Dietary Law In Islam And Judaism

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Islam, The Prophetic Way of Muhammad and Halal Meat
  3. Judaism, Kashrut and Ethics of Meat
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography


It is very well known that the Abrahamic faiths particularly Islam and Judaism have a high concept of ethics and strict dietary requirements when it comes to food especially pertaining to meat. Ethical issues of food is often misunderstood and misrepresented in the modern Western world for example in 2019 in Belgium there was a national ban on the Muslim and Jewish method of slaughtering an animal due to ‘animal welfare concerns’ (Schreuer 2019). With Islam being the second largest religion in the UK many large global food-chains for example KFC and Nandos have made the conscious decision of opting for the sale of halal (permissible for Muslims) meat at some of their selected branches. In the USA after Christianity the second largest religion is Judaism therefore some companies such as Subway also opened some kosher (food permissible for Jews) branches for their Jewish customers. Concepts and words such as Halal, Zabiha, Kosher and Kashrut often come to mind when dealing with the dietary law in the Muslim and Jewish traditions. Though from both an outside and inside perspective these two religions may appear different and often misconstrued to each other, the two faith groups have many differences in theology and belief, however there is no doubt that they share many of the same principles on a range of issues and in this case on the ethics and laws of their food and dietary requirements, which could certainly be a means of unity for the two Abrahamic faiths.

Islam, The Prophetic Way of Muhammad and Halal Meat

In Islam the correct morality and ethics with food and dietary requirements are given by the commands of God and through the example of the Prophet Muhammad. God says in the Quran ‘O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and wholesome in the earth, and follow not the footsteps of the devil’ (Quran 2:168). This verse lays out two concepts of the Islamic ethical system in relation to food, the first being ‘that which is lawful’ which refers to halal. Halal literally translates to permissible or lawful, in relation to food it usually refers to an animal which has been slaughtered in the correct manner satisfying the shariah (Islamic law). The process or act of sacrificing an animal for the purpose of consumption is known as zabiha. In the collection of hadith (traditions of Muhammad) ‘Sahih Muslim’ it is recorded that Muhammad said ‘when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way. So every one of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably.’ (Muslim Book 34 Hadith 84). Muslims believe the animal should be killed instantly in a specific method which relieves the animal of any pain and consequently would say this is the most ethical way.

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The object used to slaughter the animal should be sharp and used swiftly. The swift cutting of vessels of the neck disconnects the flow of blood to the nerves in the brain responsible for pain. Thus the animal does not feel pain. (El-Awady 2003) After the zabiha process the blood is then drained, as the flowing blood of an animal is amongst the category of haram (impermissible) for consumption. ‘Prohibited to you are dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine’ (Quran 5:3).

The second aspect of the Quranic verse, ‘and wholesome in the earth’ (Quran 2:168), ‘wholesome’ in this verse is a translation from the Arabic word tayyab. It can also be translated and used in various ways as mentioned by Mahmood Jawaid in his article: ‘the term “tayyab” meaning pure, clean, wholesome, nourishing, and pleasing to the taste’ (Jawaid 2013: 1). Tayyab or wholesome from the earth is making sure the meat is nourishing and of goodness which is a result of the treatment during its life. Some may even argue mistreatment of an animal and then performing the zabiha ritual would not satisfy the standards of shariah. ‘Even if these animals have been slaughtered in the strictest Islamic manner, if cruelties were otherwise inflicted on them, their flesh is still forbidden (Haram) food’ (Rahman 2017: 3). Islam in its essence holds high morals and values for treatment of any being that is a creation of God and the act of kindness to animals is embedded in the Prophetic example of Muhammad which all Muslims aspire to follow. Muhammad is known to have kept a diet with minimum meat consumption and it was considered a luxury of their time, though it is permissible everything comes in moderation according to the statement of Muhammad, ‘always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course’ (Bukhari Vol 1 Hadith 470). In recent times Muslim health activists campaign against the conventional meat industry including the ‘halal’ branded companies who mistreat animals and deprive them of their due rights, they question if the Prophet Muhammad was around today how he would react to such treatment. ‘Would he eat meat every day knowing how detrimental industrial farming practices were on the globe?’ (Abraham 2014).

Judaism, Kashrut and Ethics of Meat

Kashrut is the dietary law prescribed for the Jewish community and from the same word the term ‘kosher’ is derived to refer to a single type of food that is permitted. ‘An acceptable food item is referred to as kasher, sometimes pronounced kosher’ (Firestone 2005: 159). Thus it is more or less equivalent to the halal concept in Islamic law. Jews believe God revealed to Moses that animals should be sacrificed or slaughtered and this is recorded in the verses of Deuteronomy. ‘You may slaughter any of the herd or flock He has given you, as I have commanded you, and you may eat it within your gates whenever you want’ (Deuteronomy 12:21). The animal must be killed in the traditional shechita method, ‘the Jewish religious and humane method of slaughtering permitted animals and poultry for food. It is the only method of producing kosher meat and poultry allowed by Jewish law’ (“A Guide to Shechita UK” 2009: 3). To comply with the Jewish religious law known as Halakha, the method of slaughter must be done in a way that meets the requirements rooted in the traditional shechita procedure. Some requirements as set out by scholars such as that which is mentioned in the Journal of Animal Law: ‘they ensure a swift and painless dispatch of the animal. Infringing the laws of shechita renders the meat unconditionally forbidden as food to Jews’ (Hodkin 2004: 129). The Judaic law prescribes that the animal must experience minimal pain and killed in a method which they believe to be the most humane and ethical. They also hold that it must be performed by a Jew who is skilfully trained in the ritual and that he be qualified, the individual is commonly referred to as ‘shochet’. ‘He serves an apprenticeship with an experienced shochet before becoming fully qualified. The position of shochet, as a G-d-fearing person of integrity, is a respected one in the Jewish community’ (“How is Shechita Performed” 2015).

Jewish law also holds high principles in making sure the animal is healthy before the ritual slaughtering and that which has any signs of illness, damage or disease would be considered non-kosher and would not meet the dietary law. ‘Judaism places great stress on proper treatment of animals. Unnecessary cruelty to animals is strictly forbidden, and in many cases, animals are accorded the same sensitivity as human beings’ (Rich 2011). Judaism holds animals in high respect and Jewish people believe their Prophets many of whom were shepherds to be people who loved and treated animals well and took care of their flock. In Jewish scripture mankind has been placed in dominion of animals and can be consumed by humans for the correct reasons and with fair treatment.

Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground (Genesis 1:26)

Alongside the laws pertaining to meat and poultry and that which is forbidden is meat of an animal of which blood has not been drained. “You shall not eat any manner of blood either from fowl or animal” (Leviticus 7:26), the purpose behind this as per the Jewish belief that the blood of the animal is the life and soul of the animal itself. ‘It possesses essential life giving spiritual energy, as the Torah writes, 'the blood is the soul.' By eating blood a person consumes that animal's life energy, and impacts himself in a spiritually negative manner’ (Kumer 2006). The animal blood is considered unclean in Jewish tradition and also has a spiritual factor which leads to its prohibition of consumption. Alongside the laws on slaughter and making meat kosher-friendly, the Jewish tradition has a few other laws and rules on food such as consumption of meat and dairy together which is considered trief (non-kosher and impermissible for Jews).


Both communities Jews and Muslims would argue that their food specifically meat and preparation of it is done in the most humane and ethical way. The description of zabiha, the Islamic method and shechita, the Jewish method is almost exactly the same. Jews and Muslims both agree that the animals should be given their rights, treated well and killed in a way in which the animal suffers the least amount of pain. Muslims believe the animal should be taken away and killed discreetly from any other animal so they do not suffer any fear or anxiety and Jews also treat animals with utmost respect. The practice of draining blood for both health and spiritual reasons is found in both faith traditions, due to such similarity in principles and the belief of Muslims that the previous Prophets are all sent from one God it is permitted for Muslims to eat the meat of the Ahl al-Kitab (people of the book or scripture) meaning the Jews and Christians. ‘The food of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) is lawful for you as your food is lawful for them’ (Quran 5:5), however in the Jewish tradition the scholars of the religion have not permitted halal meat for the Jewish community, despite the similarities in morals and rituals pertaining to the preparation of the food. This possibly comes down to the theological beliefs that Islam and the Qur’an confirmed the previous scriptures and Prophets and belief in them is one of the six basic tenants of faith for Muslims. When Muhammad was asked “what is belief” in a famous hadith, he mentions “that you believe in God, His angels, His books, His messengers’ (Nawawi 2015: 19). This tradition later formed what is known as the six articles of faith, on the other hand Jewish authorities do not consider halal meat permissible for Jews. ‘Jews are not allowed to eat halal meat – because a blessing to Allah is said over each animal before it is slaughtered’ (Romain 2011). In conclusion Jews and Muslims no doubt share many commonalities in their ethical ideas and morals to do with food, both see it as a form of barakah (blessing of God in Islam) and berekheh (blessing of God in Judaism). When dealing with new found issues and anti-religious practices such as the modern-day use of animal stunning, which religious authorities would argue is completely unethical and inhumane to leave animals in a state of shock and electrocution whilst awaiting their death, perhaps in such campaigns Muslims and Jews can seek common grounds and work together to establish what works for their respected belief systems and laws of ethics.


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