Monday, 28 May 2012

The Consumption of Blood in Islam, Christianity & Judaism

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

A common objection to the Catholic faith is the idea that the Bible forbids the drinking of blood, yet Catholics claim to drink the blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  It is true that the Old Testament forbids consuming blood, but what is the status of this requirement for Christians?  Christianity and Judaism both acknowledge the possibility of eating animals.  Biblical Judaism even mandates it with the requirement of consuming the Passover lamb.  Eating blood was forbidden in the Law of Moses (a.s.).  For example

Leviticus 17:10-13
10Any Israelite, or alien dwelling among you, who consumes the blood when he eats, becomes My enemy; I will Sever him from my people.  11It is the blood that animates all living things, and I have Destined it to make atonement for your souls upon the altar, blood for the purgation of your souls.  12That is why I have Warned the sons of Israel that neither they nor the aliens who dwell among them must consume the blood when they eat.  13Any Israelite, or alien living among you, who hunts down a beast or snares a bird, such as you are allowed to eat, must drain its blood and cover it with earth.

Deuteronomy 12:23, 24
23only do not eat it with the blood, it is the blood that animates living things, and this life of theirs must not be eaten with the flesh, 24but poured out like water on the ground.

Both of these passages cite the reason that blood is the life of the flesh.  The passage from Leviticus adds an extra note:

Leviticus 17:11
11…I have Destined it to make atonement for your souls upon the altar, blood for the purgation of your souls.

This indicates the purpose for which the Children of Israel are permitted to use blood as an offering to God in sacrifice.  This offering of blood to God is similar to the way that fat was also reserved to God in the Torah.

Leviticus 3:16, 17
16these are for the priest to burn on the altar, feeding the flame and giving out acceptable fragrance.  All that is fat shall belong to the Lord; 17this rule you must observe continually, age after age, wherever you dwell; neither fat nor blood are for your eating.

Both fat and blood were thus seen as reserved to God in sacrifice.  The question is, do the Christians believe this still applies?  To them, it is clear that the way God Wishes sacrifice has changed.  They no longer offer the blood and fat of bulls and goats because since Christ sacrificed himself on the Cross once for all, he perpetually offers himself in heaven and through the sacrifice of the Mass.  Thus, with the change in the manner of sacrifice, the requirements concerning blood and fat in the Old Testament have also been abrogated.  Blood is the symbol of life.  They believe it makes a good symbol for the life of the flesh but it does not automatically carry over into the dietary requirements of Christianity, any more than other Old Testament ritual practices do.  The Christian argument for leaving of the dietary laws comes from this passage:

Mark 7:18, 19
18And he said to them, “Are you still so slow of wit?  Do you not observe that all the uncleanness which goes into a man has no means of defiling him, 19because it travels, not into his heart, but into the belly, and so finds its way into the sewer?  Thus he declared all meat to be clean,

The portion where Jesus (a.s.) declared all meat clean is a later addition to the text.  Jesus (a.s.) is articulating a general principle that what comes into the body from outside does not defile us morally.  Instead, the evil thoughts that come from within us do.  This applies both to dirt on our hands, which is what Jesus (a.s.) was talking about in the original context and extended by the Christians to foods, an implication of the author of the Gospel according to Mark.  This was later further extended from meat to all food.  The dispute about what foods could be eaten continued for some time in the early Church, with different Christians taking different positions.  To help keep peace between Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity, the Council of Jerusalem issued a pastoral directive:

Acts 15:29
29you are to abstain from what is sacrificed to idols, from blood-meat and meat which has been strangled, and from fornication.  If you keep away from such things, you will have done your part.  Farewell.

The reason for this is explained by James (r.a.):

Acts 15:21
21As for Moses, ever since the earliest times he has been read, sabbath after sabbath, in the synagogues, and has preachers in every city to expound him.

The early Church believed it would help Jewish converts to Christianity if Gentile converts refrained from certain things thought to violate the Mosaic Law.  Others, like food sacrificed to idols, were not considered forbidden by Christianity even though it remained so in Judaism. Paul of Tarsus did recommend refraining from them when it would cause another to violate his conscience but not because of the offence against God by violating His Sovereignty.

1 Corinthians 8:4-13
4About meat, then, used in idolatrous worship, we can be sure of this, that a false god has no existence in the order of things; there is one God, and there can be no other.  5Whatever gods may be spoken of as existing in heaven or on earth (and there are many such gods, many such lords), 6for us there is only one God, the Father Who is the Origin of all things, and the end of our being; only one Lord, Jesus Christ, the creator of all things, who is our way to him.  7But it is not everybody who has this knowledge; there are those who still think of such meat, while they eat it, as something belonging to idolatrous worship, with the thought of the false god in their minds; their conscience is not easy, and so incurs guilt.  8And it is not what we eat that gives us our standing in God’s sight; we gain nothing by eating, lose nothing by abstaining; 9it is for you to see that the liberty you allow yourselves does not prove a snare to doubtful consciences.  10If any of them sees one who is better instructed sitting down to eat in the temple of a false god, will not his conscience, all uneasy as it is, be emboldened to approve of eating idolatrously?  11And thus, through thy enlightenment, the doubting soul will be lost; thy brother, for whose sake Christ died.  12When you thus sin against your brethren, by injuring their doubtful consciences, you sin against Christ.  13Why then, if a mouthful of food is an occasion of sin to my brother, I will abstain from flesh meat perpetually, rather than be the occasion of my brother’s sin.

With regards blood itself then, the Church has come to the conclusion that the basis of the blood prohibition involved symbolism and is linked to Jewish sacrificial ritual that has passed away.  They concluded that Jesus (a.s.) articulated a principle that would result in all foods being clean, apparently including the ancient ones made with blood.  Then there is the practice of the Church down through the centuries.  After the apostolic era the Church did not feel obliged to make these verses above a basis for formulating precise rules for the butcher and the kitchen.

What does Islam have to say about the permissibility of blood and various categories of meat in general?



Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah, that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety… (Surah al-Ma’idah:3)

The Qur’an is very much in line with the Mosaic Law with regards the consumption of blood.  It is haram.  And it is very much in agreement that any meat sanctified in the name of anything other than Allah (s.w.t.) is forbidden for consumption.


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