Do You Like Cheese?
Cheese is great. So if you are a fan of cheese you might be asking yourself the question, is cheese made by non-Muslims allowed or not?
Well if it is cheese made from vegetarian rennet then there is no concern but the issue is with cheese made from natural rennet. Rennet is extracted from the stomachs of calves and contains enzymes that are used in the cheese making process. Bellow are quotes from scholars of the four schools:
Al Mabsoot, a Hannafi reference, states: “Cheese is halal even if it is made by Zoroastrians (polytheists of Persia who used to worship fire) because it is narrated that a servant of Salman al Farisi, when he was a governor of al Mada’in, brought him a basket full of cheese along with some bread and a knife. Salman (ra) would cut pieces of the cheese and hand it out to his companions and would explain to them how cheese is made.”
The Maliki book, Manh al Jaleel says that “Imam Malik disliked cheese because it was made by rennet of animals that are not slaughtered according to Sharia rules (maitah).” The author quotes another Maliki scholar, Abu Ishaaq al Tunusi as saying that “the cheese of the Zoroastrians is definitely haram but the cheese of the people of the book is halal.”
In Sharh al Bahja, a Shafi’I reference, cheese is allowed as long as the rennet is obtained from a properly slaughtered halal animal that is only feeding on milk otherwise the contents of its stomach are najis (impure).
Kashaaf al Qinaa’ in Hanbali fiqh states that the cheese of the Zoroastrians and other polytheists is allowed even if it is made from rennet of animals they slaughtered. Which means that the cheese made by the People of the Book is also allowed.
By far the most detailed in his discussion of the topic is Ibn Taymiyyah. He talks about it in the fatawa v4-p396, v5-p29, and v9-p218, 240 and 241.
He states that there are two opinions regarding the cheese of the animal that is not slaughtered according to sharia rules. According to Imam Abu Hanifa and one narration from Imam Ahmad it is halal (keep in mind that we are talking about the rennet and not the meat of the animal). The other opinion is that it is najis and that is according to Imam Malik, al Shafi’i, and the other narration from Imam Ahmad. The stronger opinion is that it is halal because when the Sahaba opened the land of Iraq they ate from the cheese of the Zoroastrians and this was common among them.
Ibn Taymiyyah was further asked about the cheese imported from the Ifranj. The Ifranj is Arabic of ‘the Franks’ and this was the name given to the people of Western Europe. Since the largest group among the early crusading armies where the French, the Arabs called all the peoples of Western Europe Ifranj.
The summary of Ibn Taymiyyah’s answer is that the reason some say their cheese is haram is because when they ship it by sea they seal it with lard and secondly because they do not slaughter their cows but they kill them by striking their heads. He responds to the first concern by saying that sealing the cheese with lard does not make it all impure but only the parts that touch the lard. If that part is removed the rest is halal. Rasulullah was asked about a rat that falls into butter and dies. He said remove the rat and the butter around it and eat the rest. If a rat does not contaminate the butter it falls into, how can we claim that all the cheese becomes impure when the lard is only on its surface?
His response to the second concern is that it is reported that they do not kill all their animals by striking the head but they only do that with cows, and even then, they would still slaughter the cow after it falls down and this does not make the animal haram. And even if we would consider this animal to be haram there are two opinions concerning the rennet extracted from it.
In conclusion it is the opinion of Ibn Taymiyyah that cheese is halal not only if it is made by the People of the Book but even if it is made by polytheists.
Obviously these quotations from the scholars are on cheese per se and do not take into account the economical boycott considerations that Muslims may have against certain nations.
Some of our historians mention that a barbaric polytheistic people would raid al Andalus every now and then. These where from the Scandinavian states. They were Danish, Swedish or Norwegian. They were men of the sea and would attack the Muslim coastal areas of the Iberian peninsula and kill and pillage before disappearing again into the seas. They once reached all the way up to Seville but where driven out back to the sea after a total stay of around forty days. Some of them stayed behind in al Andalus in a place called Shuraish and became Muslim and lived on raising cows. Since they were experts in dairy products, the cheese of Shuraish became famous and they would make a pastry from it called mujabinaat. Apparently this treat was so good there was a famous saying in al Andalus that “whoever visits Shuraish and does not have mujabinaat is deprived.” There are even lines of poetry talking about mujabinaat. Talk about fans of cheese!