Consuming the Meat of the People of the Book (1)

Translators note: The following is the translation of the advanced jurisprudential classes of Ayatollah Mohallāti which started on 14th November 2020. The topic of the discussion pertains to the matter of consuming meat slaughtered by the People of the Book, a subject which generated many vibrant and lively discussions amongst the earlier scholars but gradually became static and ignored as time went on.

Focus of Discussion

At first I had thought that it would be easier to focus this discussion entirely on a text that has been written on this subject, and on the basis of that text I would go through the various points and issues that arise. At first I had a look at the treatise written by Shaykh Bahā’ī however I found the treatise to be far too concise and insufficient for our discussion. After that I had a look at the jurisprudential work Jawāhir al-Kalām. Sāhib al-Jawāhir spent some time on this discussion and also gathered the relevant narrations, he also made the effort to categorise these traditions. Despite this, however, he doesn’t bring all the narrations, and I saw that there were many elements of this discussion which he didn’t focus on, and for this reason I concluded using that book as the basis wouldn’t be satisfactory. For this reason I am forced to layout this discussion like our previous discussions, independent from any specific text book, and go through it in a free fashion, taking from a variety of sources and text as we go along.

Writings of later scholars

Unfortunately in the last few centuries this discussion hasn’t really been taken seriously and hasn’t been focused on in any of the advanced jurisprudential classes. In the past few centuries only two scholars have looked at this matter relatively extensively, one being Sāhib al-Jawāhir, who discusses this in chapter 36 of his book, and the other scholar being Marhūm Narāqi, in his book Mustanad. After these two scholars no one has really picked up this matter, the only exception that comes to mind is Syed Mūsavī Ardabilī, whose students wrote a treatise on this subject after he had passed away. That being said, it is apparent to all that this discussion hasn’t received much attention as of late, and with the help of God we will start this discussion and hope that His divine hand steers it to a successful and sound ending.

Scope of evidence

There are two types of evidence presented in regards to proving either the permissibility or impermissibility of the meat of the people of the Book (henceforth abbreviated to MPB). One type of evidence is Qur’ānic and the other is based on the traditions. Incidentally, those who consider MPB to be impermissible have relied on both the Qur’ān and the traditions to prove their point, as have those who consider MPB to permissible. However there has been one change in the argumentation of our scholars, and this change is that unlike the earlier scholars (qudamā) who considered the Qur’ānic evidence to be very important, slowly over time the later scholars began to focus exclusively on the traditions alone, thus ignoring the Qur’ānic relevance in this discussion. For this reason Sāhib al-Jawāhir, who normally within his jurisprudential discussions attempts to exhaust all possible evidences and modes of arguments, yet in his discussion on MPB he relies on two pieces of evidence: (1) reliance on popularity (shuhra) and consensus (ijmā’), arguing even that the ruling of impermissibility is from the fundamental beliefs of the Shi’ī school (dharūra), and (2) the abundance of traditions. In the 8 pages in which Sāhib al-Jawāhir discusses this he brings traditions but doesn’t mention anything to do with the Qur’ānic evidences. Likewise, the situation is similar for his contemporary,  Ahmad Narāqi, who in his discussion would make frequent reference to the traditions available but there is no mention of the Qur’ānic element. However when you go to the books of the earlier scholars you’ll see the situation is opposite. Firstly, the constant claim of consensus which later scholars made can’t be found amongst the earlier scholars, and secondly, the primary evidence used is the Qur’ān and then after that reference is made to the traditions.

As a sidenote it should be mentioned that the traditions we have on this subject are rather extensive, and just as a heads up, these traditions contain their own contradictions and differences, so therefore you should mentally prepare yourself for what will be quite a challenging job [in reconciling them all]. We have around 50 traditions in relation to the matter of MPB which we have to filter through. The contradictions within these traditions are to the extent that Sāhib al-Jawāhir was forced to categorise them into 12 different categories. After going through the different categories of traditions we need to be able to reconcile them if possible, and if that isn’t possible, then we need to clarify a position on the basis of the principles studied within legal theory that deal with solving contradictory evidences (bab ta’ārudh).

Evidence of the earlier scholars

First of all we need to look at how the earlier scholars argued for the impermissibility of MPB. Shaykh Mufīd has a treatise on this topic titled Tahrīm al-Dhabā’ih ahl al-Kitāb, in which he also has an introduction. In that introduction he alludes to the fact that MPB is a matter of different opinions and that the Sunnīs generally consider it to be allowed, while a few of them consider it to be forbidden. On the contrary to the Sunnīs, the majority of the Imāmiyya considered it to be forbidden and just a few considered it to be allowed. This is the difference between the Sunnīs and the Shi’ī on this matter. Now let’s look at what evidences Shaykh Mufīd makes reference to:

واستدل الجمهور من الشيعة على حظرها بقول الله تعالى: (ولا تأكلوا مما لم يذكر اسم الله عليه وإنه لفسق وإن الشياطين ليوحون إلى أوليائهم ليجادلوكم وإن أطعتموهم إنكم لمشركون) 

“The majority of the Shi’ī have argued that MPB is forbidden on the basis of the word of Allah: “And eat not of that over which the Name of God has not been invoked; truly it is iniquity. Indeed, the satans inspire their friends to dispute with you, and if you obey them, you are surely idolaters” 12

Mufīd relies on this verse to conclude that MPB is forbidden, as the name of God has not been recited over it. Therefore we require the name of God to be recited in order to make it permissible. From here he begins to build an argument that the people of the Book are unable to mention the name of God. This is the first type of argument that we see in Mufīd’s work.

Major and minor premise

This evidence is built from a major premise and a minor premise. The major premise is taken from the verse of the Qur’ān, which is that if the name of God is not recited (tasmiya) at the time of slaughtering the animal, it is forbidden to eaten. This is a point of agreement and there is no issue with this premise. There is then the minor premise, which is that the reciting of the name of God can only be fulfilled by a Muslim and not a person from the Book. By rejecting the minor premise Mufīd is of the opinion that whatever a person from the Book slaughters, even if he verbally recites the name of God, will be considered to be an instance of verse 6:121. Once the meat is considered to be an instance of 6:121, the ruling associated to it will be “do not eat”, as the verse says “do not eat of that over which the Name of God has not been invoked”.

Major premise: Do not eat of that over which the Name of God has not been invoked
Minor premise: The People of the Book do not invoke the name of God
Conclusion: Do not eat

Source of dispute

The source of dispute in this matter is with the minor premise. At times a Jew or a Christian may not invoke the name of God whilst they are slaughtering, such instances are irrelevant and outside of our discussion. Rather, in the instance when a Christian or a Jew, whilst slaughtering the animal invoke the name of God, does this invocation fulfil the requirement of invoking the name of God? If we are to say that it fulfils the requirement of invocation then the ruling will be that the meat can be eaten, but if we content that the invocation does not fulfil the requirement, then the ruling will be that eating the meat is forbidden.

So the first discussion we need to have here is on the nature of the type of invocation which we are required to make at the time of slaughter. Is it the same way that a Muslim uttering the name of God suffices, it suffices for a Jew and Christian too? The difference of opinion is here. The pivotal part of the discussion which our earlier scholars had was precisely on this point, that the invocation of God by a non-Muslim (be him of the Book or not), does not suffice. Even if they were to recite the basmala it would have no effect. Just so this becomes clear, I’ll bring 3 examples of this, from Shaykh Mufīd, Shaykh Tūsi and Syed Murtadha.

Evidence of Shaykh Tūsi

Shaykh Tūsi in his Khilāf says:

لا تجوز ذبائح أهل الكتاب- اليهود، و النصارى- عند المحصلين من أصحابنا. و قال شذاذ منهم: إنه يجوز أكله. و خالف جميع الفقهاء في ذلك. دليلنا: إجماع الفرقة، و أخبارهم

It is not allowed to eat MPB amongst our scholars. And a few of our scholars have the opinion that it is allowed, and they have contradicted all of our scholars [in saying so]. Our evidence [for it being not allowed] is: consensus and traditions. 3

و أيضا: قوله تعالى «وَ لا تَأْكُلُوا مِمّا لَمْ يُذْكَرِ اسْمُ اللّهِ عَلَيْهِ» و هؤلاء لا يذكرون اسم الله عليها؛ لأنهم غير عارفين بالله، و انما يكون الاسم متوجها اليه بالقصد، فمن لا يعرفه لا يصح أن يقصد به اسمه

Another evidence is: Allah’s words “do not eat of that over which the Name of God has not been invoked”. For they do not invoke the name of Allah over it, that is because they lack knowledge of Allah, and even though they may intend Allah by the name they invoke, for it is not possible to intend something in that which you have no knowledge in.  4

Here we see that the third evidence Tūsi brings is the Qur’ānic verse 6:121. How does he argue using this verse? By saying that even though they may mention the name of God, in reality they lack the recognition of God to truly intend Him. The entity which the people of the Book invoke is not the One True God. Merely invoking the name of God doesn’t suffice, if it did then an apostate or infidel could merely use the name of God. The crux of the matter is the one invoking the name should recognise God, and on the basis of that recognition the invocation will be correct.

و أيضا: فهم إن ذكروا اسم الله فهم لا يعتقدون وجوب ذلك، و المراعى في ذلك اعتقاد وجوبه،

Additionally, even if they invoke the name of Allah, they do not believe it is obligatory, neither do they uphold the belief of it’s obligatory nature [in their slaughtering] 5

Here Tūsi emphasises that the person should believe in the obligatory nature of the invocation at the time of slaughtering, otherwise the invocation is pointless. Apart from this, he does not get involved with mentioning the traditions, as the dispute on this matter is squarely with the Sunnīs, and by referring to the Qur’ān he has intended to undermine the basis on which the Sunnīs believe the permissibility of it.

Evidence of Syed Murtadha

Syed Murtadha in his work Intisār says:

و مما انفردت الإمامية به: أن ذبائح أهل الكتاب محرمة لا يحل أكلها و لا التصرف فيها، لأن الذكاة ما لحقتها، و كذلك صيدهم و ما يصيدونه بكلب أو غيره. و خالف باقي الفقهاء في ذلك

And from amongst the rulings which are unique to the Imāmiya is that MPB is forbidden, it is not allowed to be eaten neither used. Similarly [forbidden] is what is hunted, be it hunted by a dog or not. And we have been opposed by the Sunnī jurists in this ruling. 6

Here, Syed Murtadha doesn’t allude to any differences amongst the Shi’ī scholars, and ignores the few scholars who, like the Sunnis, believe it to be allowed. This is unlike Tūsi and Mufīd, who while they both argued for its impermissibility at the least acknowledged the few Shi’ī scholars who stood out. As a side point, this is something to keep in mind for whenever you see the claim of consensus, as we shall see with Syed Murtadha shortly, that they knew of scholars who differed yet they still claimed there to be a consensus. Shaykh Sadūq disagreed, ibn Junayd disagreed, ibn abī Aqīl Omāni disagreed. For this reason it is very hard to put faith and accept ad verbatim any claims of consensus on this matter. Back to Syed Murtadha, what reason does he bring for his view on MPB? The evidence that he brings is his take on the Qur’ānic verse, and he does not try to prove anything using traditions.

دليلنا على صحة ما ذكرناه: الإجماع المتردد، و أيضا قوله تعالى «وَ لٰا تَأْكُلُوا مِمّٰا لَمْ يُذْكَرِ اسْمُ اللّٰهِ عَلَيْهِ وَ إِنَّهُ لَفِسْقٌ» ، و هذا نص في موضع الخلاف، لأن من ذكرناه من الكفار لا يرون التسمية على الذبائح فرضا و لا سنة، فهم لا يسمون على ذبائحهم، و لو سموا لكانوا مسمين لغير الله تعالى، لأنهم لا يعرفون الله تعالى لكفرهم على ما دللنا عليه في غير موضع، و هذه الجملة تقتضي تحريم ذبائحهم

Our evidence for the truth in what we have mentioned: consensus, and the verse: “And eat not of that over which the Name of God has not been invoked; truly it is iniquity.” This is clear and explicit textual evidence [which settles] this disputed matter. For if the disbeliever invokes God, they do not consider the invocation obligatory or recommended, therefore they do not invoke when slaughtering. And for arguments sake, even if they did invoke, they would be invoking other than Allah, for they have no knowledge of Allah because of their disbelief as we have made clear in other places. All this leads us to our concusion that MPB is impermissible. 7

From the above we can see quite clearly that the dispute is fixated on the minor premise mentioned previously. The invocation that the people of the Book perform is for other than God, and therefore the food is not permitted.

Evidence of Shaykh Mufīd

Shaykh Mufīd alludes to this point very quickly in his al-Muqni’a:

منها قوله جل اسمه: ” ولا تأكلوا مما لم يذكر اسم الله عليه وإنه لفسق وإن الشياطين ليوحون إلى أوليائهم ليجادلوكم وإن أطعتموهم إنكم لمشركون ” ، وقد ثبت أن اليهود والنصارى لا يرون التسمية على الذبائح، ولا يعتقدونها فرضا في ملتهم ولا فضيلة.

From the evidences is the verse: “And eat not of that over which the Name of God has not been invoked; truly it is iniquity. Indeed, the satans inspire their friends to dispute with you, and if you obey them, you are surely idolaters”. It is established that the Jews and the Christians do not invocate [the name of God] at the time of slaughtering, and neither do they believe in it’s obligatory nature nor in it’s recommendation. 8

Here he is arguing that since the Jews and Christians do not believe in invoking the name of God at the time of slaughtering it is impermissible. This is very summarised in his al-Muqni’a, but in his separate treatise he touches on this in considerably more detail:

فاعتبرنا المعني بذكر التسمية أهو اللفظ بها خاصة، أم هو شئ ينضم إلى اللفظ، ويقع لأجله على وجه يتميز به مما يعمه واياه الصيغة من أمثاله في الكلام. فبطل أن يكون المراد هو اللفظ بمجرده، لاتفاق الجميع على حظر ذبيحة كثير ممن يتلفظ بالاسم عليها، كالمرتد وإن سمى تجملا والمرتد عن أصل من الشريعة مع إقراره بالتسمية واستعمالها، والمشبه لله تعالى بخلقه لفظا ومعنى، وإن دان بفرضها عند الذبيحة متدينا، والثنوية والديصانية والصابئين والمجوس. تثبت أن المعني بذكرها هو القسم الثاني من وقوعها على وجه يتخصص به من تسمية من عددناه وأمثالهم في الضلال

In regards to the invocation, is it just the verbal recitation that is required, or is there something else which is to accompany the verbal recitation that differentiates that person from someone else who merely utters the words? The recitation of the word alone is invalid. This is due to the consensus on the impermissibility in eating the meat of many whom recite the name of God, like the apostate…it is established that what is intended by invocation is the second type…9

Here Mufīd mentions the two possibilities, either the invocation alone suffices, or it needs to be accompanied with belief. Mufīd then goes onto establish that the case is the latter, for if it was merely the former, that the utterance alone suffices, then we would be able to eat the food of all non-Muslims on this basis. He continues;

وإذا صح أن المراد بالتسمية عند الذكاة، ما وصفناه من التدين بفرضها على شرط ملة الاسلام، والمعرفة بمن سماه  لخروجه من إعتقاد ما يوجب الحكم عليه بجملة من ساير الحياة. ثبت حظر ذبائح أهل الكتاب، لعدم استحقاقهم من الوصف ما شرحناه، ولحوقهم في المعنى الذي ذكرناه بشركائهم في الكفر من المجوس والصابئين وغيرهما من أصناف المشركين والكفار.

If it is established that what is meant by invocation during slaughtering is what we have described, the belief in it’s obligatory nature with the condition of being a Muslim and knowledge of the One being called then the impermissibility of MPB is proven…as they [the People of the Book] do not fit this description but rather they are considered similar to the Majus and the Sabeans in polytheism and disbelief. 10

Here Mufīd is categorically grouping the people of the Book with the polytheists and disbelievers. He then explores this further:

سؤال: فان قال قائل: فان اليهود وغيرهم تعرف الله جل اسمه، وتدين بالتوحيد، وتقربه، وتذكر اسمه على ذبائحها، وهذا يوجب الحكم عليها بأنها حلال

جواب: قيل له: ليس الأمر على ما ذكرت، لا اليهود من أهل المعرفة بالله عزوجل حسب ما قدرت، ولا هي مقرة بالتوحيد في الحقيقة [ كما توهمت ] ، وإن كانت تدعي ذلك لأنفسها، بدلالة كفرها بمرسل محمد صلى الله عليه وآله، وجحدها لربوبيته، وإنكارها لالهيته من حيث اعتقدت كذبه صلى الله عليه وآله، ودانت ببطلان نبوته. وليس يصح الاقرار بالله عزوجل في حالة الانكار له، ولا المعرفة به في حالة الجهل بوجوده، وقد قال الله تعالى: (لا تجد قوما يؤمنون بالله واليوم الآخر يوادون من حاد الله ورسوله) وقال: (ولو كانوا يؤمنون بالله والنبي وما انزل إليه ما اتخذوهم أولياء) ، وقال: (فلا وربك لا يؤمنون حتى يحكموك فيما شجر بينهم ثم لا يجدوا في أنفسهم حرجا مما قضيت ويسلموا تسليما) . ولو كانت اليهود عارفة بالله تعالى، وله موحدة، لكانت به مؤمنة، وفي نفي القرآن عنها الايمان، دليل على بطلان ما تخيله الخصم

If someone posits that surely the Jews and others [from the people of the Book] recognise Allah, affirm monotheism, seek proximity to Him, and invoke His name during slaughtering, and all this should result in their meat being allowed.

The response to this would be, the situation is not as you mention it to be. The Jews are not those who have knowledge of Allah to the extent required, neither do they affirm monotheism as you have imagined (even though they may claim such things for themselves). The evidence of this is their disbelief in the Prophet and their denial of his position…neither is their apparent belief in God correct whilst they reject him…as Allah has said: “You shall not find a people who believe in God and the Last Day loving those who oppose God and His Messenger,” 11, also: And had they believed in God and the Prophet, and that which was sent down unto him, they would not have taken them as protectors” 12, also: “but no, by thy Lord, they will not believe until they have made thee the judge between them in their disputes, and find no resistance in their souls to what thou hast decreed, and surrender with full submission” 13. If the Jews truly had knowledge of Allah, and they were truly monotheists, they would have believed in the Prophet, yet the Qur’ān negating their belief suffices for us as evidence for the falsehood of this view. 14

Here Mufīd has made a link between belief in God and belief in the Prophet, and since the Jews do not believe in the Prophet they therefore cannot truly claim to believe in God. Shaykh Mufīd continues his discussion and the audience he is targeting through his arguments are the Sunnīs.

Conclusion from the argumentation of the earlier scholars

The quotes mentioned will suffice for now. I was only hoping to lay the groundwork for the coming discussions. With that being said, I wanted to take a conclusion from what we’ve gone through. The conclusion I want to draw is not a jurisprudential one, but rather a conclusion on the style and method that has been used [by contemporary jurists] in approaching this discussion of MPB. If you were to refer to the detailed and extensive works of jurisprudence such as Jawāhir, you won’t find anything within that book that is similar to the style and method adopted by the earlier scholars which we just quoted. The typical manner in which [the contemporary jurists] handle this topic is to present the discussion with the disclaimer that it is categorically agreed upon by all jurists [that MPB is impermissible], and we have traditions on this, and if our traditions contradict then that’s because the Imāms were doing taqiyya, case closed! However, did this issue enter our jurisprudential corpus in this fashion? Or is it the case that Sāhib al-Jawāhir, in the 12th century, is presenting the issue this way?

We need to go back in time and find the exact source of this issue. Even if hypothetically speaking we accept there is a consensus on this issue amongst Shi’ī scholars (and we will see later on that in fact there isn’t), and that all Shiʿi scholars considered MPB forbidden, it is vital to ascertain where exactly this consensus came from. The crux and basis of the evidence presented by the earlier scholars was that this jurisprudential matter is predicated on theological presumptions, and the jurisprudential conclusion derived will be intertwined with it’s theological underpinnings. The theological position which this all goes back to is that we do not consider the Christian or the Jew to have knowledge of God. Whether they are monotheist is irrelevant as the verse doesn’t say that the person needs to testify to monotheism. All the verse says is that the name of God should be said and that in the instances where the name of God has not been said it is forbidden to eat the meat. All of the differences that arose amongst the Shi’ī scholars [on this issue] emerged from this point, do Christians and Jews have belief in God? Is it possible for them to mention the name of God [or are their utterances of God’s name pointless]? Shaykh Mufīd said no! Not at all. Why? Because they do not recognise God. Shaykh Tūsi and Syed Murtadha said the same.

The formation of this matter within Imāmi jurisprudence emerged from this theological dispute. The generation of scholars who followed them were heavily influenced by them and merely replicated their evidences, the likes of Qadhī ibn Barrāj, ibn Idrīs, ibn Zuhra etc. For example, ibn Rāwandi in his Fiqh al-Qurān takes the same mode of reasoning and argues that Christians and Jews do not believe in, or recognise, God. It should be clear for you why in the 11th century scholars like Ahmad Narāqi were unable to use this argument anymore and for this reason they started from scratch, avoided the Qur’ānic discussion and focused purely on the traditions. Why is it that Sāhib al-Jawāhir makes no mention of how the earlier scholars argued this matter, despite their books being right in front of him? The way the earlier scholars argued is also a type of evidence, if you want to rely exclusively on the traditions that’s fine, but at least make a note of how other Shi’ī scholars have reasoned. If you want to argue and say that the ruling of impermissibility was given by the earlier scholars, that’s fine, but at least mention on what basis they gave their ruling. For this reason it was difficult for contemporary scholars to repeat this reasoning and to say that Jews do not recognise God, and when they supplicate and invoke using the word “God” they do not intend the right meaning to it, they do not praise God, they do not trust in God, they do not thank God etc. If this is the case, and that they have no relation with God [as they lack recognition and knowledge], than all the cordial relations and connections we have built with them [in solidarity with one another under the banner of “Abrahamic” religions] should be cut [and we should deal with them as we do with the polytheists and disbelievers]. The roots of this discussion are theological. This was just an introduction to illustrate where this matter arose from, and we will have a look at the traditions shortly.


  1. Tahrīm al-Dhabā’ih ahl al-Kitāb, Shaykh Mufīd, p. 20
  2. Qur’ān, 6:121. Translation: The Study Qur’an
  3. al-Khilāf, Shaykh Tūsī, v.6, p.23
  4. ibid, p. 24
  5. ibid
  6. Syed Murtadha, al-Intisār, p. 403
  7. ibid
  8. Shaykh Mufīd, al-Muqni’a, p.580
  9. Tahrīm al-Dhabā’ih ahl al-Kitāb, Shaykh Mufīd, p. 20
  10. ibid, p.21
  11. Qur’ān, 58:22. Translation: The Study Qur’ān
  12. Qur’ān, 5:81. Translation: The Study Qur’ān
  13. Qur’ān, 4:65. Translation: The Study Qur’ān
  14. ibid, p.22