Consuming the Meat of the People of the Book (2)

[To read the other translation in this series, click here. Note: MPB is the abbreviation for meat of the people of the book].

The discussion we started previously was to do with the ruling in regards to consuming MPB. The question we were asking was that if a Christian or a Jew was to invoke the name of God at the time of slaughtering the animal, and he was also to uphold the necessary requirements in slaughtering, what ruling would this have? To put it simply, is Islam a condition of the one slaughtering and is therefore MPB forbidden?

Theological foundation of lack of knowledge

In our previous lesson we concluded from looking at the works of the earlier scholars there existed a theological presumption upon which they had concluded that MPB was forbidden. The theological belief which they based their ruling on was that the people of the Book do not recognise nor have knowledge of God, and therefore their invocation of His name has no meaning. The criteria given in the Qur’ān is that an animal upon which the name of God is not mentioned at the time of being slaughtered cannot be eaten, so if the people of the Book are unable to invoke the name of God it is not permissible to eat the meat. The Qur’ānic criteria isn’t that the one slaughtering should be Muslim, rather they should have the capability to invoke the name of God. As we saw, Shaykh Mufīd argued that even if they invoked the name of God, this invocation is void of any value and meaning as it needs to be coupled with an intention, and this intention will not materialise as they lack the necessary knowledge for doing so. Syed Murtadha said the same thing in his discussion, as did Shaykh Tūsi. The jurists who followed on after them continued this mode of reasoning and recycled the same evidence as proof. The question we now need to explore is whether this is acceptable or not, and whether this attribution [of lack of knowledge and the meaningless of their invocation] is correct or not.

Since our discussion at hand is jurisprudential and not theological, it’s not possible to open up this theological presupposition and see the relationship between the people of the Book and God, and whether they have knowledge of God or not. If we were [to discuss it] we would have to approach it in two ways, first we would survey their religious literature to understand what sort of God they believe in and how they have demonstrated and explained faith. Secondly we would have to delve into the Qur’ān and take a holistic understanding of whether they are believers or not. Clearly they don’t believe in the Prophet of Islam yet is it the case they don’t believe in the day of resurrection or the creation of this world? Currently we won’t be exploring either of these avenues and I’ve only mentioned the method just in case others were interested in doing so themselves.

Similar issues

What currently has importance and relevance in our discussion is that the MPB is not the only issue within our jurisprudence which is predicated on whether the people of the book have belief in God or not. Just like the issue of MPB there are a number of other issues that have similar ramification, yet unlike in the matter of MPB, in the other issues the jurists have more or less accepted that the people of the Book do in fact have faith in God [and that their invocation of God therefore holds value].

Non-Muslim freeing a slave

One of these issues is the freeing of a slave. In order to free a slave the owner is required to make an intention of gaining proximity to God prior to declaring the slave to be free. This intention is in turn dependant on the persons knowledge and ability to recognise God. Now if a person rejects this condition of intention and says that it is not required then a non-Muslim can free a slave. But if we say the intention is obligatory, and the intention is conditional to a person’s knowledge of God, then the non-Muslim won’t be able to free a slave. As there is no condition of intention in purchasing a slave, a non-Muslim can legally become the master of a slave, but if he now wanted to free him, he won’t be able to because his intention doesn’t have value. Is such a ruling feasible? In this scenario the slave will never be able to be freed unless he is transferred to another owner who can free him [who is Muslim]. In this regards, Muhaqqiq Hillī says:

وفي وقوعه من الكافر تردد

And in the actualisation [of the intention] of a disbeliever [in freeing a slave] there is doubt1

What do those who doubt the validity of the intention of the disbeliever argue by? Fādhil Abi says:

، فلا يصح ، لأن القربة متعذرة في طرفه ، لعدم معرفته بالله تعالى ،.

[Those who argue in the intention being invalid say] it is not correct, as the intention of proximity is not possible for them as they lack knowledge of God2

I’ve brought this example to show the similarity between this and our main discussion of MPB. Just how it is argued in the matter of MPB that their invocation is invalid due to their lack of knowledge of God, similarly their intention when freeing a slave is invalid for the same reason. However a number of jurists have taken with issue with this, and contended this point, saying how is it possible to categorically declare that all non-Muslims have no knowledge of God? There are some non-Muslims who have no knowledge of God but at the same time it is possible there is a non-Muslim from the people of the Book who does in fact have some knowledge and cognition of God. Fādhil Ābi notes this point:

ويمكن أن يقال : لا نسلم أن الكافر على الإطلاق ، لا يعرف الله تعالى

It is possible to be argued: I do not accept that categorically every single non-Muslim has no knowledge of God3

It can’t be said that every single non-Muslim lacks belief in God. That is why Allāmah Hillī in his book Mukhtalaf al-Shī’a 4 when he is mentioning the different opinions on this matter of freeing a slave, opens up the possibility that the non-Muslim is of two types: (1) the non-Muslim who actively and consciously rejects God, and the intention of such a person is invalid since he rejects God, and (2) the non-Muslim who accepts God yet rejects the Prophet, here there is no reason to argue he can’t keep an intention as he believes in God. If our jurists have accepted the belief of the people of Book in this issue why did they [inconsistently] reject it when it came to the matter of slaughtering? In this matter of freeing the slave they are required to have an intention, and in the matter of slaughtering they are required to mention the name of God. It is odd that we accept the former but reject the latter when the nature of both are the same.

Non-Muslim giving oath

Another issue which is linked with this is that of giving oath. Is it possible for a non-Muslim to give oath and swear by God? If a non-Muslim had a case that was being judged over, could the judge call upon the non-Muslim to give oath? Will this be valid or not? Over here again our jurists accept that non-Muslims can give oath. We also have traditions in relation to this that say “do not make a non-Muslim give oath except [that they should give oath] by Allah” 5, showing that the people of the Book can indeed give oath, and they should give oath on God and nothing else.

Non-Muslim giving charity

The third issue that’s related here is that of giving charity. The act of giving charity is conditional to the presence of an intention. Can the people of the Book give charity or not? Again, a lot of our scholars have said that they can.

Non-Muslim endowing land

The fourth issue relates to the endowment of land which also requires an intention. This also has been accepted by a number of our scholars in particular within the last century. Our jurists consider it permissible for a Christian to build a hospital or a school and for it to be given as an endowment.

Moving on, this theological foundation that was relied on by the earlier scholars is not acceptable neither is it defensible. For this reason it no longer plays any role in contemporary jurisprudential discussions. As we mentioned in the previous talk, the evidence relied on by contemporary scholars for MPB makes no reference to the earlier type of argumentation used by the likes of Shaykh Mufīd, Tūsi and Syed Murtadha. It would appear that they thought mentioning it would have made people realise the weak basis on which this ruling was being argued, so didn’t bother mentioning it at all. Keep in mind that Shaykh Mufīd based his main argument on this theological point albeit he does reference the traditions in a peripheral manner, Shaykh Tusi made it one of his two evidences and Syed Murtadha doesn’t even bother mentioning traditions [and suffices with the theologically based argument]. As we have concluded, this argument is no longer reliable [due to its incorrect nature].

Criticism of Shahīd Thānī

That being said, other jurists merely recycled these arguments where as others completely ignored it and didn’t make any mention of it. On the other hand you also had some jurists who took serious issue with the argumentation being made and were openly critical of the attempt of earlier scholars of categorising the people of the Book as people who had no belief in God. One of these scholars is Shahīd Thāni. He discusses this in both MPB and in the discussion under freeing slaves. in contradiction to the earlier scholars Shahīd argues that the people of the Book can indeed make an intention.

و أما ما قاله بعضهم من أن الكافر مطلقا لا يعرف اللّه تعالى على الوجه المعتبر، و لو عرفه لأقرّ بجميع رسله و دين الإسلام، فهو كلام بعيد عن التحقيق جدّا، و لا ملازمة بين الأمرين، كما لا ملازمة بين معرفة المسلم للّه تعالى و معرفة دين الحقّ من فرق الإسلام، و كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمٰا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ

As for what some of the jurists have said, that the non-Muslim categorically lacks knowledge of Allah, and if they did have knowledge of God they would have believed in the Prophet and Islam, this is an opinion which has no basis. There is no necessary correlation between these two (God and Islam), just how there is no correlation between someone who is Muslim and the true sect amongst the Islamic schools, for “each party rejoicing in that which it has”.   67

Here Shahīd Thani takes issue with the arguments of the early scholars, who made a correlation between knowledge of God and accepting the Prophet. Shaykh Mufīd in his treatise specifies that if the person really had knowledge of God they would then accept the Prophet and Islam, but since they didn’t accept the Prophet and Islam this shows they didn’t really have knowledge of God. Shahīd argues that there is no correlation here and the two are separate. It is possible for someone to believe in God yet not believe in the Prophet. Simply not believing in the Prophet does not negate a persons belief in God. Do we not accept that there are Muslims who have knowledge of God yet do not accept the wilaya of the Ahlulbayt? Should we now question their status as Muslims [just as we question the status of Christians being believers in God because of their rejection of the Prophet?]. By referencing the verse 30:32 at the end Shahīd is indirectly answering the question as to how someone can believe in God yet not accept the Prophet, that at the end of the day, everyone is inclined to uphold the practices and beliefs of their own school and by correlation they will reject other schools that are in disagreement to them.

In his discussion on MPB, Shahīd says:

و أما قوله: «إن الكافر لا يعرف اللّه و لا يذكره على ذبيحته» فمن العجيب [2]، فإن الكافر الكتابي مقرّ باللّه تعالى، و ما ينسب إليه من التثليث و أن عزيرا ابن اللّه و المسيح ابن اللّه و نحو ذلك لا يخرجه عن أصل الإقرار باللّه تعالى.

As for what has been said “that the non-Muslim has no knowledge of God, neither do they say the name of Allah at the time of slaughtering”, this is a strange thing! For indeed the people of the Book believe in God, and what is attributed to them of believing in the Trinity, or that they take Uzayr as the son of God, or  Jesus as the son of God, and other issues like this, this does not negate their fundamental belief in God. 8

Here Shahīd acknowledges that this argument of the earlier scholars is a strange one indeed. Anticipating the argument that Christians and Jews have problematic beliefs, such as the trinity, Shahīd responds by saying that these beliefs do not invalidate their belief in God nor their ability to invoke God. God did not stipulate that Sura al-Ikhlās be recited during slaughtering [which would have then made their belief in the trinity a problem], rather God stipulated only that His name be invoked.  Here we can extrapolate from Shahīd’s words that belief in God is a spectrum, there is the lower level of belief which the Christians and Jews have and then there’s the higher level of belief of monotheism. The fundamental question we have to ask is what level of belief in God is required at the time of slaughtering, a minimal level or a maximum level? Given that the verse just required the invoking of God’s name we can conclude that a minimum level of belief in God should suffice. More than this has not been required.

و هذه الإلحاقات و إن أوجبت الكفر لا تقتضي عدم ذكر اللّه، فإنه يذكر اللّه في الجملة و يقول: الحمد للّه، و ذلك كاف في الذكر على الذبيحة كما هو مقتضى الآية. و في فرق المسلمين من ينسب إلى اللّه تعالى أمورا منكرة و لا يخرجه ذلك عن أن يذكر اللّه كذلك.

These beliefs, while they give rise to disbelief, they do not necessitate that the name of Allah cannot be said, for indeed they say the name of Allah, just like they praise Him, and this suffices as the verse requires. Just like we have different groups of Muslims who are not considered to be outside of Islam despite them attributing invalid beliefs to Allah.  9

After making his point Shahīd then brings a polemical argument, saying that if it was the case that having incorrect beliefs could completely take someone out of the fold of belief, then what about all the Muslims who have all sorts of strange and invalid beliefs about God. Should they be considered out of Islam? What type of knowledge is required here? A perfect and complete type of knowledge? If this was the case then all the villages around the Muslim world who were never exposed to the religious sciences, or the Bedouin tribes for that matter, also shouldn’t meet the criteria required and their meat shouldn’t be accepted as for sure they hold questionable beliefs due to their lack of studies. Yet we know this isn’t the case. A Muslim can attribute all sorts of beliefs to God and this won’t cause their meat to be questionable nor take them out of Islam.

Benefits of this discussion

Up until now there are two benefits from this discussion. The first is that we uncovered the theological foundation upon which the earlier scholars based their jurisprudential ruling. This is quite unique as most other jurisprudential rulings aren’t so visibly intertwined with a theological concept. The second benefit is that we examined the first type of evidence that was used. Here we have concluded that Christians and Jews can indeed invoke the name of God, and this is what the verse of the Qur’ān requires.

Reasoning from the traditions

Now having discussed this, we need to move on and see how the contemporary scholars have argued this matter. The second part of this discussion is looking at the evidence taken from our traditions as those who argue for the impermissibility of MPB exclusively base their arguments on them. The traditions in question have been gathered by Hurr al-Āmulī in chapters 26 and chapters 27 of “the book of slaughtering” (abwāb al-dhibh) in Wasā’il:

ـ باب ۲۶ تحريم ذبائح أهل الكتاب وغيرهم من الكفّار ، وتحريم ثمنها حتى مع عدم وجود ذابح غيرهم ، إلاّ مع الضرورة

Chapter 26: Impermissibility of eating MPB and others from the disbelievers…except in a state of emergency

ـ باب ۲۷ تحريم ذبائح الكفار من اهل الكتاب وغيرهم ، سواء سمّوا عليها أم لم يسمّوا ، إلاّ مع التقية

Chapter 27: Impermissibility of eating MPB and others from the disbelievers, irrespective of whether they said the name of God or not, except in a state of taqiyya

Chapter 26 has 11 traditions and chapter 27 has 46 which makes a total of 57. On top of these 57 traditions we also have a few traditions in different chapters on this, which makes the grand total of 60. One issue is the fact that we have an abundance of narrations on this topic, in comparison to areas where normally there isn’t much available. These narrations have been grouped and categorised by the jurists based on their content. Sāhib Jawāhir categorised these 60 narrations into 12 groups using his own methodology and understanding, others have grouped them and brought them differently. For example Mūsavī Ardabīli categorises them into 8 groups.

First group of traditions

From the next lesson onwards we’ll focus solely on the traditions and investigating their evidences. The first group of traditions we will look at will be those which categorically forbid MPB.


  1. al-Mukhtasar al-Nāfi’, Muhaqqiq Hillī, p. 229
  2. Kashf al-Ramūz, Fādhil Ābi, v.2, p.287
  3. ibid
  4. Mukhtalaf al-Shī’a, Allāmah Hilli, v.8, p.42
  5. Wasā’il al-Shī’a, Hurr al-Āmūli, v.23, p.266
  6. Masālik al-Afhām, Shahīd Thāni, v.10, p.63
  7. Qur’ān 30:32, Translation: The Study Qur’ān
  8. ibid, v.11, p. 455
  9. ibid