323.
[13]  See: Al-‘Ayni B. ‘Umda al-kari sharh sahih al-bukhari. Volume 17, p. 237.
[14] See: Al-Qardawi U. Al-halal wa al-haram fi al-islam. P. 61; Al-ma’had al-myaliki li ad-dirassat al-‘ilmiya. An-nassara fi al-qur’an wa  at-tafasir. P. 310.
[15] A quotation from: Al-Qardawi U. Al-halal wa al-haram fi al-islam. P. 61, 62.
[16] Muhiyddin ibn al-‘Arabi (1165-1240) is one of ther greatest Muslim theologians, a poet, a sufi. Born in Andalusia, died in Damascus. His theological and philosophical heritage, which has always caused differences among theologians, accounts for about four hundred works. In response to critics Ibn al-‘Arabi said the following prominent words:”Those who are not from among us (i.e. those who have not reached the level of our education and who have not acquired as much knowledge as we have) may not read our works”. Among his most prominent works are “Al-futuhat al-makkiya”, “Fussus al-hikam”, “Mafatih al-gaib”, “At-ta’rifat”.
[17] A quotation from: Az-Zuhayli W. Al-fiqh al-islami wa adillyatuh: 11 volumes. Volume 4, p. 2760.
[18] A quotation from: Al-Qardawi Y. Al-halal wa al-haram fi al-islam. P. 62.
[19] In the first centuries of Christianity there were hot debates on whether it was lawful to eat the flesh of beasts slaughtered by pagans or consecrated in the names of idols and then sold at the market. Certain Christians asserted that Jesus (peace be upon him) had abolished any difference between pure and unpure food for ever and did not differentiate between the meat sold by pagans and Christians. They referred to the words of Jesus (peace be upon him) quoted by Matthew in the Gospel:”Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matt. 15:11). Another part of Christians believed that eating the food consecrated in the name of idols and sold by pagans was equal to participation in offerings to idols.
The explanations of apostle Paul given on the subject, however, did not clarify the issue. The apostle writes in the Message to the Corinthians:”… the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?” Yet he writes further on: “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (1 Cor. 10:20-22, 25).
Paul advised to those who doubted to listen to the voice of conscience and to abstain from such food; but he also advised them not to censure those who did not reject it. Yet he recommended to the latter not to tempt those who doubted:” But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours [to buy meat from pagans] become a stumbling block to them that are weak… Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor. 8:9, 13).
[20] This again underlines the intimacy of three religions of the Abrahamic monotheistic tradition. Yet apostle Paul makes a rather daring judgement, allowing the Christians to eat the food offered by polytheists and pagans:” If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake” (1 Cor. 10:27). Yet he mentions:” But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake” (1 Cor. 10:28).

[21] See: Al-‘Ayni B. ‘Umda al-kari sharh sahih al-bukhari. Volume 20, p. 284; al-Hattabi H. Ma’alimu sunan. Sharh sunani abi daud [The virtues of the sunnas. The comment on the ahadith collection of Abu Daud]: 4 volumes, Beirut: al-Kutub al-‘ilmiya, 1991, volume 4, p. 262; Imam Malik. Al-muwatto.p. 389.[22] Al-Qardawi U. Al-halal wa al-haram fi al-islam. P. 63, 64.[23] Al-ma’had al-myaliki li ad-dirassat al-‘ilmiya. An-nassara fi al-qur’an wa at-tafasir. P. 323.

[24]See: Al-ma’had al-myaliki li ad-dirassat al-‘ilmiya. An-nassara fi al-qur’an wa at-tafasir. P. 323, 324.
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