#373: Eating Capybara

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. What is the ruling of eating capybara? 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 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]

This verse is for everyone, regardless of whether they are from amongst the believers or disbelievers, to eat from anything on this earth, which consists of grains, fruits and animals that are made permissible for them (to eat and benefit from), not by confiscating, stealing or a result of prohibited muamalat (trade) or prohibited matters. While toyyiban is not from bad (filthy or disgusting) matters such as carcass, blood, swine and others. This verse is evidence of the original ruling for something (to be eaten or benefitted from) is permissible. [2]

Definition of Capybara and its habitat

Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is the largest rodent of all rodents. It grows to a length of 1.2 meters and may weigh over 45 kilograms. He lives in eastern Panama and South America east of the Andes mountains. Capybara looks like a small pig or a large guinea pig. Its large body is covered with coarse hairs that are reddish-brown or grey on the top and yellowish-brown on the bottom. The head of this animal is large, its snout is bumpy and its tail is short. Her hind legs are a bit longer than her front legs. Her feet have swimming toes and can swim well. It grazes near lakes and rivers and plunges into rivers in case of danger. Some people call it a water pig. Capybara is a favourite food of jaguars, crocodiles and humans. [3]

Capybara is the only species of the Hydrochoeridae family. It looks similar to the cavy and guinea pig of the Caviidae family. [4] It belongs to the herbivorous animals that only eat plants to obtain all the nutrients it needs. The capybara’s diet is mostly grasses and aquatic plants. It also eats fruits and occasionally chews softwood bark. [5] In addition, the capybara can also be in the water – that is, diving – for up to 5 minutes at a time to hide from its enemies. [6]

Is capybara water swine?

Previous scholars discussed the rulings of capybara (خِنْزِيرُ الْمَاءِ) in their books. However, a question arises, is the discussed animal, water swine the same as the capybara known today? Kamaluddin al-Damiri cited in his book that Malik was once asked regarding water swine and he answered: “You’ve named it as water swine while the Arabs didn’t name it as such, for it isn’t known that there is swine in the sea and it is famously known as dolphins.” [7]

This statement when analyzed is strengthened and supported when Dr Muhammad al-Zuhaili included water swine as an aquatic animal that isn’t similar to normal fish and stated that it is halal and doesn’t require slaughtering just like other fishes. [8]

Thus, if the water swine meant by previous scholars is dolphins, then there isn’t any issue in touching or holding it, for it is included as a halal and pure marine animal. For further explanation regarding this matter, you can refer to our previous article titled: #320 Eating Dolphins. [9]

However, if the water swine meant here is the capybara that we know now, then capybara doesn’t originate from the same species and family of swine – that we know. The reason is it originates from the family Hydrochoeridae while swine is from the Suidae family. Hence, it is categorized as a pure animal and doesn’t follow the rulings of swine and its lineage. For further explanation on this, please refer to our article titled: #346 Touching Capybara. [10]

The ruling of eating capybara (water swine)

If the characteristic and habitat of the capybara is considered, it is closer to land animal compared to water animal. Regarding this matter, Syeikh al-Islam Zakaria al-Ansari cited the opinion of Imam al-Mawardi that set the dhawabit (guidelines) in determining the category of a certain animal when both the land and sea are gathered, which are:


مَا يَجْمَعُ مِنْ الْحَيَوَانِ بَيْنَ الْبَحْرِ وَالْبَرِّ إنْ كَانَ اسْتِقْرَارُهُ بِأَحَدِهِمَا أَغْلَبَ وَمَرْعَاهُ بِهِ أَكْثَرَ غَلَبَ عَلَيْهِ حُكْمُهُ

An animal that is gathered the sea and land (can live in both), if it can stay (continuously) alive in one of them usually and live there most of the time. Then, its ruling follows what is the usual for it.

Hence, any animal that couldn’t live except in water or when it is not in water then it can only live like a slaughtered animal, then it is permissible to be eaten, no matter what is the situation and it is considered a marine animal. Then, if the animal isn’t inclined towards any one of them (land or sea), then its ruling follows land animal according to a sahih opinion and it is impermissible to be eaten except after it is slaughtered if it is included as an animal that can be slaughtered. If not, then it is prohibited – to be eaten. [11]

Basically, the original ruling for land animals is that they are permissible to be eaten as long as there aren’t any evidences that prohibit it. Allah SWT states:

أُحِلَّتْ لَكُم بَهِيمَةُ الْأَنْعَامِ إِلَّا مَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ

“Lawful for you are the animals of grazing livestock except for that which is recited to you [in this Qur’an],” [12]

If the characteristics of capybara are considered, it is categorized as herbivore animals that only eat grass, aquatic plants and fruits. They aren’t wild animals that hunt other animals as their food. Likewise, naming it as swine doesn’t affect its ruling, for an Islamic legal maxim stated:

العِبْرَةُ بِحَقَائِقِ الأَشْيَاءِ لاَ بِأَسْمَائِهَا

“The ruling of something is in accordance with its reality and not its name.”

Furthermore, this matter is stated by Ibn Rusyd al-Hafid stated in his statement that Muslims have agreed on the prohibition of swine. The word swine includes all types of swine in its matter and not just share the name swine, however, in truth, it is not swine in its matter, for instance, water swine. [13]

Moreover, some locals also make capybara as their main food, especially in Venezuela. [14]

Capybara as a host of parasites

However, studies are showing that this capybara or Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris is a spreading agent of zoonotic pathogens, and carries diseases such as hemoparasites and gut parasites (causing colon cancer or intestinal disease in humans), host to amblyomma lice (cause of Brazilian fever, leptospirosis). In addition, a capybara can be an indirect cause of rabies virus transmission and Toxoplasma sp. Also, parasite-infected capybara will not show any symptoms or signs of pain. These parasites carried by capybara can be transmitted to other animals, especially pigs and cattle. One study has issued warnings and recommendations not to make any contact with these animals. [15]

Coming back to the question asked, we are inclined towards the opinion that states capybara is prohibited to be eaten because it is included as a harmful animal to the person who consumes it. Allah SWT states:

وَلَا تُلْقُوا بِأَيْدِيكُمْ إِلَى التَّهْلُكَةِ

“And spend in the way of Allah and do not throw [yourselves] with your [own] hands into destruction [by refraining].” [16]

The above verse means that you shouldn’t throw yourself towards destruction, but do anything that will lead towards safety. [17]

This matter is in line with the hadith of Prophet PBUH that instructs us to avoid any form of harm:

لاَ ضَرَرَ وَلاَ ضِرَارَ

“There is no injury nor return of injury.” [18]

Conclusion

According to the above discussion and arguments, in our opinion, the capybara is prohibited to be eaten because it is harmful to those who consume it. Islam is a religion that reminds its followers to always avoid harm. An Islamic legal maxim states:

وَالْأَصْلُ فِي الْمَضَارِّ الْحُرْمَةُ

“The original ruling of something that is harmful is prohibited.” [19]

Other than that, this matter is also in line with the commandment of Allah SWT which commanded us not only to choose halal but also food that is high quality.

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

Wallahu a’lam.

[1] Surah al-Baqarah: 168

[2] See Tafsir al-Sa‘di, 1/80

[3] See Ensiklopedia Dunia, Transl. DBP, 5/95.

[4] See Encyclopedia Britannicahttps://www.britannica.com/animal/capybara.

[5] See AZAnimalshttps://a-z-animals.com/animals/capybara/.

[6] See San Diego Zoo Animals & Plantshttps://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/capybara.

[7] See Hayah al-Hayawan al-Kubra, 2/429.

[8] See al-Mu‘tamad fi al-Fiqh al-Syafi‘i, 2/548.

[9] See https://maktabahalbakri.com/memakan-ikan-lumba-lumba/.

[10] See https://maktabahalbakri.com/346-menyentuh-babi-air/ Accessed on 21st January 2022.

[11] See Asna al-Matalib, 1/566.

[12] Surah al-Ma’idah: 1

[13] See Bidayah al-Mujtahid wa Nihayah al-Muqtasid, 1/10.

[14] See the article titled 5 Things to Know About the Capybara, the World’s Largest Rodenthttps://people.com/pets/5-things-to-know-about-the-capybara-the-worlds-largest-rodent/.

[15] See Journal of Wildlife Diseases, titled Health Evaluation And Survey Of Zoonotic Pathogens In Free-Ranging Capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) by Rosely Gioia-Di Chiacchio, Fabiola Eloisa Setim Prioste et al. https://www.jwildlifedis.org/doi/full/10.7589/2013-05-109.

[16] Surah al-Baqarah: 195

[17] See Zubdah al-Tafasir min Fath al-Qadir, og. 38.

[18] Narrated by Ibn Majah (2341)

[19] See Mafatih al-Ghaib, 15/381.

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