#435: Eating Seal

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. What is the ruling of eating seals? Hope for an explanation. 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:

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.” [1]

Likewise, in another statement of Allah SWT:

يَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا أُحِلَّ لَهُمْ ۖ قُلْ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ

“They ask you, [O Muhammad], what has been made lawful for them. Say, “Lawful for you are [all] good foods,” [2]

The above verse shows that Allah ‘Azza wa Jalla generally permits us to eat all good food. Thus, anything that is good is permissible to be eaten, while all that is filthy and disgusting is prohibited to be eaten. The determination of whether it is good or disgusting food – if there isn’t any evidence regarding it – follows the natural consideration of the Arabs, for the Quran is revealed to them – that is in their language. [3]

Definition of seal

Seals are shiny smooth -looking marine mammals with tornado-shaped bodies. Seals are the best swimmers and spend a lot of time in the water. But she gave birth to a child on land. Most types of seals live in the ocean or the inland sea, but some types live in fresh water. Baikal seals, for example, live on Lake Baikal in Russia. Seals are abundant, especially in the polar seas, but they are less common in tropical seas.

Some types of seals have small heads, and short noses that make their faces appear “pushed in”. All seals have nostrils, which they close as they swim in the water. The seal has four legs, but the bones of the upper leg are embedded in the body. The part that extends outwards, including the tip of the foot, forms a large paddle-like fin leg. The front fin legs of fur seals and sea lions are longer and flatter than the fin legs of other species. Feather seals, sea lions, and walruses rotate their hind fin legs forward and down to help support their bodies on land. It runs using all four fin legs. The hind fin legs on earless seals extend straight backwards, the soles of the feet meeting the soles of the feet. This seal cannot rotate its fin legs forward. It moves on land or ice by contracting according to the rhythm of its strong abdominal muscles.

Seals feed on a variety of marine animals. Feather seals and sea lions eat mainly fish, squid, and port seals eat mainly fish and octopus. Crab-eating seals and striped seals eat mainly small shrimp. Elephant seals prefer small sharks and stingrays, which are caught in the deep sea, and leopard seals eat fish and sometimes eat penguins. Walrus eat clams. Seals have sharp, tapered teeth with which they grab and tear most of their predators. It cannot chew food because its teeth do not have a flat surface. It swallowed the small fish whole.

The main enemy of seals is the hunter. They hunted him for fur. After the fur is removed, the seal meat is sometimes frozen and sold as pet food. Some Eskimos and other Alaskans eat seal meat. The meat has a strong flavor that most people in other parts of the world don’t like. Seal blubbers are used for cooking or baking to get light and heat. The Eskimos also made hunting clothing from striped seal skin and used walrus skin to cover the wooden frames of their boats. They stretched the seals’ intestines and sewed the intestinal strips to make a raincoat. In the 1800s, so many seals were killed that only a few survived. Several countries quarrelled over how fur seals should be killed. In 1911, Canada, Japan, Russia and the United States signed an agreement to protect northern fur seals. That year, there were about 15000 northern fur seals in the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, which hosted the largest breeding herd in the world. [4]

Also, seals can stay out of the water for long periods, depending on the animal’s needs. It can be common for some species of seals to spend several days to a week at a time out of the water. [5] Seals sleep in the water as well as on land. In the water, they sleep floating in a standing position or floating horizontally on the surface. Because they are asleep and not actively swimming, they can be underwater longer than when hunting for food. There are known incidents where seals are underwater for up to half an hour, yet on average, they are underwater for no more than fifteen minutes. [6]

Aquatic animals

Aquatic animals are animals that cannot live except in water, regardless of whether it is salt water or fresh water, whether in the sea, rivers, lakes, well water or others. When it comes out of the water, its life is like a slaughtered animal or it can live but just for a short amount of time (on land). [7]

Generally, Dr Muhammad al-Zuhaili stated that aquatic animals are divided into two categories which are the fish species where their physical characteristics are well known. It is halal to be eaten, regardless of how it died and it isn’t necessary to slaughter it. This is based on the statement of Allah SWT:

أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ صَيْدُ الْبَحْرِ وَطَعَامُهُ مَتَاعًا لَّكُمْ وَلِلسَّيَّارَةِ

“Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food as provision for you and the travellers,” [8]

Likewise, there is a narration from Ibn Umar R.Anhuma, he said:

أُحِلَّت لَنا مَيتَتانِ ودَمانِ؛ الجَرادُ والحيتانُ، والكَبدُ والطِّحالُ

“Two types of animals which have died a natural death and two types of blood have been made allowable to us, the two which die a natural death being the fish and the locust, and the two types of blood being the liver and the spleen.” [9]

Second, aquatic animals that don’t have the same physical characteristics as fish, such as capybara and seal. Scholars have differing opinions on this category. [10] In this category, Imam al-Nawawi cited three famous opinions regarding this matter in his book and stated that the sahih opinion among scholars of madhhab al-Syafi’I and all of them said it is halal to be eaten for the word al-Samak “السَّمَك” – as stated in the hadith – refers to all aquatic animals. [11] It is also included in the statement of Allah SWT:

أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ صَيْدُ الْبَحْرِ وَطَعَامُهُ

“Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food as provision for you,” [12]

Likewise, there is a narration from Abu Hurairah RA, where Rasullullah PBUH said:

هُوَ الطَّهُورُ مَاؤُهُ، الحِلُّ مَيْتَتُهُ

“[Regarding the sea] “It’s water is purifying and its dead (animals) are lawful (to eat).” [13]

Animals Living Both in Water and On Land

In al-Mausu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah, it is stated, that scholars of madhhab Syafi’I are of the opinion that animals that live both in water and o land are prohibited to be eaten. The animals meant are animals that can live continuously both on land and in the sea (water), if there isn’t any comparable animal on land that is permissible to be eaten. Among the examples of these animals are, frogs, crabs, snakes, nasnas, crocodiles and turtles. The prohibition of animals that live both on land and in water is stated by al-Rafi’I and Imam al-Nawawi in his book al-Raudhah and this opinion is held by al-Ramli.

Imam al-Nawawi then corrected his opinion in the book al-Majmu’ that animals whose habitat [14] is in water then their carcass are halal even if they can live on land except for frogs. This is the opinion of al-Khatib and Ibn Hajar al-Haitami and he added an explanation for frogs – giving the reason – that it is poisonous. Thus, according to this opinion, crabs, snakes, nasnas, crocodiles and turtles, if all of their habitats are in the water, then their carcass is halal without considering that they can also live on land. However, if these animals’ habitat [15] is on land, then their carcass is prohibited to be eaten. [16]

In other words, there is a possibility there are other factors that lead to the prohibition for all of these animals that live in both water and on land, such as evidence that prohibits it, harmful to the consumer or others. This can be understood clearly through the statement from Dr Muhammad al-Zuhaili, who stated that frogs are prohibited to be eaten because there is evidence that commanded to kill it. While snakes and crabs are because they are both poisonous and they are considered disgusting. Furthermore, it is also prohibited to eat crocodiles, for it hunts with their incisors. [17]

Moreover, Syeikh al-Islam Zakaria al-Ansari also cited the opinion of Imam al-Mawardi that becomes the dhawabit (guideline) in determining the categories of an animal is when it can live on both land and in water, they are:

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

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. [18]

Moreover, Imam al-Syafi’I also stated that in determining the category of game animal, then look at whether the animal lives more on land or in water. This includes an animal in the category of animals that follow the rulings of aquatic animals that live in wells, swamps, freshwater, saltwater, shallow or deep water and others. [19]

Dr Soleh bin Fauzan al-Fauzan cited the opinion of scholars of madhhab Hanbali who state that all sea animals (aquatic animals) that can also live on land is not halal to be eaten except after it is slaughtered according to syarak such as aquatic birds, turtle and seals except animals that doesn’t have red blood such as crabs, for it is halal to be eaten without needing it to be slaughtered. [20]

Conclusion

According to the above arguments and discussion, in our opinion, seals are halal to be eaten because it is included as an aquatic animal. Especially when scholars of madhhab Syafi’e mentioned the seal as an example of an aquatic animal that doesn’t have the same physical characteristics as fish and it is halal to be eaten without needing to be slaughtered.

Its ability to live on land in certain situations doesn’t affect that it is classified as an aquatic animal for it lives mostly in water. Hence, it still follows the ruling of an aquatic animal where its carcass is halal and it doesn’t need to be slaughtered for it to be halal. However, according to scholars of madhhab Syafie, in their opinion, slaughtering an aquatic animal that can live for an extended time on land (which takes a long time to die) to hasten its death such as large fish is sunnah. [21] Thus, the same applies to seals that are stated that they can spend days up to a week at one time outside of water.

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

Wallahu a’lam.

[1] Surah al-An‘am: 145

[2] Surah Ma’idah: 4

[3] See https://aliftaa.jo/Research.aspx?ResearchId=16#_edn18.

[4] See Ensiklopedia Dunia, (Transl. DBP), 1/642-645.

[5] See https://www.ifaw.org/international/journal/faqs-about-seals#:~:text=How%20long%20can%20seals%20stay,time%2

[6] See https://www.ecomare.nl/en/in-depth/reading-material/animals/seals/.

[7] See Nihayah al-Muhtaj, 8/150; al-Mausu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, 5/127-128.

[8] Surah al-Ma’idah: 96.

[9] Riwayat al-Baihaqi (1211) and he stated in al-Sunan al-Kabir, the sanad of this hadith is sahih.

[10] See al-Mu‘tamad fi al-Fiqh al-Syafi‘i, 2/547-548.

[11] See al-Majmu‘ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 9/33-34.

[12] Surah al-Ma’idah: 96

[13] Riwayat Abu Daud (83); al-Tirmizi (69) and al-Nasa’i (59)

[14] It mostly lives in water

[15] It mostly lives on land

[16] See al-Mausu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, 5/130; Also see al-Majmu‘ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 9/32-33.

[17] See al-Mu‘tamad fi al-Fiqh al-Syafi‘i, 2/548-549.

[18] See Asna al-Matalib, 1/566.

[19] See al-Umm, 2/199; 2/230.

[20] See al-At‘imah wa Ahkam al-Said wa al-Zaba’ih, pg. 91.

[21] See al-Mausu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, 5/130; al-Majmu‘ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 9/72; Mughni al-Muhtaj, 6/99.

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