#451: Eating Bison

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. What is the ruling of eating bison? 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:

وَسَخَّرَ لَكُم مَّا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا مِّنْهُ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

“And He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth – all from Him. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [1]

This verse shows that Allah SWT has subjected everything in the heavens and on earth that consists of the sun, moon and stars as well as everything on earth that includes the animals (for food and land transportation), plants and crops, ships and others for your benefit. All of these blessings are a gift only from Allah and He granted these to you as His blessings and gifts. Hence, only to Him you should worship, and never associate anything with Him. Indeed, with everything that He has subjected for you are signs and evidences that prove His Oneness for those who contemplate on the verses of Allah SWT (signs of His greatness) as well as arguments and supports, then they learn and take lessons from them. [2]

Definition of Bison

According to the 4th Edition of Kamus Dewan, bison is a wild animal like a buffalo with short horns, a large front and a pointed back. It is found in North America. [3] Bison (genus Bison), also called buffalo or wisent, is either of the two species of grazing mammals such as cattle that make up the genus Bison of the family Bovidae. The American bison (B. bison), commonly known as the buffalo or plains buffalo, is native to North America. While the European bison (B. bonasus), or wisent, is native to Europe. However, the numbers of both species have decreased drastically due to hunting activities and now occupy small protected areas which are a small fraction of their area range.

American bison differ from cattle in several respects. It is larger and has a broad heavy head, which is carried low and cannot be raised to shoulder level. Bison also have a clear hump on the shoulders, and a heavy front, having 14 ribs instead of 13 as found on cattle. It also has coarse, dark brown hair. It grows very long on the head, neck, and shoulders and usually forms a beard on the chin. Rarely has a white bison ever been born; this remarkable specimen is highly revered – and even worshipped – by American Indians. Both sexes of bison have short, upward curved horns, whereas cow horns are smaller. Bison are large and strong animals. [4]

Bison are ruminants, which gives them the ability to ferment the plant in a specialized stomach before digesting it. Bison were once thought to eat only grass and sedges, but are now known to eat a wide variety of plants including woody plants and eudicot herbs. Throughout the year, bison choose plants in their diet based on the plants that have the highest protein or energy concentration at any given time and will definitely eat the same plant species throughout the year. Wisent is seen to prefer to graze on shrubs and low-hanging trees compared to the American bison, which prefers to graze on grass rather than shrubs and trees. [5]

Bison look similar to buffaloes. But in fact, there is a difference between the two. Among them:

  • The main physical differences between these animals are that bison are larger, heavier, and have larger heads than buffaloes. Bison also have large shoulder humps and thick fur coats that grow thick in the winter, especially around their heads and necks.
  • Buffaloes have large, clear horns that extend from the sides of their heads for a few feet and then curve upwards, but bison have shorter, thinner horns that grow directly from the top of their heads and are slightly curved.
  • Bison live in North America and a very small part of Eastern Europe where they are bred and released into the wild after extinction, in contrast to buffaloes that live in Africa and Asia and have larger numbers in the wild than bison.
  • For the most part, bison are longer, taller and heavier than buffaloes. African buffaloes are smaller in all three respects, although Asian buffaloes are actually heavier than both, weighing nearly 3000 pounds.
  • Thus, bison and buffalo are from two different species even though they are in the same large family, namely the cow family. [6]

The ruling of eating bison

Regarding this matter, there is an Islamic legal maxim that states that the original ruling – in terms of determining the halal status – for land animals are permissible to be eaten as long as there aren’t any evidences that prohibit them. Allah SWT states:

أُحِلَّتْ لَكُم بَهِيمَةُ الْأَنْعَامِ إِلَّا مَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ

“O you who have believed, fulfil [all] contracts. Lawful for you are the animals of grazing livestock except for that which is recited to you [in this Qur’an],” [7]

Furthermore, Syeikh Muhammad bin Soleh also stated that the original ruling of food is halal except if there is evidence that prohibits it. If there is doubt in oneself regarding any type of food, as to whether it is halal or haram, then, it is ruled as halal until there is clear evidence presented stating that it is prohibited. This is based on the statement of Allah SWT:

هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ لَكُم مَّا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا’

“It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth.” [8]

The above verse includes anything on this earth that consists of animals, plants, clothing and others. The same is stated in the statement of Allah SWT:

وَسَخَّرَ لَكُم مَّا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا مِّنْهُ

“And He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth – all from Him.” [9]

Likewise, in a narration from Abu Darda’, Rasullullah PBUH said:

ما أَحَلَّ اللهُ فِي كِتَابِهِ فَهُوَ حَلَالٌ، وَمَا حَرَّمَ فَهُوَ حَرَامٌ، وَمَا سَكَتَ عَنْهُ فَهُوَ عَفْوٌ

“Then God sent His Prophet and sent down His Book, marking some things lawful and others unlawful; so, what He made lawful is lawful, what He made unlawful is unlawful, and what He said nothing about is allowable.” [10]

Thus, the original ruling for all animals is halal until evidence of its prohibition is presented. [11]

Hence, in our opinion, bison meat is halal to be eaten. Especially, when bison isn’t categorized as a predator that hunts their prey for food such as lions, beavers and others. However, bison is a herbivore to only eats grass, shrubs and other similar plants.

Moreover, a bison is physically similar to a cow and is in the cow family. Hence, we can say that is included as a wild cow. Regarding wild cows, scholars have been cited to have reached an ijmak – that is an agreement – of its permissibility. This matter is stated in al-Mausu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah, every wild animal that doesn’t have incisors that it uses to hunt other animals as food and not from the creeping animals (hasyarat), such as antelope, wild cow, wild donkey and wild camels. These types of animals are halal according to the ijmak (agreement) of the Muslims for they are considered good food. [12]

Moreover, the author of al-Fiqh al-Manhaji stated that among the permissible animals to be eaten are farm animals (الأنعام), which are the camels, cows, sheep, goats, horses, wildebeest, wild donkeys, deer, rabbits and others, what is considered good by the Arabs are all certified halal by syarak. [13]

Furthermore, Ibn Qudamah also stated that all wild cows are permissible to be eaten regardless of their types such as deer, ibex (a type of desert goat), al-wa’l (a type of desert goat), oryx (a type of antelope) and others. Scholars have agreed that all of them are permissible to be eaten and no khilaf on this matter is known. [14] Additionally, Imam al-Nawawi also stated that al-Wa’l – is an animal that is included as a type of wild cow as mentioned by Ibn Qudamah – is halal to be eaten without any khilaf. [15]

Conclusion

According to the above arguments and discussions, in our opinion, bison meat is halal to be eaten. The reason is it is similar to farm animals such as cows and is under the cow family. Thus, it is a type of wild cow that is permissible to be eaten as stated by scholars.

Furthermore, it is not an animal that has incisors to hunt others for its food but included as herbivores who eat only grass, shrubs and other plants. Moreover, facts show that bison meat can be eaten as steak or grilled and cooked the same way as other red meat without fat. Due to its rich nutrient content., it is beneficial for one’s health and muscle mass, when eaten in moderation and as a part of a healthy diet. [16]

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

Wallahu a’lam.

 

[1] Surah al-Jathiyah: 13

[2] See al-Tafsir al-Muyassar, pg. 499.

[3] See https://prpm.dbp.gov.my/cari1?keyword=bison. Accessed on 8th February 2022.

[4] See https://www.britannica.com/animal/bison. Accessed on 9th February 2022.

[5] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bison. Accessed on 9th February 2022.

[6] See https://a-z-animals.com/blog/bison-vs-buffalo-5-key-differences/#:~:text=Bison%20are%20larger%2C%20heaver%2C%20and%20have%20thicker%20fur%20than%20buffalo.&text=The%20main%20physical%20differences%20between,around%20their%20head%20and%20neck. Accessed on 9th February 2022.

[7] Surah al-Ma’idah: 1

[8] Surah al-Baqarah: 29

[9] Surah al-Jathiyah: 13

[10] Narrated by al-Bazzar (4087); al-Tabarani in Musnad al-Syamiyyin (2102).

[11] See Fatawa Nur ‘ala al-Darb, 20/2.

[12] See al-Mausu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, 5/134.

[13] See al-Fiqh al-Manhaji, 3/68.

[14] See al-Mughni, 9/327.

[15] See al-Majmu‘ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 9/9.

[16]  See https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/bison-meat-nutrition#downsides.

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