The permissibility of consuming meat and seafood is an important aspect of Islamic dietary law. Muslims around the world want to know whether common foods and ingredients are considered halal (lawful) or haram (forbidden). One such area of uncertainty is around sharks.
Halal refers to anything permitted under Islamic law, while haram denotes prohibition. There are clear guidelines in the Qur’an and hadiths about many types of meat and seafood. However, sharks are not directly addressed, leading to differing scholarly opinions. This article will analyze the evidence and arguments regarding the halal status of sharks.
Evidence from Qur’an and Hadith
The primary sources of Islamic law are the holy Qur’an, believed by Muslims to be the direct word of God, and the hadiths, sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. Several verses and hadiths discuss the general permissibility of creatures from the sea.
Relevant Verses from the Qur’an
- “Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food as provision for you and the travelers” (Qur’an 5:96). This verse allows Muslims to eat seafood.
- “It is He who has subjected the sea to you, that you may eat from it fresh meat” (Qur’an 16:14). Another verse permitting sea meat.
- “And the two seas are not alike: this fresh, sweet, good to drink, this (other) bitter, salt. And from each you eat fresh meat and bring forth ornaments which you wear” (Qur’an 35:12). Distinguishes between salt and fresh water creatures.
Important Hadiths About Permissibility of Sea Creatures
- “Its water is purifying and its dead are permissible (to eat)” (Narrated by Ibn Umar about the sea). Allows consumption of animals found dead in the sea.
- “We were on an expedition and our supplies ran out. Then we slaughtered our camels, and the Prophet allowed us to eat it” (Bukhari). Permits eating unconventionally slaughtered animals out of necessity.
- “Two types of dead meat and two types of blood have been made lawful for us. The two dead meats are: fish and locust, and the two types of blood are: liver and spleen.” (Ibn Majah, Al-Tirmidhi). Specifically allows fish as halal without slaughter.
Exceptions for Harmful and Dangerous Animals
- “That which is lawful is clear, and that which is unlawful likewise, is clear. Between the two are doubtful matters that many people do not know. Whoever avoids the doubtful safeguards his religion and honor.” (Bukhari and Muslim). Unclear things should be avoided.
- “Every predator that has fangs and every bird that has claws are forbidden.” (Narrated by Ibn Abbas). Prohibits predators with fangs and claws.
- “Allah and His Messenger have prohibited the consumption of domesticated donkeys, for they are filth.” (Ahmad, An-Nasa’i, At-Tirmidhi). Donkeys are impure.
Opinions of Islamic Scholars
The four major Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madhhabs) derived rulings about halal sea creatures based on the Qur’an and hadiths.
Views of major Sunni madhhabs
- Hanafi: All sea creatures are halal.
- Maliki: Sea predators with fangs are haram.
- Shafi’i: Any harmful sea creature is haram.
- Hanbali: All non-poisonous sea animals are halal.
Modern scholarly opinions and fatwas
Contemporary scholars have analyzed the halal status of sharks accounting for all textual evidence and modern scientific knowledge. Most state that sharks are halal since they do not have fangs or claws, are not poisonous, and do not feed on filth.
Specific Evidence on Sharks
The main considerations around the halal status of sharks are their meat, fins, and method of hunting and slaughter.
Shark meat and fins
- Shark meat is dense, with a mild flavor. It is eaten regularly in some coastal communities. The meat is halal.
- Shark fins are cartilage, not bone. They are cooked in fin soup. The fins are halal.
Is shark halal or haram to eat?
- Sharks do not have fangs or claws, but smooth teeth. They are not venomous or poisonous. They do not feed on filth.
- If unintentionally killed or found dead, sharks do not need to be slaughtered in the Islamic method. If hunted deliberately, they should be slaughtered properly.
- Based on these conditions, most scholars state that it is halal and permissible to eat shark meat and fins.
Conditions around hunting and preparing shark
- Sharks caught in nets or on lines are permissible, but should be slaughtered before consumption.
- Shark meat should be thoroughly cleaned and cooked properly before eating.
- Shark fins can be used in soup stock if fully cleaned.
Common Arguments and Misconceptions
There are some disagreements about sharks due to confusion with other creatures or ethical concerns. These do not make shark halal or haram, but should be addressed.
Confusion with other aquatic animals
- Sharks are often mistaken for eels, which are haram according to the four Sunni schools due to their serpentine appearance. But sharks have fins and gills, not the long snake-like bodies of eels.
- Sharks are also confused with catfish. Some hadiths prohibit “sea pigs”, interpreted by scholars as catfish since they have whiskers resembling a pig’s snout. Sharks clearly do not look like pigs.
Shark fin soup controversy
- Shark fin soup remains controversial. Concerns about sustainability and opposition to finning practices make some question whether it is ethical to eat shark fins.
- However, the fins themselves are halal, and sustainable fishing methods can allow for ethical consumption. The issue is not whether shark fins are halal or haram per se.
Sustainability and conservation concerns
- Sharks are threatened by overfishing. These environmental concerns lead some to argue sharks should be avoided.
- However, anything permissible in Islam can be eaten within reasonable limits. Overconsumption of any seafood should be avoided.
Summary of Evidence and Opinions
In summary, verses from the Qur’an and authentic hadiths allow the consumption of non-poisonous sea creatures, especially fish. The four Sunni madhhabs agree sharks do not fall under exceptions for dangerous predators. Contemporary scholars state sharks are halal since they do not have fangs or claws and do not feed on filth.
Final Ruling According to Majority of Scholars
The vast majority of scholarly opinions, including the four major Sunni madhhabs, indicate that sharks are halal to eat within the normal Islamic guidelines for seafood preparation. There are no verses in the Qur’an or sahih hadiths that specifically prohibit sharks. However, overfishing should be avoided, and any sharks caught or hunted should be slaughtered properly before consumption.