Man Eating Man-Eating Sharks?
By Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti

In answer to the question:
How about eating sharks? I have met many Malay Shafi'is who refuse to eat shark on the contention that they are predators who eat human beings. Is it makruh, haram or simply mubah?

Alhamdulillah alladhi faddala l-insan 'ala sa'ir l-hayawan wa s-salat wa s-salam 'ala sayyidina Muhammad afdal al-khalq wa 'ala alihi wa sahbihi wa t-tabi'ina lahum min 'ulama' al-'amilin alladhina man iqtafa atharahum.

What is normally eaten of sharks today in some places is their fins, not their meat. Nevertheless, the Qawl Asahh [more correct position] in the Shafi'i school is that all of the edible parts of a shark [the main fiqh term that our jurists use is "qirsh" and sometimes "lakham", while "kawsaj", for example, is used by the Hanbalis] including its meat, even if a shark preys on humans, is Halal for human consumption. Ever since the time of Imam al-Asnawi (may Allah pleased with him!), there has been no khilaf among our jurists regarding it.

The discussion concerning sharks in our fiqh manuals is usually found in the context of a counter-hukm with that of crocodiles, another man-eating aquatic predator [dawwab al-bahr; modern term: samak muftaris] (while as related below, the Hanbalis, for example, do not consider the two to be antithetical to each other--and there is mercy for us all in the khilaf between the two schools on this issue). Unlike with the latter school, the former predator is Halal to eat and what is related by Imam al-Ramli in the following Hashiya to our Shaykh al-Islam's Asna al-Matalib should be sufficient for us:

"[Imam al-Shawbari; the medieval editor of the Hashiya and student of one of the four Tawa'if of our school, Imam Shams al-Din al-Ramli, the son of the original author of this Hashiya, Imam Shihab al-Din al-Ramli (may Allah be pleased with all of them!) says:] Our Shaykh [al-Ramli, Jr.] said: [Imam] Ibn Abi Sharif [may Allah be pleased with him!; the teacher to his father] in the Sharh of al-Hawi [al-Saghir by al-Qazwini] said: Not every aquatic creature that is carnivorous [mA yataqawwa bi-nAbihi; meaning, mA ya'dU 'ala l-farIsati bi-nAbihi] is Haram. For while the shark is Halal, the crocodile is Haram because [among other things the latter is considered] disgusting [khubth] and harmful [darar] [i.e., to the body]." [al-Ramli, Sr., Hashiya, 3:407 n.4]

If the above authority has not completely removed the immature fear from your Malay readers, then the following one should finally reassure them. The direct student of Imam al-Asnawi above, Imam al-Darimi (may Allah be pleased with him!), who was not only an acknwoledged specialist in Shafi'i fiqh but who was also then a renowned scientist in the field of zoology, a secular field directly relevant to our mas'ala here, refers unequivocally to man-eating sharks:

"Its legal ruling according to [the school of] Imam Ahmad [may Allah be well pleased with him!] is Haram to eat. [Imam] Abu Hamid [? unknown to me--please refer to Hanabli specialists; it is possible that there was a scribal error here, and if so this is probably the famous Ibn Hamid] among their jurists [meaning, this person is not the principal jurist from our Iraqi Ta'ifa: Imam Abu Hamid al-Isfara'ini (may Allah be pleased with these two Hamids!)] said: "The crocodile nor the shark can be eaten because the two of them eat human beings and it [the shark] is carnivorous [dhu nab]." Whereas according to our school, it is Halal [to eat]." [al-Damiri, Hayawan, 2:313].

If knowledge comes, but fear still lingers, we must then be weak men. It is sometimes said by those of insight that Fiqh, ultimately, is nothing other than knowledge of understanding the 'ilal [legal bases] of human actions; whereas to be a good student of the Law requires one to see things beyond our emotional faculties. Otherwise, as Imam Ibn Hajar (may Allah be pleased with him!) says, that person is indeed sloppy:

"Among the marine animals is the shark [qirsh]. It is [also called] "lakham*". Do not take into consideration its carnivorous nature [taqwiyyati [sic.; scribal error, read instead: taqwiyatihi] bi-nAbihi; lit. "the capability of its canine tooth"] [when determining whether this animal is Haram or Halal] . Those who take that [carnivorous element as the 'illa] into consideration in the [well known] prohibition of [eating] the crocodile are indeed careless. Rather, the correct [i.e., the least reducible or the original] legal basis [for the prohibition of eating crocodiles] is its living on land." [Ibn Hajar, Tuhfa, 12:307]. How true this is even for land animals. As students of our law know well, modern definitions of herbivorousness and carnivorousness alone, do not make something Halal or Haram to eat, since an elephant, considered a herbivore by zoologists, is considered Haram by our jurists; and likewise, a fox, a carnivore, is Halal.

*Also vocalized as "lukhm" (by Imam al-Damiri), and (in one riwaya of the Athar below) "lakhm".

Turuq The hukm that sharks are Halal is based on a Nass [report] of our Mujtahid Imam, Imam al-Shafi'i himself (may Allah be well pleased with him!) on the understanding that any marine animal can be eaten on account of the 'Umum [general and unspecified] nature of the Qur'anic verse: uHilla la-kum Saydu l-baHri wa Ta'Amuhu [Permitted to you is the game of the sea and the food of it] (al-Ma'ida, 5:96). Imam al-Nawawi (may Allah be pleased with him!) much later established this point of law tersely in the following statement: "The Qawl Sahih [Sound Position] as well as the Qawl Mu'tamad [Relied Upon Position] [of our school] is that the corpse [i.e., an animal which died without being slaughtered in accordance with the Law] of all that is [living] in water, is permissible [to eat], except frogs [because there is an 'illa that proscribes them]." [al-Nawawi, Majmu', 9:30]. Despite its carnivorous nature, our jusrists consider this sea animal to be a type [darb] of fish and most importantly, it is properly a marine animal because it can only live under water: "mA lA ya'Ishu illA fi l-baHri min HayawAnAti l-baHri". Since the well known legal verse of Sura al-Ma'ida above that permits the eating of acquatic creatures is itself 'Umum and because no other dalil [proof-text] has come to us prohibiting the eating of this fish, sharks cannot be deemed Haram. Rather, the legal basis for this hukm is further supported by the Athar of 'Ikrima (may Allah be well pleased with him!): al-lakhmu HalAlun [the shark is permissible (to eat)] which was related by the Shafi'i Muhaddith, Imam Ibn al-Athir (may Allah be pleased with him!) in the Nihaya [4:244]. This is how our fuqaha' arrived at their legal ruling. End of road.

It goes without saying here that the process of tanqiya [cleansing the seafood of its pollutants] required when preparing a fish for human consumption applies especially to sharks. This Fard 'Ayn rule for cooks, male or female, young or old has been made clear for instance in our basic textbook, the Fath al-Mu'in: "It is not permissible to eat a [big] salt-water fish when the contents of its abdominal cavity [jawf] have not been cleansed of dirty things [mustaqdharat**]." [I'anat, 1:90-91]. One can appreciate the greater importance of performing tanqiya if he or she has been asked to prepare a shark that has actually eaten a man!

**Some philological notes. A mustaqdhar is more general than a Najasa [impurity]: all Najasat are mustaqdharat but not all mustaqdharat are Najasat. The standard example for this is the sperm and saliva, and other examples include nose flake, ear wax, eye mucus -- although they are all disgusting like vomit, but unlike it they are not legally impure, but are still Haram to eat.

Furu' It has been related that even a whale as big as Moby Dick ['anbar = sperm whale, which is incidentally, carnivorous] was eaten by our Prophet (may Allah's blessing and peace be upon him!). [Ibn Hajar, Tuhfa, 12:196, 306]. A question might arise therefore in the event that another fish is found in a very large fish, whether the second fish is Halal. The answer is yes, as long as the second fish has not been digested or undergone change--even partially. If it has, it is to be treated like vomit [al-Shirbini, Mughni, 6:99].

Fa'ida The etymology of the name of the tribe of the chosen Prophet, our master, Muhammad (may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!), "Quraysh", which is traced back to his grandfather, Fihr (a.k.a., Quraysh) the son of Malik the son of al-Nadr the son of Kinana, is ultimately a dimunitive [ism tasghir] of "qirsh". This was the answer of Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be well pleased with both of them!) to the question posed by 'Amr ibn al-'As (may Allah be well pleased with him!) in the presence of Mu'awiya (may Allah be well pleased with him!): that Qurasyh is named after this predator. It comes as no surprise to us, then, that later on, a Hanafi jurist and lexicographer, al-Mutarrizi was able to quip: "The shark is the master of [sea] beasts and the strongest of them [all]. Likewise, the Quraysh are the masters of men." [al-Fasi, Shifa' al-Gharam, 2:65]. The weight of etymological evidence expressed in the Athar of that famous companion is further enhanced by the fact that al-Mushamrij al-Humayri, an ancient Jahili poet, also regarded "Quraysh" as a totemic name and traced its provenance back to this sea predator in his famous poem "why the Qurasyh is named 'Quraysh'" [wa-qurayshun hiya l-latI...].

Tatimma It could be that these Malay Shafi'is are gullible to believe that the normal diet for a given shark is human beings, even if it is the Great White Shark. This incredible notion is probably not helped by their watching too many Hollywood movies! While de minimis..., legal decisions cannot be made emotionally and the law does not concern itself with impressions. However, even if this does become a normal occurrence in the future, the Hukm Shar'i according to the Shafi'is remains that sharks, even man-eaters, are Halal; that is, the ruling to eat them is Mubah, not Haram or even Makruh, because our jurists agree that it is classed as a fish. The hukm is a definitive Halal nay a definite Halal, even when the latter might not be obvious to some.

In the event that your friends do blunder upon a killer shark, then say the Du'a of our Habib (may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!):

a'Udhu bi-kalimAti LlAhi t-tAmmAti min sharri mA khalaq
[I seek refuge in the perfect words of Allah from the evil in what He has created].

and then read:

salAmun 'ala nUHin fi l-'Alamin

[Peace be upon Nuh among all beings!]

and finally:

yA Hayyu yA qayyUmu bi-raHmatika astaghIthu!
[O Living and Eternal One, of Your mercy I call for help!]

May this be a remover of unfounded fears and suppositions and become instead a source of true help and sustenance.

Allahumma salli wa sallam 'ala Muhammd wa 'ala ali Muhammad fi kulli lamhatin wa nafsin bi-'adadi kulli ma'lumin laka!

al-ba'is al-faqir,

M. Afifi al-Akiti
10 Rabi' I 1425
30 IV 2004

Select Bibliography:

al-Damiri. Hayat al-Hayawan al-Kubra. 2 vols. Bulaq, 1305 H.

al-Fasi, Taqi al-Din. Shifa' al-Gharam bi-Akhbar al-Balad al-Haram. 2 vols. Cairo: 'Isa al-Babi al-Halai, 1956.

Ibn al-Athir. al-Nihaya fi Gharib al-Hadith wa l-Athar. Edited by Tahir Ahmad al-Zawi and Mahmud Muhammad al-Tanahi. 5 vols. Cairo: 'Isa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1963-1965.

Ibn Hajar al-Haytami. Tuhfa al-Muhtaj bi-Sharh al-Minhaj al-Nawawi in Hawashi al-Shirwani wa-Ibn 'Qasim 'ala Tuhfa al-Muhtaj. Edited by Muhammad 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Khalidi. 13 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub 'Ilmiyya, 1996.

al-Nawawi. al-Majmu' Sharh al-Muhadhdhab. Edited by Mahmud Matraji. 22 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996.

al-Ramli (Sr.). Hashiya Asna al-Matalib. In [the footnotes of] Asna al-Matalib Sharh Rawd al-Talib [of Ibn al-Muqri'], by [Shaykh al-Islam] Zakariyya al-Ansari. Edited by Muhammad Muhammad Tamir. 9 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 2001.

al-Shirbini. Mughni al-Muhtaj ila Ma'rifa Ma'ani Alfaz al-Minhaj. Edited by 'Ali Muhammad Mu'awwad and 'Adil Ahmad 'Abd al-Mawjud. 6 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub 'Ilmiyya, 1994.

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