Ruling Regarding Animal Rennet in Cheese
  • Wed, 01/01/2003
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There is no problem using the rennet extracted from animals that were slaughtered according to Islamic Law. However, there is a lot of cheese in our markets coming from non-Muslim countries containing bovine rennet. The question arises as to whether or not we as Muslims can eat this cheese.

Cheese made with rennet extracted from animals that were illegally slaughtered was deemed permissible by Imam Ahmad, as stipulated in al-Mughnî (1/3). Muslims used to eat the cheese brought from the Magians and other unbelievers.

The people of knowledge have two sayings on this matter:

The opinion of the majority is that such rennet is impure, [refer to: al-Qawânîn al-Fiqhiyyah page 121, al-Majmû`2/588, Nihâyat al-Muhtâj1/244, Sharh Muntahâ al-Iradât 1/31, al-Insâf 92/1, al-Iqnâ` 1/1]. They believed the rennet is impure because it comes from an impure source, the stomach of the illegally slaughtered animal. They say it is a liquid material that touched an impure substance and thus becomes impure. Imam al-Nawawî said: "It is part of the animal so it is impure, like all the other parts of the animal."

The other saying is that it is pure. This is the opinion of some of the Companions and successors, `Umar, Salmân al-Fârisî, Talhâ, al-Husayn b. `Ali and others. It is also the opinion of the Hanafî school of thought, one narration from Ahmad, and the opinion of Ibn Taymiyyah, [refer to: Badâ'` al-Sanâ'`1/63, al-Bahr al-Ra'q 1/112, Tabyîn al-Haqa'q 1/26, Ihkâm al-Qur'an by al-Jassâs 1/168, al-Mabsût 24/27-28, Majmû` al-Fatâwa 21/102].

In his book al-Mughnî, Ibn Qudâmah writes: "Someone asked Imam Ahmad about cheese. The Imam replied: 'You can eat it from any source.' But, when asked about the cheese made by the Magians, he said: 'I do not know, but there is an authentic hadîth through al-A`mash that `Amr b. Sharhabîl said that `Umar was asked about cheese and the rennet of illegally slaughtered animal used therein. `Umar instructed him to mention Allah's name upon it and eat it."

They offer the following for evidence:

1. The hadîth related by Ibn Abî Shaybah (5/130) and `Abd al-Razzâq (4/538) through al-A`mash, as mentioned above. The line of transmission of this hadîth is absolutely sound. Imam Ahmad said: "It is the most correct hadîth on the subject."

2. The narration of Ibn Abî Shaybah (5/131) that Talhah used to put the knife over the cheese, mention Allah's name, then cut it and eat it. This also has a sound line of transmission.

3. The narration of Ibn Abî Shaybah through Waqî` that al-Hasan B. `Ali was asked about the cheese. He said: "It is alright, just put the knife to it, mention Allah's name, and eat it." All its narrators are reliable save Jahsh b. Ziyâd.

4. The narration of al-Tirmidhî (1726) and Ibn Mâjah (3367): "We were informed by Ismâ`îl b. Mûsa al-Fazarî through Salmân that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked about ghee, cheese and fur. He replied: "The lawful things are the ones mentioned in Allah's book as lawful and the unlawful things are the ones which are mentioned in Allah's book as unlawful, and whatever is not mentioned there, then it is exempted". It is a weak hadîth. Ibn Abî Shaybah mentioned in his book al-Musannaf (8/98) that he was informed by Waqî' through Suwayyid, the servant of Salmân, that he said: "When we won the battle of Madâ'in, Salmân said: 'We had found a basket in which we found four pieces of fine bread, cheese and a knife. Then Salmân took the knife and cut the cheese then he said: "Pronounce Allah's name and eat".' " The line of transmission is weak.

5. They said the milk and the rennet will not become impure after death and whatever is extracted from the living animal becomes as if dead. Therefore, since milk is lawful in such cases, then rennet is lawful.

Ibn Taymiyah said:

Regarding the milk and the rennet of unlawfully slaughtered animals, there are two saying from the scholars; one that it is pure, held by Abû Hanîfah and others, including one saying of Imam Ahmad. The other saying is that it is impure which is the saying of Malik, al-Shafi`î and another opinion of Imam Ahmad.

This disagreement took place regarding the cheese brought from the Magians as their slaughtered animals are totally unlawful by consensus. Still, there are two sayings about their cheese. I believe their cheese is lawful, since the milk of the illegally slaughtered animals is lawful and because the Companions ate from their cheese after the battle of Iraq. This has been authentically narrated to us from that time.

There are some weak narrations that some people from Hijâz disliked it, but they are not reliable. The people of Iraq are more trustworthy than others in this case because they lived there and knew the Magians firsthand. Salmân al-Farisî was the Caliph `Umar's governer in that area and he considered the cheese of the Magians to be lawful.

As for the argument that a liquid will become impure when it touches an impure place, we reply that it is known from Sunnah that the liquid is pure. We also say that even if it touches an impure place that will not matter. Allah says: "From what is within their bodies between excretions and blood we produce for you a drink, milk, pure and agreeable to those who drink it." This is why it is permissible to carry a child while praying despite of what is inside his body. And Allah knows best.

On the strength of the above arguments, I hold the opinion that eating cheese is lawful even if the rennet is extracted from unlawfully slaughtered animals.

And Allah knows best.