Gelatin and Other Food Ingredients

1. Based on what I have learned about the Sira (attitude) of the Prophet (pbuh), I do not consider being too picky about these issues to be quite inline with the spirit of Islam. I know that there are Muslims who do a research on every ingredient of a product and are also very keen to send the results to others, normally resulting in  putting their lives in difficulty by issuing a list of newly found Haram ingredients. 

This is not the way that the Prophet (pbuh) and the companions treated food and drinks. They were not ‘keen’ to do a research about the ingredients of the foods (not even with the standards of their time). If they noticed a Haram ingredient or if it was brought to their attention then they would deal with it, otherwise they would not adopt the attitude of a suspicious food examiner. This is while the environment they were living at was full of polytheists and followers of many baseless faiths.

2. Inline with the above, we know that the general attitude of Islam towards life and its affairs is the attitude of easiness and flexibility. This is how the Prophet (pbuh) introduced and promoted Islam and Islamic laws among his companions. This by no means implies that we can ignore the rules, however when it comes to the area of application, we are not expected to ‘discover’ new Haram things by extending the application of the law to the areas that the law is not clearly applicable.

3. Often those Muslims who study suspicious ingredients adopt a very scientific approach in their investigation. I have seen loads of pages of analysing an ingredient only to figure out whether it is or it remains Haram or not.

Again, I do not see this attitude among the Prophet (pbuh) and the companions. What I see is that they used to decide about a food or ingredient based on common sense rather than any scientific method that was accessible to them at their time.

4. The Shari’ah has very clearly given us certain rules that apply to certain matters. Then there come things that emerge in time and have not been addressed by the Shari’ah. For these things we are supposed to use our rational reasoning, based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah, to see what ruling seems to be more correct. This is called Feqh. It is important to appreciate that a Feqhi view is simply a personal view (no matter how great and knowledgeable the scholar who comes up with that view is). When it comes to the Shari’ah, it does not matter if one is convinced by it or not, if one wants to be a God obedient Muslim one needs to follow the Shari’ah, full stop. However a Feqhi view is only binding for those who are convinced by it. Therefore no Feqhi view should be seen as the Shari’ah and no Feqhi view should be seen as the ‘only’ possible correct view. 

Based on the above four points, I now answer your specific questions:

There are certain ingredients that we definitely know will make the food Haram. Based on 2:173, 6:121 and 5:90 these are:

– Dead animal
– Blood
– Flesh of swine
– Animal that is slaughtered without taking the name of God
– Alcohol    

If anything from the above list is clearly included in the food that we are consuming then the food will be clearly Haram. Then, there are things that cannot be considered to be exactly the above. For these things I believe the point one above applies, meaning, we are not supposed to go into much detail in order to decide whether they are Haram or not. These are things that we can safely say that the Shari’ah is silent about them.

Two examples are as follows:

– A food ingredient that is made after a significant processing of a substance, in a way that the resulted substance cannot be called (based on common sense) to be the original substance:
The technical word for this in Istihala, normally referred to as a chemical process in English. However, based on  point three above, I go a step further and say that even if scientifically no chemical procedure has taken place, still, based on Urf (common perception), an originally Haram substance can become consumable if it is significantly changed in nature to the extent that in common perception, it cannot be called the same thing. As Ibn Hazm writes: “Ruling upon an object is upon what it is named, if the name (what it is) changes then so does the ruling.”

– Those parts of the animal that cannot be considered as its edible parts:
An example will be those parts of the animal like the hoof, hide and horn. When the Qur’an prohibits eating swine or an animal that is slaughtered without saying the Name of God, the directive is about the edible parts of these animals. We know that the Prophet (pbuh) allowed using the skin of a dead animal for instance. Based on point two above I do not think that we are obliged to extend this ruling to the non-edible parts of the animal as well.   

As you may agree with me, Gelatin is a clear case of both the above examples. First, when I eat (for instance) a sweet that has gelatin in it, I really do not think that I am eating from cow or swine. Second, gelatin comes from a substance that is derived from those parts of the animal like its hoof, hide and horn, and therefore cannot be considered as the edible part of the animal and therefore in my view we do not have to apply those directives of the Qur’an about the edible parts, to this case.

The above wholly or partially applies to cheese as well.

This is where I need to bring your attention to point four above. What I wrote was based on my understanding (that is also shared by some other students of Islam and scholars). This by no means is the Shari’ah. If you find my reasoning to be convincing then you may follow it. If however you do not find it convincing then you cannot follow it. As you know there are a number of views about gelatin and cheese, you need to follow the one that you find to be convincing or you need to form your own view based on your studies. 

Last point:

What I wrote above is from legal point of view. Personally one may decide to limit himself due to his own preferences based on the general spirit of Islam. For example, if I find that among the ingredients of a product is Pork Gelatin, I avoid it. This however, as I wrote, is my personal choice and is not due to any legal takes of the issue.

Hope this is clear.

Abdullah Rahim
May 2013
 Gelatin and Other Food Ingredients





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