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Sea food in the Shariah

translated by: Manal Samhat

Many might wonder about the religious ruling regarding eating certain kinds of fish, sea food in general, or river fish. Actually, all jurisprudents touched upon this issue, and each had his own opinion regarding the matter. Considering the significance of this subject, since it relates to one of the people’s everyday life indispensable aspects, food, it is important to shed light on it and know the religious ruling regarding it.

At first, talking about this issue, His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra) says: “It is permissible to eat all what lives in the seas or rivers, be they fish or not, and whether they have scales on them or not, as long as they are not harmful and they die outside the water after fishing them.”

He continues to say: “As for the fish or any other marine organisms that cause significant harm to man, they are forbidden due to the harm they cause. Moreover, it must be noted that some sea animals, such as lobsters, are placed alive in boiled water to kill them, which renders the permissibility of eating them problematic; therefore, a new way for killing such animals should be devised to ensure that they die after fishing them without placing them into water once again.”

He also points: “As for the amphibian animals, such as crabs, frogs, alligators and the like: if they live on the land more than they do in water, as in the case of the frogs and alligators, then eating them is forbidden, whereas those that live more in the water in the sense that they are marine animals that are not harmed by staying for a short while on the land, then eating them is allowed.”

Following is a detailed explanation by His Eminence: “In this respect, the Holy Quran gives a general rule mentioned in the Ayahs that talk about the permissibility of eating what is in the sea, for Allah says: ‘Lawful to you is the game of the sea and its food, a provision for you and for the travelers, and the game of the land is forbidden to you so long as you are on pilgrimage, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, to Whom you shall be gathered,’ (05: 96). As for the traditions (Hadiths), in this respect, they are contradictory between the ruling of the permissibility of whatever is in the seas even if it does not have scales on it, if it is fish, and the ruling of the forbiddance. Some Shiite jurisprudents tried to solve this contradiction in several ways, one of which was referring the permissibility Hadiths to the Imams considering that they gave this ruling out of fear for their followers (Taqiyya), meaning that it does not convey the actual ruling, while forbiddance Hadiths actually does. Others refer the forbiddance to the abomination of this act or saying that the forbiddance is the ruling after taking into consideration all relevant traditions…”

He adds: “On our part, we adopt the narrations that conform to the Holy Book and reflect permissibility, for adopting what conforms to the Book comes in first before referring the permissibility ruling to Taqiyya. If the traditions continue to be contradictory and there was no way to reach a consensus in any way, one should refer to the general rulings in the Book, which, in this case, talk about the permissibility.”

He also confirms that “some of our Shiite jurisprudents, such as the Second Martyr, considered that the abomination stands out before anything else, and so are the opinions of Al-Muhaqqiq Al-Hilli, Al-Muhaqqiq As-Sibzawari and Al-Muqaddas Al-Ardabili, which is actually narrated on the authority of Al-Qadi, the student of Sheikh At-Tousi. Therefore, the permissibility ruling includes all kinds of sea animals and seafood, even if they were not fish with scales.”

[The Fatwas of the late Sayyed (ra) and the juristic office of His Eminence, the Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)]

Other jurisprudents consider that the sea animals that have scales on them are allowed, while those who do not are forbidden.

Imam Al-Khomeini (ra) in his book “Tahreer Al-Waseela” says that only the sea fish and birds in general are allowed to be eaten, while other kinds of sea animals are forbidden even those that land animals similar to them are allowed to be eaten..

There is a consensus among all Sunni jurisprudents, except the Hanafi school of thought, that it is allowed to eat any animal that lives in the seas, be it fish or not, alive or dead, even if it is found floating on the surface of the water, whether it has scales or not. They even deemed all other sea animals allowed, even those that are not of the species of fish, such as the seahorse, sea snake, sea dog, pig fish, crab and other similar animals, for the general rule says: It is permissible to eat all kinds of sea animals.

As for the Hanafi school of thought, they say that it is permissible to eat the species of fish only from among the sea animals unless it is floating dead on the water surface, whether they die naturally or by other means. Thus, it is permissible to eat all kinds of fish, whether they have scales on them or not, provided that they are fished alive for what is fished alive is absolutely allowed.