Hunting, Food and Drink

The nineteenth book is the “Book of Game and the Animals Which May Be Slaughtered and the Animals That Are to Be Eaten.”

Muhammad did not set much store by the many Jewish restrictions on the subject of food (ta’Am), and softened them a good deal.  “O ye who believe! eat of the good things wherewith we have pro-vided you,” says the QurAn (2:172), repeating the sentiment in another verse (5:87).  Yet some ritualistic restrictions were still there from the very beginning.  Some animals were considered halUl (lawful), some mubAh (permitted), some makrUh (disapproved but not penalized), and some were altogether harAm (forbidden).

Animals that are “clean” must be hunted and slaughtered in a particular way, with the help of a particular incantation, for their flesh to be lawful food.  When slaughtering an animal, one should draw the knife across its throat, cutting the windpipe, and at the same time repeat the words Bi’smillahi, AllAhu akbar (“In the name of Allah, Allah is great”).  However, if an animal is slaughtered in this way by an idolater or an apostate from Islam, its flesh is not lawful.


There are similar restrictions on game.  It is not enough to recite the formula Bi’smillAh-i-AllAh-o-Akbar over game caught and killed by one’s trained dog before eating it.  One must also recite Allah’s name over the dog that one sets off to catch a game animal (4732-4734).  “When you set off your trained dogs having recited the name of Allah, then eat what these hounds have caught for you, even if the game is killed, provided the hunting dog has not eaten any part of the game” (4733).  When someone asks: What “if I find along with my dog another dog, and do not know which of them caught [the game]?” Muhammad answers: “Then don’t eat it” (4734).

What applies to the hunting dog applies to any animal used for hunting-a falcon, a cheetah.  The test of a trained dog is that it catches a game animal three times without eating it.  The test of a trained hawk is that it returns to its master in response to his call.

The same holds true for game animals shot with an arrow.  “When you shoot your arrow, recite the name of Allah, and if the arrow killed [the game] then eat, except when you find it [the prey] fallen into water, for in that case you do not know whether it is water that caused its death or your arrow” (4742).


“If you are in the land of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], do not eat from their utensils.  But if it cannot be avoided, then wash them before using them” (4743).


The eating of all fanged beasts of prey and of all birds having talons is prohibited (4748-4755), but it is permissible to eat water animals even if they die of natural causes.  There is a story behind this particular permission.  JAbir gives us an eyewitness account.  “Allah’s Messenger sent us on an expedition so that we might intercept a caravan of the Quraish,” he says.  During the journey, supplies ran short and they were on starvation rations when they saw rising before them on the coast of the sea “something like a big mound.” It was a whale called al-’Anbar.  The beast was dead.  But as they were “sent by the Messenger of Allah in the path of Allah,” and as they were hard pressed, they ate even the dead animal.  It fed them, “three hundred of them,” for a month till they grew bulky.  “I saw how we extracted pitcher after pitcher full of fat from the cavity of its eye, and sliced from its compact piece of meat equal to a bull. . . . AbU ’Ubaid [the chief] called forth thirteen men from us and he made them sit in the cavity of its eye,” JAbir tells us. When they came back and mentioned this to Muhammad, he said that it “was a special provision which Allah had brought forth” for them.  “Is there any piece of meat left with you?” Muhammad inquired.  They gave him one “and he ate it” (4756).


It is unlawful to eat the flesh of domestic asses (4763-4778), for they “are loathsome or impure” (4778), and their flesh “is a loathsome evil of Satan’s doing” (4777).

The prohibition came on the day of Khaibar, when the earthen pots of the Companions were boiling with the flesh of domestic asses.  “Throw away your pots,” came the order.  Some thought at first that the prohibition was temporary, “since one-fifth of the booty has not been given to the treasury, as is legally required” (4768).  The point is that no personal use can be made of any spoils of war unless the booty has been properly distributed and one-fifth made over to the treasury.  To illustrate, we give another tradition, narrated by RAfi b. KhadIj: “We got hold of goats and camels.  Some persons amongst us made haste and boiled the flesh of goats and camels in their earthen pots.  He [the Prophet] then commanded and these were turned over” (4847).  The translator tells us that “it is permissible to make use of these spoils in Dar-ul-Harb [in the territory of the enemy], but it is not allowed in DAru-ul-IslAm” (note 2388).


The flesh of a horse is lawful (4779-4782).


The flesh of lizards is not forbidden, but to eat it is “against the high standard of piety” (4783-4800).  A roasted lizard was sent to the Prophet.  He did not accept it, saying: “I neither eat it, nor do I prohibit it.” His reason for not eating it: “It is not found in the land of my people, and I feel that I have no liking for it” (4790).

The eating of locusts is permissible.  “We went on seven expeditions with Allah’s Messenger and ate locusts,” report Ibn AbU AufA and AbU Bakr (4801-4803).

Similarly, the flesh of hares is lawful.  Anas reports that he and his companions chased a hare, caught and slaughtered it, and “sent its haunch and two hind legs to Allah’s Messenger. . . . and he accepted them” (4801).


The Prophet was not without compassion.  ShaddAd b. Aus reports: “Two are the things which I remember Allah’s Messenger having said: Verily Allah has enjoined goodness to everything; so when you kill, kill in a good way and when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way.  So every one of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably” (4810).


Intimately connected with the above is the next book, the “Book of Sacrifices” (KitAb al-AzAhi).

The QurAn uses many words for animal sacrifice.  AzAhi itself derives from the root zabh, which means “to split or pierce.” Another word used is nahr, which means “to injure the jugular vein”; the word stands for stabbing the breast of a camel as in a sacrifice, and hence derivatively for the sacrifice itself.

In many religious traditions, compassion for all living beings is a strong element, which itself has its basis in a deeper vision of the unity of all fife.  But this feeling and this vision are rather conspicuous by their absence in Semitic religions.  Some portions of the Old Testament read almost like a manual of animal slaughter.  The menu of the early Christians also did not exclude flesh food, except for flesh of a particular kind and flesh obtained in a particular way.  They were only required to “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled.” The Holy Ghost wanted to lay upon them no greater burden than was necessary (Acts 15:28-29).

In Islam, too, animal sacrifice is highly meritorious.  Muhammad tells his Companions that “there is reward annexed to every hair of the animal sacrificed; verily its blood reacheth the acceptance of God, before it falleth upon the ground” (TirmizI, vol. I, hadIs 1392).  But in order to be meritorious, the sacrifice should be made to Allah, not to Al-lAt or Al-’UzzA or Al-ManAt.  Let only theology change but facts remain the same for this miracle to happen.  Among the people whom “Allah cursed,” Muhammad tells us, are those “who sacrificed for anyone besides Allah,” and those “who accommodated an innovator in religion” (4876-4878).

Some people talk glibly about what the Holy Ghost wants or what Allah wills but are deaf to the voice of conscience and compassion within the human heart.


The proper time for sacrificing an animal on the day of Idu’l AzA is after the morning prayer (4818-4835).  In Muhammad’s lifetime, many slaughtered their animals before Muhammad had said his prayer.  They were asked to slaughter other ones in their stead.  People “should not sacrifice an animal before Allah’s Messenger had sacrificed [his animal]” (4837).


As there is a proper time for sacrificing, so there is also a proper age for the sacrificial animal.  “Sacrifice only a grown-up animal, unless it is difficult for you, in which case sacrifice a ram [of less than a year, but more than six months’ age]” (4836).


It is meritorious to sacrifice the animal with one’s own hand as Muhammad did.  Muhammad “commanded that a ram with black legs, black belly and black circles round the eyes should be brought to him.” He then said to ’Aisha, “Give me the large knife,” and told her to “sharpen it on a stone.” When she did, he took the knife and the ram; “he placed it on the ground and then sacrificed it” (4845).  Another hadIs adds that when Muhammad sacrificed rams, “he placed his foot on their sides” (4841).

While sacrificing, Muhammad recited: “In the name of Allah, O Allah, accept [this sacrifice] on behalf of Muhammad and the family of Muhammad and the Ummah of Muhammad” (4845).

The proper instrument for slaughtering an animal is a sharp knife.  Muhammad is informed by a Companion: “Allah’s Messenger, we are going to encounter the enemy tomorrow, but we have no knives with us.” (The knives were not required for use against the enemy but for slaughtering the animals which might fall to their lot as spoils of war, the translator explains.) The Prophet answered: “Make haste or be careful [in making arrangements for procuring knives] which would let the blood flow, [and along with it] the name of Allah is also to be recited” (4846).

The same hadIs tells us that no nail or bone should be used in slaughtering an animal.  “As for the nail, it is bone, and the bone is the knife of the Abyssinians.”


The translator in a note quotes a hadIs to show that animal sacrifice on the day of Idu’l AzA is compulsory for every Muslim adult.  According to AbU Huraira, Muhammad said: “He who can afford sacrifice but does not offer it, he should not come near our place of worship” (note 2378).

This is understandable, for is not animal sacrifice Allah’s own command?  Allah ordains: “The sacrificial camels, we have made for you as among the symbols from God . . . then pronounce the name of Allah over them as they line up for sacrifice, and when they are down on their sides eat of them. . . . We made animals subject to you, that you may be grateful” (QurAn 22:36).


On the ordinary level of consciousness on which religions operate, there is nothing exceptionable in the Muslim institution of sacrifice.  We offer to our gods what we ourselves eat.  In animal sacrifice, the flesh comes to us, and we like to believe that the piety of the act (whatever it may be) goes to God.  “It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah, it is your piety” (QurAn 22:37).

Let it be so if you like.  But when a deeper consciousness dawns, all this changes.  We realize that this unregenerate piety is not good enough.  We experience a new togetherness, a new reverence for all living beings.  We realize that an animal sacrifice can never be a fit-ting and acceptable offering to any god worthy of man.


The twenty-first book is the “Book of Drinks” (Ashriba).  Muhammad forbade all intoxicating liquors, all liquors in the various stages of fermentation.

It seems that the habit of drinking was quite popular with the Companions of Muhammad.  Many ahAdIs in this book show AbU Talha, AbU AyyUb, AbU DujAna, Mu’Az b. Jabal, Sahil b. BaiadA, AbU Ubaida, and Ubayy b. Ka’b drinking.  The worst case is that of Hamza b. ’Abd al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s uncle.  ’AlI, the Prophet’s son-in-law, narrates an interesting story.  “There fell to my lot a she-camel out of the spoils of war on the day of Badr, and Allah’s Messenger gave me another on that day out of the khums [the fifth reserved for Allah and His Messenger].” Some business took ’AlI to the house of an ansAr, and he brought his camels along.  He tied them up outside, but when he returned, he found their “humps were chopped off and their haunches had been cut off and their livers had been taken out.” When ’AlI asked who had done this, people said, Hamza and “he is in this house dead drunk in the company of the AnsArs with a singing girl.”

’AlI reported the matter to Muhammad, who put on his mantle, went to where Hamza was, and began to reprimand him.  “Hamza’s eyes were red.  He cast a glance at Allah’s Messenger and then looked towards his knees, and then lifted his eyes and cast a glance at his waist and then lifted his eyes and saw his face.  And then Hamza said: ‘Are you anything but the slaves of my father?’ Allah’s Messenger came to know that he was intoxicated, and he thus turned upon his heels, and came out” (4881).

Liquor was forbidden.


Also forbidden was nabIz, a kind of wine made by mixing fresh dates and unripe dates together (4896-4912).  Muhammad also forbade its preparation in varnished jars, gourds, green pitchers, or hollow stumps (4913-4995).


There are many ahAdIs to show that the Prophet himself drank nabIz (4971-4982).  ’Aisha reports: “We prepared nabIz for him [Muhammad] in a waterskin. . . . We prepared nabIz in the morning and he drank it in the evening and we prepared the nabIz in the night, and he would drink it in the morning” (4977).  Ibn ’AbbAs, the Prophet’s cousin, reports: “NabIz was prepared for Allah’s Messenger in the beginning of the night and he would drink it in the morning and the following night and the following day and the night after that up to the afternoon.  If anything was left out of that he gave it to his servant, or gave orders for it to be poured out” (4971).

How to reconcile the Prophet’s prohibition with his indulgence?  The theologians are not at a loss, They say: “This prohibition is not a complete prohibition but it implies disapproval.  So long as nabIz does not turn into liquor, it is not forbidden.” For ImAm AbU HanIfa and QAzi AbU YUsuf, there is not even a disapproval, but the prohibition “was valid only in the early period of Islam when the people had to be trained for the prohibition of liquor” (note 2409).


Muhammad approved of drinking milk.  “I milked for him [the Prophet] a small quantity of milk and brought it to him and he drank it,” reports AbU Bakr (4983).


Etiquette relating to eating and drinking is also given.  Muhammad says: “None of you should eat with his left hand and drink with the left hand, for Satan eats with the left hand and drinks with that hand” (5010).

In another tradition, he tells ’Umar, the son of his wife Umm Salama by her first husband: “Boy, mention the name of Allah, and eat with your right hand and eat from what is near you” (5012).

One should not drink water while standing (5017-5022), but one could do so with water from Zamzam (the well-known well within the precincts of the mosque at Mecca) as Muhammad himself did (5023-5027).  In ordinary course, if one drinks water standing, one “must vomit” (5022).

It is also meritorious to lick one’s fingers after taking one’s food.  ’Abdullah b. Ka’b reports that “the Messenger of Allah used to eat food with three fingers, and he licked his hand before wiping it” (5040).  The injunction is: “When anyone of you eats food he should not wipe his hand until he had licked it or got it licked by someone else” (5038).


It is meritorious to eat pumpkin (5067-5069) and also cucumber with dates, because Muhammad did so (5072).  Anas reports: “I saw Allah’s Messenger going after the pumpkin round the dish, so I have always liked the pumpkin since that day” (5067).


Muhammad himself did not eat garlic because of its odor (5097), but it is permissible for other Muslims.  Still, it should be avoided when one has to talk to eminent persons.  AbU AyyUb AnsArI tells us that the “holy prophet did not take garlic as he was visited by angels who brought him the message of Allah” (5099).


Miraculous feeding after the fashion of Jesus is repeated in Islam too.  The roasted liver of one sheep and two cups containing soup and meat suffice, with the blessing of the Prophet, for feeding 130 persons (5105).


Do not find fault with the food served to you.  It is said about the Prophet that “if he liked anything, he ate it and if he did not like it, he left it” (5121).  A laudable practice.  In fact, a man should eat with thankfulness in his heart-thanks for the gods that reside in his food, thanks for the elements that have gone into making it, thanks for the farmer who produced it, and thanks for the mothers, sisters and wives, and cooks who lovingly cooked it and served it.

However, it is not enough to thank “our Father who art in heaven” for giving “us this day our daily bread.” Let us pray that this bread is also honest.  What Lord Buddha calls Right Livelihood (samyak AjiviikA) is a great spiritual truth.  Food derived from the spoils of war and tribute is a negation of this insight.  Though we may placate Him with soulful praises and pious thanks, no God can legitimize it.

Similarly, it is self-deception to believe that we adore or glorify God by reciting Allah-o-Akbar (“Allah is Great”) while killing an animal.  That way we really profane Him, negate Him.  Be a meat-eater if you like, but one ought not to feel so pious about it.

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