#323: Eating Edible Swiftlet Nest

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. What is the ruling on eating edible swiftlet nests? Thank you.

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 start with the statement of Allah SWT:

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا إِلَى الطَّيْرِ فَوْقَهُمْ صَافَّاتٍ وَيَقْبِضْنَ ۚ مَا يُمْسِكُهُنَّ إِلَّا الرَّحْمَٰنُ ۚ إِنَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ بَصِيرٌ

“Do they not see the birds above them with wings outspread and [sometimes] folded in? None holds them [aloft] except the Most Merciful. Indeed, He is, of all things, Seeing.” [1]

Syeikh al-Sa‘di said the verse includes a rebuke and encouragement to observe the birds that are under the authority of Allah SWT and Allah SWT humbles the air and wind for them. Birds flap their wings to fly and maintain themselves from falling from the sky. Birds remain in tasbih when they are in the air and repeated their tasbih continuously according to their needs. None hold them aloft in the skies except Allah SWT and He is the One who humbles the skies for the birds and created the body of the birds suitable for flying. Thus, whoever reflect and think on the creation of the birds will learn that it shows the greatness of Allah SWT the Creator and Sovereign of everything. Only He deserves to be worshipped. He is the One who plans His slaves with everything appropriate according to His wisdom. [2]

Swiftlet

Swiftlets are a species of bird that is in four genera, namely Aerodramus, Hydrochous, Schoutedenapus and Collocalia. It forms the Collocaliini family in the Kite family, Apodidae. The group contains about 30 species that live in southern Asia, the southern Pacific islands and northeastern Australia, all in the tropics and subtropics. It is also a typical member of the Apodidae, with the characteristics of small wings for flying fast, a wide mouth and a small beak for catching insects while flying. What distinguishes it from the swallow species (but not all) and all other birds is their ability to use simple but effective echo features for navigation in dark conditions, especially in caves where it will perch and breed. Nests for some species will be built using their saliva and collected to produce bird’s nest soup, a famous Chinese cuisine. [3]

Swiftlet’s nest [4]

A swiftlet’s nest is a type of edible bird’s nest, or in English better known as Edible bird’s nest (EBN). It is an exotic and popular food since time immemorial, especially among the Chinese community in Malaysia. In Malaysia, EBN from this swiftlet has been harvested since 1878 in Niah Cave, Sarawak. EBN is obtained from various species of swiftlets and is produced through the hardened saliva of these birds. These hardened bird nests are then harvested for consumer use. It is considered an exotic dish of value to the Chinese community due to its rarity and nutritious nutritional value. As such, it has been used by the Chinese community in their cuisine since 400 years ago, commonly in the form of bird’s nest soup.

EBN is one of the most expensive animal products in the world, in addition to shark fin soup. Depending on the grade of the bird’s nest, the price for a weighed bird’s nest can reach around RM3,500 to RM4,500 per kilogram. The grade of this swiftlet’s nest depends on several criteria such as its shape and colour, namely white and red. The EBN of this commercial swiftlet is derived from the species of swiftlet Aerodramus fuciphagus (also known as the white nest swiftlet) and also the species of swiftlet Aerodramus maximus (also known as the black nest swiftlet).

Furthermore, according to scientific research, there are several health nutrients and benefits of swiftlet bird’s nest, among them are:

  1. Rich in protein
  2. Low carbohydrate content
  3. Low fat content
  4. Can improve the body’s immune system

The ruling of eating swiftlet bird’s nest

First, we should know that the original ruling of eating any living animal that is pure and not considered as najis except dogs, swine and animal that is born from both of them. While all animals that died without following the conditions set by syarak for slaughter, all are considered najis – for they are considered carcass [5] – except the carcass of grasshoppers, fishes and humans. The reason is all three of these carcasses are pure and aren’t considered najis. Likewise, animals are permissible to be eaten if they are slaughtered according to syarak and then died due to the slaughter are considered pure and not najis. Whereas, all animals that aren’t permissible to be eaten, if they die, all of them become najis even if they are slaughtered. [6]

Next, we know that the swiftlet nest is produced from the saliva of this bird that is hardened. Thus, the saliva of birds is pure for swiftlets are considered pure animals – not najis. The reason is for this is madhhab Syafi’I scholars are of the opinion that all liquid that is excreted from the internals of an animal and doesn’t gather or change from inside the animal (not together with it), except that it oozes or seeps out such as saliva, tears, sweat and mucus, then it follows the rulings of the animal. If the animal is najis, then it is also considered as najis, and if not, then it is pure. [7]

Furthermore, al-Nawawi stated that there isn’t any difference between the sweat, saliva, mucus and tears of a person in junub, menstruating woman, pure man, Muslim, disbeliever, donkey, mule, horse, mouse and all wild animals as well as creeping animals. All of them are pure and from each of them, they are ruled as pure except swine and dogs and anything that is born from both of them. [8]

This is based on a hadith from ‘Amr bin Kharijah where the Prophet PBUH once delivered a sermon to them in Mina when he was on his animal mount. At the time, he was on his animal mount and the saliva of the animal was seeping on his shoulders. [9] This hadith shows that the saliva of a pure animal is also considered pure and not najis.

Furthermore, the National Fatwa Muzakarah Committee for Religious Affairs Malaysia (Muzakarah Committee, MKI) has decided that the ruling on eating swallow’s nest is permissible. [10] Therefore, the same law applies to swiftlet nests, especially since it is very beneficial and nutritious for human health.

Conclusion

According to the above discussion, in our opinion, it is permissible to eat a swiftlet’s nest. It is in line with the National Fatwa Muzakarah’s decision. Especially when it has been proven through scientific research that they are very nutritious and beneficial for human health.

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

Wallahu a’lam.

[1] Surah al-Mulk: 19

[2] See Tafsir al-Sa‘di, 1/877.

[3] See https://ms.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burung_Walit. Accessed on 19 January 2022.

[4] Refer to the report by Ahmad Wazir Aiman Mohd Abdul Wahab (reviewed by Dr Joseph Tan). See https://hellodoktor.com/pemakanan/fakta-nutrisi/sarang-burung-kesihatan-anda/. Accessed on 19 January 2022.

[5] A carcass is an animal that dies without being slaughtered according to shari’ah or in other words, it is slaughtered not in accordance with the requirements of shari’ah which must meet the conditions for the slaughterer, slaughtered animals and slaughtering equipment. (See al-Taqrirat al-Sadidah, pg. 126)

[6] See al-Taqrirat al-Sadidah, pg. 127

[7] See al-Mausu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, 40/85

[8] See al-Majmu‘ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 2/559

[9] Narrated by al-Tirmizi (2121), Ibn Majah (2712); Ahmad (17664)

[10] See http://e-smaf.islam.gov.my/e-smaf/index.php/main/mainv1/fatwa/pr/15283.

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