People of the Book
A common belief widespread in the West is the notion that the meat regularly available at secular grocery stores, restaurants, and butcher shops is Halal because it falls under the ruling of meat of “Ahlul Kitab,” or “People of the Book.” After all in Surah Ma’idah, Allah the Exalted says,
This verse translates to “And the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you.”1 On this verse, there has been unanimous consensus amongst the scholars that “those given the Scripture” refers to Christians and Jews.
Indisputably, this verse clearly states that meat from “People of the Book” (Christians & Jews) is completely Halal (permissible) for Muslims. However, the connection that needs to be thoroughly examined is, Is meat that is available widely in the West considered meat of “People of the Book”? The following factors need to be examined in order to make this determination:
1) Can one assume that if the majority of constituents of a country are Christians & Jews, then is that country’s meat automatically becomes food of “People of the Book”?
2) For meat considered from “People of the Book”, are there any stipulations upon the slaughterer besides being Christian/Jewish?
An analysis of these two issues below will lead us to gain a further understanding inshaAllah.
1) Certainty of food being from “People of the Book”
The first point can quite thoroughly be answered on the notion of doubt. This will first be addressed from a theoretical perspective, and then at a practical level. If for the time being we assume that there are certain criteria (to be explained in the response to inquiry #2) for the slaughter of “People of the Book”, how much certainty does should be in a Muslim’s mind that the criteria is being mentioned? On this issue, there exist two extremes. One group of individuals claim that if a society has people with Christian names, that is enough to assume that they slaughter their meat in accordance with the necessary criteria. The second extreme claims that one must witness the slaughter of the Christian/Jew in person in order to consider their meat Halal. However, as Allah The Exalted says in Chapter 2, Verse 143:
“Thus we have made you of a Middle Ummah…”
This understanding of Ummatan Wasatan in this context clarifies itself with the following understanding. In regards to hunting, A’diy Ibn Hatim narrates that Rasulullah (SAW) said, “When you send your trained dog and recite the name of Allah, then eat from that which it catches from you and does not itself consume.”2
This hadith clearly stipulates that when hunting, one must mention the name of Allah on the dog, and only then will the dog’s hunt be permissible. The notion of certainty is clearly understood in a rigorously authentic hadith:
A’diy Ibn Hatim narrates that he said, “O Rasulullah, I sent my dog and found another dog with him. I do not know which of the two dogs caught the animal.” Rasulullah said to him, “Don’t eat from this animal because you recited the name of Allah on your animal and you did not recite the name of Allah on the other animal.”3
Additionally, the Messenger of Allah also said:
If you find it [hunting game] drowned in water, do not eat it because you do not know whether the water or your arrow killed.4
The above mentioned series of ahadith clarify that one must have certainty of the slaughter process before rendering it Halal. This similar situation can be applied to our context of slaughter of “People ofthe Book.” After one reflection, one realizes the following tribulations with this argument:
- The United States of America is neither a Christian nor a Jewish nation. It was founded strictly on secular notions. In fact, certain current practices of slaughter that render meat Haram are legal in America(death by electrocution, machine slaughter).
- There is no certainty that the individuals slaughtering animals are Christians or Jews. A growing portion of the populations are Atheists, Nominal Christians, and Hindus. The scholars have maintained unanimous consensus (ijmaa’) that even if Christians and Jews deviate in their beliefs, they are still considered “People of the Book.” However, a large portion of Americans fall under the category of “nominal Christians” – those whom do not actually believe in God rather only have a Christian name. These individuals are not considered “People of the Book” and hence, their slaughter will be Haram as well.
- Due to the strong uncertainty of the mere slaughtered being a true Christian or Jew, there remains no doubt that such meat will be rendered impermissible based on this notion.
2) Stipulations of meat slaughtered by “People of the Book” Once it is confirmed with certainty that the slaughter is a Christian or a Jew, the next question that arises is are there any stipulations upon the actual slaughtering process? In Evidence for Halal, we have extensively covered the actions that need to occur for a slaughter done by a Muslim for it to be considered halal (reciting Bismillah, incision into the veins, etcetera). The question then arises, what conditions must be fulfilled by a Christian or Jewish slaughterer for their meat to be rendered halal?
A common misconception that often arises is the claim that there are no stipulations for the slaughter of a Christian or Jew. The justification for this is often that Allah The Exalted solely says “And the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you”5 and does not state that the Christian or Jew must do anything else. However, there exists a great fault in this reasoning to the extent that no scholar over the past 1400 years has agreed with this notion. The primary issue is:
- The actual word used in this ayat is ????, which literally translates to “food.” For centuries, scholars have maintained consensus that this refers specifically to ‘properly slaughtered meat’ (Dhabihah). This was the understanding of the Sahaba (Companions) and the Tabi’een (Followers of the Companions). In Maariful Quran, it is reported that, “this is what has been reported by Abdullah ibn Abbas, Abu ad-Darda, Ibrahim, Qatadah, al-Suddi, Dhahhak, and Mujahid, May Allah be Pleased with them.”6 If a Christian or Jew was to prepare food with pork (?????) would any Muslim consider it permissible because it is food from “People of the Book”? If a Christian or Jew prepares food with wine (???) would any Muslim consider that permissible because it’s made by “People of the Book”?
- In Evidence for Halal, it is highlighted how Allah has irrefutably declared dead animals, blood, animals killed by strangulation or a headlong fall among other situations explicitly Haram. However, if someone from “People of the Book” slaughtered an animal that had died from strangulation, would anyone consider that Halal for Muslims?
- In Evidence for Halal, we highlight the requirement of the recitation of the name of Allah during slaughter according to the majority of scholars. For brevity’s sake, only one proof is mentioned here. The reader is asked to keep this stipulation in mind while contemplating this article.
“Eat not of (meats) on which Allah’s name has not been pronounced: that would be transgression.”7
As the above-mentioned makes it clear, merely being from “People of the Book,” does not make the food exempt from all other stipulations Allah The Exalted has revealed. Rather, the unanimous consensus of the scholars throughout the past 1400 years has remained that the slaughterer being a Christian or a Jew is a substitution of the mandate of a Muslim slaughterer; however, the remaining stipulations still apply.
The great 14th century scholar Ibn Kathir writes in perhaps the most renowned and prominent commentary of the Quran, “All scholars are unanimous that the animals slaughtered by the ‘People of the Book’ are lawful for Muslims because the ‘People of the Book’ consider animals slaughtered for gods other than Allah to be unlawful and they only mention the name of Allah at the time of slaughter despite the fact that they hold incorrect beliefs regarding Allah.”8
On a practical level, countless accounts of slaughterhouses in America and across the world have been documented by independent organizations and scholars that indicate that current Western slaughterhouses are in several violations of Islamic Law of Halal, including:
- Mechanical Slaughter (see our article here for the problem with this method)
- Lack of pronouncement of Allah’s name per animal at time of slaughter
- Death of animal by electrocution/blow (explicitly Haram, as shown above)
With this extensive research in mind, one has no option but to render such meat as impermissible, as they violate all mandates of the Quran of permissible meat.
If Muslims are to bring about change, they must stand confidently united on such basic issues. Only through a firm and unified voice will Muslims be able to modify the current industry to comply with Halal standards.
1Quran, Chapter 5, Verse 5
2Sahih Bukhari, Hadith Number 5487
3Sahih Bukhari, Hadith Number 5486
4Sahih Muslim. As cited by: Toft, Amir. “The Islamic Laws of Animal Slaughter” California: White Thread Press, 2006.
5Quran, Chapter 5, Verse 5
6Ruh al-Ma’ani and al-Jassas. As cited by: Uthmani, Shafi. “Ma’ariful Quran” Volume 3, page 61.
7Quran, Chapter 6, Verse 121
8Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Vol. 2, pg. 19). As cited by Abdullah, Nana. “Legal Rulings on Slaughtered Animals” Karachi: Maktaba-e-Darul-‘Uloom, 1998.