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Lesson - 28


"O men, eat the lawful and good things from what is in the earth." Ch. 2:168

Dietary laws in Islam

For this lesson I have selected the injunctions regarding food in Islam. The reason for this is that some young men and women who have been influenced by western values, raise questions regarding the prohibition of certain foods. The Divine commandments regarding food are as follows:

  1. Eat of whatever is in the earth, provided it is lawful (halal), and good (tayyib). Those things are lawful which Allah has declared lawful, and are earned in a manner that is consistent with the law of God, and the law of the land. Allah has declared all things lawful, with the exception of a few, but it is essential that they should be earned in a lawful manner, and those means that are prohibited by God, and the law of the land should be avoided.
  2. The second important law in this matter is:

    " Eat and drink and be not prodigal" (7:31).
    Most of us eat more than is needed, and this leads to many illnesses, particularly due to excessive weight gain. Most of us are aware of the harmful effects of excessive food consumption, however, excessive consumption of beverages such as water, tea and coffee can also adversely affect one’s health and well being. In fact, doctors frequently recommend moderation in the consumption of both tea and coffee for heavy users. People are not ordinarily aware of the fact that drinking water in excess of one’s thirst, can also lead to weight gain, and just as over watering of land can lead to water logging, excessive consumption of fluids can be deleterious to the human body. Water consumption should be regulated by the thirst drive, and over consumption should be avoided.
  3. The third significant injunction in this matter is:

    "O you who believe, forbid no the good things which Allah has made lawful for you" (5:87).
    What are these good things which have also been previously mentioned with the lawful ones? Good (tayyib) means that which is pure, or desirable. An item which is lawful may not be pure, clean and desirable under certain circumstances. For example, the flesh of a goat which has been slaughtered in the prescribed manner is lawful, but it becomes unsuitable (not good) for consumption if it rots. Eating sugar is lawful, but it is not good (tayyib) for a patient of diabetes. Islam, according to the Holy Quran respects the natural likes of people. For example, it is lawful to consume the meat of a crow, but some people do not like to eat its meat. It is inappropriate to insist that they should eat it because it is lawful. Before Islam, the Arabs used to eat dhabb, a larger variety of a lizard. Islam did not declare it unlawful, however, when a man cooked some of it and brought it for the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), he declined to eat it. it is therefore all right to eat lawful things which are clean, provided they are not rotten or prohibited by the doctor, and are to one’s liking. The verse that I just quoted states that, ‘do not prohibit for yourself certain good and lawful things.’ This is to discourage certain practices common among some religions, and unfortunately also practiced by some Muslims, where so called pirs (spiritualists) prohibit certain foods to practise self deprivation.
  4. In the fourth category we will discuss those things which Allah has forbidden. These are basically four in number, as stated in this verse:

    "He has forbidden you only what dies of itself, and blood, and the flesh of the swine, and that over which any other name than that of Allah has been invoked" (2:173).
    More details of this are provided in chapter five, verse three, where it is stated that, ‘what dies by itself,’ includes which dies by strangulation (for example, a goat which gets strangulated on its tie), that dying of injury, or that which the wild beasts have eaten except what you slaughter before it dies. In all these situations blood letting by slaughtering which is essential for purifying the meat has not occurred. It has also been further clarified in this verse that animals which are slaughtered without invoking the name of Allah include those that are slaughtered in front of the idols.

Why certain foods are forbidden

Now I will further discuss the above mentioned forbidden foods in order to elaborate the philosophy behind this Divine injunction. First let us consider the animal that dies naturally. Obviously such an animal was stricken by some disease. Eating its flesh creates the possibility of being infected by it. It is also quite possible that such an animal may have putrefied inside, although this may not be apparent by superficial observation. The process of slaughtering eliminates the blood from the flesh as the heart of the animal continues to beat and pump the blood out, although the animal is unconscious and not feeling any pain. The flesh of an animal that is not slaughtered still contains blood, and decomposes at a faster rate. Food affects human character, as I will discuss later on, and also affects physical appearance. For example, animals like vultures and hyenas that eat the flesh of other dead animals, have an abominable appearance. This has been my personal observation as well. Several years ago while employed in Bombay, I noticed that races which consumed carrion possessed not only bad habits, and low levels of morality, but also had unpleasant physical characteristics. In any case, one cannot deny the fact that the animal which dies of itself is usually disease infected. And consumption of its flesh creates a health hazard.

Now let us discuss the prohibition on blood consumption. Scientific research has now proven that all germs, bacteria, viruses, and waste materials circulate n the body through the bloodstream. Disease causing germs, toxic materials, and waste products of metabolism are carried to and from body organs and the skin by the circulation of blood. Blood deteriorates faster than flesh, and for this reason meat that contains blood putrefies quickly. Consuming blood separately, therefore, can be deleterious to health. You may be surprised to learn that there are certain groups amongst the Sikhs and the Gurkhas who consume blood. Since food affects the character traits of the consumer, those who have fought against such groups are well aware of their bloodthirsty ferocity. Those who do not consume blood separately, but consume it along with the meat are also more ferocious than the nations that do not consume blood at all, such as the Jews and the Muslims. That is why a Muslim soldier is a more civilized soldier. Animals that consume blood, such as lions and tigers, are also well known for their ferocity.

The prohibition on the consumption of the flesh of the swine will now be discussed. The Jewish religion prohibits the flesh of the swine, and Jesus showed his disdain for it by making some evil spirits enter into the swine. The adverse health affects of pork are also being gradually discovered. Not only is it the most indigestible form of flesh, but it can also spread many illnesses which are not prevented even by cooking it. The greatest disadvantage however, is that food affects character. The swine has a particular character trait of being the only animal which has no territorial instincts, or sense of honor regarding its female mate, or with regards to sexual behavior in general. Not only does it not protest the mating of other swine with its female, but actually encourages such behavior. The shamelessness which has occurred as a result of pork consumption, is quite evident in the western societies, today. The fact that food affects the character of an animal, has now been confirmed by some scientific experiments. These are mentioned in the January 1973 issue of the Reader’s Digest magazine, where it is proven that the character traits of one animal can be transmitted to another by means of food. If this is true for the animals, it has to be true for the humans as well.

Finally, the consumption of the flesh of an animal over which any other name than that of Allah has been invoked, is prohibited. The reason for this is that since Allah is the Creator of Allah life, only He has the right to take it. Since it is not practically possible for man to seek permission from Allah every time an animal is to be slaughtered, therefore, Allah permitted man to invoke His name whenever he slaughters an animal. This is equivalent to seeking Divine permission for taking the life of that animal. If mention is made of the name of an idol, or a religious personality, then it is tantamount to considering that idol, or person as the master and creator of the animal being slaughtered, and this amounts to association with God, Who is the real Creator and Master. Hence, an animal sacrificed before an idol is considered unlawful. As far as monotheism is concerned, Islam has perfected the law to such a degree that anything which even slightly affects its sanctity is prohibited.

Dietary laws relaxed in times of necessity

The Holy Quran, while prohibiting the four things mentioned above, has provided for exemption in case of a person who is driven by necessity. This is stated in the verse:

"Then whoever is driven by necessity, not desiring, nor exceeding limit, no sin is upon him. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful" (2:173).

For example, if a person’s life is endangered due to hunger, or there is some other compulsion (as was done to some Muslims by non-Muslims), transgression of the dietary law is not a sin, provided the transgressor does not desire such unlawful things, and also does not go beyond what is necessary. His situation is under the forgiveness and mercy of Allah.

Hadith relating to dietary prohibitions

In the Hadith, it is stated, that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) prohibited all beasts of prey with a nab (the canine tooth), such as the lions, wolves, dogs and all birds of prey with a claw, such as kites etc. The Holy Quran states:

"Not does he speak out of desire. It is naught , but revelation that is revealed" (53:3,4)

i.e., the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) does not say anything out of his own desire, but only what is revealed to him through inner revelation. All sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) fall under this category, and therefore, these types of animals are also forbidden.

All of marine life has been made lawful , as stated in this verse:

"Lawful to you is the game of the sea and its food" (5:96).

These do not require to be slaughtered (Bukhari 11:72). Some of these do not contain blood, and the ones that do have it in very small quantity, and its effect is different. All game is lawful, even if it is caught with hunting dogs, or hunting birds, provided that the name of Allah is recited on it. (5:4). If there is no opportunity to slaughter the game, one should recite, ‘In the name of Allah, Allah is the Greatest (Bismillah, Allahu Akbar),’ before letting the hunting dog or bird lose. The same injunction applies to hunting with a bow or a rifle.

The food of the people of the book is lawful (5:5). The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, if you are in doubt as to the name of Allah having been recited on it, or to its being slaughtered properly, recite yourself, ‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Allah is the Greatest,’ on it before consuming it (Bukhari 20:72). The people of the book include all those nations that have a revealed scripture, such as the Christians, Jews, Hindus, Parsees, etc.

Allah has made lawful all foods except the few mentioned above. To insist on eating these unlawful things is rebelling against the authority of Allah which is the result of persuasion of the devil, as stated in this verse:

"O men, eat the lawful, and good things from what is on the earth, and follow not the footsteps of the devil. Surely he is an open enemy to you" (2:168).

How can man learn to submit, if he is not prohibited from certain things, and given the opportunity to comply with such prohibition. If a person insists on eating the four or five items that Allah has prohibited when He, Allah has given him hundreds of thousands of lawful things to eat, then this is nothing else but rebellion and insubordination — an instigation of the devil. I have already shown that these Divine injunctions in this matter are not without a reason.

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