The Rationale Behind the Prohibition of Eating Pig Flesh

Why do Muslims and Jews not eat pork? An analysis of both the physical and spiritual reasons for abstaining from pork consumption.

56 The Review of Religions – March 2005 The prohibition of eating pigflesh is a topic that is, more often than not, taken for granted by Muslims, who obey the commandment without search- ing for a deeper understanding of the rationale that lies behind it. It is essential, however, for Muslims to acquire appropriate knowledge on this matter, in order to have a good under- standing of the reasons for the prohibition to enable them to give a satisfactory explanation to others who may question them. The Promised Messiah( a s ) elaborated on the issue of not eating pork. This was followed by successive Khalifas who have also given explanations at d i fferent times; Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV( r u ) , in particular, discussed the topic on numerous occasions in simple language to make the explanation very clear. This article draws on the discussion Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) presented on this topic. At the outset, it should be noted that out of today’s followers of the last three main religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), Jews and Muslims do not eat pork, while Christians do. The point to consider then, is not why Muslims and Jews avoid pork, but rather, why Christians eat pork when it was forbidden in the religion that came imme- diately before Christianity. According to the Holy Bible, Jesus(as) declared that he did not come to alter, but rather, to fulfil the teachings of Prophet M o s e s( a s ). Referring to the Mosaic teachings, Jesus(as) states in the Bible: Think not that I am come to d e s t roy the law, or the By Dr. Muzaffar Ahmad Malik – Guildford, UK RATIONALEThe behind the prohibitionof eating pig flesh 57The Review of Religions – March 2005 THE RATIONALE BEHIND THE PROHIBITION OF EATING PIG FLESH prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. (Matthew 5:17) In light of this, it seems unreasonable to suppose that J e s u s( a s ) would have eaten swine, which was clearly forbidden in the Judaic teachings that he had come to revive. Moreover, there is no evidence in the New Te s t a m e n t to show that Jesus( a s ) p e r m i t t e d anything that was prohibited by M o s e s( a s ), neither does it show J e s u s( a s ) to have categorically stated that eating pork was allowed. It is ironic, then, that eating pig flesh was particularly promoted by Christians. The Holy Bible states: And the s w i n e, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you. (Leviticus 11:7-8) Before entering the discussion on prohibition of pig meat, it is important to briefly understand the fundamentals of the philosophy of prohibition. All Holy Books present Divine commandments that deliver a code of conduct for life, which defines morality for the benefit of mankind. Muslim belief holds that all Divine religions and their corresponding Books originated from a common source – the One God Almighty – with each successive teaching being an expansion of the former. According to the Holy Qur’an, God has categorically stated this last Book to be the final one in the chain of divine scriptures, and He has vowed to protect it until the end of time. By virtue of it being the last revealed Divine set of commandments with no further revisions or expansions to come, the Holy Qur’an is therefore comprehensive in setting out the moral code of conduct for life. The Qur ’ a n touches on all essential issues of life, including which food one is allowed to eat. The Qur’an contains a universal message regarding permissibility 58 The Review of Religions – March 2005 THE RATIONALE BEHIND THE PROHIBITION OF EATING PIG FLESH and prohibition – that man is allowed things that are pure and good, and must abstain from things that are not. Referring to these ‘good things’, the Holy Qur’an states: Say, ‘Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has produced for His servants, and the good things of His providing?’ Say, ‘They are for the believers in the present life and exclusively for them on the Day of Resurrection. …’ (Ch.7: v.33) And S a y, my Lord has only forbidden foul deeds, whether open or secret, and sin and wrongful transgression… (Ch.7: v.34) The same notion has been presented on numerous occasions in the Holy Qur’ a n with regard to food. For example, the Holy Qur’an reads: O ye people! eat of what is lawful and wholesome in the earth… (Ch.2: v.169) And again the Qur’an states, with reference to food: They ask thee what is made lawful for them. Say, ‘All good things have been made lawful for you…’ (Ch.5: v.5) Following this fundamental overarching rule of permis- s i b i l i t y, the Holy Qur’an then proceeds to explain the things that are good and lawful. The first point is based on the basic principle of Islam – that God Almighty is the Source and Master of all that is in the heavens and on earth. In accordance with this belief, all actions of a follower, from planning to starting, imple- menting and finally finishing should begin in the name of Allah. This pronunciation has two advantages. First of all, it puts things into the correct perspective by constantly draw- ing attention to God Almighty as 59The Review of Religions – March 2005 THE RATIONALE BEHIND THE PROHIBITION OF EATING PIG FLESH the ultimate Proprietor. Secondly, it acts as a prayer invoking the blessings of Allah for the given action. This is also the foremost principle with regard to food. Therefore, in almost every verse of the Holy Qur’an where the topic of food prohibition is explained, it has been clearly stated that: ‘Eat, then, of that over which the name of Allah has been pronounced…’ (Ch.6: v.119) Yet again, the Holy Qur’ a n states: And eat not of that on which the name of Allah has not been pronounced, for surely that is disobedience… (Ch.6: v.122) Understanding and accepting the fact that God Almighty is the Proprietor and Creator of the entire universe naturally leads to the acknowledgment that He has every right to forbid or allow, simply because He is the All- Knowing and the Most-Wi s e. Now turning to the particular question of pig meat, it is seen that the Holy Qur’an lays specific commandments on prohibitions regarding some foods, so as to eliminate any confusion and clearly prescribe the limits. The Holy Qur’ a n explains: He has made unlawful to you only that which dies of itself, and blood and the flesh of swine, and that on which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked. (Ch.2: v.174) This is explained in even greater detail: Forbidden to you is the flesh of an animal which dies of itself; and blood and the flesh of swine; and that on which is invoked the name of any other than Allah; and that which has been strangled; and that beaten to death; and that killed by a fall; and that which has been gored to death; and that of which a wild animal has eaten, except that which you have properly slaughtered; and that which has been slaughtered at an altar (as an offering to idols)…This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion.’ (Ch.5: v.4) Again, the Qur’an states: Say, ‘I find not in what has been revealed to me aught forbidden to an eater who desires to eat it, except it be that which dies of itself or blood poured forth, or the flesh of swine – for all that is unclean – or what is profane, on which is invoked the name of other than Allah.’ (Ch 6: v.146) A careful reflection of all of the above verses leads to the understanding that one aspect of the prohibition of certain meats relates to their physical qualities – that is, eating the flesh of animals that are diseased, beaten or already dead (from a cause other than slaughtering for food), are forbidden. In addition, however, a second aspect of the prohibition is seen to relate to a wider moral and spiritual context. For instance, not pronouncing the name of Allah can render an otherwise permitted food forbidden. As another example, an animal slaughtered as an offering to idols also renders the food unlawful, even if the animal is otherwise lawful to eat and all rules of slaughtering were adhered. In both examples, the reason for prohibition would not alter the physical composition of the food. The moral context, therefore, plays an important role in the prohibition of certain foods as this relates to the effect on the soul, and the mind-set of a person. In matters of religion, it is this spiritual side of things that is emphasised, and not merely the physical aspect. This is clearly apparent in many instances where an act in itself is neither a sin nor a virtue, but is made one 60 THE RATIONALE BEHIND THE PROHIBITION OF EATING PIG FLESH The Review of Religions – March 2005 of the two depending on the context in which it is carried out. For instance, from a religious perspective, a conjugal relation- ship between a man and a woman is a sin if it occurs outside the bounds of marriage, but the very same act is acceptable if it occurs within the confines of a marital bond. N o w, by applying these principles to the prohibition of pigmeat, we can explore the reasons for this commandment in the appropriate context. From the observation of people who eat pork, it is evident that the act does not cause them to contract a physical food borne illness from the meat. The meat might have been a greater physical health hazard in the past, but with good food controls and hygiene that are in place today, the incidence of illnesses from pig meat is similar to that of other meats. The physical quality of the meat could, therefore, not have been the ultimate reason for the prohibition. It is the deeper moral issues that surround the prohibition of pig flesh that need to be highlighted and understood. In his discussion of the topic, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) , explained that the basis of the prohibition lies in three characteristics that pigs are particularly known to possess, and that are considered immoral from the religious point of view. These are as follows: 1. F i r s t l y, pigs have immoral sexual habits, in that if two male pigs are present together with only one female, both males will mate with the female, one after the other. This is contrary to what is observed in the rest of the animal kingdom, where two males would compete until one has been defeated, following which only the victor would mate with the female. 2. Secondly, pigs have a habit of being sodomist (homosexual) in order to satisfy their sexual desire. Although this habit is sometimes seen on and off in an adhoc manner in some other animals, pigs are the 61 THE RATIONALE BEHIND THE PROHIBITION OF EATING PIG FLESH The Review of Religions – March 2005 most well-known for this p r a c t i c e . (The above two points are indicative of the pig’s promiscuous nature that is unmatched in the animal kingdom. Although in today’s ‘developed’ world, both of these practices have become acceptable in some places, no religion has ever considered them to be moral or per- m i s s i b l e . ) 3 . T h i r d l y, pigs, which are normally herbivores (plant- eating animals), show no hesitation in eating the flesh of their offspring when it dies, particularly its own piglet. In the rest of the animal kingdom, even carnivores (meat-eating animals) who eat the flesh of other animals will avoid eating their own kith. All of the above three characteristics, whether sexual or related to dietary habits, are considered immoral. One trait these point to is insatiable greed, which even in non-religious terms is not a liked attribute. The pig is so well known for this that the English proverb ‘as greedy as a pig’ has developed as a result of this recognition. Islam and Judaism (as well as C h r i s t i a n i t y, or any other religion in its true original form) call for an open and strong protest against all of these characteristics. A powerful and visible symbolisation of this protest prohibits for con- sumption the meat of an animal noted foremost for possessing these immoral habits. The prohibition seen in Islam of not eating pork is, therefore, more in protest against the habits of the animal, rather than merely against the physical attributes of pig flesh. M o r e o v e r, it is not being claimed that these habits of the pig are necessarily always transmitted to an individual who eats pig meat, nor is it being stated that these habits cannot be inculcated in an individual who does not consume swine flesh (they 62 THE RATIONALE BEHIND THE PROHIBITION OF EATING PIG FLESH The Review of Religions – March 2005 obviously can be, as these habits are also observed in societies that do not eat pork – though perhaps to a lesser extent). At the same time, however, we cannot rule out the fact that there may be subtle effects on the human soul that arise from external experiences of an individual, including what he or she sees, hears, does, and even eats. In the spiritual realm, therefore, it would be safest to eat what is purest. F i n a l l y, the two religions that are known to strongly adhere to the prohibition of pork are Judaism and Islam. It is interesting to note that they represent two of the last three major religions of the world. Moreover, both of these religions in particular stand out from almost all other religions of the world by holding a definitive, unambiguous and unyielding belief in One God A l m i g h t y. Any promotion of their belief would propagate the message of Unity of God A l m i g h t y. It would be no surprise then if Allah the All- Knowing, the Most-Wi s e , promoted their uniqueness through the prohibition of pig m e a t . In summary therefore, the reasons for which pork has been forbidden may fall into the following three main points: 1. In exercising God’s right of proprietorship. 2. In open protest against such repugnant and immoral habits as the pig possesses, by boycotting its meat. 3. For protection from a possible inculcation of these habits into man. 63 THE RATIONALE BEHIND THE PROHIBITION OF EATING PIG FLESH The Review of Religions – March 2005 We hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of the magazine. The Review of Religions will continue to provide discussion on a wide range of subjects and welcomes any comments or suggestions from its readers. To ensure that you regularly receive this monthly publication, please fill in your details below and we will put you on our mailing list. The cost of one year’s subscription is £15 Sterling or US $30 for overseas readers (Please do not send cash). Payments by US residents should be by check payable to “AMI” (US dollars 30) and sent direct to ‘The Review of Religions’, Baitul Zafar, 86-71 PALO ALTO ST, HOLLISWOOD. NY 11423-1203 (USA). 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