Dietary rules

Surah 5 (Al-Ma’idah/The Table Spread): 3

Forbidden to you (for food) are carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, what has been (slaughtered) in the name of any other than that of Allah, and the beast strangled, beaten to death, killed by a fall, the gored to death by a horn, and that which some wild beast has begun to eat, (all are unlawful), except what you slaughter (in accordance with the prescribed law).

And (also forbidden to you) what has been slaughtered before idols, or that you divide by the arrows: (all) that is ungodliness.

Today those who disbelieve have despaired of your religion, so do not dread them but dread Me.

Today have I perfected your religion for you, and completed My favour on you, and I have chosen for you Islam as a religion.

But, whoever is helplessly forced by hunger, without inclining to sin, (can enjoy of the forbidden food), then verily Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.


{5.3-5}, one verse of which is produced above, is the fullest of five passage of the Qur’an containing dietary rules, the others being:

{2.172-173} and {16.114-115}, which forbid only the consumption of: ‘carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, and what has been offered to other than God’,


{6.118} which requires, in common with {5.4}, that God’s name to be invoked over whatever is eaten, and


{6.142-147} which prohibits, in addition to eating the flesh of swine, the consumption of ‘blood poured forth … for that is surely defilement – or a sinful offering made to other than God.’


{24.61}, mysteriously, declares that there is no blame upon a person ‘that you eat from your houses, or your fathers’ houses or your mothers’ houses or your brothers’ houses or your sisters’ houses or your paternal uncle’s houses or your paternal aunts’ houses or your maternal uncles’ houses or your maternal aunts’ houses or those whose keys you possess, or (those of) your friends’; nor is there blame ‘whether you eat separately or together’. It is unclear what purpose this wide-ranging permission to eat ‘separately or together’ in a variety of places was intended to serve, especially since it is hard to read it as prohibiting the consumption of food in other places.


The prohibition on consuming food items that have been offered to idols, porcine meat products, animals found as carrion and blood all reflect laws in the Torah, although other requirements of Jewish dietary laws are deemed to be abolished . In {6.146} the Qur’an recognises that it contains some common restrictions with Jewish law, and explains that the Jews had been given stricter rules than were now being declared, as a punishment for them:

{6.146} And unto those who are Jews, We forbade every animal with claws; and of oxen and sheep We forbade them the fat thereof, save that upon their backs, or their entrails, or that which is mingled with bone.

Thus We did recompense them for their wilful disobedience, and surely We are Truthful.


The Qur’an’s middle way between the Mosaic Law and Christianity

About twenty years following the crucifixion of Jesus, the leaders of the apostolic church convened the Council of Jerusalem to consider whether the many gentiles who were being converted to Jesus’ teachings by St Paul should be required to abide by Jewish laws of which dietary laws seem to have been of immediate concern. In a critical moment in the development of Christianity the Council determined that non-Jewish Christians were not bound by the Mosaic law, other than for small number of the dietary prohibitions and the prohibition of ‘illicit marriages’, (see Acts of the Apostles 15.6-19  ).  The phrasing of this historic ruling by St James the Just, the brother of Jesus, is permissive with exceptions: 

‘… It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.’

This passage reads similarly to:

{2.172-173} and {16.115}: ‘Eat of the good things that we have provided you … He has forbidden you only…’ and

{6.145}: Say: ’I do not find in that which is revealed unto me anything forbidden to one who would eat thereof save…’

In common with Acts 15.19, {5.5} even makes the far from obvious connection between permissible food and permissible marriages.


It is within the context of this adoption but variation of dietary rules that the Qur’an makes its famous statement (in {5.3}): ‘Today I have perfected your religion for you.’ By adopting part of the Mosaic law the Qur’an may be seen as pursuing a ‘middle way’ between the strictness of the Torah and the permissiveness of Christianity. This a phenomenon also seen in its: 

  • permission of nocturnal intercourse during the fasting month of Ramadan 〈57,


  • (believed) prescription of stoning for married fornicators, but flogging only for unmarried parties 〈66, and


  • confirmation of retributive justice (‘an eye for an eye’) but allowance of diyya (payment in lieu) 〈72.



Means of slaughter

Contrary to popular contrary to popular belief, there is no positive instruction in the Qur’an concerning the method for killing livestock for slaughter, other than the obligation of ‘mentioning the name of God over it’. Early jurists formed a consensus, however, that the only halal method of dispatching an animal was the slitting of its throat so that it dies from loss of blood. The prohibition on eating animals that have been ‘beaten to death’ is the dubious scriptural basis put forward for opposition to the electric stunning of animals to unconsciousness before slaughter, due, so it is claimed, to concern lest an animal die of shock in the seconds between the stun rather than through exsanguination.