Don’t Just Say ‘Bismillah’ and Eat!

By: Mustafa Umar

One of the common phrases you hear some Muslims utter nowadays when it comes to the issue of lawful/prohibited meat is: “just say bismillah and eat.” While this statement, on the surface, may seem innocent, it’s usually otherwise.

This statement is a direct quote of Prophet Muhammad who said these exact words to his Companions. However, the problem lies in the fact that it is usually quoted out of context. When an Islamophobe reminds his choir that the Qur’an says “kill them wherever you find them”, he is guilty on two accounts. One, he didn’t identify who ‘them’ refers to. Two, he stripped the verse out of its context which referred to retaliation rather than initiation.

The Muslim who urges his friend to say bismillah and eat is guilty of the exact same two charges. He has not indicated what type of meat the Prophet was referring to and the context of the incident has been stripped away.

To resolve these two issues, we merely need to look at the narration [hadīth]:

عن عائشة رضي الله عنها أن قوما قالوا للنبي صلى الله عليه و سلم إن قوما يأتوننا باللحم لا ندري أذكر اسم الله عليه أم لا ؟ فقال ( سموا عليه أنتم وكلوه ) . قالت وكانوا حديثي عهد بالكفر

“Ā’ishah said that a group of people told the Messenger of Allah: ‘Some people come to us with meat and we don’t know whether they mentioned the name of Allah over it or not.’ He said: ‘You mention the name of Allah over it and eat.’ She [Āishah] said: They had recently become Muslim.”[1]

Two main points are made clear when looking at the text of the narration as a whole:

  1. There is doubt about whether or not this animal met the Islamic guidelines or not. However, there is no certainty that it was slaughtered incorrectly. This means that the Prophet is telling the people to cast aside that doubt and assume that the meat is fine.
  2. The people who brought the meat were Muslim, although recent converts.

However, many Muslims overlook [or ignore] the context and give two meanings to this narration which do not exist:

  1. The belief that saying the name of Allah over the meat, after it had already been slaughtered, somehow has the power to make the meat permissible. This would mean that if someone found a dead animal that fell off of a cliff [which is prohibited for consumption] could say ‘bismillah’ before eating it, and it would be fine. There is no basis for this and it is a common misunderstanding of the Prophet’s statement.
  2. People who quote this narration do so in regard to meat that comes from non-Muslim sources. Many are led to believe the Prophet was telling the people that regardless of where the meat comes from, you can apply the previous principle. This is far from the truth. The only reason the Prophet gave this group of people the benefit of the doubt is because they were Muslim. Had they been fire worshippers, no benefit of the doubt would be given, and he would have told Ā’ishah not to eat it.

As conscious Muslims, we must change our attitude towards quoting our own religious sources out of context to satisfy our own desires. Remember, the next time someone tells you to ‘say bismillah and eat’, remind them of the context before applying that rule to your meal.

[1] Bukhārī.

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