The consumption of lawful food is a very important issue for Muslims. There is a direct link between eating lawful foods and the ability of a person to worship Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala. In Surah Al- Mu’minoon, Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala commands the Messengers:
يا أَيُّهَا الرُّسُلُ كُلوا مِنَ الطَّيِّباتِ وَاعمَلوا صالِحًا ۖ إِنّي بِما تَعمَلونَ عَليمٌ.
“Oh Messengers, eat from the good things and act righteously” (Quran 23:51).
Mufti Shafi Usmani in Maariful Quran mentions “The word tayyibat means pure and good things. Since things which are forbidden under the Islamic laws are neither pure nor desirable for people who are gifted with a common sense, it follows that the word tayyibat refers only to the things which are permitted under the Islamic Shari'ah and which are not only good in appearance, but also pure in their intrinsic nature” (319).
This verse implies that all Prophets were ordered by Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala to do two things: to consume food which is pure and permissible under the Shari’ah, and to carry out good deeds. Considering that these injunctions have been addressed to the Prophets, who are our guides in all facets of life, it is vital that we as Muslims strive to implement their dietary practices as well.
Furthermore, the juxtaposition of these two commands suggests that the consumption of lawful foods has a significant effect on human actions. When a person consumes lawful food, it will result in the individual performing good deeds, as eating pure is associated with carrying out good actions. Consequently, consuming foods that are unlawful according to Shari’ah will result in a negative outcome on a person's worship.
Imam Al-Ghazali in his Minhaj Al-ʻAbidin states: It is necessary to abstain from unlawful and dubious things for three reasons:
1. To protect one’s self from Hellfire. The Holy Prophet ﷺ has said: “That (human) flesh is more deserving of Hellfire which has grown from unlawful food.”
2. The consumer of unlawful and doubtful things will not be given divine ability to perform good deeds in the manner that pleases Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala the most. Only a clean and pure slave of Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala can best serve Him. Imam Al-Ghazali deduces this conclusion from the verse of the Holy Quran:
وَلا جُنُبًا إِلّا عابِري سَبيلٍ حَتّىٰ تَغتَسِلوا
“A polluted man cannot enter the masjid without taking a bath unless he is a passer-by” (Quran 4:43).
The verse is proposing that a person in major impurity is not allowed to enter the masjid. How can it be fathomed that a man engrossed and contaminated with the filth of unlawful and doubtful things visit the masjid? How can he claim that he is serving Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala whereas the energy of his body is derived from unlawful sources?
3. The one who indulges in prohibited things will be debarred from doing good deeds. Despite a person performing good deeds, it will be rejected and hurled back to the person. There will be no reward in lieu of those good deeds, except hardship and time being lost. Supporting this is the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ stating: “How many there are who pass the night standing in prayer but do not gain anything from it but sleeplessness, and how many there are who fast but do not gain anything but hunger and thirst” (84-85).
To provide some context, Mu’adh Al-Razi illustrates this issue using an analogy where obedience is a treasure from the treasures of Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, and the key to unlocking it is supplication. Its ridges are lawful things. So how can the lock be opened with a key that has no ridges? None can access the treasure if the lock is not opened, i.e. good deeds are not possible without lawful sustenance (85).
Also, in a famous hadith the Prophet ﷺ gives an example of a person who has not adhered to the command of Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala to ensure his food source is halal:
“On the authority of Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Allah the Almighty is good and accepts only that which is good. And verily Allah has commanded the believers to do that which He has commanded the Messengers. So, the Almighty has said: “O (you) Messengers! Eat of the tayyibat [all kinds of halal (legal) foods], and perform righteous deeds.” [23:51] and the Almighty has said: “O you who believe! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you” (Quran 2:172).
Then he ﷺ mentioned [the case] of a man who has journeyed far; his hair is disheveled, his clothes are dusty; [in this sorry state] he spreads out his hands to the sky saying, “O Lord! O Lord!”, while his food is unlawful, his drink is haram, his clothing is haram, and he has been nourished with haram; so how can his supplication be answered?” (Hadith 10, 40 Hadith an-Nawawi)
In this hadith, this man is turning to Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala supplicating in a state of humbleness, and displaying his vulnerability. However, in spite of all this, there is something blocking his prayer from acceptance, and that is the unlawful foods and drinks that he consumes, and the unlawful clothes which he wears. This hadith teaches us that one whose food source and income is unlawful, his devotions will not be accepted no matter how much he humbles himself in front of God.
In short, as believers it is imperative that we step back and contemplate on what we are consuming. We should ask ourselves: are we fulfilling the requirements prescribed to us by our Sustainer? If not, we should consider what changes we can make in our lives to help us follow the Shari’ah. Not only does following the Shari’ah bring us closer to Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, it is also interconnected to one’s state of mind and actions. Like the famous saying, “you are what you eat,” food is a combination of body and spirit; thus, we should be conscious of what we consume. May Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala grant us pure sustenance and guide us to that which earns His Divine pleasure. Ameen.