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DIETARY RULES. Islamic prescriptions concerning food and drink keep Muslims mindful in their everyday lives of God’s will and of their membership in a global community of shared values and obligations, regardless of their social rank. As set forth in the seventh century in the Qur’an and the hadiths the rules are based on the categories of pure (their) and impure (rijs, najis) and of lawful (halal) and unlawful (haram). In general they are well known by Muslims, though not always observed. Since the ninth century, jurists have striven to reduce ambiguities in dietary rules and to elaborate on their application to foods and situations not explicitly discussed in the Qur’an. Although historically related to pre-Islamic Arabian and Jewish dietary rules, the Islamic ones are completely severed from priestly codes of purities and abominations connected with temple worship. Nor are they inherently part of a cosmological scheme of sympathies and antipathies, such as is found in Hellenistic and East Asian religious traditions. In contrast to Hindu dietary rules, Islamic rules do not express caste hierarchies, although they clearly set Muslims apart from non-Muslims.

Basic Rules. The Qur’an exhorts believers to eat the good, lawful plants and animals that God has provided for them (80.25-32, 2.168, 2.172, 16.14). This general dispensation is subject to several conditions and prohibitions. Plant foods that are especially valued include dates, the vine, olives, pomegranates, and grains (6.99, 6.141, 80.25-32). The preferred flesh is that of domestic cattle, sheep, goats, and camels (6.143-145). Muslims are expressly forbidden from consuming carrion, spurting blood, pork, and food that has been consecrated to any being other than God himself (5.3, 6.145). Date wine (khamr) was repudiated gradually after the establishment of the community in Medina; the strongest condemnation (5.90-91) was among the last revelations received by Muhammad (in 632). Each prohibited substance is declared to be extremely defiling, with wine being further distinguished as an instrument of Satan for sowing discord among the faithful.

The lawfulness of meat is largely determined by how it is obtained. Ritual slaughtering and sacrifice (a form of slaughter qualified by intentionality on sacred occasions) are required for domestic cattle, sheep, goats, and fowl. These must be killed in God’s name (6.118, 6.121) by making a fatal incision across the throat. Jurists recommend that camels be slaughtered by stabbing the upper chest. The Qur’an permits fishing and hunting wild animals as long as the quarry is lawful (5.94-96). It prohibits Muslims from eating anything that has been strangled, beaten, or gored to death, or animals that have died by falling. A creature that has been partly consumed by predatory beasts is also forbidden, unless it has actually been killed by ritual slaughtering or by a trained hunting animal (5.3-4).

Additional dietary rules, based on the Qur’an and the hadiths, apply to specific ritual occasions. Thus, during the month of Ramadan, every able Muslim is obliged to abstain completely from food and drink during the daylight hours. The same rule applies during the performance of daily and Friday prayers. Pilgrims are prohibited from slaughtering and hunting lawful animals as long as they remain in a sacral state. By contrast, during the two main feasts of the year, following Ramadan and the hajj, the faithful are obliged not to fast. Hadiths also set guidelines for daily hospitality and acceptable table manners-remembering God at mealtime, taking food and drink with the right hand, and not reclining while eating. [See Ramadan; Hajj.]

Developments in Fiqh. Muslim jurists have played a significant role in codifying and elaborating the dietary rules of the Qur’an by using hadiths, local Muslim practices, and analogy as their guides. Differences over the rules have arisen among and within their fiqh schools. For example, although all schools rejected beheading as a method of ritual slaughter, they differed over details of acceptable slaughtering techniques. Hanafis required cutting the esophagus, trachea, and most of the major blood vessels in the neck; Shafi’is called for cutting the esophagus and trachea and recommended severing the two jugular veins; Imami Shi’is required cutting the two carotids and the two jugulars; and Malikis said that severing the two jugulars is sufficient. From a legalistic point of view, if the slaughtering is not performed correctly, an otherwise lawful animal becomes carrion, that is, impure and forbidden for human consumption.

The ban on “wine” is another significant area of juristic disputation. The Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali schools agreed that khamr is a general term for any intoxicating beverage made from dates, grapes, and similar substances. The Hanafis, however, ruled that only a narrow range of beverages can be classed as khamr: fermented juice of cooked or uncooked grapes, and uncooked intoxicants obtained from dates and raisins. All schools agreed, however, that consuming khamr is unlawful, and that its sale by or to Muslims is forbidden. However, they generally permit medicinal uses in cases of absolute necessity.

The social function of dietary rules in defining Islamic communities and their relation to non-Muslims is evident in the guidelines for deciding who can perform the slaughtering and from whom food can be received. The fiqh schools have allowed wide latitude in this regard: meat can be obtained from any rational Muslim, male or female, who is familiar with correct slaughtering procedures. Following guidelines in the Qur’an (5.5), Muslims usually can also accept meat and other food from Jews, Christians, and other people of the book. Indeed, in accordance with the hadith, many hold that if there is doubt about the source of meat, a person need only “mention the name of Allah over it and eat it” (al-Bukhari). On the other hand, jurists have forbidden food obtained from known heretics, apostates, idol worshipers, and atheists.

Transgression of dietary prohibitions temporarily invalidates acts of worship such as prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage. Mere physical contact with pork, carrion, or wine makes a person or object impure, but this can be remedied by simple washing or by physical removal of the offending substance. On the other hand, violating the ban on khamr and drunkenness are major crimes requiring legal standards of proof and corporal punishment of forty or eighty lashes. According to one hadith, unrepentant violators will be denied the reward of drinking wine in the afterlife.

Contemporary Implications. The dietary rules have acquired new significance in the twentieth century. Although some Muslims have attempted to demonstrate that the rules conform to modern reason and the findings of scientific research, many others have used them in the search for Islamic alternatives to western values, ideologies, and lifestyles. Such reevaluations are occurring in two milieus-among the post-colonial cultures of the traditional Islamic heartland, and among Muslim immigrant communities, especially in the West. Indeed, dietary rules often serve as focal points for islamization movements and individual affirmations of Muslim identity.

Through the centuries, the Islamic ban on intoxicants has been honored in the breach. Wine has been a favorite beverage in royal courts as well as in public taverns; it has been praised in poetry; and some Sufis, like Rumi (d. 12’73), have used it as a metaphor for transcendence. The Bektashi order, most popular among Ottoman Janissaries, used wine sacra-mentally. Jurists periodically decried such practices, but with little success. Sixteenth-century efforts to outlaw coffee as a wine-like beverage in the Hejaz and Egypt failed miserably. Consumption of non-alcoholic intoxicants such as hashish, opium, and qat has become a popular habit among peasants and town dwellers alike in many Muslim countries. Proponents argue that such substances were never explicitly banned in the Qur’an and hadiths; their opponents retort with the hadith that proclaims, “Every intoxicant is khamr, and every khamr is unlawful” (Muslim).

In the modern era some governments in Islamic nation states have taken strong official stands against alcoholic beverages and narcotics as they move to implement the shafah. Usually this means interpreting the ban broadly enough to enforce it against non-Muslims. The Wahhabi authorities ofSaudi Arabiaoutlawed intoxicants to Muslims in 1929 and have prohibited alcohol to foreign residents since 1952. Ad hoc implementations of the shari’ah in Qadhdhafi’s Libya (1971) and Nimeiri’s Sudan (1983) included official bans on alcohol and, in the case of Sudan, public dumping of millions of dollars worth of liquor as well as the punishment of non-Muslims. It was officially banned inPakistanandIranduring the early I98os, and during the early I99os in Kelantan, a Muslim-majority province in north east Malaysia.

Muslim countries with secularist regimes, such as Egypt and Turkey, have instituted strict anti-narcotics laws but permit controlled import, sale, and consumption of liquor. Consequently, opposition Islamist groups there call for the total eradication of alcohol. In Egypt, outside the political arena, segments of the middle classes have become less forbearing toward relatives and friends who drink. Unlike earlier generations, recent Muslim immigrants to Europe and the United States have made observing the Qur’anic prohibition a key marker of identity in their host country. Moreover, there are lively debates in these communities about whether Muslims should even work in places where liquor is sold, consumed, or produced-including groceries, restaurants, and vineyards. The liquor ban is also one of the tenets of the Black Muslim movement and its offshoots in the African-American community.

For many immigrants in Europe and the United States during the I98os and I99os, the rules of slaughtering and the pork taboo became at least as important as the ban on alcohol. In towns where sizable Muslim communities have formed, groceries selling lawful meats have opened. Muslims also go to farms where they purchase and slaughter the animals themselves. Otherwise, they feel secure purchasing kosher foods and rely on information garnered from product labels. Yvonne Haddad and Adair Lummis report (Islamic Values in the United States: A Comparative Study, New York, 1987, pp. 113-118) that of the American Muslims they surveyed, 93 percent had not consumed pork in the previous six months, some 66 percent had not consumed alcohol, and more than 50 percent had purchased correctly slaughtered meat. In France, Gilles Kepel discovered (Les banlieues de l’Islam, Paris, 1987, pp. 3441) that more than 24 percent of the immigrants he interviewed would not dine in non-Muslim homes because of the dietary restrictions on meat, pork, and alcohol; another 55 percent said they would accept only on the condition that no pork or alcohol be served. If Islamist movements continue to make gains, it is probable that attention to dietary rules will also increase in Muslim majority and minority communities alike.

[See also Halal; Purification.]


Denny, Frederick Mathewson. An Introduction to Islam. 2d ed.New York, 1994. Nuanced treatment of normative and cultural dimensions of Islamic religion in Middle Eastern and Asian contexts, with discussion of dietary practices (pp. 283-285) and annotated bibliography.

Hattox, Ralph S. Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East.Seattle, 1985. Delightful exemplar of social history, with a detailed account of Sunni legal debates about intoxicating beverages.

Khatib al-Tibrizi, Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah al-. Mishkdt almasabih. Vol. 3. Translated by James Robson.Lahore, 1965-1966. Contains selected hadiths dealing with slaughtering, hunting, food, drink, and hospitality.

Qaradaw-1, Yusuf al-. The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (Al-halal wa-al-haram ft al-Islam). Translated by Kamal El-Helbawi, M. Moinuddin Siddiqui, and Syed Shukry.Indianapolis, 1960. Popular figh handbook (now in its twentieth Arabic printing) sponsored byal-AzharUniversityto introduce Islamic teachings to Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe andAmerica. Dietary rules are discussed in chapter 2. Marred by neglect of ambiguity and variation in figh.

Rippin, Andrew, and Jan Knappert, eds. and trans. Textual Sources for the Study of Islam.Totowa,N.J., 1987. Useful anthology including a selection of hadiths on drink from al-Bukhari (pp. 7276), and a text dealing with dietary rule variations among the legal schools (pp. 105-108).


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/dietary-rules/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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