Dietary Laws

Muslims believe that God made each creature with an intended purpose and way of life. Cows eat grass; lions eat meat. In the Qur'an, Muslims find guidelines about what sort of food is fit for human consumption. In general, Islam permits people to eat what is healthy and lawful on the earth and prohibits all things that are harmful or unlawful.

While there may be health reasons for avoiding certain foods, Muslims follow these regulations in accordance with Islamic law without question, trusting in the guidance of Allah.

Forbidden Foods

The Qur'an specifies certain foods that Muslims are prohibited from eating, including the following:

  • Swine, including all pork byproducts

  • Animals slaughtered in dedication to false gods

  • Blood or dead carcasses

  • Animals that have been strangled, beaten to death, gored, eaten by wild animals, or that have died as the result of a fall

  • Predatory animals (carnivores such as lions, dogs, eagles, owls, and others)

Food that meets general Islamic dietary guidelines is called halal (permissible). Food that is prohibited to Muslims is called haram (forbidden). The general rule is that every type of food is permissible unless it has been expressly forbidden in the Qur'an.

Any food that is not specifically forbidden is considered lawful for Muslims. While the dietary restrictions may seem similar to Jewish law, there are some differences. In Islam, all marine animals are lawful, including game found in the waters of seas, rivers, and lakes. Most Muslims will eat shellfish, and Muslims do not observe Jewish dietary laws about mixing dairy and meat.

Muslims strive to follow these guidelines, but they also recognize that God is merciful and does not wish harm on human beings. Therefore, if a person finds himself in a situation in which he is starving and nothing is available except unlawful food, he is allowed to eat the food in order to save his life.

In recognition of their similarities in faith, the Qur'an permits Muslims to eat food provided by the “People of the Book” (Jews, Christians, or other monotheists), as long as the other Islamic dietary rules are also followed.

Islamic Slaughter

When slaughtering animals for food, Muslims recognize they are taking life that God has made sacred. They thus invoke God's name as a reminder that they are killing with His permission, only to meet the need for food. Any adult Muslim, male or female, may slaughter an animal for food — there is no need to have a special status or title.

According to Islam, the animal should be treated with kindness and consideration, and when the time comes to slaughter, one should follow these steps:

  1. Shelter the animal kindly, and do not expose it to the slaughtering tool, other slaughtered animals, or blood.

  2. Put the animal at ease and comfort it.

  3. Place the animal on its right side, facing the Ka'aba.

  4. Utter the words Bismillah, Allahu Akbar (In the name of God, God is Most Great).

  5. Using a very sharp knife, cut the throat of the animal firmly and swiftly, to minimize and end the animal's pain quickly.

  6. Leave the animal alone, allowing the blood to drain.

Meat that is obtained by following these steps is called zabihah. Only meat that is slaughtered while invoking God's name is considered lawful to Muslims. Some Muslims believe that invoking God's name at the time of eating renders the food lawful, even if God's name was not mentioned at the time of slaughter.

Hunting for Food

Hunting is permitted in Islam only when necessary for food. Taking the life of an animal for sport, without intending to eat from it or otherwise benefit from it, is prohibited. It was related that Muhammad once said, “If someone kills a sparrow for sport, the sparrow will cry out on the Day of Judgment, ‘Oh Lord! This person killed me in vain and wasted my body; he did not kill me for any useful purpose.’ Then Allah will hold the hunter accountable.” Waste is frowned upon in Islam, so hunters are encouraged to use all parts of the animal for food, clothing, or other useful purposes.

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