The Food (Meat) of People of the Book
Dr. Shaikh Jaafar Al-Quaderi
It has become common for Muslims to de-emphasize the importance of proper food to the point that many Muslims are seen eating in restaurants or fast food establishments, indulging in foods that should be avoided. Muslims should be more serious and careful about eating meat at restaurants in non-Muslim countries and during travel. The Islamic rules apply in the non-Muslim West as they apply elsewhere. God ordained for us a specific way of life and encouraged Muslim believers by saying:
O you who believe! Eat of the good things that We have provided for you and be grateful to God, if it is Him you worship. (Quran, 2: 172)
In fact, God did not limit HIS instructions to the believers alone. HE also instructed all HIS Messengers, as thus:
O you messengers! Enjoy (all) things good and pure, and work righteousness: for I am well acquainted with (all) that you do. (Quran, 23: 51)
The Arabic word Tayyibaat here, translated as ‘good and pure’, is a general and all-encompassing word about all foods, including meats, grains, fruits and vegetables, etc. However, when God discussed meat, HE was exact in instructing us to pronounce HIS name on the meat, as follows:
So eat of (meats) on which God’s name has been pronounced, if you have faith in His Signs. (Quran, 6: 118)
God did not instruct us to pronounce HIS name when HE spoke about foods in general. HE instructed us to “eat of the Tayyibaat (good and pure)” foods. Then God addressed us by asking:
Why should you not eat of (meats) on which God’s name has been pronounced, when He has explained to you in detail what is forbidden to you, except under compulsion of necessity? But many do mislead (men) by their appetites unchecked by knowledge. Your Lord knoweth best those who transgress. (Quran, 6: 119)
Then God forbade us from eating meat upon which HIS name has not been pronounced, by saying:
Eat not of (meats) on which God’s name hath not been pronounced: that would be impiety. But the evil ones ever inspire their friends to contend with you if you were to obey them, you would indeed be Pagans. (Quran, 6: 121)
In interpreting this verse, Imam Al-Fakhr Al-Razi said, it has been related that ‘Ata had said: all food and drink upon which God’s name has not been pronounced is haram (forbidden), based on the guidance of this verse. However, all the other scholars agreed that this verse was specific to meat only. Imam Al-Razi used the opinions of three schools of thought to explain this verse. The first is that of Imam Malik, which states that the meat from any slaughter upon which God’s name is not pronounced is haram, regardless of whether it was intentional or by error. Ibn Sirin and several other theologists agree with this viewpoint.
The second explanation is that of Imam Abu Hanifa, which states that the meat from any slaughter where the name of God is intentionally not pronounced is haram. If the slaughterman forgets to pronounce the name of God at slaughter, then the meat is Halal.
The third explanation is that of Imam Al-Shafi’i, which states that the animal carcass is Halal, even if the name of God is not pronounced at the time of slaughter, regardless of whether it is intentional or forgotten, as long as the slaughterman is a qualified person, i.e., a sane Muslim. And after a long discussion on this final opinion, Imam Al-Razi said (this is important for us) it is best for a Muslim to avoid eating meat from animals when God’s name has not been pronounced at slaughter, because the guidance from this verse is strong. This means Muslims should avoid meats slaughtered without pronouncing of the name of God at the time of slaughter.
As to the main question, the slaughter of Ahlul Kitab (‘People of the book” – Jews and Chrisitians), we find the guidance in the following verse:
This day are (all) things Good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them…. (Quran, 5: 5)
And the word Ta’aam (food) in this verse has been interpreted in three ways. First, the animals which are slaughtered by Ahlul Kitab are Halal for Muslims. Second, only the bread, fruits, vegetables, fish and all foods not requiring slaughter are Halal for Muslims (this is the opinion of some of the Imams of the Zaidi school of thought). This opinion holds that the meat of the Ahlul Kitab is Haram. Third, is all foods, those which are slaughtered and those which are not slaughtered are Halal for Muslims. The majority of scholars have not accepted the second and third opinions. They hold that the word Ta’aam (food) in this verse means the animals, which are slaughtered because it does not become food until after it is slaughtered. They added that all foods not requiring slaughter are already Halal, whether it is owned by Ahlul Kitab or not. Meaning there is no reason to favor the food of Ahlul Kitab in this matter.
So, if we conclude that the meaning of the word Ta’aam is the animals requiring slaughter, does it mean all animals eaten by Ahlul Kitab or is it specific to certain ones? We know that some of the Ahlul Kitab eat animals which are haram for Muslims, regardless of how they were slaughtered, such as pork. There is no disagreement among the Muslim scholars that pork is Haram. Therefore the meaning of the word Ta’aam cannot be any food, rather it means the Halal animals which are slaughtered by Ahlul Kitab. The final question is: Can Muslims eat the meat of Halal animals slaughtered by Ahlul Kitab only on the condition they pronounce the name of God at the time of slaughter, without any other conditions?
It is useful to consider that in the earlier days, it was customary for the people to slaughter only for their personal needs. If they slaughtered a large animal and were unable to use all the meat, they would share it with their friends and neighbors. This is clear from the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). It was not customary to slaughter many animals for sale or trade. So when they slaughtered for their personal needs, they used to pronounce the name of God at the time of slaughter. Nowadays our needs are different and unlike in the past, markets are commonplace. So now, slaughtering is divided into two categories, slaughtering for sale and slaughtering for personal use. Most of the available meat is of the first category, meat that has been slaughtered for sale. With this backdrop, let us review the opinions of the scholars in answer to the question: Is it permissible to eat the meat slaughtered by Ahlul Kitab with or without Tasmiyyah?
Ibn Katheer said, “This is the matter on which the scholars agreed upon, that the slaughter of Ahlul Kitab is Halal for Muslims to consume because they believe in the prohibition of slaughtering in a name other than God, and they pronounce no name on their slaughter except that of God. In response to this, we must weigh the current evidence. It is our observation that neither all Jews nor all Christians pronounce the name of God at the time of slaughter. In fact, some pronounce a name other than God’s. Shaikh Al-Aloosi, author of Ruh Al- Ma’ani said: Al-Hassan (r) has said Muslims should not eat the meat slaughtered by a Jew or Christian who slaughters in a name other than God.
Shaikh Al-Qurtubi has said that a group of Muslim scholars believes that if you hear the Kitabi (Jew or Christian) pronounce a name other than God’s at the time of slaughter, then do not eat the meat. In agreement with this from among the companions of the Prophet (s) are Syedina Ali, Syedatina ‘Aisha, Syedina Ibn Umar (r) and also Tawoos and Al-Hassan (r). From this, it is evident that it is haram to eat meat that has been slaughtered while pronouncing a name other than God. Furthermore, it is evident that Jews have been ordered to pronounce the name of God at the time of slaughter; however, most of them have modified this requirement.
In our present day, the behavior of Ahlul Kitab has changed dramatically and they no longer abide by the laws revealed to them, especially in the matter of slaughter. This is clear since Christians do not pronounce any name upon slaughter, neither that of God nor that of anyone else. If you ask the Christian slaughterman, as I have done, what he says at slaughter, the response would be: NOTHING. They say there is no connection between slaughtering and religion. They say they are employees doing a job and they just do it. This is in regard to the animals slaughtered for sale in the marketplace, which is what concerns us.
As for the Jews, we personally attended a slaughter facility where there were three Jewish workers. They all met before starting the slaughter and recited something. Then they separated and each went to a different area to perform their duties. The first was the slaughterman and he performed the slaughter. The second examined the organs of the carcasses to check for any indications of disease. If he detected any, he discarded the organ. If not, he passed the organ on to the third worker. The third one stamped the organs and wrote something in Hebrew on them.
During the slaughter operation, the first Jewish worker, the slaughterman, conversed with us and answered our questions while he was slaughtering. On that day, they were to slaughter approximately 450 cows. After a time, they announced they were near the end of the day’s slaughter. All three met again and recited something in Hebrew and then dispersed again to slaughter the last animal for the day.
During this visit we observed that Jews recite something at the beginning and at the end of the slaughter and they do not recite anything on each animal during the slaughter. On this day, 450 animals were slaughtered and the only recitation performed was prior to the start and prior to slaughtering the last animal. In spite of this, all 450 heads slaughtered were labeled as kosher. Do we consider this to be the meat of Ahlul Kitab? Ibn Katheer has said: God concession for eating the meat of Ahlul Kitab does not include that meat upon which the name of God has not been pronounced at the time of slaughter. This is because Ahlul Kitab are required to pronounce the name of God during their ritual slaughter. Because of this, God has not made it Halal for Muslims to consume the meat of other peoples”, besides Ahlul Kitab, since the other peoples do not pronounce the name of God at slaughter. Therefore the condition which must be met to allow Muslims to eat the meat of Ahlul Kitab, as opposed to other peoples, is that they should pronounce the name of God at the time of slaughter. If this condition is not met, then the permission to eat their meat is not granted whether they own the meat or merely slaughter it for a business corporation. Let us return to what Imam Al-Razi has said, “It is best for Muslims to avoid eating meat which was not slaughtered while pronouncing the name of God because the verse (Quran, 6: 6) is very strong.” We should keep in mind that Imam Al-Razi himself followed the Shafi’i school but he was not comfortable in this case with the Shafi’i school’s opinion. Finally, most of the Muslim nations do not accept the mistaken opinion that allows the consumption of the beef, lamb, and poultry found in restaurants operated by Ahlul Kitab.
We ask God to guide us to the right path, always and forever, and to forgive our mistakes, for HE is ALL-Hearing and close. And peace to all who follow The Guidance.
God knows best.
Dr. Shaikh Jaafar Al-Quaderi has been Religious advisor to IFANCA since 1982. Dr. Quaderi is a graduate of Nizamia University Hyderabad, India and a recipient of Doctoral degree from Al-Azhar University, Egypt in 1970, where he conducted research at the Faculty of Shariah & Law, in USUL al-Fiqh: the resolutions and permissions in Islam. His command of Arabic language is outstanding, evidenced by his 11 years as an announcer at Radio Cairo. Concurrently, he taught Arabic at the American University and conducted some classes at the Indian Embassy.
After graduating from Nizamia University, Dr. Quaderi worked at the Osmania University Hyderabad as an editor of the Arabic manuscripts of historic significance. After immigrating to the USA in 1980, Dr. Quaderi settled in Chicago, where he taught Arabic for the next six years, first at the North-Eastern University, then at the American Islamic College. Since 1986, he has been busy teaching Arabic and Islamic Studies and leading the congregation at two of the suburban Islamic Centers.
Dr. Quaderi is well versed in comparative knowledge of Islamic schools of thought, however he practices Islam, according to the Hanafi School. His command of languages is excellent, especially Urdu, Arabic and English.