Flickr Photo by slopjop
In response to my article The Muslim, The Nun, and the Shrimp, reader M.H. sent an email asking: "I know that devout Jews can't eat shrimp because it isn't Kosher, isn't it the same for Muslims? Isn't shrimp not Halal?"
Many people assume that Halal is the Muslim equivalent of Kosher, it is not. In fact, Halal and Kosher are opposites. Yes, Muslims cannot eat pork but for opposite reasons than for Jews. Let me explain.
Jews can only eat foods that are explicitly permitted - that is what Kosher means: allowed or fit. If the food is not directly mentioned in the Torah, it is forbidden to eat.
On the other hand, Muslims cannot consume foods that are explicitly forbidden (Haram). If the food is not directly forbidden in the Qur'an, it is allowed to be eaten (Halal).
Jews do not eat pork because pig meat is not on the list of acceptable foods.
Muslims do not eat pork because pig meat is on the list of forbidden foods.
Shrimp is not explicitly forbidden, so yes, Muslims may eat shrimp (1).
What this means is that Jews can never eat Halal foods unless they also happen to pass the laws of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws and processing), while Muslims can always eat Kosher foods (with the exception of alcohol) in addition to other items that are not haram. Indeed the Qur'an so instructs their faithful; in Surah 5:5 of the Qur'an, it is written: "The food of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] is lawful for you as your food is lawful for them." I should mention that while Mohammed may permit Muslims to eat Kosher, he certainly has no authority to tell Jews or Christians that they are allowed to eat Halal.
An observant reader may wonder why Muslims hold Kosher food in high regard while viewing Jews as descendents of apes and pigs. Certainly we would never consider the contents of pig troughs as something we would want to consume; however there is an explanation why Muslims respect Jewish dietary laws and at the same time despise Jews: Allah punished the Jews for their wickedness and so allowed them only certain foods - in other words, Kosher is punishment for the Jews (2). Eating was made difficult for Jews while it was made easy for Muslims.
N.B. What I presented here is the simple distinction between Kosher and Halal. But it should be mentioned that Jewish dietary laws are complicated beyond imagination and a thorough understanding cannot be obtained without years of study.
In both Islam and Judaism, dietary laws can be ignored to save one's life. A Jew or a Muslim stranded in a cave may eat bat-meat. Of course, under Islamic law the Muslim may kill the Jew if there is nothing else to eat, while under Jewish law one may not murder in order to survive.
Islam Question and Answer, Are there any types of seafood that Muslims are not permitted to eat?
Praise be to Allaah.
Among the blessings that Allaah has bestowed upon us is the fact that He has made our religion easy for us, and has not made it too difficult or unbearable. He has allowed us many things that were forbidden according to previously-revealed laws. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “… Allaah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you…” [al-Baqarah 2:185].
Hence all kinds of food from the sea are permissible, whether they are plants or animals, alive or dead. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Lawful to you is (the pursuit of) water-game and its use for food – for the benefit of yourselves and those who travel…” [al-Maa’idah 5:96]. Ibn ‘Abbaas said: “ Sayduhu (lit. hunting, pursuit) refers to whatever is taken from it alive, and ta’aamuhu (lit. its food) means whatever is taken dead.”
Islam Question and Answer, Buying foods that have been made in accordance with Jewish laws
Praise be to Allaah.
Allah has forbidden to the Jews many kinds of good foods, as a punishment for their disobedience. Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning):
“For the wrongdoing of the Jews, We made unlawful for them certain good foods which had been lawful for them”
As for our sharee‘ah, it is an easy-going, tolerant law, as Allah has permitted to us all good foods (at-tayyibaat) and He has not forbidden to us anything but that which is bad (al-khabaa’ith). Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning):
“This day all good things have been made lawful to you”