The Meat of those who were given the Book

There is much confusion concerning what food is permitted for the Muslim to eat and those which are not permitted. The confusion isn’t between different types of food but between permitted meats and non-permitted meats. Some Muslims are of the opinion meat that is served or bought in the land of Christians is permitted to eat for Muslims. This opinion was given by the fatwa of scholars based in Saudi Arabia and it does not reflect the deeper and more accurate understanding of the Quran concerning the issue of permitted meat.

Allah has declared the position concerning what meat is permitted to eat and which meats are not permitted. Allah stated in the Quran:

حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْمَيْتَةُ وَٱلدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ ٱلْخِنزِيرِ وَمَآ أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ ٱللَّهِ بِهِۦ وَٱلْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَٱلْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَٱلْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَٱلنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَآ أَكَلَ ٱلسَّبُعُ إِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيْتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى ٱلنُّصُبِ وَأَن تَسْتَقْسِمُوا۟ بِٱلْأَزْلَـٰمِ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ فِسْقٌ ۗ ٱلْيَوْمَ يَئِسَ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ مِن دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَٱخْشَوْنِ ۚ ٱلْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِى وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ ٱلْإِسْلَـٰمَ دِينًۭا ۚ فَمَنِ ٱضْطُرَّ فِى مَخْمَصَةٍ غَيْرَ مُتَجَانِفٍۢ لِّإِثْمٍۢ ۙ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌۭ رَّحِيمٌۭ

سورة المائدة 3

“Forbidden to you are carrion, blood, and swine; what is slaughtered in the name of any other than Allah; what is killed by strangling, beating, a fall, or by being gored to death; what is partly eaten by a predator unless you slaughter it; and what is sacrificed on altars. You are also forbidden to draw lots for decisions.1 This is all evil. Today the disbelievers have given up all hope of ˹undermining˺ your faith. So do not fear them; fear Me! Today I have perfected your faith for you, completed My favour upon you, and chosen Islam as your way. But whoever is compelled by extreme hunger—not intending to sin—then surely Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

وَلَا تَأْكُلُوا۟ مِمَّا لَمْ يُذْكَرِ ٱسْمُ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ وَإِنَّهُۥ لَفِسْقٌۭ ۗ وَإِنَّ ٱلشَّيَـٰطِينَ لَيُوحُونَ إِلَىٰٓ أَوْلِيَآئِهِمْ لِيُجَـٰدِلُوكُمْ ۖ وَإِنْ أَطَعْتُمُوهُمْ إِنَّكُمْ لَمُشْرِكُونَ

سورة الانعام 121

“Do not eat of what is not slaughtered in Allah’s Name. For that would certainly be ˹an act of˺ disobedience. Surely the devils whisper to their ˹human˺ associates to argue with you.1 If you were to obey them, then you ˹too˺ would be polytheists.

The verses above are express in their application that meat which is killed in other than the proscribed way is forbidden for the believer to consume. Not only is it forbidden to eat meat that is killed in the name of others, as in surah Al-Ma’ida 3 but, it is also forbidden to eat the meat that is killed where Allah’s name is not mentioned upon it at the time of slaughter. This strict condition prevents the situation where it is unknown whether the meat has been killed in the proscribed way or not and therefore can be declared permitted by default. It is that serious a subject that these matters are not left to doubt or ignorance but forces the believer to be in a state of consciousness at every stage of the consuming process. The consumption of food and the sustaining of life by killing other living creatures is such a spiritual act and has such an impact on our spiritual state that it must be done in a state of complete and utter obedience to the Creator. Any opinion of a scholar that has the effect of circumnavigating the intention of the Lawgiver is to be ignored and left.

Any meat that is not killed without Allah’s name being mentioned is forbidden. There is no exception given to this in any circumstances except two, which will be discussed later. So, why is it that the sharia would allow meat from a Christian but forbid the same meat from a Muslim who does not mention Allah’s name. This would be an absurd result and would be a contradiction. This cannot be the position of the sharia and indeed it isn’t. The Quran is completely consistent in its approach to the permission of meat.

Allah does indeed give permission to the Muslims to eat the meat that is sacrificed by non-Muslims:

ٱلْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ ٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتُ ۖ وَطَعَامُ ٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ حِلٌّۭ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّۭ لَّهُمْ ۖ وَٱلْمُحْصَنَـٰتُ مِنَ ٱلْمُؤْمِنَـٰتِ وَٱلْمُحْصَنَـٰتُ مِنَ ٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَآ ءَاتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَـٰفِحِينَ وَلَا مُتَّخِذِىٓ أَخْدَانٍۢ ۗ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِٱلْإِيمَـٰنِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُۥ وَهُوَ فِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ مِنَ ٱلْخَـٰسِرِينَ

سورة المائدة 5

“Today all good, pure foods have been made lawful for you. Similarly, the food of those who were given the book is permissible for you and yours is permissible for them. And ˹permissible for you in marriage˺ are chaste believing women as well as chaste women of those given the Scripture before you—as long as you pay them their dowries in wedlock, neither fornicating nor taking them as mistresses. And whoever rejects the faith, all their good deeds will be void ˹in this life˺ and in the Hereafter they will be among the losers.”

Allah has permitted the consumption of the meat of those whom were given the book and He has also permitted the taking of their women in marriage. The non-Hebrew Muslim scholars understood the phrase used in the Quran to mean Christian and then applied it to anyone who claimed Christianity. This interpretation has caused a major confusion in understanding the position of the sharia. Allah explicitly states that ‘those who were given the book’ and does not use the term people-of-the-book nor does He d use the term Maseehi.[1]In Arabic language when the word people[2] is used it gives the impression of that person being associated with a particular thing it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a blood, genetic or sharia connection. An Example from the Quran is surah Kahf:

فَٱنطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا رَكِبَا فِى ٱلسَّفِينَةِ خَرَقَهَا ۖ قَالَ أَخَرَقْتَهَا لِتُغْرِقَ أَهْلَهَا لَقَدْ جِئْتَ شَيْـًٔا إِمْرًۭا

سورة الكهف 71

So they set out, but after they had boarded a ship, the man made a hole in it. Moses protested, “Have you done this to drown its people? You have certainly done a terrible thing!

As above the term people (ahl) is used to denote an attachment of some kind rather than a sharia or legal relationship to a thing which then requires rights and duties to be fulfilled. The above is speaking about the people who were associated to the boat by choice, either ownership or as a passenger. The relationships were not by necessity, force or divine command . In contrast the term those who were “given the book” this term is sometimes accompanied with obligations and when used referring to the children of Israel, explicitly, it implies obligations and commands and permission based upon obedience that must be fulfilled. Another example of ahl being used to signify a relationship or willing attachment rather than a sharia or legal attachment is:

وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًۭا نُّوحِىٓ إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ فَسْـَٔلُوٓا۟ أَهْلَ ٱلذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

سُورَةُ النَّحْلِ 43

We did not send messengers before you except that they were men we give them revelation therefore ask the people of dhikr if you are in a state of not knowing

وَإِذْ أَخَذَ ٱللَّهُ مِيثَـٰقَ ٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ لَتُبَيِّنُنَّهُۥ لِلنَّاسِ وَلَا تَكْتُمُونَهُۥ فَنَبَذُوهُ وَرَآءَ ظُهُورِهِمْ وَٱشْتَرَوْا۟ بِهِۦ ثَمَنًۭا قَلِيلًۭا ۖ فَبِئْسَ مَا يَشْتَرُونَ

سُورَةُ آلِ عِمْرَآن 187

“Remember, O  Prophet, when Allah took the covenant of those who were given the book

 to make it known to people and not hide it, yet they cast it behind their backs and traded it for a fleeting gain. What a miserable profit!”

Even though some scholars have said that it could also refer to any previous nation that were given a book before the Quran, in many of the ayahs, it suggests that it is referring to the Children of Israel. When the meethaaq are mentioned it is suggested that it is referring solely to the Children of Israel.

Those who were given the book are duty bound to follow the commands and decrees in their sharia. Therefore, when the phrase ‘were given the book’ is used it indicates a people who are duty bound to adhere to a sharia rather than just indicating an optional belief or creed which they attach themselves to. When the ‘people of the book’ is mentioned, the overwhelming number of ayahs mention, in some form or another, creed or iman and none refer to a command or sharia obligation except when it is accompanied by the another qualifier such as Meethaaq which indicates that it is referring to the Children of Israel and their covenant or to implement a command or law.

Maulana Sheikh Imran Hosein has mentioned that when Ahl kitab is used it is always referring to the Children of Israel but it is referring to them as a whole but after they had become two communities, those that refused to follow Isa bin Maryam and those that did.

It is my humble opinion that both the above opinions do not contradict the assertion made here that ahl kitab (the people of the book) is a broader concept which can be inclusive while ‘those who were given the book’ is a more narrow concept and exclusive with different implications.

Therefore the conclusion that is arrived at is that the use of the term ‘those who were given the book’ is not being used as a simple synonym for the people of the book as is the opinion of some. The people were given the book in order to follow the commands that were contained therein, not just to be a member of an exclusive club. Equally, the term ‘people of the book’ has to reflect the Quranic narrative that says the Hebrew Prophets including Isa and their books were not for the whole of mankind but exclusively for the Children of Israel alone.[3] If we say that ‘those who were given the book’ is inclusive of those who were not given the book it would render the concept meaningless and it would place upon those who were not members of the Children of Israel laws and restrictions which were not placed upon them by Allah Himself.

What also supports this conclusion is that Allah states:

قُلْ يَـٰٓأَهْلَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ لَسْتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَىْءٍ حَتَّىٰ تُقِيمُوا۟ ٱلتَّوْرَىٰةَ وَٱلْإِنجِيلَ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُم مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ ۗ وَلَيَزِيدَنَّ كَثِيرًۭا مِّنْهُم مَّآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِن رَّبِّكَ طُغْيَـٰنًۭا وَكُفْرًۭا ۖ فَلَا تَأْسَ عَلَى ٱلْقَوْمِ ٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ

المائدة 68

“Say, O People of the Book! You have nothing to stand on unless you observe the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord.” And your Lord’s revelation to you will only cause many of them to increase in wickedness and disbelief. So do not grieve for the people who disbelieve.”

This ayah brilliantly demonstrates two points: the first being that if you have a book it must be observed and the commands therein must be fulfilled and secondly that when the term ‘people of the book’ is used it does not automatically mean it is referring to Christians (non-Hebrews) but can be referring just to the Children of Israel whether they followed Isa ibn Maryam or not. In this Ayah it is clear that it is referring to the Children of Israel because it specifically mentions the Torah[4] and the Injeel[5] which were books specifically for them and no other people.

The Christians who were not from the Children of Israel were not given a book but adopted certain beliefs and attached themselves to the books that were only given to the Children of Israel. The laws, commands and promises were not upon the non-Hebrews. So, the command to fulfil those laws and statutes could not be to those who were never intended to fulfil them in the first instance.

This ayah also clearly states that if the laws and commands were not adhered to the people who are the beneficiaries of the laws and commands could not assert any claim to righteousness just because of receipt of the revelation. 

Is the meat of the Non-Hebrew Christians permitted?

The answer to this question is almost certainly it isn’t permitted to the Muslims unless there is something else which happens to make it permitted. The meat of those people who attach themselves to the creed or religion of Christianity is not permitted for us to eat just by the fact they call themselves Christian because they are not the class of people that are being referred to in the Quran. Those that have not been given the book and therefore are not expected to follow its laws, and in the overwhelming majority of Christian sects, do not actually follow the kosher laws, their meat cannot be deemed permitted for the Muslims. The Muslims certainly cannot make the blind assumption that they do practice kosher  slaughter when in actual fact they declare themselves that they are free from the laws of the Torah because of their belief that Christ’s death ended the need for adherence to the Torah laws including the kosher food requirements. Also it was Paul’s specific claim that non-kosher food was permissible to eat and was not unclean.[6] Therefore it is suggested that it is to be assumed that meat in a Christian country or from Christians is not permitted unless it is proven to be otherwise.

It is clear that the Quran is not pointing to Christians who are non-Hebrew but to Hebrews because they are duty bound to follow their kosher laws which would then make their meat permitted for us. This would make their sacrifice in line with the direction in the Quran to slaughter in the name Allah. While non-Hebrew Christians not only are they not duty bound to follow any laws from the Torah, it is a central part of their belief that they do not follow the Kosher laws as set out in the Torah.

There are some who say that just because such and such people were Christians (non-Hebrews) it is lawful to eat their meat on the simple assumption that their ancestors were practicing Christians. The fact that the people in question were not even devout in the present time was also irrelevant, their previous circumstance was enough to make their meat permitted. This is, in our view, a complete and utter distortion of the text and the true Quranic position and is the basis of absurd outcomes and contradictions. This understanding would mean that a Muslim could walk into any butcher shop in England or America or France buy meat, which had definitely not been killed according to or in line with the sharia of Musa and it would be permitted, while the meat of Muslims or observant Hebrews would be forbidden because it may not have been slaughtered in exactly the correct way. This position makes a mockery of the Quran and sharia.

In the case where non-Hebrew Christians slaughter in the name of Allah according to the laws of Musa[7] then the meat would indeed be permitted for Muslims because it would have satisfied the requirements of the Quran. This is despite the fact that they are not genetically linked to the Children of Israel because it is the acceptance of Allah and the sharia process that is important and required. Just as the sharia under Prophet Muhammed is to be followed by all humanity it is concerned with acceptance of Allah and application of the process of slaughter and not with bloodline. Even if someone was Hebrew but did not slaughter their meat according to the sharia of Musa then the meat in that case would also not be permitted to eat.[8]

The Meat of non-Muslim (Hebrew) Family Members

The blessed prophet did give us an exception to what is a strict directive to not eat the meat upon which Allah’s name is not mentioned and that was in the situation where people gave gifts of meat. This exception would help maintain a good relationship between family members and friends who were not Muslim but were Hebrew or Christian and this would encourage and foster opportunities to keep good relationships between family members.

حَدَّثَنَا يُوسُفُ بْنُ مُوسَى، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو خَالِدٍ الأَحْمَرُ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ هِشَامَ بْنَ عُرْوَةَ، يُحَدِّثُ عَنْ أَبِيهِ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، قَالَتْ قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ هُنَا أَقْوَامًا حَدِيثًا عَهْدُهُمْ بِشِرْكٍ، يَأْتُونَا بِلُحْمَانٍ لاَ نَدْرِي يَذْكُرُونَ اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهَا أَمْ لاَ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏ “‏ اذْكُرُوا أَنْتُمُ اسْمَ اللَّهِ وَكُلُوا ‏”‏‏.‏ تَابَعَهُ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ وَالدَّرَاوَرْدِيُّ وَأُسَامَةُ بْنُ حَفْصٍ

بُخَارِي 7398

“The people said to the Prophet () , “O Allah’s Messenger ()! Here are people who have recently embraced Islam and they are bringing meat, and we do not know whether they had mentioned Allah’s Name while slaughtering the animals or not.” The Prophet () said, “You should mention Allah’s Name and eat.””[9]

The opinion of Imam Malik r was that this pronouncement by the blessed prophet was only for that time meaning the beginning of Islam and the revelation.[10] As much as we respect the opinion of the honoured Imam the prophet himself did not say this or restrict his saying to the start of revelation. But, what would be the reasoning behind such a lacuna in the strict requirement to have an animal slaughtered with Allah’s name upon it. If Allah’s name being mentioned was a sharia requirement and decreed by Allah so explicitly, then this should not matter regardless when it was, it should apply all the time both at the beginning and thereafter. This was not the case as the prophet in this matter thought it was beneficial to take the meat and eat it rather than reject it thereby causing offence to those who may have been offended by the rejection of the gift. This offence would have been linked directly to Islam. It is our opinion that this practice was not just for that specific time but for any instance where the same issue would arise.

There will be many instances where Banu Israel whom have returned to obedience and have families that are still Christian (in disobedience). As well as the ignorance about Islam and incorrectly perceived feelings of contempt would only serve to create a greater distance between the family members rather than reassure them that a new Islamic way of life was beneficial to their loved-one. This situation would definitely be analogous to that of the dessert Arabs who were new to Islam bringing a gift of meat and it was uncertain whether it had been slaughtered in the prescribed way. The obedient Hebrew is then allowed to attend family functions such as weddings and other occasions which would help to maintain good relations with their family. The prohibition in joining any religious activities, especially those that did involve shirk, would still be completely forbidden. In this situation one would definitely not question or ask whether the food was permitted (halal) or not but simply mention Allah’s name over the food while it is in front of you then eat. The only exception to this would be pork[11] which cannot be made permissible even if slaughtered in the proscribed way.

The benefit of such action is very obvious and would help to allay the fears of the family especially if it is a child whom has returned to obedience. Obedience to one’s creator should be a reason to draw closer to one’s family and not drive them away. Many Hebrew Muslims come into certain versions of Islam and begin to treat their non-Muslim family like theological enemies. This, in our view, is completely incorrect and is the product of following other cultures rather than Islam.

The above hadith in no way gives a Muslim the right to purchase meat which is non-halal from a fast food establishment or any other establishment. The hadith covers gifts from close friends, relatives and associates, it is definitely not a green light for food in a commercial situation. If the hadith is abused in this way it would circumvent the clear and direct command in the Quran to mention Allah’s name when the animal is slaughtered. 

Non-halal meat may be eaten in one other circumstance and that is when it is to prevent the loss of life. When a human being is on the brink of death or is in a situation where not to eat forbidden meat would result in their death all meat and animals become permitted, including pork. This permission is only to the extent that it will ward off death. Once a person has eaten and averted death pork then returns to its original sharia status, forbidden.

[1] This is the accepted Arab word for Christian.

[2]أهل كتاب Ahl kitab meaning people of the book denoting those people who have attached themselves to the book. But, it can also be used to refer to both those who were given and those who attached themselves to a particular book.

[3] Surah Saff ayah 6

[4] The first five books of Musa m (Moses/Moshe) Bereishit, Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim, 

[5] The book and teachings of Isa m to the nation of Israel

[6]Galatians 3:10-13 and specifically that the non-Hebrews would be not under the law at all Ibid 3:8-9 where it is explicitly said that the non-Hebrews would not be under the law but only under faith and belief. Also Paul rejects the Kosher Laws: 1 Corinthians 6:12-13.

[7] The laws in the Torah otherwise known as the halacha.

[8] المائدة 68

[9] Also reported in the Muwatta of Imam Malik the book of sacrifices 24:1

[10] ibid

[11] Any part of the pig