Laws of Religion
Laws of Islam Concerning Food
from the Holy Qur’an, major hadith collections
and Islamic jurisprudence
From Islamic Source Documents: Hadith
Muhammad says Muslims should eat only with the right hand, not with the left hand, because Satan eats and drinks with the left hand. When another person told Muhammad that he was unable to eat with his right hand, Muhammad prayed that the person's right arm would become disabled so he could, in fact, not raise his hand to his mouth, and that is what happened. Generally Muhammad preferred doing things starting on the right, not just eating but also performing ablutions, combing hair and putting on shoes. Food should always be passed to the right, not the left, and Muhammad passed food or drink to the right even though a more important or more needy person was on his left.
Muhammad did not criticize food he was offered, but would just eat what he liked and not eat what he did not like. Muhammad says to eat the food that is closest to you, (when taking food from a common serving dish), though it is reported that Muhammad himself was seen taking gourd (pumpkin) from all sides of a dish.
Muhammad would eat with three fingers and lick them (or lick his hand) when he was finished eating. He said that a person should lick his hand or have it licked by someone else before wiping it when eating. The reason for commanding that the fingers be licked and the dish be licked or wiped is that there is no way to know where in the food the blessing is.
Muhammad disapproved of drinking while standing, and forbade both eating and drinking when standing. He required that a person vomit after drinking while standing. However, Muhammad was, himself, seen drinking water or Zam Zam water while standing.
From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh/sharia§): the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller
According to al-Shafi‛i, the prohibition by Muhammad against eating from the top of the dish is merely a matter of etiquette rather than law. (Editor’s note: See the hadiths cited on this page above in which Muhammad says to eat the food that is closest to you.) The reason given by al-Shafi‛i for eating first from the sides is that the blessing descends onto the top of the dish, so saving the top for last permits the blessing to continue descending as long as possible. Similarly, it is improper etiquette rather than a legal violation to have one’s robe folded to the side exposing one’s genitals when a lad is in front of you, eating.
Imam Dhahabi (an important 13th-14th century Shafi‛i scholar quoted in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller) cites in his listing of “enormities” the story in which Muhammad caused the right hand of a man to become disabled after the man insisted on eating with his left hand (“Enormity” is defined on a previous page, Rules Concerning Dead Meat).
§The specific derived laws of fiqh summarized here are often referred to by the more general term sharia law.
Abbreviations used in footnotes:
BK: Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC/CMJE 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. Part or all of the hadith collections of al-Bukhari, with somewhat different numbering systems, can also be found here, here and here.
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. Full text online and download for Volume 1 are here and here and for Volume 2 are 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. Reliance of the Traveller can be found here and here.
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.
● The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
 BK 7:65:288, BK 7:65:291, ML 23:5008-5009, ML 23:5010, ML 23:5011, ML 23:5012, ML 24:5234, ML 24:5235, ML 24:5237
 ML 23:5008-5009, ML 23:5010
 ML 23:5011
 BK 1:4:169, BK 7:65:292, BK 7:72:747, BK 7:72:810, ML 2:514, ML 2:515
 BK 3:40:541, BK 3:40:542, BK 3:40:554, BK 3:43:631, BK 3:47:745, BK 3:47:774, BK 3:47:776, BK 7:69:516, BK 7:69:523, BK 7:69:524, ML 23:5032, ML 23:5033, ML 23:5034, ML 23:5035-5036
 BK 7:65:320, ML 23:5121-5122-5123, ML 23:5124-5125
 BK 7:65:288, BK 7:65:289, BK 7:65:290, ML 23:5012, ML 23:5013
 BK 7:65:291, BK 7:65:347, ML 23:5067
 ML 23:5040, ML 23:5041-5042
 ML 23:5039, ML 23:5041-5042, ML 23:5049
 ML 23:5040
 BK 7:65:366, ML 23:5037, ML 23:5038
 ML 23:5043, ML 23:5044-5055, ML 23:5046-5047-5048, ML 23:5049, ML 23:5050
 ML 23:5043
 ML 23:5049
 ML 23:5017, ML 23:5020-5021, ML 23:5022
 ML 23:5018-5019
 ML 23:5022
 BK 7:69:519, BK 7:69:520
 BK 7:69:521, ML 23:5023, ML 23:5024, ML 23:5025, ML 23:5026-5027
 SR170 (pages 176-177)
 RT p15.2 (page 663)