Sunday, 24 September 2017

Seafood is Haram except Fish

Many Muslims follow the opinion of some of the Islamic jurists that all manner of seafood is Halal, such as lobster, shrimp, oyster, clam, etc. This is apparently the ruling of the Maliki, Shafi’e and Hambali schools of law in particular, while the Hanafi school is notably different in this matter. Among the Shi’a, the Ja’fari school concurs with that of the Hanafi that not all seafood is Halal, with the exception of fish. But while the Hanafis declare any kind of fish to be Halal, the Ja’fari school, in being the closest to the Mosaic Law in this matter, considers only that fish which has scales to be Halal. Thus fish which do not have scales, such as the shark for example, is considered Haram in the Ja’fari school of law followed by most of the Shi’a community. In this entry, I will discuss the proofs from the Holy Qur’an and Sunna to support my agreement with the Hanafi school in this matter that apart from fish, all seafood is Haram.
Firstly, I will examine the proof of the opposing side. They quote the Ayat:
أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ صَيْدُ الْبَحْرِ وَطَعَامُهُ مَتَاعًا لَّكُمْ وَلِلسَّيَّارَةِ ۖ وَحُرِّمَ عَلَيْكُمْ صَيْدُ الْبَرِّ مَا دُمْتُمْ حُرُمًا
Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food as provision for you and the travelers, but forbidden to you is game from the land as long as you are in the state of Ihram.
(Sura 5: 96)
Now those who argue that all seafood is Halal use this Ayat of the Holy Qur’an as their primary and essential evidence. But a closer inspection of this Ayat and its context will reveal their their position is weak. Here Allah Most High has said that the “game of the sea” and its food is lawful or Halal, but has not defined what constitutes the “game of the sea”, at least in this Ayat itself. Therefore it is a mistake to think this is a proof that all seafood is Halal. But those who quote this Ayat as evidence usually do not read or cite the rest of the Ayat which clarifies the context. Allah goes on to say that the “game of the land” is forbidden while you are in a state of Ihram. Now this is a specific ordinance that applies to the state of Ihram, when hunting is land-game is forbidden. But out of Ihram hunting land-game is Halal. But the point which is glossed over is the fact that while this Ayat implies that land-game outside of Ihram is allowed to be hunted for food, no one can infer from this that all land animals are therefore Halal. Other divine texts of the Holy Qur’an and Sunna make explicitly clear that there are certain land animals which are forbidden to eat, the most obvious being the swine, but also beasts of prey, animals that feed on filth, donkeys, etc. Therefore just as the phrase “game of the land” does not refer to all land animals, therefore it must be conceded that “game of the sea” does not necessarily refer to all seafood.
Now those who argue that all manner of seafood, not simply fish, are Halal say that the general rule is that all food is Halal with the exception of that food which has been explicitly declared Haram through divine revelation of Qur’an and Sunna. Therefore, the burden of proof is on us to demonstrate that Allah or His Prophet declared any of the seafood apart from fish as Haram, otherwise it will have to be conceded that they are Halal.
This line of reasoning is sound, so I will now proceed to present our proofs from Qur’an and Sunna that all seafood with the exception of fish are Haram. So Allah Most High says:
إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةَ
Verily, carrion is forbidden to you
(Sura 2: 173)
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ
Forbidden to you is carrion
(Sura 5: 3)
See also Sura 6: 145; 16: 115
The term ‘Mayta’ or carrion refers to any meat that comes from an animal that wasn’t slaughtered. The standard Islamic method of slaughter means cutting the animal’s throat, esophagus, blood vessels and trachea with a sharp knife, until it bleeds to death. Therefore, any animal for which it is not possible to slaughter in this way will be considered Haram under the general meaning of the Ayaat which forbid eating carrion. This is in fact one of the wisdoms behind why the pig is Haram, because it does not really have a throat and cannot be properly slaughtered in the method I have described. Likewise, any living creature which cannot be slaughtered according to the standard Islamic method is Haram. The meat of such animals is to be considered carrion. All of the marine animals which people consider as ‘seafood’ is therefore to be considered Haram and its meat carrion, such as the lobster, clam, octopus, eel, oyster, etc. Likewise, this rule applies to any living creature that is on dry land or flies in the air, such as insects, vermin, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, etc.
At this juncture one will ask that according to this definition of carrion, fish must be considered Haram too, yet all Muslims without exception consider fish as Halal. The answer is that fish too is technically carrion, but its exemption is based on an authentic proofs from the Qur’an and Sunna. For example, the Holy Qur’an mentions that the Prophet Moses and his disciple Joshua son of Nun took a fish with them to eat during their journey (Sura 18: 61). But if anyone argues that this cannot be construed as a proof insofar as the Shari’a of Prophet Muhammad is concerned, the answer to this is that the Ayat which has already been quoted as a proof by those who say all seafood is Halal (Sura 5: 96), though I have demonstrated cannot logically be interpreted to mean all seafood without exception, nevertheless it must be logically conceded that there has to be at least some sort of seafood that is Halal. The Prophet Muhammad has clarified that while eating fish is technically eating carrion based on the definition of carrion I have already described, he explicitly exempted it as a concession to the general rule:
عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ , أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ , قَالَ : " أُحِلَّتْ لَنَا مَيْتَتَانِ وَدَمَانِ , فَأَمَّا الْمَيْتَتَانِ فَالْحُوتُ وَالْجَرَادُ , وَأَمَّا الدَّمَانِ فَالْكَبِدُ وَالطِّحَالُ
“Two kinds of dead meat and two kinds of blood have been permitted to us. The two kinds of dead meat are fish and locusts, and the two kinds of blood are the liver and spleen.” (Sunan Ibn Maja; 3314)
So while the general rule, as per the verdict of the Holy Qur’an, is that both carrion and blood are Haram, the Prophet has made two important exceptions for each category, and the exceptions for carrion are fish and locusts, but he did not mention any other kind of seafood apart from fish. This Hadith proves that, like fish, all other seafood is to be considered carrion, but that the concession of being Halal is only for the fish. To conclude, all seafood is therefore Haram on the basis that it is carrion with the important exception of fish.


  1. *Note: There isn't a single authentic Hadith which demonstrates that the Prophet or any of his Companions ever ate any kind of seafood except for fish. As for eating whale meat, then the whale is considered a fish for the purpose of Islamic dietary laws, though technically it is a mammal. Based on this one can say that the Prophet Jonah was swallowed by a whale, as technically there wasn't any "fish" large enough to swallow a human being. Hence whale is included in the word الحوت. Some classical Hanafi jurists considered shrimp or prawns as Halal because they regarded them as fish, but the reality is that they are not fish and so should be considered Haram, or at the very least Makruh (disliked).

  2. *Note: Those who argue that all seafood is Halal, not only fish, cite the Hadith: هُوَ الطَّهُورُ مَاؤُهُ الْحِلُّ مَيْتَتُهُ
    The Prophet ﷺ said: "Its (Sea) water is pure and its dead (creatures) are Halal" (Muwatta Malik)
    However, the other Hadith I have quoted that (only) two Mayta (carrion) are Halal, namely, fish and locust, will qualify the meaning of this Hadith as being restricted to fish only.


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