Laws of Religion
Laws of Islam Concerning Food
from the Holy Qur’an, major hadith collections
and Islamic jurisprudence
From Islamic Source Documents: Qur’an and Hadith
As discussed on the previous page, the Qur’an states that there are only four types of forbidden foods: dead meat, blood, swine and food over which a name other than that of Allah (God) has been invoked. (Dead meat is meat from an animal that died other than by proper intentional slaughter or hunting.) There are a number of hadiths that explain this further. For example, if an animal is dying, but not dead, it is permitted to slaughter it and eat the meat.
Muhammad says that it is permitted to use the skin of a dead animal, such as a sheep or a goat, even though eating the flesh of such an animal is prohibited. In some hadiths, it is specified that the skin must be purified by tanning before it can be used. One mentioned use of such a tanned skin of a dead sheep is preparing a drink made with dates. (Editor’s note: Thus, such skins can even be used to hold food.) Similarly, it is permitted to drink from skins of animals that were owned and slaughtered by Berbers or Magians if the skins are tanned to purify them.
As it is forbidden in the Qur’an to eat swine or dead meat, so it is forbidden in the hadiths to sell swine or dead animals or the fat of dead animals (or, by implication, their meat) or to use such fat for any purpose, such as greasing boats and hides or burning for light. Muhammad, in several hadiths, asks Allah to curse the Jews for benefiting by selling fat that they are prohibited from eating themselves, (making clear the contrast with Muslims, who are forbidden to sell foods that they are prohibited from eating. Benefiting from forbidden fat in Judaism is discussed in a separate section of this website on the Laws of Judaism Concerning Food).
The Qur’an explicitly permits the eating the fresh flesh of things from the sea and from salt water or fresh water. The hadiths tell a story of a huge fish, called Al-‘Anbar or translated as “whale” that fed people for many days during a time of food shortage. Although some versions of the story say that this huge sea creature was dead when it was found, Muhammad permitted its consumption and even ate some himself.
From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh§): The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd, the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller
The prohibitions against drinking wine, consuming blood, and eating pork or meat from dead animals (meaning animals that died other than by proper intentional slaughter or hunting) are mentioned in passing in al-Shafi‛i’s Risala and these transgressions are referred to as “disgraceful acts” .
The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer says that flesh from warm-blooded dead animals not from the water is filth*. There is disagreement among scholars** concerning other types of dead animals. Malik and Abu Hanifa say that the flesh of dead animals that lack blood is clean. However, according to al-Shafi‛i and his school it is filth except that things such as worms that may arise from edible food or even from dead animals or from other filth are clean, as are locusts. As for dead animals that lived in water, Malik as well as al-Shafi‛i and his school say they are clean but Abu Hanifa disagrees. A 20th century commentator quoted in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) says that amphibians are considered non-aquatic and thus are filth if dead.
Having the same legal status as dead meat is meat from animals that died as a result of strangulation, falling, being beaten, goring or being partially eaten by another animal and also any part cut off from a living animal other than its hair.
Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and other scholars say that skins from unslaughtered dead animals are filth and cannot be used. According to Abu Hanifa, tanning makes the skin of any animal except swine clean and usable while al-Shafi‛i says that this effect of tanning is limited to the skins of animals that can be ritually slaughtered. Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) specifically mentions swine and dogs as animals whose skins cannot be purified by tanning. Tanning means using an “acrid” substance to remove blood, fat, hair, etc., from a hide. Leather from the hide of an animal not properly slaughtered can only be worn in case of great need. (The translator of Reliance of the Traveller points out that this only refers to untanned hides.)
It is forbidden to buy or sell the flesh from unslaughtered dead animals because, like swine and wine, it is filth. According to Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school), in case of life-threatening necessity, if permitted food belonging to someone else is available, the meat of an unslaughtered dead animal should be eaten rather than taking what belongs to another person.
In Keller’s English translation of Reliance of the Traveller, Imam Dhahabi (an important 13th-14th century Shafi‛i scholar) is quoted as listing certain sins as “enormities,” meaning that there is a threat of punishment after death mentioned in the Qur’an or hadiths, a legal penalty is prescribed or the transgressor is accursed by Allah (God) or Muhammad. These “enormities” are the most serious sins and, according to the Qur’an; if they are avoided then a person will be caused by Allah to enter an honorable gate (meaning reward in Paradise after death). According to Imam Dhahabi, committing an “enormity” without knowing that it is unlawful eliminates the guilt, except for denying those religious tenets that are universally known by Muslims. Imam Dhahabi lists the eating of unslaughtered meat, blood or swine as “enormities,” saying that whoever voluntarily eats of these is a criminal.
**Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
§The more general term sharia is often used loosely to mean the specific derived laws of fiqh, such as those summarized here.
Abbreviations used in footnotes:
BK: Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.
DJP: The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Limited preview is available here (Volume 1) and here (Volume 2). Full text online and download for Volume 1 is here and here and for Volume 2 is here and here.
RT: Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from various websites such as this one.
SR: al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society. It can be downloaded here.
● The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
 QR 2:173, QR 5:3, QR 6:145, QR 16:115
 BK 3:38:500, BK 7:67:409, BK 7:67:410, BK 7:67:413
 BK 2:24:569, BK 3:34:424, BK 7:67:439, BK 7:67:440, BK 8:78:677, ML 3:704, ML 3:705-706, ML 3:707, ML 3:708, ML 3:709
 BK 8:78:677, ML 3:704, ML 3:707, ML 3:710-711, ML 3:704, ML 3:707, ML 3:710-711
 BK 8:78:677
 ML 3:712, ML 3:713
 QR 2:173, QR 5:3, QR 6:145, QR 16:115
 BK 3:34:438, ML 10:3840
 BK 3:34:426, BK 3:34:427, BK 3:34:438, BK 4:56:666, BK 6:60:157, ML 10:3840, ML 10:3842
 QR 16:14
 QR 35:12
 BK 4:52:226, BK 5:59:646, BK 5:59:647, BK 5:59:648, BK 7:67:401, BK 7:67:402, ML 21:4756, ML 21:4757, 21:4761
 BK 5:59:647, BK 5:59:648, BK 7:67:401, BK 7:67:402, , ML 21:4756, ML 21:4757
 ML 21:4756, ML 21:4757, ML 21:4761
 BK 5:59:648, BK 7:67:401
 BK 5:59:648, ML 21:4756
 SR 13 (page 68), SR 161 (pages 170-171)
 SR 13 (page 68)
 DJP 1.4.2 (Volume 1, page 81)
 DJP 22.214.171.124 (Volume 1, pages 81-83)
 RT e14.6 (3) (page 97)
 RT e14.1 (11) (page 96)
 DJP 126.96.36.199 (Volume 1, pages 81-83), DJP 17.1 (Volume 1, pages 563-567), RT e14.1 (11) (page 96)
 RT e14.1 (11) (page 96)
 DJP 17.1 (Volume 1, pages 563-567)
 DJP 188.8.131.52 (Volume 1, pages 83-84)
 DJP 184.108.40.206 (Volume 1, Pages 84-85)
 RT e14.6 (pages 97-98)
 RT e14.6 (pages 97-98)
 RT f17.5 (page 200)
 DJP 24.2.1 (Volume 2, pages 155-157)
 RT j16.7 (page 363)
 RT p0.0 (pages 651-652)
 QR 4:31, cited in RT p0.1 (page 652)
 RT p70.2 (page 696)
 RT p30.1 (page 673)
 RT p30.2 (page 673)