Home » The Meat: Lawful and Unlawful in Islam

The Meat: Lawful and Unlawful in Islam

For meat to be lawful for Muslims, the following five pre-conditions must be satisfied:

1. The animal should be a Halal (lawful) one according to the Shari’ah (Islamic Law). Dog, cat, monkey, or the meat of any such Haram (unlawful) animal can be lawful for a Muslim only in cases of extreme urgency where a person is threatened with starvation and his life has to be saved. We read in the Qur’an: “Allah has forbidden for you what dies of itself, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that over which any other name than that of Allah has been invoked. But whoever is driven by necessity, without willful disobedience nor transgressing due limits, then he is guiltless. Surely Allah is forgiving, merciful.” (2:173)

2. The animal should be properly slaughtered and should not be dipped in boiling water or killed by electric shocks. Any method other than slaughter adopted to kill the animal will not be lawful. Stunning by bolt shot or electric shock before slaughter is not valid and should be avoided, as it is tantamount to torturing an animal, which is inhumane and unlawful in Islam. The tendency of the Shari’ah is to make the slaughter more humane by reducing the suffering of the animal. The Holy Prophet (SAW) is reported to have said that if you must slaughter, slaughter in the best possible manner. Sharpen your knife every time before you slaughter, but not in front of the animal to be slaughtered. Do not slaughter an animal in the presence of other animals, and feed and rest the animal before slaughter. The idea is to stop cruelty to animals – a practice still prevalent in the West in various forms and guises despite claims to the contrary, as we shall see later.

3. The name of Allah should be recited while slaughtering the animal. The recitation may be done by a Muslim or by a Jew or Christian in his own language. The Holy Qur’an describes that slaughter as unlawful on which the name of Allah has not been recited: “And eat not of that whereon Allah’s name hath not been mentioned, for Lo! It is abomination. Lo! The devils do inspire their minions to dispute with you. But if you obey them, ye will be in truth idolators”. (6:121)

4. For meat to be lawful, it is not simply enough that the animal has been slaughtered by the “People of the Book”. It is very essential that the act of slaughter should be performed according to their prescribed religious rites and practices. For instance, if a Muslim kills a chicken by twisting its neck, it would a carcass and Haram. If the same method of killing is adopted by a Jew or Christian, then how can such a chicken be Halal? Slaughtering consists of cutting the jugular veins of the neck, so that all the blood is drained out. The spinal cord must not be cut, because the nerve fibers to the heart may be damaged during the process, causing cardiac arrest and hence stagnation of the blood in the blood vessels of the animal. Since blood is also forbidden in Islam, it is incumbent to see to it that the blood is completely drained from the animal during slaughtering. This is meat is then called Halal or lawful. Like other Islamic teachings, dietary restrictions in Islam relate to material well being, even as they are spiritually significant.

5. The animals should be in lawful possession of the person who owns them and they should be free from any apparent or hidden impurities. Similarly, they should not be slaughtered on an idol, grave, etc. The slaughterer must be sane. Slaughter is not allowed to be carried out by a mentally deranged person, a drunkard, a child who is not able to discriminate, or a Magian. It would be desirable if the animal is made to lie facing Qibla during the act of slaughter.

The Islamic Manner of slaughtering an animal is to slit its throat, saying “Bismillah” (In the Name of Allah), thus recognizing that its life is taken only by Allah’s permission to meet the lawful need of food, and allowing all the blood to drain out. The meat sold commercially in the U.S.A. and European countries, etc., is not lawful (halal) for Muslims, since when animals are slaughtered there, “Bismillah” is not said over them and the methods of slaughter are also objectionable.

The Holy Qur’an states: “This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who received the Scripture before you are (lawful for you) when ye have given them their marriage portions, and live with them in honour, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines. Whoso denieth the faith, his work is vain and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter. (V : 5)

The leading religious luminaries of the times have, in exposition of the above Qur’anic verse, stated as under:

1. “The authorities on the commentary of the Holy Qur’an like Ibn Abbas, Abu Umama, Mujahid, Saeed bin Jubair, Ikrimah, Ata, Hasan, Makhool, Ibrahim, Nakhi, Suddi, and Muqatil have commented upon the food of the “People of the Book” along with their slaughtered meat (Zabihah). This issue is based on the consensus of Muslims, as the meat of lawful animals slaughtered by them is permissible for Muslims because they (the People of the Book) consider as unlawful any flesh of an animal which has been slaughtered in the name of any other being than God. They recite the name of God while slaughtering animals, although they are guilty of attributing to God of which he is free, elevated, and glorified, as He is”. (Ibn Kathir, Vol. III, p. 19)

2. “If a person belonging to the “People of the Book” does not recite the name of God, or recites the name of a deity other than God while slaughtering the an animal, the meat of such an animal is unlawful. This is the view of Abu’d Darda, Ubada bin Samit, and a group of Companions of the Holy Prophet (SAW). The same is also the view of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Muhammad and Zufar. Imam Nakh’I and Imam Nawawi are of the view that eating the meat of such animals is hateful in the eyes of Allah.” (Abu Hayyan Andulsi in Bahre-Muheet, Vol. IV, p.131)

3. “In our opinion, the slaughtered animals of the ‘People of the Book’ are unlawful for Muslims which have been slaughtered in such a way that the name of God has not been intentionally recited at the time of slaughter or which have been slaughtered in the name of a deity other than God on the condition that it is known with certainty that the name of God has not been recited, or if this omission of God’s name becomes a habit with the ‘People of the Book’. Those of our ancestors, who have declared that the meat of slaughtered animals of the ‘People of the Book’ is unlawful for Muslims, have given their verdict with the same intent and purpose. Similarly, when Hazrat Ali said that the meat of the slaughtered animals of the Christians of Bani Taghlib is unlawful for Muslims, because they have learnt nothing from Christianity except wine drinking, he meant the same thing. Hazrat Ali may have received positive evidence that the Christians of Bani Taghlib do not recite God’s name when slaughtering their animals or they recite the name of some deity other than God. This also applies to non-Arab Christians, if it becomes their habit to recite the name of some deity other than God while slaughtering their animals, i.e. the meat of their slaughtered animals becomes unlawful. And there is no doubt that the present-day Christians do not slaughter their animals but kill them by stunning”. (Qazi Sanaullah Panipati in Tafsir-e-Mazhari, Vol. III, p. 37)

In the light of the above elucidation, we would now like to pose the following question: what does the Glorious Qur’an mean by the food of the Ahl-al-Kitab (People of the Book) which Allah has made lawful for Muslims? Does it mean by this the food, which Allah has made lawful for the Ahl-al-Kitab in their Scriptures (i.e. relevations from Allah) and according to their Prophets? Or does it mean everything which the Ahl-al-Kitab eat even though Allah has forbidden it for them? It is well known that in every one of the revealed religions, Allah has forbidden certain items of food while allowing other good things. It is also well known that in every community, some of its people opposed their Prophets and infringed the limits which the prophets had prescribed for them, so they would eat some of the food forbidden to them.

Therefore, does the Qur’anic verse intend by “the food of those who have received the Scripture” the food of the Ahl-al-Kitab which Allah had made lawful for Muslims, or the food of the Ahl-al-Kitab which is halal to them in accordance with their Books and the teachings of their Prophets? Or does it men every kind of food that they actually eat, regardless of whether it is lawful or unlawful for them?

Surely, the above passage from the Qur’an does not give a blanket approval to consume whatever is available in the food markets and confectioneries of the Christian West as is contended by some modern scholars . It should be emphasized however, that the law of Allah is higher than the simplistic conclusions of such absurd interpretations. The true meaning, then, of these two parts of the Qur’anic verse referred to above, which suits the glory of Allah’s Law may be summarized as follows:

1. All food which Allah made lawful for the Jews and Christians in their respective Scriptures is lawful for Muslims.

2. All food which Allah made lawful for Muslims in the Qur’an is lawful for the Jews and Christians.

If this is true meaning and interpretation of the Qur’anic verse, we would then again be justified in posing the question whether the meat of animals, as they are slaughtered commercially today in Western countries, was originally lawful for Jews and Christians so that it might also be regarded as lawful for Muslims? This is the point which has raised all this controversy. However, those who regard it lawful do so on the basis of Allah’s decree: “The food of those who have received the scripture is lawful for you…” (Al-Qur’an, 5:5) saying that this verse indicates the lawfulness of the animal slaughtered by the “People of the Book” without any reference to the method of slaughtering or to the characteristics of the person who undertakes it, as long as he is a man from among the “People of the Book”. They further argue that “We are not required to consider the way in which the animals have been slaughtered, and whether or not Allah’s name has been mentioned over them…Foodstuffs imported from countries of the “People of the Book” are lawful unless there is evidence that they are unlawful for themselves, such as carrion, blood or swine flesh. All other foodstuffs are lawful even if we are sure that they are dedicated to some other being than Allah or are not slaughtered legally according to the Islamic rites.”

This is an over simplification of the Qur’anic verse reffered to above. The Zabihah of the “People of the Book” has been made lawful for the Muslims on account of the fact that in their Scripture, the slaughter of that animal is deemed unlawful on which the name of God has not been recited intentionally or which has been dedicated to any other deity than God. The modern versions of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) have almost similar regulations for Zabihah and Nikah (marriage) which are to be observed in Islam. However, now when the “People of the Book” have discarded the regulations of their own Scripture, their Zabihah cannot be considered lawful. The permission given in verse 5 of Surah Al-Maidah is thus conditional and does not confer a blanket approval to eat the animal slaughtered by those who have a Book, regardless of the way it was killed, whether its neck was twisted or it died by suffocation. The crux of the matter is whether the animal has been legally (ritually) slaughtered according to the religious prescription, regardless of whether or not the slaughterer is a Muslim or a man from among the “People of the Book”.

There are two more points involved in the issue:

One, what is the method of killing the animal pursued by butchers in the West?

Second, has the animal been killed in the name of Allah?

The advocates of non-Zabihah do not address themselves to any of the above points. Instead, they try to confuse the issue by bringing ayah 5 of Shurah al-Maidah to their aid.

Only two ayahs before, the same Surah al-Ma’idah tells us:

“Forbidden to you (for food) are dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which has been invoked the name of other than Allah, that which has been killed by strangling or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death, that which has been (partly) eaten by a wild animal, unless you are able to slaughter it (in due form).” (5:3)

Ayah 5 of Surah Al-Ma’idah “This day are (all) the things good and pure (tayabaat) made lawful (halal) unto you, the food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them” does allow Muslims to eat the food of the “People of the Book” but there are certain conditions tied to it:

1. The Qur’an says, “tayabaat” are made lawful and “tayabaat” are excluded from those which the Qur’an & Prophet declared “haram”, especially those which have been described in the above ayah (3). This ayah (3) is only one ayah before ayah (5) and the Qur’an is free from contradiction.

2. The Qur’an is giving us the same criterion for lawful and unlawful. In fact, even the distorted Bible still has this proof in Acts 15 (20): “To abstain from the pollution of idols and from the unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood”.

Even those who justify the eating of haram beef and chicken by saying that the food of the “People of the Book” is lawful insist on excluding pork and alcohol. If this verse means that whatever is the food of the “People of the Book” today you can eat, then how can they exclude pork and alcohol?

Second, a thing (not Islamically slaughtered meat) which is haram at your own house, how can it become halal at their homes?

Further, if the Qur’anic ayah does not specify “chicken and beef” or even “meat”. Then how can the word “food” be translated as meat, specifically chicken and beef only, and not pork?

The question of practicing or non-practicing Jews and Christians is irrevelant, for it is not the piety of a butcher which is the issue; instead, it is of slaughtering or killing (or the act of butchering).

The non-Zabihah meat sold in stores is, therefore, haram, for it is not slaughtered Islamically. In fact, the Qur’an as well as the Bible testify that the “People of the Book” were commanded to slaughter (make Zabihah). The Jewish Kosher is a living proof that the “People of the Book” were commanded the same way as were the Muslims.

If there are Muslims who insists that we will still follow the “People of the Book” even when they do not follow their book, then what is the purpose of the Prophethood of Muhammad (Sallallaho Alaihi Wasalallam)?

The legal opinion (Fatwa) of Sheikh Abdullah Ibn Hamid, President, Shariah Law Supreme Council and president, Jurisprudence Assembly in Saudi Arabia is summarized as follows:

“The slaughtered animals of the People of the Book are not to be eaten at present because they are not legally slaughtered, and these people do not mention Allah’s name upon their slaughtered beasts. The legal slaughter that the general public rightly agrees to should be in the trachea and in the upper part of the chest. The slaughter must not be done elsewhere. The People of the Book do not adhere to this rule”.

Thus the Muslims are also forbidden to eat animals that died from strangulation, beating, or a headlong fall, or those which have been killed by goring of the horns. It is common knowledge that in all these conditions unconsciousness precedes death. Mankind knew of these forms in the early days. In the presence of this knowledge, Muslims were asked to use carotid method. The Qur’an describes the whole process by two technical terms Zabah and Zakah – “cutting and draining the blood”. Generally, some misconceptions are associated with this process of slaughtering animals by Muslims because of its alleged cruelty, although these are unfounded as other methods of killing animals like electrocution, suffocation, and shattering the brain through bullet shot, etc., are far more painful, as we shall see later. Islam prescribes a humane method and Muslims need not be shy on this account before the West, for what is made lawful by Allah, they cannot make it unlawful and what He has made unlawful, they cannot make lawful.

In the light of Qur’anic verses 6:122, 22:36, 22:34, 6:139, 16:115, 6:119, 2:173, 5:3, 5:5, and 5:4, some of which have already been quoted and the foregoing account, the slaughtered animals of the “People of the Book” in Western or other countries are not lawful because when animals are slaughtered then Bismillah is not said over them and the methods of slaughter are also not conformity with the requirements of the Shari’ah. Besides, there are other differences. There are instances, when maitah (carrion) has been served because the system of slaughter is based on stunning and many of the animals actually die before reaching the blade. The Ulama are agreed that the food of the “People of the Book” which Allah made lawful for Muslims is that food which Allah made lawful for them in their Scriptures and through their Prophets and modern scholars need not say more about it because the matter is plain and clear.

Finally, there are some people who say “it is permissible to eat it (i.e. non-Zabihah meat) after saying Bismillah at the time of eating”. We have, however, never heard that saying “Bismillah” on food which is unlawful turns it into lawful food. What we are sure of is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to say “Bismillah” when he commenced eating any food or drinking liquids, thereby, blessing them and making them useful with the grace of “Bismillah”. Furthermore, he advised Muslims to do the same but he never told them that what was unlawful could be made lawful by saying Bismillah over it. The advocates of the Bismillah formula are in fact not aware of the background, intent and purpose of a Hadith in Bukhari which is reproduced below:

Narrated by Aisha (R.A.): A group of people said to the Prophet (peace be upon him), “Some people bring us meat and we do not know whether they have mentioned Allah’s name or not on slaughtering the animal”. He said: “Mention Allah’s name on it and eat”. Those people had embraced Islam recently. (Bukhari vol. VII page 302 English translation).

It is obvious that this relates to the slaughter of neo-Muslims (i.e. those people who had embraced Islam recently) and not the slaughter of Kuffar (Jews and Christians). In another Hadith the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) even advised care in matter of utensils so that the purity of food is not disturbed by using such utensils of the “People of the Book” in which swine flesh and its derivatives may have been served:

Narrated Abu Thalaha Al Khushaui: I came to the Prophet and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! We are living in the land of the People of the Scripture, and we take our meals in their utensils, and there is a game in that land and I hunt with my bow an with my trained hound and with my untrained hound”. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “As for you saying that you are in the land of the People of the Bbook, you should not eat in their utensils, unless you find no alternative, in which case you must wash the utensils and then eat in them…” (Bukhari)

It would be worthwhile and advisable to consider and reflect on the implications of the following Ahadith regarding lawful and unlawful in Islam:

1. An-Nu’man bin Bashir reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “What is lawful is clear and what is unlawful is clear, but between them are certain doubtful things which many people do not recognize. He who guards against doubtful things, keeps his religion and honour blameless. But he who falls into doubtful things, falls into what is unlawful, just as a shepherd who pastures his animals around a preserve will soon pasture them into it”. (Bukhari and Muslim)

2. Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger as saying that Allah is good and accepts only what is good, and He has given the same command to the believers as He has given to the messengers, saying, “O messengers, eat of what is good and act righteously,” (XXIII:51) and also, “You who believe, eat of the good things which We have provided for you”. (II:172) Then he mentioned a man who makes a long journey in a disheveled and dusty state, who stretches out his hands to heaven saying, “My Lord, my Lord”, when his food, drink and clothing are of an unlawful nature, and he is nourished by what is unlawful, and asked how such a one could be given an answer. (Muslim)

3. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) is also reported to have said: “Flesh which has grown out of which is unlawful will not enter Paradise, but hell is more fitting for all flesh which has grown out of what is unlawful”. (Ahmad, Darimi and Baihaqi).

4. Al-Irbad b. Sariya declared that Allah’s messenger got up and said, “Does any of you, while reclining on his couch, imagine that Allah has prohibited only what is to be found in the Qur’an? By Allah, I have commanded, exhorted and prohibited various matters as numerous as those found in the Qur’an, or more numerous. Allah has not permitted you to enter the houses of the People of the Book without permission, or beat their women, or eat their fruits, when they give you what is imposed on them”. (Abu Daud).

5. Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger as saying, “The Qur’an came down showing five aspects: what is permissible, what is prohibited, what is firmly fixed, what is obscure, and parables. So treat what is permissible as permissible and what is prohibited as prohibited, act upon what is firmly fixed, believe in what is obscure, and take a lesson from the parables”. This is the wording in Al-masabih. Baihaqi transmitted in Shu’ab al-Iman, his wording being, “Act according to what is permissible, avoid what is prohibited, and follow what is firmly fixed”.

There can be no gainsaying in the fact that the effect of food and drink upon the body and temperament is very powerful. The physicians, therefore, prescribe special diets for patients, so that indiscriminate diet may not injure the body. The Almighty Allah knows our constitution perfectly well and He knows how to keep it best in health. As soundness of mind depends on soundness of body, food and drink may be said to be one of the principal causes which leads a man to do evil or act virtuously. The Almighty Allah and His Messenger (S.A.W.) therefore prescribed such food for men as are conducive to them from a temporal and religious point of view. This is also the reason why lawful food, unlawfully acquired, has been made unlawful, as it greatly affects the moral tendency of a man.

It may be pertinent to mention here that at present, Argentina and Brazil, etc. are exporting a lot frozen meat to Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. This meat is not quite lawful for the Muslims as the animals are not slaughtered according to the way prescribed by theShari’ah. The exporting firms very cunningly put theHalalmark on their products which in reality is not the case. There are no Muslim butchers or supervisors attached to these firms and as such their statement cannot be relied upon. It is very important that the Islamic Organizations should probe into the matter urgently to ensure that the Muslim masses in Arab countries are not fed on this type of meat as, according to aHadithof the blessed Prophet (S.A.W.), the prayers of a person nourished on unlawful food are not heard or accepted. This is a grave issue and should be taken in right earnestness by Muslim governments.

The summary of this somewhat heated discussion and probing is as follows:

a. No food of the “People of the Book” is lawful for a Muslim except that which is lawful for the “People of the Book” themselves, according to the directions of their Scriptures and their Prophets. And consequently, when the “People of the Book” prepare an animal for food, it would not be lawful for a Muslim, unless they had slaughtered it according to the directions in their Scripture.

b.Halalmeat is available in many western countries through the efforts of dedicated Islamic workers and it is easy for anyone keen on getting it to be able to procure it. And now that the correct Islamic decision on the matter is made known, there would be no excuse for any Muslim to eat unlawful meat. And it should be known that the body, which is nourished on unlawful food, will be consigned to Hell as mentioned in theHadith.

c. Although on the surface of it, theHalal Zabihameat may appear a little expensive in the USA and other European countries as compared to the meat of animals slaughtered automatically by a machine, it is worth purchasing because it is far more hygienic as the blood of the animal is completely drained out by slitting its throat. Furthermore, the eating of meat, which is sold in the market, is not lawful for a Muslim on account of the fact that except for kosher meat, the conditions set forth earlier are not fulfilled. The machine slaughter procedure in the West is not compatible with the strict Islamic standards and as such the Muslims at present cannot ordinarily get supplies of genuine halal meat in the open market, despite contrary claims by certain quarters.

d. Stunning before slaughter should not be resorted to except in cases of utmost necessity, as when large animals like camels, etc., are to be slaughtered because of the difficulty in controlling them. There is however, no justification to “practice stunning as a routine method” because it causes unnecessary suffering and torture to the animal which is detested by Islam. Furthermore, it is affirmed that electric stunning hastens the initiation of decay of flesh and affects its taste (this was one of the reasons for complaints by meat producers in Denmark), produces blood clots in the meat, and even causes paralysis in the animal to be slaughtered. As such, the stunning operation is considered harmful to the flesh and causes great suffering to the animal. The Islamic way of slaughter is still the best way and that which causes the least pain and suffering. The Islamic slaughter is in fact painless – technical arguments in favour of this view abound – and is most importantly, the only effective way of assuring the full draining of blood from the animal, which is essential for the meat to be halal.

e. The animal should also be treated kindly after it is killed. Its neck must not be broken. It should not be skinned nor any part of its body cut before it becomes cool. If inadvertently the name of Allah is not mentioned, the slain animal may be eaten. It is related that Abu Hurairah said: “A man came to the Prophet (SAW), peace be upon him, and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, what of a man who slays and forgets to mention Allah’s name?’. The Prophet replied: ‘Allah’s name is upon every Muslim.’” (Al-Dar Qutni). It is also permissible to eat the flesh of a slaughtered animal whose head had been cut off in an act of swift slaughter, i.e. hen, etc. This is lawful as an accidental happening in view of the following Hadith: “Eat from what the blood sheds and upon which the name of Allah is mentioned.” Ibn Abbas, Anas, and Ibn Umar are of opinion that if in the act of slaughtering an animal from the side of his jugular veins, his head is separated from the body, the meat of such an animal is lawful. But this should not be done intentionally, otherwise it would not be lawful in any case, whether or not its head is separated from its body. In either case, its meat will become unlawful.

This method of cutting the neck from the upper side is the general practice in Western countries.

Since the Islamic method of slaughter is a form of worship, the Muslims are not allowed to eat the flesh of any animal not legally (ritually) slaughtered. Thus, in the light of principles of Islamic jurisprudence, it is conclusively, decisively and convincingly proved that chickens and animals slaughtered by machines with a built-in rotating saw or blade and motivated by electric current or any other motive power are forbidden and unlawful for Muslims. While Allah may forgive our past lapses for not taking Halal meat due to ignorance or its non-availability at certain places, but now we will be great sinners in the sight of Allah if we do not switch over to Halal meat, fish, Kosher meat and green pulss which are within our easy reach. The price of Halal Zabihah meat in non-Muslim countries will come down, once all Muslims there start consuming it, because of the economies of large scale production.

This is all we can say. If in our effort to find the truth and bring it out, we have said something which is correct, then it is from Allah and to Him is due all praise and gratitude. And if we have made a mistake, we ask him for pardon and forgiveness. Finally, may peace and blessings be showered on Muhammad (SAW), the Seal of the Prophets, and the best of Allah, and on his family, his companions, and those who follow his teachings.

The above is taken from the booklet entitled “The Meat: Lawful and Unlawful in Islam” by Mohammad Sami’ullah. The booklet is published by Siddiqi Trust of Karachi, Pakistan.