“إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةَ وَالدَّمَ وَلَحْمَ الْخِنْزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ بِهِ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ
“He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”—Al-Quran 5:3
As human beings and especially as Muslims, we firmly believe that everything that exists in any form in this universe has been created by the Al-Mighty God. Any other theory is apparently unacceptable to us no matter how scientific an explanation it may have. Our belief in one Creator is simply unquestionable and is an integral part of our faith which therefore makes us stand out among non-believers.
Another of our important convictions is that nothing has been created in vain. Each creature has its own significance, necessary for the health of this planet and for the benefit of human beings. Till date researchers have not been able to decipher every organism and the ones already discovered keep on revealing more characteristics as obvious from the following statement mentioned in December 2020 issue of VOX : “It’s the year 2020, and scientists are still discovering new species of life on Earth. No one knows exactly how many types of life are yet undescribed in the scientific literature; estimates range from around 86 percent to as high as 99.99 percent. And even though we’re living through an age of great biodiversity loss, the scope and breadth of life on planet Earth is still revealing itself to scientists around the world.”
This explicitly means that all plants, animals and living beings that exist in the world are clear manifestations of the Creator and we as believers, should not speak abusively about them no matter how much we may detest some, otherwise our faith would become questionable. Another well-known tenet for all Muslims is to avail the benefits of all things, specifically animals that can be found in this world whether these are above or below the earth, in the skies or in the oceans. We are allowed to satiate our hunger, cover our bodies, find medicinal cures and use them to our full advantage. To degrade and detest certain creations to the extent of assigning abusive language to them on account of their being forbidden, appears a bit irrational.
On the contrary, efforts should have been made to discover their benefits to enable their best use but in our frenzy to observe Quranic injunctions, we fail to capture whatever could be good for us so much so that taking the name of swine for example or even its utterance in school books has become a taboo. The amazing thing is that the book of purity (Quran) has no qualms about including the name khinzeer (pig) while its followers consider themselves impure on coming into contact or using its skin, bristles etc. even though these are not mentioned in the list of prohibited items.
Many interpretations have been coined about why swine flesh is forbidden although this was not something that was Islam specific as the book of Torah also contains similar instructions. In fact it also forbade the flesh of camels which by the way, Islam allows. According to the Torah: “Prohibited foods that may not be consumed in any form include all animals—and the products of animals—that do not chew the cud and do not have cloven hoofs (e.g., pigs and horses); fish without fins and scales; the blood of any animal; shellfish (e.g., clams, oysters, shrimp, crabs) and all other living creatures that creep; and those fowl enumerated in the Bible (e.g., vultures, hawks, owls, herons). All foods outside these categories may be eaten.”
Mary Douglas offered probably the most cogent interpretation of these laws in her book Purity and Danger (1966). She writes: “The ancient Hebrews were pastoralists, and cloven-hoofed and cud-chewing hoofed animals are proper food for such people; hence, they became part of the social order and were domesticated as slaves. Pigs and camels, however, do not meet the criteria of animals that are fit for pastoralists to consume. As a result, they are excluded from the realm of propriety and are deemed “unclean.”
Other religions too have dietary restrictions but this does not mean that those foods are bad, unclean or have no value.
In January 2022, Surgeon Bartley P. Griffith, MD led a team that conducted a transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart on David Bennett, a 57-year-old patient with terminal heart disease, at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, whose Director of Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program is Muhammad M. Mohiuddin. This person, being a Muslim has been widely abused with even threats of being killed on social media for committing a “sin” by using the organ of an animal whose flesh is proscribed for dietary purpose. Such remarks, especially coming from educated people are quite incomprehensible. Perhaps they fall in the category of those so-called scholars who pulled out “P for pig” from elementary school books.
It may be mentioned here that pigs have genetic and physiological traits similar to humans which make them one of the most useful and versatile animal models. They have long been used in human medicine, including pig skin grafts and implantation of pig heart valves but transplanting an entire heart was a new medical break-through. Our religious aversion to the animal is so biased that it has prevented us from benefitting from this animal in other ways. For example, it can be helpful in cleaning up edible waste that is carelessly being flung in ever-mounting land-fills since it gobbles down almost anything but having a digestive system similar to humans, it is suggested that same food waste should be fed.
The medical fraternity is continuously engaged in experimenting with genetically modified pig organs to improve chances of their availability for needy patients. Surgeons at New York University sought permission from families of deceased individuals to temporarily attach a gene-edited pig kidney to blood vessels outside the body and watch them work before ending life support. One fails to understand why we are willing to deprive our human brethren from their organs but will raise an uproar in these circumstances. Strangely, human trafficking for kidney extraction, a common feature of Pakistani society has not grabbed as much attention but any attempt to transplanting a pig’s organ becomes a matter of life and death.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)