The meat of the Muslims, Jews and Christians: Ahlul-Kitāb: Halāl and Harām in Islam (Islam 4.3)

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Objectives: Explore how food is prepared in Islam and the significance of food laws for Muslims today.


Allah stated:

يَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا أُحِلَّ لَهُمْ ۖ قُلْ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ ۙ وَمَا عَلَّمْتُم مِّنَ الْجَوَارِحِ مُكَلِّبِينَ تُعَلِّمُونَهُنَّ مِمَّا عَلَّمَكُمُ اللَّهُ ۖ فَكُلُوا مِمَّا أَمْسَكْنَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَاذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

“They ask you O Prophet what is lawful for them as food. Say: “Lawful unto you are all kind of halāl foods which Allah has made lawful. And those beasts and birds of prey which you have trained as hounds, training and teaching them to catch in the manner as directed to you by Allah; so eat of what they catch for you, but pronounce the Name of Allah over it, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Swift in reckoning.” [Quran 5:5].


There are certain foods that Allah has clearly forbidden:

حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ وَالْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَالْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَالْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَالنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَا أَكَلَ السَّبُعُ إِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيْتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى النُّصُبِ وَأَن تَسْتَقْسِمُوا بِالْأَزْلَامِ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ فِسْقٌ ۗ الْيَوْمَ يَئِسَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَاخْشَوْنِ ۚ الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا ۚ فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ فِي مَخْمَصَةٍ غَيْرَ مُتَجَانِفٍ لِّإِثْمٍ ۙ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“Forbidden to you for food are: the dead animals (not slaughtered), blood, the flesh of swine, and the meat of that which has been slaughtered as a sacrifice for other than Allah, or has been slaughtered for idols, or on which Allah’s Name has not been mentioned while slaughtering; and that which has been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by the goring of horns – and that which has been partly eaten by a wild animal – unless you are able to slaughter it before its death; and that which is sacrificed on stone altars. Forbidden also is to use arrows seeking luck or decision, all that is disobedience of Allah and sin.” [al-Māʼidah 5:3]

Food preparation: All animals that are provided by Allah as food must be treated properly when they are alive and killed painlessly when the time comes. For a Muslim who slaughters (i.e. makes dhabh of) an animal, its meat is only halāl if the name of Allah was mentioned before it was killed, and it is killed by a single cut to the throat. The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) commanded the people to sharpen their knives, and not use blunt instruments, and not to scare the animals beforehand, so that the animal does not suffer. The area where food is prepared should be clean and free from unlawful ingredients.

It is a must that the meat must have been slaughtered by either a Muslim, Jew or Christian as Allah stated: “This day I have made lawful to you all that is good, and the slaughtered meat of the People of the Book is halāl for you and your slaughtered meat is halāl for them.” [Quran 5:6]. This verse explains that the meat slaughtered by Jews and Christians is halāl.

Case study:

When Adeel had been invited by David to dinner last year, it had been a disaster. He had enjoyed talking to the other young people about Islam, his heritage and studies, but when it was time to eat, he was not so happy. In front of him were bacon sandwiches, crisps, and sausages – and some cakes. He nibbled at the crisps and cake! David’s mother had seen he wasn’t eating and worried that he was ill. So he explained that he could not eat much of the food as it was not halāl. This year everything was fine, David’s mum checked all the ingredients and there was lots of halāl food which everyone enjoyed.

Meat of Ahlul-Kitāb (People of the Book)

A Muslim should be aware of whether the food in a particular land is slaughtered correctly. And that is usually known by recognising the religion of the people inhabiting that land. So there is nothing to worry about in a Muslim country, since the meat there is slaughtered and prepared by Muslims. In the UK, Europe, America, the Caribbean and other Christian lands, the animals that are prepared as food are slaughtered by cutting the throat, the jugular veins and the carotid arteries to allow all the blood to flow out. In this case the meat is considered to be halāl. The same rule would not apply in lands that are not Christian, Jewish or Muslim.

There are some Muslim scholars who hold that if Christians and Jews utter Allah’s name when slaughtering, only then is their meat halāl. Otherwise it is not.

However, it seems fairly clear that Allāh has permitted the meat of the Jews and Christians without the need to enquire as to what they uttered at the time of slaughter, or whether the Jewish or Christian butcher slaughtered in the name of Allah. This has been narrated from a group of the Companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) and some eminent scholars of the past, to the extent that it is correct to say that the mentioning of Allah’s name is not a requirement for the consumption of the slaughtered meat of the Jews and Christians according to a group of scholars, and Allah knows best.

Furthermore, it was narrated by Bukhārī (2057) from ‘Ā’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), that some people said: “O Messenger of Allah, some people bring meat to us, and we do not know whether they mention the name of Allah over it or not.” The Messenger of Allah said: “Mention the name of Allah over it and eat.” ‘Ā’ishah stated that the meat came from those who were new to Islam. It is not required to ask about meat which was slaughtered by a Muslim or a person from Ahlul-Kitāb as to how it was slaughtered, and whether the name of Allah was mentioned over it or not [as mentioned by Ibn Bāz and Ibn ‘Uthaimeen]. The Messenger (ﷺ) would eat the meat of the Jews and not ask questions, as Ibn ‘Uthaimeen has stated.

Bukhārī (d. 256H) said in his Saheeh (Chapter 22):

Chapter: “The meat and fat of the animals slaughtered by Ahlul-Kitāb (The People of the Book) from those at war and other than them.”

The saying of Allah, the Most High: “I have made lawful to you all that is good, and the slaughtered meat of the People of the Book is halāl for you and your slaughtered meat is halāl for them.” [Quran 5:6]

Az-Zuhree (d.124H) said: “There is no harm in the slaughtered meat of the Arab Christians. And if you hear him mentioning other than the name of Allah, then do not eat it. However, if you do not hear him, then Allah made it [the meat] permissible whilst He knows their unbelief.”

Similar has been reported from ‘Alī Ibn Abī Tālib. Al-Hasan and Ibrāhīm both said: “There is no harm in the slaughtered meat of Arab Christians.”

Ibn ‘Abbās said: “The term: ‘Their food’ in the verse refers to their slaughtered meat.” [See Fathul-Bāree 9/553)

At-Tabaree reported in his Tafseer:

‘Umayr Ibn Aswad asked the Companion Abu Dardā’ regarding a sheep that was slaughtered [by some Christians] in the name of a church called George, as an offering to it: “Should we eat it?”

Abu Dardā’ replied: “O Allah pardon! Indeed they are the People of the Book! Their food is halāl for us, and our food is halāl for them” So he commanded them to eat from it.

As for Allah’s saying, “Your food is halāl for them.” Meaning: Your slaughtered meat, O believers, is halāl for the People of the Book.”

[See Tafseer at-Tabaree of Al-Mā’idah 5:6, vol. 9 pp. 579-580, no. 11255]

Similarly has been narrated from Ibn Zayd (Tafseer at-Tabaree 9/579, narration no, 11254) regarding meat that was slaughtered by Christians in the name of a church, so he said: “Allah has permitted for us the food [meat] of the of the People of the Book, and He did not make any exceptions to that.” 

Abu Dawood reported that Ibn ‘Abbās (radiyallāhu ‘anhumā) said:

فَكُلُوا مِمَّا ذُكِرَ اسْمُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ

“So eat of that [meat] upon which the name of Allah has been mentioned…” [al-An’ām 6:118] and:

وَلَا تَأْكُلُوا مِمَّا لَمْ يُذْكَرِ اسْمُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ

“And do not eat of that upon which the name of Allah has not been mentioned…” [al-An’ām 6:121]

Allah abrogated and made an exception from that, so He said:

طَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّ لَّهُمْ ۖ

“The food (slaughtered meat) of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) is lawful to you and yours is lawful to them.” [al-Mā’dah 5:5]

[Sunan Abī Dawood (no. 2443) authenticated by Al-Albānī (hasan)]

This narration indicates that the meat of the Jews and Christians is permissible for the Muslims to consume. At-Tabarānī and Al-Hākim narrated from Ibn ‘Abbās (radiyallahu ‘anhu) that he said: “The slaughtered meat of the Jews and Christians is halāl due to the fact they believe in the Tawrāt and the Injeel (the Torah and Gospels).” (See ‘Awnul-Ma’bood, under hadeeth no. 2814; Al-Hākim declared the narration to be saheeh)

Note: When slaughtering animals, a Muslim must say bismillāh (in the name of Allāh) – The jugular veins, carotid arteries, trachea and oesophagus are severed with a single swipe using a sharp, non-serrated knife. The spinal cord and neck vertebrae remain intact. This is the safest, most painless method of animal slaughter. It allows most of the blood to exit the animal immediately, rendering the meat hygienic by giving harmful bacteria the least opportunity to grow and thrive. This also gives meat a longer shelf life. Severing of the spinal cord may lead to cardiac arrest (stopping the heart) causing the blood to stagnate in the blood vessels – so even in that there is much wisdom.

Ibn Abī Hātim mentioned with his chain of narration to Makhool who said: Allah revealed: “And do not eat of that upon which the name of Allah has not been mentioned…”, then the Lord, the Mighty and Majestic, abrogated that, and He showed mercy to the Muslims, so He said: “This day I have made lawful to you all that is good, and the slaughtered meat of the People of the Book is halāl for you…” So He, the Most High, abrogated it with this, and He made permissible the food [slaughtered meat] of the People of the Book.” [See Tafseer of al-Mā’idah 5:5, Tafseer Ibn Katheer – all of the narrators in the chain are trustworthy and truthful].

Importance of these laws:

  • These laws protect the animals from cruelty and abuse;
  • They remind the Muslim about the Lord who feeds them;
  • When they slaughter they mention His name;
  • It encourages the Muslims to live together in communities where halāl food is easily available, eaten and Allah is thanked;
  • These laws encourage the Muslims to understand the special status of the People of the Book (the Jews and Christians) – that though they are unbelievers, they are the closest to the Muslims in scripture and can be invited to Islam because they already understand and accept parts of the Scripture.
  • All of this is good because it encourages young Muslims to be proud of their unique monotheistic religion, where only one God (Allāh) is worshipped instead of the deceased saints, Prophets or angels.
  • Many non-Muslims also eat halāl food because they live alongside Muslims or are keen to learn about Islam when invited to a meal!

Question: Imagine that you are Muslim using non-Muslim caterers for a wedding. What special instructions would you have to give them to make sure the food is halāl? Think about the meat that is to be used and other ingredients. Remember, you are now responsible. Write a menu for the event.


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