Camel Flesh is not Forbidden – An Answer to the Judeo-Christian claim of Leviticus 11:4 & Deuteronomy 14:7

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Christian Missionary often point to the Islamic non-prohibition to Camel flesh as a “proof” that Islam too is not consistent with the law of Moses [Musa alayhissalaam]. Therefore it is legitimate for Jesus [‘Eesa (alayhissalaam)] to “abandon” the Mosaic dietary law. Another Pauline teaching

As a Muslim it is part of our belief that the Qur’an does not limit itself to replacement of earlier laws and customs; it supplements, affirms, and varies. The Qur’an does not consider itself unique in thus altering (while recognizing) prior legislation.

However on the question of what ought to be halaal (lawful) and haraam (prohibited), prior to the advent of Islam, the people of the book had were confused, permitting many impure and harmful things and prohibiting many things that were good and pure.

Prohibiting something which is halaal is similar to committing shirk, and this is why the Qur’an censures the those who were prohibiting to themselves, without any authority from Allah prior to Qur’anic revelation, the eating and the use of certain kinds of produce and cattle.

God says:

كُلُّ الطَّعَامِ كَانَ حِلًّا لِّبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ إِلَّا مَا حَرَّمَ إِسْرَائِيلُ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ مِن قَبْلِ أَن تُنَزَّلَ التَّوْرَاةُ ۗ قُلْ فَأْتُوا بِالتَّوْرَاةِ فَاتْلُوهَا إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

“All food was lawful to the Children of Israel, except what Israel made unlawful for himself before the Taurat (Torah) was revealed. Say (O Muhammad Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam): “Bring here the Taurat (Torah) and recite it, if you are truthful.”  [Qur’an 3:93]

“The verse refer to is to some pre-revelatory Mosaic prohibitions on food. That is the prohibition of ‘‘the flesh and milk of camels.’’ [‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar al-Baydawi, Tafsir al-baydawi]

The camel was not the subject of pre-Mosaic prohibition. The Bible does of course prohibit the flesh of camels (Lev 11:4; Deut 14:7.)  but there is no Biblical or rabbinic source support for the opinion that there is some pre-revelatory basis for the ban. This is according to Noah Fiedman professor of religious law  Harvard Law School. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_Feldman]

According to Prof Fieldman (who is fluent in Hebrew as well as Arabic), Leviticus 11:4 makes the prohibition on consuming camel flesh part of the organizing legal logic of the more general prohibition on eating beasts whose hooves are not split. Possibly the interpretation that connects the ban to camels relates to the pre-Islamic Arabian milieu, rather than the Jewish.

The Qur’an attributes an act of legal prohibition to a human, rather than a divine source: ‘‘save what Israel forbade for himself.’’ When juxtaposed with the revelation of the Torah, this formulation implies that the act of prohibition stemmed from a human source. So if we seek to identify this pre-Mosaic prohibition with anything in Jewish tradition, we ought to try to find it in an apparently non-divine source.

Only one Biblical prohibition fits the criteria established: (1) food-related; (2) pre-Mosaic; (3) non-revelatory. This is the statement of Genesis 32:33, establishing the prohibition on consumption of gid ha-nasheh, variously translated as the sciatic nerve, or a vein associated with it:

‘‘Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the gid ha-nasheh that is on the hip socket, because he [the angel of the Jacob story] struck Jacob on the hip socket at the gid ha-nasheh.’’

This verse describes the existence of a food prohibition stemming from a non-Mosaic origin. It also, strikingly, does not report a revelatory source, but merely recites the existence of a practice. The three conditions are thus satisfied. By contrast, the Noahide laws of Genesis 9:3-7 appear before the Mosaic revelation, and several involve food (the ban on consumption of blood, and in rabbinic tradition, the ban on the eating of live flesh). But these prohibitions are squarely attributed to God, whereas the ban on eating the sciatic nerve is described simply as an Israelite practice.

God in the Qur’an makes it clear that prohibiting without divine sanction constitutes proof of error, or failure to adhere to the divine will. The Qur’an rectify the error by showing the Jews to have partaken of this error in pre-Mosaic times, Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) shows their capability for error, and puts the Jews on a level with the pre-Islamic Arab idolaters.

The Qur’anic text continues [3:94]: ‘‘For one who fabricates lies about God after this, those are the wicked.’’

So anyone who asserts that all biblical prohibitions are from God may be said to fabricate lies about God. Those who do so (i.e., Jews who assert the divine origin of every prohibition) are the ‘‘wicked,’’ in opposition to ‘‘truth-tellers,’’ the self-description of the Jews in the previous verse.

Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) challenges the Jews by asserting that their own scripture presents Jacob (Israel) as legislating for himself, on his own authority. The Jews themselves (this occurs offstage, as it were) claim that all biblical prohibition, including Genesis 32:33, is divinely mandated.

Camel meat are among those prohibited animals were those which were called bahirah, saibah, wasilah, and ham during the pre-Islamic period of jahiliyyah. (The state of mind and conditions of life prior to the advent of Islam, characterized by deviation from the guidance of Allah and the adoption of ungodly systems and ways of life. (Trans.)) Bahirah (the slit-eared) denoted a female camel which had given birth to five calves, the last of which was a male. The ear of such a camel was slit and she was loosed to roam freely; she was not to be ridden, milked, or slaughtered, and was free to eat and drink from any place she liked without hindrance. Saibah referred to a male or female camel which was released to roam freely because of a vow, usually made following a safe return from a journey, the cure of an illness, or for some other reason. As for wasilah, if the firstborn of a female goat were a male, the polytheists would sacrifice him to their gods, while if it were a female they would keep her for themselves. In the case of twin offspring, one female and the other male, they would say, “He is her brother,” and instead of sacrificing the male they would release him to roam free; he was known as wasilah. And if a male camel’s second generation offspring was capable of carrying a rider, they would let the older camel go free, saying, “He saved his back,” and calling him al-ham.

While there are other interpretations of these four terms, they are all of a similar nature. The Qur’an rejected these prohibitions and left no excuse for those who practiced them to follow the errors of their forefathers: Allah did not institute bahirah or saibah or wasilah or ham; but those who disbelieve forge a lie against Allah, and most of them do not use their reason.

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ وَإِلَى الرَّسُولِ قَالُوا حَسْبُنَا مَا وَجَدْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا ۚ أَوَلَوْ كَانَ آبَاؤُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَهْتَدُونَ

When it is said to them, ‘Come to what Allah has revealed and to the Messenger,’ they say, ‘What we found our fathers doing is enough for us.’ What! And even though their fathers did not know anything and were not rightly guided? [Qur’an 5:104]

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