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E-numbers and insects

August 12, 2011



Can you explain the Mālikī view on e-numbers in general? Is there such a thing as a mashhūr on this topic? There has also been a debate about a particular e-number, E120, which is made from insects. Did Imam Mālik permit the eating of all insects without making a distinction between them?
We are most grateful for a response.


In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful.
May Allah’s prayer of blessing and mercy and the greeting of peace be on His chosen Messenger, his family and the entirety of his companions, and whoever follows them through engagement in beneficent goodness until the Day of Judgment.

1. The first essential aspect to be stressed in this connection is the need to prioritize issues in life, and thus in the fiqh.
If one reads the 6-volume Al-Mudawwanah in the Dār Sādir edition, for instance, he will notice that no more than one and a half pages are taken up by the questions and answers exchanged by Ibn Qāsim and Sahnūn on the juristic subject of the dhabā’ih or meat slaughtered by the People of the Book. Conversely, a number of volumes are devoted to the rulings on mu`āmalāt or man-to-man transactions. Only the judgments pertaining to slaves, whether grouped together or scattered across varied masā’il (= juristic issues), would be found on computation to take up some two out of the six books.
If we move to a revered collection of fatwas, let us choose al-Burzulī’s collection, we notice that five out of its six volumes are consecrated to the mu`āmalāt, and that three volumes relate to the queries and juristic replies on pecuniary transactions alone.
The same holds true of a typical text on “comparative” fiqh, e.g. Judge ‘Abdu’l-Wahhāb al-Baghdādī’s seminal Al-Ishrāf ‘alā Nukat Masā’il al-Khilāf. After pages and pages of the Books of Sales, Partnerships, Endowments, Insolvency, etc, the Book of Foodstuffs is found right at the end, in the miscellaneous section. It takes no more than 3 and a half pages, and only 18 short masā’il on the whole spectrum of the disputed juristic issues regarding the permissibility or otherwise of eating nourishing solids.
That this is not a madhhabī thing limited to the Mālikī school of Ahl al-Madīnah is demonstrated by the fact that an identical proportion between the fiqh on edibles and similar aspects and mu`āmalāt is witnessed by us in all the major general texts devoted to jurisprudence from the other three methodological schools of Ahl as-Sunnah.
In today’s age, with the collapse of an empowered Islamic leadership, and the de-activation of the fiqh, first and foremost as a result of the absence of a functioning judicial system, together with the aping of kuffār’s worldviews, Islam has been reduced to a “religion” based on private morality. The Dīn of Allah, as a lifetime transaction absorbing every facet of quotidian existence (now as well as in the Hereafter), has been largely shelved aside, and has recoiled as a snake back into the Madinan “strangeness” by which it historically debuted around 14 centuries ago.
The whole notion, therefore, that Allah is pleased with me if I stoically avoid the penetration into my stomach of minimal doses of allegedly illegal substances, while I can devour a large property by falsehood and acquire by usury, conclusively ascertained in Islam to be one of the most far-reaching evils vetoed by Allah and His Messenger, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, the financial means by which I purchase each and every nutriment I consume, is but a manifestation of a Manichean pathology that splits Islamic existence into the realm of Allah and that of the Shaytān, the “church and the State”, the religious and the secular, the moral and what is not governed by any set of ethics.
From the fiqh of governing entire continents with justice, we have receded into the fiqh of individualized consumption of synthetic gelatin.

2. E-numbers are number codes for food additives that have been assessed for use within the European Union (whence their descriptive abbreviation). Sometimes, E-numbers are of plant origin, i.e. not derived from animals at all. When they are derived from animals, the issue falls back to what is permissible or not for a Muslim to eat, and a larger space than what is permitted by this context would be needed in order to tackle the juristic mas’alah of meat and other food from the People of the Book.
Mainly vegetable oils are used in E-numbers. From what I have learnt, the speculation that the use of animal fat which “might” contain pork cannot be discounted is purely hypothetical and based on no probative support.
The arch-rule is that something is deemed lawful unless its unlawfulness is juristically established.

3. Taking by such rule is particularly important for those Muslims who are prey to waswasah, i.e. Shaytānic whisperings suggesting to them that they are contaminated, steeped in error, distanced from Allah, etc. They are caught in a spiral of self-flagellating doubts purely reflecting obsession with one’s self and a bad opinion of Allah.
An ordinary Muslim is incapable of perfection, and his entry in the Garden depends on Allah spreading His Mercy over him, without that being guaranteed by his actions, however noble and precise.
The argument that the “wholesome” Muslim should nevertheless exercise an extra degree of scrupulousness in the Dīn, what is termed wara` by our savants, is peculiarly odd, since it only seems to apply to convenient terrains such as foodstuffs, veiling of women, entertainment and acts of worship. To this selective practitioner of wara`, it ostensibly matters nothing whether or not absolute incorrectness in the political, monetary, business, commercial and marital spheres is entrenched in his existence and the one of his fellow Muslims.

4. Lastly, let us look at the issue of “insects” in our school.
In ‘Iqd al-Jawāhir ath-Thamīnah, Ibn Shās, that stalwart of the Egyptian Mālikiyyah, generically mentioned that, as far as the animals which are deemed filthily unclean are concerned, “those who have contradicted the entrenched position in the madhhab assert the permissibility of eating them, whereas Shaykh Abū Tāhir (= Ibrāhīm b. ‘Abdis-Samad b. Bashīr at-Tanūkhī, the author of At-Tanbīh ‘alā Mabādi’ at-Tawjīh) said: “The established position in the madhhab is the contrary view” [Book of Food – Section 1 of his said work].

In his superb compact text Al-Qawānīn al-Fiqhiyyah, Ibn Juzayy, when dealing with insects and reptiles, quoted what Ibn Shās had stated on this topic, and added that Imam ash-Shāfi`ī had declared the eating of insects forbidden on the ground that they were bad (khabā’ith). As for snails, Ibn Juzayy added, they were eaten so long as they had been cooked in boiling water or grilled, as opposed to those exemplars which had suffered a natural death.
On the other hand, Ibn Shās, in his abovementioned book which he modeled after the pattern of al-Ghazālī’s Al-Wajīz on the fiqh of the Shāfi`iyyah, quoted Ustādh Abū Bakr at-Turtūshī, notoriously a strict scholar, as stating that every animal, from the elephant down to ants and worms, and every species in between, size-wise, could legitimately be partaken of, save for the human being and the pig. He added that the Māliki madhhab had reached such a position based on one of the two sound narrations relating its stance on this subject, being the one which had been narrated from the savants of the Iraqi school of the Mālikiyyah, the only distinguisher being one between the unrestrictedly permissible and the disliked (the latter category including such as horses and mules, predatory animals, monkeys, cats and dogs, etc). Both Ibn Juzayy (who came after him) and his predecessor Ibn Bashīr (who had first reported the words of at-Turtūshī in his At-Tanbīh ‘alā Mabādi’ at-Tawjīh) have quoted the same.
One can thus begin to see the juristic richness within the madhhab, contrary to the modernist propaganda that “madhhabism” is rigid and rigidifying.
In Al-Kāfi fî Fiqh Ahl al-Madīnah al-Mālikī, the hāfiz of the West, Ibn ‘Abdi’l-Barr, mentioned that a group of Madinan savants disallowed the eating of snakes and geckos, mice, and insects, with no slaughtering of them being possible, and that any animal which might legitimately be killed could not be lawful to eat. Ibn ‘Abdi’l-Barr specifically attributed such position to Ashhab and ‘Urwah, though he clarified that they were not the only Madinans endorsing such stance.
In his encyclopedic Adh-Dhakhīrah, the Egyptian polymath Imam al-Qarāfī quoted Ibn Shās’ aforesaid view, and gave as its efficient cause the statement of Allah, may He be Exalted: «Making bad things (al-khabā’ith) harām for them» [Sūrah al-A`rāf: 157].
Al-Qarāfī goes on to mention that the Imams of Ahl as-Sunnah have concurred on the permissibility of eating locusts , due to a) his, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam , saying, as reported by al-Bukhārī: “If a fly falls into the vessel of any one of you, let him immerse it therein fully. Healing, in fact, is ensconced in one of its wings, while sickness lies in the other. The more likely scenario is that, once the fly is immersed completely inside the container, it will die. Had the case been that its death rendered it impure, the Prophet, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, would not have instructed the Muslims to insert both wings inside the vessel, and would have ordered the food affected by the fly falling into it to be safeguarded from its “impurity”.
This hadīth thus establishes the root position applicable to every animal from which no blood flows”;
and to b) his, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, further statement: “Two dead things have been made lawful to me: Fish and locusts.
Al-Qarāfī accordingly records his astonishment regarding the said sweeping generalization that one encounters in Ibn Shās’ book, despite the firmly embedded permissibility of locusts, and despite what is found on this issue in the “mother-book” of the school, Al-Mudawwanah, namely: “There is no objection to eating the locust and the daman (= a small herbivorous mammal)”.

Al-Qarāfi, therefore, is rightly critical of the rigid position enounced by Ibn Bashīr, echoed by Ibn Shās, and approvingly adopted by subsequent scholars in the madhhab.
In Al-Ishrāf ‘alā Nukat Masā’il al-Khilāf, Judge ‘Abdu’l-Wahhāb al-Baghdādī maintained that locusts could only be eaten in the madhhab if they died as a result of a supervening cause, as opposed to natural death, whereas both Imam Abu Hanīfah and Imam ash-Shāfi`i contended that they could be eaten regardless, their joint view being endorsed among the Mālikiyyah by the Egyptian jurist-cum-historian Muhammad b. ‘Abdi’l-Hakam (d. 214 AH), who penned Al-Mukhtasar al-Kabīr, a book wherein he abridged what he orally received from Ashhab. Judge ‘Abdu’l-Wahhāb identified the effective cause (‘illah) of the Māliki rule as set out by him with the fact that the locust was a land animal, and was thus in need of being slaughtered like the rest of land-based animals.
In the course of his brilliantly luscious work Al-Fiqh al-Mālikī wa-Adillatuh – Vol. 3, al-Habīb b. Tāhir, a student of the late Tunisian jurist Muhammad al-Akhwah, who was a close friend and contemporary of my late shaykh Muhammad ash-Shādhili an-Nayfar (both of them having graduated from Zaytūnah Mosque where they had studied the true Dīn according to the classical method), mentioned the permissibility of eating insects, and grounded it on the following proofs:
1.    The general import of āyah 145 of Sūrah al-An`ām, 146 according to the Warsh riwāyah: «Say: ‘I do not find, in what has been revealed to me, any food it is harām to eat, except for carrion, flowing blood, and pork – for that is unclean – or some deviance consecrated to other than Allah’». Insects, in fact, fall within the generality of animals that have not been excluded from permissible eating by this Qur’ānic āyah. Cf. Al-Bāji’s Al-Muntaqā, Al-Ishrāf ‘alā Nukat Masā’il al-Khilāf, and Sharh ‘Ibn ‘Abdis-Salām, being a commentary by the said Tunisian savant on the juristic abridgment penned by the Egyptian scholar Ibn al-Hājib, his so-called “mukhtasar fiqhī or far`ī” (To distinguish it from his abridgment of the science of the root-principles of jurisprudence, i.e. his “mukhtasar usūlī”, called Muntahā al-Wusūl wa al-Amal fi ‘Ilmay al-Usūl wa al-Jadal) bearing the title Jāmi al-Ummahāt;
2.    The aforesaid “source-hadīth” on the fly which has been transmitted on the authority of Abū Hurayrah and reported by al-Bukhārī in his Sahīh, chapter on what happens if a fly falls into a vessel. It is in fact the flowing of blood that makes one deem certain species of animals filthily unclean;
3.    Contrary to what asserted by Imam ash-Shāfi`ī, insects are not subsumable under the category of foul things (al-khabā’ith) which are proscribed in the sharī`ah by His statement, Exalted is He, «Making bad things (al-khabā’ith) harām for them» [Sūrah al-A`rāf: 157], since the generic word “khabath” (the singular of the said Qur’ānic word) has occurred in the Noble Qur’ān with a multiplicity of different meanings, whence the juristic ambiguity assigned to such a term. Ambiguity entails a range of possible diverse interpretations. In terms of the arch-principles of the science of jurisprudential analysis, probative support is removed from an evidentiary element which is open to such varied legitimate interpretations. Cf. Adh-Dhakhīrah by al-Qarāfī;
4.    They are treated analogically to vipers, which can be eaten on condition that they are slaughtered by shaving off their skins. Cf. Al-Muntaqā.
Dr. Al-Gharyānī from Libya further mentions the following two corroborating narrations:
I – Mulqām b. ath-Thalb narrated from his father that he said: I kept the company of the Prophet, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, and I heard no prohibition of eating insects living on land from him;
II – He, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, said: “Whatever Allah declared lawful in His Book is indeed halāl; whatever He forbade in it is verily harām; and what He did not mention is something you are excused for. Accept from Allah, then, His concessionary exemption” (Cf. Mukhtasar Musnad al-Bazzār). The latter saying is traceable to the first efficient cause referred to by al-Habīb b. Tāhir.
By analogical deduction, the “slaughtering” of insects takes place through the type of death which locusts are subjected to (= throwing them into boiling water, burning them to death or striking them to death with stones), since the effective cause or ‘illah is the same, i.e. the fact that they are “bloodless” in the sense that blood does not flow if somehow slaughtered by the throat. Cf. Ahmad ad-Dardīr’s Aqrab al-Masālik ilā Madhhab al-Imām Mālik.

Examples of such insects one is enabled to eat in the fiqh are: Scorpions, scarabs or dung beetles, grasshoppers, earthworms, ants, flies, worms, woodworms and ordinary vermiform creatures.
If ordinary worms and their like die in the food, and the part thereof which is affected by them can be separated from the rest, it has to be obligatorily thrown away, and is not partaken of with the rest of the food, since such varieties of worms have not been slaughtered. The remainder of the food is not dumped, given that the worms are ritually pure, and their said natural death is likewise not ritually impure.
With regard to the different scenario when they do not meet their death inside the food, it is permissible to eat them so long as one intends their slaughtering in his mind, though factually incapable of being carried out, and recites Allah’s name on them, Exalted is He, as a compulsory requirement for rendering them lawful, subject to the proviso that one must be able to do so.
The “locus” of the permissibility of partaking of insects is one’s natural predisposition to eat them. If such disposition is lacking, eating them is disallowed since harm would accrue to their consumer due to his detestation of them. The juristic position, in that instance, would be identical to the one where a ritually pure and neutrally permissible nutriment is offered to a sick person who would suffer illness were he to partake of it. Such sick person would be legally interdicted from eating it in such case. In the country I was born in, the Yemen, grasshoppers are regarded as delicacies and as common food, so there is a favorable inclination towards their consumption, in the same way as in European nations, such as Italy, certain varieties of cheeses which lay bare live worms growing inside them when they are cut with a knife, are deemed by the local inhabitants and by plentiful gourmands to be among the best spreads one could possibly eat with bread, crackers, biscuits and their like [See shortly below for their legal ruling]. Mopane worms are a typical local food of some Blacks in South Africa (Refer to the previous photo].

If worms and what is akin to them, which have died inside the food, cannot be separated from the rest of such food, being inextricably commixed with it, the whole food has to be thrown away, since the dead worms that are present in it in such a guise cannot be legitimately consumed (given that they are incapable of being “conceptually” or “constructively” slaughtered), notwithstanding their ritual purity. In order to avoid wastefulness, such food can be hurled to a cat, dog or other animal. This ruling only applies where the undifferentiated worms are not substantially less in size than the food. In the opposite scenario where the share of the food is so preponderant as to reach two-thirds or more of the amorphous mass (and thus the undifferentiated worms are one-third of it or less), it is said that it can be eaten due to the negligible amount of impermissible worms in it, the overarching principle being that negligible impurity is discounted and thus paid no heed to.
Worms and woodworms, whether small or large in quantity, can be lawfully eaten along with fruit, seeds, dried dates and cheeses, whenever they are generated from such nutriments themselves, regardless of the fact that they die therein or not, and irrespective of the possibility of distinguishing them from the rest of the food or otherwise. The only conditional requisite is to intend their “slaughtering”. Cf. Az-Zurqānī’s commentary on Khalīl’s Mukhtasar.


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