#319: Eating Elephant’s Meat

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. Is it permissible to eat an elephant?

Answer:

Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,

Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.

We begin with the statement of Allah SWT:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ كُلُوا مِمَّا فِي الْأَرْضِ حَلَالًا طَيِّبًا

“O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good,” [1]

The above verse shows that food that we are permitted to eat must fulfil two criteria which are, lawful and good.

Syeikh al-Sa’di when commenting on this verse said that it is intended for all mankind regardless of whether they are believers or disbelievers to eat whatever is on this earth that includes cereals, fruits, animals that are permissible for them to take (eat and benefit from), not taking it by force, stealing, or a result of prohibited trade or from prohibited matters. While toyyiban is not from bad matters (dirty or disgusting) such as carcass, blood, swine and others. This verse is evidence that the original ruling of a matter (to be eaten and benefitted from) is permissible. [2]

Choosing food that is halal and good is among the factors that a person’s supplication is granted by Allah SWT. This is as stated by Prophet Muhammad PBUH:


الرَّجُلَ يُطِيلُ السَّفَرَ أَشْعَثَ أَغْبَرَ، يَمُدُّ يَدَيْهِ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ، يَا رَبِّ، يَا رَبِّ، وَمَطْعَمُهُ حَرَامٌ، وَمَشْرَبُهُ حَرَامٌ، وَمَلْبَسُهُ حَرَامٌ، وَغُذِيَ بِالْحَرَامِ، فَأَنَّى يُسْتَجَابُ لِذَلِكَ؟

“A man who makes a long journey in a dishevelled and dusty state, who stretches out his hands to heaven saying, “My Lord, my Lord,” when his food, drink and clothing are of an unlawful nature, and he is nourished by what is unlawful, and asked how such a one could be given an answer.” [3]

Definition of Elephant

Elephants are large mammals of the family Elephantidae and order Proboscidea. Traditionally, there have been two recognized species, namely the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), although some evidence suggests that the African Bush Elephant and the African Forest Elephant are distinct species (L.africana and L.cyclotis). Elephants are spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Elephantidae are the only surviving family of the order Proboscidea; other families that are now extinct include mammoths and mastodons. The male African elephant is the largest land animal with a height of up to 4 meters and a mass weight of up to 7,000 kg. Elephants have special characteristics, with the most striking being the trunk used for many things, especially for breathing, inhaling water, and taking things. Its incisors grow into ivory that can be used as weapons and tools to move objects or dig. Her large earlobes help regulate her body temperature. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs, while Asian elephant ears are smaller and their backs are convex.

Elephants are herbivores that can be found in a variety of habitats, such as savannahs, forests, deserts, and swamps. Elephants tend to be on the water’s edge. Elephants are considered a key species because of their impact on the environment. Other animals tend to keep a distance from elephants, and predators such as lions, tigers. hyenas, and wild dogs usually only attack young elephants. Female elephants tend to live in family herds, which consist of one female with her cubs or several females who are related with their offspring. the herd is led by an individual elephant called a matriarch, who is usually the oldest female. Elephants have a fission-fusion society structure, which is when family herds meet to socialize. Male elephants leave their family herds when they have reached puberty, and will live alone or with other males. Adult males typically interact with the family herd while looking for a mate and enter an increased level of testosterone and aggression called musth, which helps males achieve dominance and reproductive ability. The baby elephant is the centre of attention of the family herd and depends on its parent for about three years. Elephants can live for 70 years in the wild. Elephants communicate through touch, sight, smell, and sound. Elephants use infrared and seismic communication for long distances. The intelligence of elephants has been compared to the intelligence of primates, whales and dolphins. Elephants appear to have self-awareness and show empathy to other elephants who are near or dead. [4]

Definition of Tusks

According to the 4th Edition of Kamus Dewan, elephant tusk is defined as elephant incisors. [5]

Ivory is also only owned by certain species of mammals, which will grow protruding front teeth and are constantly growing. The type of teeth that grow prominently depends on the species: walruses and pigs will grow their canine teeth while elephant tusks grow from incisors. Both sexes of the species can grow their ivory, whereas the male ivory is larger as a fighting weapon. These front teeth have many uses it depends on the species that owns them. Elephants use their tusks to dig and make holes to find food, while walruses use their fangs to grip slippery ice surfaces and push ice cubes away. Male animals often show their fangs or tusks as a sign of dominance or to defend themselves from other attacking animals. [6]

The Ruling of Eating Elephant

Scholars have differing opinions regarding the ruling of eating elephants. Imam al-Nawawi in al-Majmu’ stated that elephants are prohibited to be eaten according to our madhhab (al-Syafi’e), Abu Hanifah, al-Kufiyyun and al-Hasan. Whereas, al-Sya’bi, Ibn Syihab and Malik ruled eating it permissible. [7]

According to the jumhur of scholars among scholars of madhhab Hanafi, Syafi’ie and Hanbali, elephant meat is prohibited to be eaten because it is included as animals with incisors. This is as stated in a hadith narrated from Abu Tsa’labah al-Khusyani RA, he said:

أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ نَهَى عَنْ أَكْلِ كُلِّ ذِي نَابٍ مِنَ السِّبَاعِ

“The Messenger of Allah forbade eating any – predator with fangs,” [8]

In the book al-Umm, Imam Syafie stated the following:


ﻭَﻟَﺎ ﻳَﺘَﻮَﺿَّﺄُ ﻭَﻟَﺎ ﻳَﺸْﺮَﺏُ ﻓﻲ ﻋَﻈْﻢِ ﻣَﻴْﺘَﺔٍ ﻭَﻟَﺎ ﻋَﻈْﻢِ ﺫَﻛِﻲٍّ ﻟَﺎ ﻳُﺆْﻛَﻞُ ﻟَﺤْﻤُﻪُ ﻣِﺜْﻞِ ﻋَﻈْﻢِ ﺍﻟْﻔِﻴﻞِ ﻭَﺍﻟْﺄَﺳَﺪِ ﻭﻣﺎ ﺃَﺷْﺒَﻬَﻪُ ﻟِﺄَﻥَّ ﺍﻟﺪِّﺑَﺎﻍَ ﻭَﺍﻟْﻐُﺴْﻞَ ﻟَﺎ ﻳُﻄَﻬِّﺮَﺍﻥِ ﺍﻟْﻌَﻈْﻢَ ﺭَﻭَﻯ ﻋﺒﺪ ﺍﻟﻠَّﻪِ ﺑﻦ ﺩِﻳﻨَﺎﺭٍ ﺃَﻧَّﻪُ ﺳﻤﻊ ﺑﻦ ﻋُﻤَﺮَ ﻳَﻜْﺮَﻩُ ﺃَﻥْ ﻳُﺪَﻫَّﻦَ ﻓﻲ ﻣُﺪْﻫُﻦٍ ﻣﻦ ﻋِﻈَﺎﻡِ ﺍﻟْﻔِﻴﻞِ ﻟِﺄَﻧَّﻪُ ﻣَﻴْﺘَﺔٌ

“It is impermissible to perform ablution and drink using the bones of a carcass and bones of animals that are slaughtered but its flesh is impermissible to be eaten, such as the bones of elephants, tigers and similar animals. The reason is the bones of these animals can’t be purified by washing or the process of tanning. Abdullah bin Dinar narrated that he once heard Abdullah bin Umar disliked wearing oils made from the oils of elephant’s bones, for it is from a carcass.” [9]

Imam al-Nawawi stated in al-Majmu’ [10]: As we have stated, our madhhab (al-Syafi’e) prohibits eating elephants. This opinion is in line with the opinion of Abu Hanifah, Ahmad, Daud and Jumhur. While Imam Malik ruled it makruh not prohibiting it supporting his opinion with the statement of Allah SWT:


قُل لَّا أَجِدُ فِي مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ مُحَرَّمًا عَلَىٰ طَاعِمٍ يَطْعَمُهُ إِلَّا أَن يَكُونَ مَيْتَةً أَوْ دَمًا مَّسْفُوحًا أَوْ لَحْمَ خِنزِيرٍ فَإِنَّهُ رِجْسٌ أَوْ فِسْقًا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ

“Say, “I do not find within that which was revealed to me [anything] forbidden to one who would eat it unless it is a dead animal or blood spilt out or the flesh of swine – for indeed, it is impure – or it is [that slaughtered in] disobedience, dedicated to other than Allah.” [11]

According to madhhab Malik, the animals that weren’t mentioned in this verse aren’t prohibited to be eaten. As for animals with fangs, it is makruh to be eaten because they are restricted by the hadith. Thus, the Prophet PBUH’s restriction in the hadith is makruh and not a prohibition. [12]

Whereas our madhhab (al-Syafi’e) argued with a hadith narrated from Ibn Abbas and others who prohibit eating animals with incisors and a Muslim narration stated “Every wild animal with incisors, then it is haram to be eaten.” In answering the argument of Imam Malik with the verse of al-Quran, the commandment is an information and there is no prohibition at the time, later, the divine revelation came to prohibit animals with incisors since the Quranic verse is a Makkiah verse that was revealed in Mecca while the hadith is Madaniah, which was revealed when the Prophet PBUH was in Medina. The reason is the hadith is specific for the verse. Wallahu a’lam. [13]

Al-Allamah Khalil bin Ishaq al-Maliki stated in Mukhtasar al-Khalil: It is makruh to eat animals that have incisors, hyenas, fox, wolves, cats, zebras and elephants. [14]

Elephants are included as protected wild animals

Based on Malaysian Law, Act 716, Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, elephants are a Fully Protected Wildlife. Elephants are a protected wildlife species under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act No. 76, 1972. It is also listed under Appendix 1, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and is categorized as an endangered animal in the IUCN Red Data Book (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). Therefore, trade in this species internationally is strictly controlled. [15]

Therefore, it is not allowed to arbitrarily hunt, capture or hold snares against the animals. If convicted of an offence can be subject to action and punishment as stipulated in the act.

Conclusion

After we’ve analyzed the arguments and opinions of scholars as well as considered the reality and waqi’ in Malaysia, we conclude the following matters:

  • We are inclined towards the opinion that prohibits eating elephant’s meat which is one of the opinions of madhhab Syafie and the safer opinion (Ahwat).
  • As we all know, the elephant species is an endangered species. Therefore, it is our shared responsibility to ensure its survival for future generations (so that they can see and recognize it). Therefore, this coincides with Saddu al-Zarai’s maxim of closing the path that can lead to greater harm.
  • In addition, elephants are protected wildlife as provided in Act 716. In fact, anyone convicted can be subject to legal action and punishment.
  • The government has the right to decide to take care of more important issues. This is in line with a famous Islamic legal maxim:

تَصَرُّفُ الْإِمَامِ عَلَى الرَّعِيَّةِ مَنُوطٌ بِالْمَصْلَحَةِ

“Government’s policy should be based on the benefit of the people.”

  • Therefore, it is the responsibility of the citizens to obey and support the ulil amri (government) in matters that are makruf (good).

May Allah SWT grant us all a clear understanding in practising this religion. Amin.

Wallahu a’lam.

[1] Surah al-Baqarah: 168

[2] See Tafsir al-Sa’di, 1/80

[3] Narrated by Muslim (1015)

[4] See https://ms.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gajah (Accessed on 18th January 2022)

[5] See https://prpm.dbp.gov.my/cari1?keyword=gading (Accessed on 19th January 2022)

[6] See https://ms.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gading (Accessed on 19th January 2022)

[7] See al-Majmu’, 9/17

[8] Narrated by al-Bukhari (5530, 5780) and Muslim (1932)

[9] See al-Umm, 2/30

[10] See al-Majmu’, 9/17

[11] Surah al-An’am: 145

[12] See al-Mausu’ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah

[13] See al-Majmu’, 9/17

[14] See Mukhtasar al-Khalil, pg. 80

[15] See https://www.wildlife.gov.my/images/stories/penerbitan/lain_lain/PelanPengurusanGajahSM.pdf (pg. 15 – Accessed on 18th January 2022)

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