Kosher meat – to eat or not to eat, that’s the question!
We here at Feed the Lion continue to receive, even to this day, questions and assertions and opinions and fatwas (yes fatwas) – whatever you wanna call it – concerning the Islamic legality of eating kosher meat, i.e. meat slaughtered by the Jews.
It all started when we first published a glowing review of La Fiesta, a restaurant in the mainly Jewish area of Golders Green that’s run by Jews who, of course, serve Kosher meat, and which we consider, even up to today, as the best steakhouse in London.
Ever since then, certain Muslims have taken exception to said review. Just take these following few examples as a taster of the variety of arguments we’ve received:
What’s immediately apparent from the above is the clear lack of scriptural evidence or even scholarly opinion!
Whether it be the simplistic suggestion of kosher not being halal, the dubious condition of necessity (daroorah), or the questionable ritual of facing the animal towards the Ka’bah while slaughtering, it’s clear that there seems to be some confusion in the air. But, let’s at least try and appeal to a higher authority here when speaking of something as important as religion, which we as Muslims consider divine in nature, as opposed to speculating. Hopefully we can all agree to that, right?
Given that every area of knowledge – be it mathematics, the natural and sciences, history, or the arts – has its experts, the same must, of course, also be true of any religious system and its body of knowledge. In the case of Islam, we have the two scriptural sources known as the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition (Sunnah), which are best understood by the experts of this religion known as the ‘ulema, or the scholastic elite. And these scholars have spoken at length about the subject of eating the meat slaughtered by those referred to in the Qur’an and Sunnah as Ahlul Kitaab, or the People of the Book, i.e. the Jews and Christians.
So we thought we’d do a bit of what today is affectionately referred to as “Google Sheikh” browsing, as every lay Muslim does in the absence of direct access to any scholar(s), to see what we might find in resolving this apparent impasse.
We started with what seems to be the most popular, and certainly the most comprehensive, fatwa site on the net: Islam Question and Answer. What we found were two fairly detailed answers, one titled: Permissibility of eating meat slaughtered by Christians and Jews, and the other: Conditions of eating meat slaughtered by the Jews and Christians. The following are relevant excerpts that shed light on the issue of eating Kosher meat:
The Christians and the Jews of the People of the Book in our times are indeed those People of the Book that are mentioned in the texts of shari’ah in the Qur’an and sunnah, and they are the kuffar (unbelievers) of the Jews and Christians that existed at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They are the people of the corrupted Torah and corrputed [sic] Injeel, as evidenced by the fact that Allah (swt) addressed them and named them “People of the Book” despite their being kuffar and their books being corrupted ….
This is interesting because one often hears the argument that the Jews and Christians of today are markedly different to those of that time.
Because of this distinguishing quality, the shari’ah has specified special rulings particular to the People of the Book, and exceptions specific to them in some rulings, such as allowing marriage to the the chaste and virtuous (whether virgins or previously married) among their women and the permissibility of eating their slaughtered meat, as indicated in the following ayah (interpretation of the meaning):
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. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time, when you give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues…
The preceding discussion is in regards to the general ruling with respect to slaughtered meat of the People of the Book ….
So, in general, their meat is permissible, meaning that our starting point with their slaughtered meat should not be that it’s forbidden (haram), but rather religiously permissible (halal).
As for specific cases, then:
That he does not slaughter it by the way specified by shari’ah as is the case if he chokes it or electrocutes it until it dies or drowns it in water until it dies or kills it by a bullet, etc. In this case there is no doubt that eating it is forbidden since it is maita (meat of an animal that has died without properly being slaughtered) and Allah has forbidden it in the Qur’an (interpretation of the meaning): “… and forbidden unto you is maita…” (al-Maa’ida:3)
That he mentions the name of someone or something other than Allah upon it as he is slaughtering, such as the Messiah or otherwise. Likewise there is no doubt that the meat in this case is haraam, since it is among what has been dedicated to other than Allah, which is specifically forbidden in the ayah in surat al-Maa’ida: 3 (interpretation of the meaning): “Forbidden to you (for food) are: maita, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which has ben invoked the name of other than Allah; that which has been killed by strangling or by a violent blow…”
Hence, if the meat is slaughtered in a way other than the way of the Shari’ah, e.g. via electrocution or the use of the bolt, etc., or if the name of other than God is mentioned during the slaughtering procedure, then the meat is forbidden for Muslims.
There’s no mention here of the meat slaughtered by the People of the Book only being permissible under dire and extreme circumstances, such as, starvation.
So far so good!
But, what about the well known dilemma faced by so many Western Muslims who know that meat is being served by a Jew or Christian, but don’t know its method of slaughter; what then? The answer:
If a Muslim or a kitaabi (Jew or Christian) slaughters an animal for meat, and it is NOT known whether he mentioned the name of Allaah over it or not, it is permissible to eat from it, and the one who eats it should say the name of Allaah, because of the report that was narrated by al-Bukhaari (2057) from ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her), that some people said: O Messenger of Allaah, some people bring meat to us, and we do not know whether they mentioned the name of Allaah over it or not. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Mention the name of Allaah over it and eat.”
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: It is not essential to ask about that which was slaughtered by a Muslim or a kitaabi, and how it was slaughtered, and whether the name of Allaah was mentioned over it or not. Rather that should not be done, because that is being obstinate in religious matters. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) ate meat slaughtered by the Jews and did NOT ask questions. In Saheeh al-Bukhaari and elsewhere it is narrated from ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) that some people said to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): Some people bring meat to us, and we do not know whether they mentioned the name of Allaah over it or not. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Mention the name of Allaah over it and eat.” She said: They were new in Islam, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) told them to eat without asking, even though those who brought the meat to them may not have been aware of the rulings of Islam because they were new in Islam. End quote from Risaalah fi Ahkaam al-Udhiyah wa’l-Dhakaah by Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him).
Based on the above, whoever travels to a non-Muslim country where most of those who slaughter meat are Christians or Jews, it is permissible for him to eat their meat, unless he knows that they stun the animals or mention over them the name of someone other than Allaah, as stated above.
But if the slaughterman is an idol-worshipper or communist, it is not permissible to eat meat slaughtered by him.
So, what we understand from the above, and correct us if we’re wrong, is that the basic principle is that the meat slaughtered by Jews in the West is permissible unless we know of evidence to the contrary. However, it seems that we are not obliged to go out of our way to seek answers or ask questions since our Prophet, Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) ate the meat of the Jews, and yet never inquired as to which method of slaughter they used or whether the name of other than Allah had been pronounced during slaughter.
Said article does, however, end with a word of caution:
The Muslim should strive to avoid that which is clearly haraam and be cautious of doubtful matters so as to preserve his religious commitment and to keep his body safe from being nourished with haraam things.
Finally, allow us to reproduce from a magazine called Al-Furqaan (June/July 2001 Edition – with minor grammatical alterations) an exchange that took place with the aforementioned scholar, Ibn Uthaymeen, in which he too ends with a similar cautionary word:
Q. Is it permissible to eat poultry which is sold in the markets on the basis that it is meat of the People of the Book … or is it impermissible on the basis that it is a carcass slaughtered by unknown means i.e. whether it was done by cutting off the head or electrocution or some such means… and are the Ahl-Kitaab today truly to be considered in this ruling [as those of the past]?
A. Yes, eating the poultry is permissible because that which is slaughtered by the Ahl Al-Kitaab today is just as what was slaughtered by Ahl Al-Kitaab in the time of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). The Ahl Al-Kitaab are Kuffaar (disbelievers) whether they are in the time of the Prophet (saaws) or now. Allah says in His Noble Book: “They have certainly disbelieved who say that verily Allah is Isa Ibn Maryam. But the Messiah said: ‘O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Verily whosoever commits shirk (associates partners with Allah in any way), Allah has made Paradise forbidden to him, and his end will be the Hellfire; and there will be no help to the Dhaalimeen (evil-doers). They have certainly disbelieved who say that Allah is the third of three, though there is no deity except the single Deity; and if they do not desist from what they are saying, then We will inflict upon those disbelievers a painful punishment.”
Allah also says in the same chapter: “Today I have made permissible for you that which is good and wholesome, and the food of those who were sent the Scripture is permissible to you and your food is permissible to them.”
As far as the methodology of the slaughtering [is concerned, then]we do not inquire about the method because if an action has occurred min ahlihi [at the hands of those suited to perform such an act] the conditions surrounding that act is not asked about.
We find in Saheeh Al-Bukhari: “It is related by Aisha (raa) that a group of people said to the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ‘Some people came to us with some meat about which we didn’t know whether the name of Allah was mentioned over or not’ and he replied (saaws): Sammoo [Say the name of Allah] over it yourselves, and then eat. She [Aisha – raa] said that these people had just recently been from the Kuffaar [i.e. just became Muslim and the question was not asked as to the method of slaughter].
This rule therefore applies to the Jews and the Christians about whom we don’t know whether or not they have mentioned Allah’s name or not because their slaughtered meat is halal [permissible] to us.
Q. Please clarify the fatwa – esteemed Sheikh. If a Muslim goes to the markets and eating places in a Christian land and purchases the lamb, beef, or chicken, but does not ask about how it was slaughtered…
A. Yes, he does not ask about the method of slaughter.
Q. What if he is informed however that the meat has been stunned by electric shock, or has been choked or shot? What is the ruling for meat slaughtered like this? Is it considered a carcass [which is impermissible to eat]?
A. It is not permissible if it is known with certainty because it would be considered a carcass.
Q. Can we understand from the hadith of Aisha (raa) which is related in the fatwa that the question which was posed by the people to the Messenger of Allah (saaws) was only in relation to whether Allah’s name was mentioned over the animal being slaughtered and it was not about the actual method of slaughter?
A. Yes, they did ask about the mentioning of the name of Allah and not the actual method of slaughtering, and it is evident from the hadith that it is not necessary to ask about either.
Q. Is it possible to say that if there are stores in a city where the Muslim lives and those stores carry meat slaughtered according to the Islamic method – even if it is more expensive – that it is not then permissible to buy the meat of the Christians?
A. No it is not possible to say that because the slaughtered meat of the Christians and the Jews is halal. However, whoever leaves it [doesn’t eat it] out of a sense of piety [tawar’an], we see no fault upon him. [Tawar’a or wara’ is when a person has such piety that they will avoid even that which is permissible to do what is even better from wanting to please Allah and also eliminating any possibility of doing something wrong].
Q. One of the readers asks about a tradition from Ali ibn Abi Talib (raa) in which he reportedly said: “Do not eat the meat slaughtered by Bani Taglab because they adhere to Christianity by drinking alcohol.” Can this then be used as a proof considering the Christians of today, the majority of whom drink alcohol, that it is not permissible to eat their slaughtered meat?
A. I do not know the authenticity of this statement [from the Sahabah]. But if it is authentic, then its meaning would be that they [Banu Taglab] were not actually on the religion of the Christians and therefore they would not fall under the ruling of permissibility of their slaughtered meat.
Q. If it is known that some of the slaughterhouses in this country slaughter sheep and cattle along with swine is it permissible to eat that meat especially when the same instruments are used to slaughter both at the same time?
A. In this case, if we know that the knives are used for both, then the meat should be washed and it will be purified through washing.
Q. Is it possible – esteemed Sheikh – for you to address us with a word to the Muslim in the Western countries about the obligation of staying far away from disobedience [to Allah and His Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)], haram things and doubtful matters because we are aware of some who are lax in relation to some major sins, such as, not praying, committing illicit sexual practices, or drinking alcohol, and yet he is distressed or makes complicated the eating of meat which is not slaughtered according to the Islamic method?
A. My advice to them is to have taqwa (God-conscious) and fear Allah’s punishment and to remember the Day of Meeting, a day which the excuses of those who wrong themselves will be of no avail. A day when the parent will not afford their offspring anything nor can the offspring do anything for the parent. A day when they will all be raised from their graves barefoot and naked. We ask Allah for all guidance and success.
This, then, answers the question of those who claim that if halal meat is available, it’s forbidden to eat Kosher meat!
In conclusion then, it seems to us from all the above that there is no such thing as Kosher vs Halal since the Jewish community is known to be just as strict, if not stricter, in implementing the same slaughtering method, called the Shechita, as the Muslims.
If you disagree, we’d love to hear your reasons why (hopefully with some evidence cited).
So, feel free to leave us your comments below.