Laws of Religion
Laws of Islam Concerning Food
from the Holy Qur’an, major hadith collections
and Islamic jurisprudence
Overview of Forbidden Foods
The Qur’an specifically forbids the consumption of:
- dead meat (that is, from animals that died other than by proper intentional slaughter or hunting) (page 3);
- blood (page 4);
- swine (page 5);
- and food over which a name other than that of Allah (God) has been invoked (page 6).
While the Qur’an states that these four are the only types of foods forbidden by Allah, intoxicating beverages are also forbidden in the Qur’an, which is accepted in Islam as the word of Allah. Violation of this prohibition is punishable by flogging (page 8).
In addition, the hadith collections and subsequent jurisprudence also prohibit the consumption of fanged beasts, birds with talons, domesticated donkeys and, for certain schools of Islam, other specific foods as well (page 7).
From Islamic source documents: Qur’an and hadith
The Qur’an instructs that only permitted foods may be eaten, though forbidden foods may be consumed out of necessity. It is explicitly stated in the Qur’an that only four types of foods can be prohibited: dead meat (that is, from animals that died other than by proper intentional slaughter or hunting), blood, swine and food over which a name other than that of Allah (God) has been invoked. It is forbidden to add to these four prohibitions and Muslims should not deny themselves foods that Allah has made lawful. One hadith implies that a Muslim cannot be a vegetarian because Muhammad consumed meat and it is not forbidden to do so.
There is no blame on those who ate forbidden foods before the prohibition of that food was announced by Muhammad. This is specifically true for those who drank wine (which was explicitly permitted before it was banned).
The food prohibitions of polytheists do not apply in Islam, so Muslims should eat what is permitted to Muslims. Additional food prohibitions were imposed upon the Jews by Allah because of their wrongdoing, specifically their refusal to accept Islam, preventing others from accepting Islam, killing of the Prophets, making false charges against Mary and claiming falsely to have killed her son, Jesus. Prior to the writing of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), the only food prohibited to the Jews was the one they made unlawful themselves, (referring to the banning of eating of the sinew or tendon in the thigh, as described in the Bible story of Jacob wrestling with God). (Editor’s note: Food restrictions in Judaism are discussed in a separate section of this website on the Laws of Judaism Concerning Food.)
From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh§): The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd, the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller
In his Risala, al-Shafi‛i says that there are laws of Islam that every sober and mature Muslim is obligated to know. These include the prohibitions against drinking wine and other forbidden things (prohibited foods such as swine, unslaughtered dead meat, etc.) Imam Nawawi, a 13th century scholar whose work is a major source for the 14th century Reliance of the Traveller, is quoted in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller as saying that a Muslim must know what food, drink, etc., is permitted and prohibited.
Scholars* agree that any prohibited food may be eaten if there is no other food available. Malik says that it is permitted to eat enough to allay one’s hunger and provide sustenance until permitted food can be found. However Abu Hanifa and al-Shafi‛i and the Shafi‛i school say that only enough to sustain one’s life is permitted.
*Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
§The more general term sharia is often used loosely to mean the specific derived laws of fiqh, such as those summarized here.
Abbreviations used in footnotes:
BK: Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.
DJP: The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Limited preview is available here (Volume 1) and here (Volume 2). Full text online and download for Volume 1 is here and here and for Volume 2 is here and here.
RT: Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from various websites such as this one.
SR: al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society. It can be downloaded here.
● The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
 QR 2:173, QR 5:3, QR 6:145, QR 16:115
 QR 2:173, QR 6:145, QR 16:115
 QR 5:90-91
 QR 2:168, QR 2:172-173, QR 16:114-115
 QR 2:173, QR 5:3, QR 6:119, QR 6:145, ML 8:3261
 QR 2:173, QR 5:3, QR 6:145, QR 16:115
 QR 5:87‑88, QR 6:143‑145, QR 10:59, QR 16:114‑116
 ML 8:3236
 QR 5:93, BK 3:43:644, BK 6:60:144, ML 31:6016, ML 23:4882
 BK 3:43:644, BK 6:60:144, ML 23:4882
 QR 6:137‑142
 QR 6:146, QR 16:118
 QR 4:153‑160
 QR 3:93
 Genesis 32:32
 SR 29-31 (page 81)
 RT d1.2 (page 47)
 RT a4.5 (page 11)
 DJP 17.2 (Volume 1, pages 577-578), RT j16.7 (page 363)