By Shamil Gasanov
For Muslims the notion of Faith is primarily associated with the concept of Knowledge. It is interesting to note, that in Arabic, the word “faith” (“iman”) is a derivative of the root with the meaning of “to safeguard”) Consequently, in order to achieve “peace and safety in God”, a believer should rigorously follow the Divine laws and commandments.
Both human experience and scientific data have confirmed the commandments concerning healthcare issues, found in the Holy Scriptures. The prohibition of pork consumption is an example of such a commandment.
“Oh ye people! Eat of what is on earth, lawful and good. If there is any restriction on you from Allah, subhaana wa ta´aala, that is – do not eat the dead animals (Maytatah), avoid the blood and the flesh of swine (pork), and do not eat any such thing on which someone´s else name has been pronounced except the name of Allah, subhaana wa ta´aala. Yet, if someone is in the situation of helplessness and he/she eats any of these things without that he/she has the intention to break the Law or exceeds the limits of necessity, then there is no sin on him/her, Allah, subhaana wa ta´aala, is Oft-Forgiving and Loving” (The Holy Quran, II: 172, 173).
A similar commandment may be found in the Bible:
“You shall not eat any abominable things <…> And the pig, because it has a cloven hoof but does not chew the cud, you shall regard as unclean. You shall not eat their flesh or even touch their dead carcasses” (Deuteronomy, XIV: 8).
The medical aspects of the prohibition
To abstain from consuming pork means to care about one’s health. The omnivorous pig, being by far the most slovenly and greedy domestic animal, devours virtually anything, including human excrement and is a breeding ground for various malignant microbes and parasites. Consumption of pork may result in many serious diseases. We are safe to assume that one of the main reasons behind the prohibition of pork consumption was the spread of trichinosis, - a disease caused by trichinella spiralis, a parasitic roundworm.
Trichinosis is caused by eating infected raw or insufficiently cooked pork, in which the immature parasite is encysted. When such a piece of meat is eaten, the encysted embryos are set free in the intestines, and develop into full-grown trichinae. From each pair of these, thousands of new embryos may arise in the course of several weeks. As soon as this new generation of embryos is produced, they make their way into the wall of the bowel, and thence wander through the circulation system, finally depositing themselves between the fibers of the voluntary muscles, where they become encysted. The first symptoms develop in the course of two weeks after the infection. The disease is characterized by fever and severe pain in the limbs and muscles, oedema of the soft tissues, and eosinophilia in the blood. The infection may result in severe damage to the nervous system (in the form of encephalitis), cardiac muscle (miocarditis), as well as other complications.
Despite the therapeutic advances, contemporary medicine does not provide an effective cure for trichinosis. The only efficient protection, therefore, is based on prevention, or giving up eating pork. Although the meat is subject to thorough inspection in slaughter-houses, as well as by the Sanitary Inspection, this procedure does not give a one hundred percent guarantee, as was clearly shown by the recent outbreak in Moscow.
The list of the microbes and parasites found in pork is vast. It should be emphasized that many of these diseases as yet remain incurable.
Taenia Solium (tapeworm). The taeniasis is caused by the brain’s infestation by the larvae form of the pork tapeworm, the gastrointestinal parasite, and may constitute up to 1.3 percent of the intracranial volume. The parasite’s onchosphere travels through the mucous membranes of the blood vessels into the portal circulatory system, and is thence transported throughout the body, infecting various internal organs, as well as the brain. The course of the disease is remittent and, symptomatically, is characterized by the presence of several niduses. The infestation may often be manifested in the development of the epileptic syndrome, meningism and the increase of the intracranial pressure.
Roundworms. Ascariasis may result in appendicitis, and some types of jaundice. The infestation is known to cause dyspepsia.
Schitosoma Japonica. This disease is manifested in hemorrhages and anemia. In the case of the ova infesting the brain or bone marrow, the disease may bring about paralysis or death.
Paragonimus Westermani. Infestation may result in haemoptysis, or the coughing up of blood, due to the worm setting in the lungs.
Paciolepsis Buski. This parasite causes dyspepsia, severe diarrhea and general edema.
Clonorchis Sinensis. Infestation by this parasite may be manifested in some types of jaundice.
Metastrongylus Apri may cause bronchitis or the inflammation of the lungs’ tissue.
Gigantorinchus Gigas causes anemia and dyspepsia.
Balantidium Coli is known to cause acute dysentery, resulting in the severe emaciation.
Fusiformis Necrophulus, which causes a serious disease of the lower limbs.
Salmonella Cholera Suis (cholera)
Brucellosis, - the disease results in the irreversible loss of the victim’s capabilities.
Erysipelas, or St. Anthony’s fire.
Japanese encephalitis (B-type).
Toxoplasma Goundii. This microorganism causes a very serious disease of toxoplasmosis. In the congenital form the unborn child is infected by the mother. Toxoplasmosis often results in the sudden death within several days or weeks after birth. In the case of survival, the infection may result in mental retardation, loss of sight or deafness. The acquired form in adults may manifest itself in chronic fever, marked by liver and spleen malfunction, pneumonia, and hydrocephalus. This disease may also affect sight and hearing.
Those who consume pork are more prone to obesity due to the high percentage of fat in pork. In this group, blood cholesterol level is frequently higher than normal; pork-eaters are more susceptible to arteriosclerosis, which may result in cardiovascular diseases, malfunction of the brain blood-circulation, vascular pathology of the lower limbs, etc.
Pork is difficult to digest, which may be the cause of many chronic diseases of the digestive system. Ulcerous skin infections are more frequently found within the pork-consuming group. Of great interest is the research into the hydrolysis of pork fat, its deposition in the human body, and the extent of its utilization. There is a theory that animal fat, acquired by the consumption of the herbivorous animals’ meat, undergoes a process of hydrolysis and is thence synthesized anew and deposited in the body as human fat. Pork fat, however, is not subject to hydrolysis and is consequently deposited in the human fat tissue as pork fat. Since the proper utilization of this fat deposit is problematic, in order to produce energy, the body burns up the stock of glucose, which is essential for brain activity. This process brings about a chronic feeling of hunger, which, in turn, results in a vicious circle: although having a substantial fat build-up, the person is constantly consuming additional food without feeling satisfied.
The biblical aspect of the commandment
In spite of the fact that pork consumption was clearly outlawed by the Bible, there are those who insist that the New Testament annuls the prohibition. This assumption still has to find any substantial evidence. No scholar is able to prove that Jesus (let peace be upon him!) repealed this prohibition. On the contrary, he has expressly reinforced it by saying “Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to complete” (St. Matthew; V: 17). The Book of Acts (X: 10-16) is frequently quoted to support the view that the New Testament allegedly abolishes the taboo on pork. Without evaluating the general context of the excerpt, one could really misunderstand the meaning of the passage. However, the text never states for a fact that St. Peter actually consumed the meat of “unclean” animals or recommended his disciples to do so. In the New Testament, Jesus (let peace be upon him!) likens those who fail to appreciate the Divine Revelation to dogs and pigs: “Do not give dogs what is holy; do not cast your pearls to the swines, they will only trample on them, and turn and tear you to pieces” (St. Matthew; VII: 6).
It is obvious, therefore, that abstinence from consuming pork is one of the conditions, essential for both physical and spiritual personal perfection. Although pork does not contain harmful substances strong enough to kill a person immediately, its potentially lethal poisons build up in the body over time. The Prophet (let peace be upon him!) said: “There are two blessings, which are neglected by many: one’s own health and the spare time, predestined for the deeds that would please the Lord Almighty. Allah is more pleased to see the believer in good health than in weakness and illness”.
Every person should care about his or her health, bearing in mind that it was granted to us by the Almighty.
What Muslims eat
Domestic animals and fowl
The Law of Islam states that the meat of the following domestic animals and fowl is permitted for consumption (and is deemed “Halal”): cattle, goats, sheep, camel, horses, turkeys, chickens, ducks etc. It should be born in mind, however, that the Great Imam Abu Hanif expressed a mild disapproval of eating horsemeat. His opinion was based on the fact that horses were used as transportation during the hostilities. Eating the meat of dogs, cats, donkeys and mules is strictly forbidden (“Haram”).
The procedure of slaughter
The meat of the aforesaid animals and fowl may only become “Halal” (permitted for consumption) after a certain ritual, which involves cutting open the jugular arteries, gullet and wind pipes. The procedure also calls for pronouncing the name of the Almighty (“Bismillahi, Allahu Akbar”). The ritual should be carried out either by Muslims or by other men of the Scripture, that is Christians or Jews, in their right mind.
It is desirable to fulfill the following conditions:
the procedure should be carried out during the daytime;
the animal should be carefully placed on its left side;
when the animal is slaughtered, it should face Qibla.
Wild animals and fowl
It is strictly forbidden to eat the meat of those animals, which have fangs (or tusks) and feed on prey or carrion. These animals include: lions, tigers, wolves, jackals, hyenas, cheetahs, foxes, sables, bears, etc. Eating the meat of the herbivorous animals (e.g. deer, buffaloes, kiangs, hares, antelopes, etc.) is acceptable under the condition that the proper procedures of slaughter are followed. When hunting with firearms, it is essential to bless the animal with the name of the Almighty (“Bismillahi, Allahu Akbar”) simultaneously with pulling the trigger. If the game is only wounded, the hunter should slaughter in by hand.
It is acceptable to eat the meat of most wild fowl, except for the scavengers and birds of prey, such as falcons, hawks, owls, crows, vultures, eagles, etc.
Fish and seafood
The majority of Islamic scholars assume that fish and other sea-animals should be considered “Halal”, and the fulfillment of the standard slaughter rituals is unnecessary. When asked if the use of saltwater is acceptable for the ritual ablution, the Prophet said: “The waters of the sea are pure, and whatever dies in it, is allowed”.
The animal, which cannot be placed within one of the aforesaid groups, should be considered “Halal”, provided that there are no specific instructions to do otherwise.