Cannibalism: Islamic View

Question: Dear scholars, As-Salamu `alaykum. Someone claims that no religion or law forbids cannibalism. What is the Islamic stance on this issue? Jazakum Allah khayran.

Answer: Wa`alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear brother, we would like to thank you for this serious question, which reflects your concern about Islam and humanity. We really commend your efforts in pursuing the truth and implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our work for His Sake.

In fact, the purpose of Divine guidance is to lead people to happiness, welfare and goodness both in this life and the hereafter, and to save mankind from disbelief, oppression, corruption, ignorance and moral decadence that drags humanity towards self-annihilation. Abiding by the Divine Laws serve as a guarantee against such self-annihilation. It is only when people deviate from Divine guidance that they are liable to be dragged to such inhuman, evil practices as cannibalism, which lowers them to the level of animals.

In Islam, human beings are honored by Allah and gifted with the power of speech. They are at the top of the hierarchy of beings that live under the moon, just one step below the angels. Obviously, the main prohibition regarding meat refers to man himself. In Islam, a person’s dignity is so highly stressed that any aggression against his/her life is prohibited and the same degree of respect is given to his/her corpse after death.

In his response to the question in point, Sheikh `Abdul-Majeed Subh, a prominent Al-Azhar scholar, states:

“The general basic rule in Islam is that Islam only prohibits its adherents from what is bad and harmful and permits them to consume all that is good. Almighty Allah says: “He (the Messenger) will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul…” (Al-A`raf: 157)

In previous nations prior to the advent of Islam, prohibition was extended to some good things as a form of punishment because of their disobedience, as was the case with the Jews. Explaining this the Qur’an states: “Unto those who are Jews We forbade every animal with claws. And of the oxen and the sheep forbade We unto them the fat thereof save that upon the backs or the entrails, or that which is mixed with the bone. That We awarded them for their rebellion. And lo! We verily are Truthful.” (Al-An`am: 146)

The Qur’an is clear that what humans are allowed to eat is animal meat not human meat. The Qur’an is very clear about this fact as Allah says: “And the cattle hath He created, whence ye have warm clothing and uses, and whereof ye eat.” (An-Nahl: 5) The Arabic structure of the words ‘whereof ye eat’ clearly explains that it is only the meat of livestock that humans eat, not that of humans.

Of the above rule, the Qur’an excludes certain types of livestock and animal meat. Almighty Allah says: “Say (O Muhammad): I find not in that which is revealed unto me aught prohibited to an eater that he eat thereof, except it be carrion, or blood poured forth, or swine flesh for that verily is foul or the abomination which was immolated to the name of other than Allah. But whoso is compelled (thereto), neither craving nor transgressing, (for him) lo ! your Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Al-An`am: 145)

Also, Islam has forbidden the meat of carnivorous animals (i.e. those that prey on others and devour them such as the lion, leopard, wolf, etc. and birds with talons such as the hawk, eagle, falcon, etc.). Both al-Bukhari and Muslim reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) “forbade the eating of any wild animal with a canine tooth and of any bird with talons.” Modern science has proven the dangers of eating the meat of animals that live on meat.

Here, I would like to move to Islam’s view of man as an honored creature. Almighty Allah says: “Verily We have honored the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them, and have preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preferment.” (Al-Isra‘: 70) Slaughtering a human just like cattle is slaughtered has nothing to do with honoring this creature. Islam has made human life sacred and has safeguarded its preservation. It is forbidden in Islam to kill any human without any legal reason (such as in retaliation). The sanctity of man’s life in Islam is so stressed that once, while looking at the Ka`bah, `Abdullah ibn `Umar remarked, “How great and sacred you are! But the sanctity of the Believer is greater than yours.”

In Islamic law, a murderer is to be killed for murdering any human regardless of the victim’s religion, status, position, race or color. This is because Islam honors and sanctifies human life whatever it may be.

The practice of eating human flesh goes back to the centuries of backwardness. This call drags humanity back to the ages of ignorance and backwardness. It is a call for deviation from the track of human civilization in general, not to mention the teachings of religions. The claim of this Chinese artist that there is nothing in religion against this practice is not true. The Islamic stand against cannibalism has been declared above. In Judaism it is prohibited to eat pork; then what should we expect that it teaches regarding eating humans? Being a follower of a certain religion or being with no religion does not qualify him to rule that there is nothing in all religions to prohibit cannibalism.

Finally, I stress that cannibalism is against civilization and is no more than a call for backwardness. If religions and scholars as well as politicians stand against human cloning, then all efforts should be mobilized against cannibalism and human slaughter.”

The eminent Muslim scholar and renowned Da`iyah, Sheikh `Abdel Khaliq Hasan Ash-Shareef, states:

“I would like to state that eating the flesh of a dead body is forbidden in Islam with respect to the living beings which we are permitted to slaughter, and for greater reason it is forbidden with regard to humans whom we are not permitted to slaughter or hurt. Islam forbids eating the meat of the dead, whether it is animal meat or human meat. The only meat that Muslims are permitted to eat is that of camels, cattle, sheep, and goats and non-preying birds, provided that the animal or bird is Islamically slaughtered.

Hurting a human being is prohibited in Islam. Moreover, the sacredness of a human being and of his body after his death is the same as during his lifetime. Not only has Islam protected man’s dignity during his life but also it has guaranteed the protection of his honor after his death. Therefore, it commands washing, shrouding, and burying him, and forbids breaking his bones and all forms of aggression against his corpse, thus differing with the nations that cremate their people when they die. This fact is stressed in the hadith of the Prophet which states, “Breaking the bones of a deceased person is like breaking his bones alive (in sin).”

Man is not created to be eaten but to live and worship Allah. After his death, his corpse is to be buried, which is a sign of the honor and dignity that Islam grants to man. It is not permissible by any means to eat human flesh. Cannibalism has no place in Islam. It is an act against humanity and contradictory to human nature. It is no more than an indication of cruelty, barbarism, brutality that is an indication of abnormality and harsh-heartedness.”

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