Daily Archives: Saturday, 1 August, 2009

Is It Permissible to Eat a Mermaid?

Over on PZ Myers’s biology and atheism site, Pharyngula, PZ has posted a fatwa found on Islam Q&A that he thinks is pretty funny. I can’t tell when the question was originally asked and answered, but I found Arabic-language sites talking about this particular fatwa back in 2007.

Islam Q&A is new to me, but it looks like a pretty nice site. It’s posted in ten languages, and the ones I can read, English, Spanish, and Arabic, are very well done. PZ Myers’s site, like mine, is just in the one language.

Welcome to Islam Question & Answer! This site aims to provide intelligent, authoritative responses to anyones question about Islam, whether it be from a Muslim or a non-Muslim, and to help solve general and personal social problems. Responses are composed by Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, a known Islamic lecturer and author. Questions about any topic are welcome, such as theology, worship, human and business relations, or social and personal issues.

All questions and answers on this site have been prepared, approved, revised, edited, amended or annotated by Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid, the supervisor of this site.

Many of the questions asked here are the kinds of questions you might ask Miss Manners or Dear Abby. Some people seem to prefer to ask a religious authority rather than a secular one. I don’t know why, but it’s probably for the same reason that the US military still has chaplains.

Islam has no central hierarchy. This seems to throw a lot of people for a loop, even though Protestant Christianity also has no central hierarchy. I guess we want it to be easy, where in the case of Roman Catholics we can point to the Pope and say, “You guys are supposed to believe every word this guy says, and every Pope before him, too.”

Islamic scholars juridical decrees, or fatwas, are nonbinding. If you respect an Islamic scholar and want to honor his decisions, you can, and if you don’t, you don’t have to. Islam does not have priests, seeing priests as middlemen who presume to intervene between God and humanity.

This site, Islam Q&A, is one man’s views. It’s his site, he’s the religious scholar, and he consults existing religious writings to give his answers. If you go back far enough, religious texts and scientific texts are one, just like in the western world.

The fatwas on the site are numbered. These are not the sum total of all fatwas ever issued by all Muslim scholars. They’re his fatwas.

I only wish they were dated. But since they’re not: back in question/fatwa #1919, someone asks

What types of fish and seafood are permissible?

Sheikh al-Munajjid quotes from the Qur’an:

Hence all kinds of food from the sea are permissible, whether they are plants or animals, alive or dead. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Lawful to you is (the pursuit of) water-game and its use for food – for the benefit of yourselves and those who travel…” [al-Maa’idah 5:96].

Then he adds that some later scholars say you can’t eat frogs, crocodiles, and maybe sea snakes, otters, and turtles, and gives the reasons and citations. He doesn’t mention mer-folk.

Presumably years later, someone comes along and asks

Is there any such thing as a mermaid?

The answer is fatwa #103991. Notice he or she didn’t ask if it’s okay to eat mermaids. This question (“Do mermaids exist”) is probably asked several times a year at Yahoo! Answers, because it is exactly the kind of earnest, gullible question that gets asked there.

In fact, for fun I’ll post some mermaid-related questions from Yahoo! Answers:

i live on the oregon coast! and i saw a mermaid i was in a cave and it looked right at me in my eyes and jumped in the water and swam away!!!!!!!!!!

I really want to become a mermaid that you can choose your own mermaid tail color and your mermaid power. Is there a spell available for this option? Please write if you do.

I want to make up a very strong mermaid spell. It is kind-of hard. That’s why I need positive answers and positive help. All answers are acceptable but, negative answers.

Those were all on the first page of search results for “mermaid” on Yahoo! Answers. One is so recent that it is still an active question. One was posted in the Beauty & Style, Skin & Body section.

Sheikh al-Munajjid begins to answer the question:

A mermaid is a creature that lives in water and looks like a human. As to whether it really exists or it is a mythical being, that is subject to further discussion.

I hope no one takes these two sentences as evidence that Islam says mermaids exist. I think it’s pretty obvious that that is not what al-Munajjid is about to lead into. Unless this fatwa ends with, “And that’s why mermaids exist.” (Preview: it doesn’t).

Next he writes this:

It says in a footnote in al-Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah (5/129): From the modern academic resources that are available to us, it may be understood that the mermaid, which is called Sirène in French, is a mythical creature that is described in fairy tales as having an upper body like a woman and a lower half like a fish.

Mermaids are mentioned in a footnote in an Islamic encyclopedia. They are mentioned as being mythical.

al-Munajjid also writes:

Al-Dumayri said in Hayaat al-Haywaan al-Kubra: Mermaid: it resembles a human but it has a tail. Al-Qazweeni said: Someone brought one of them in our time. End quote.

al-Dumayri died in 808. His words indicate he believed in the existence of mermaids.

al-Qazweeni died in 1283. His words indicate that a contemporary of his claimed to have physical possession of a mermaid.

That’s all either man had to write on the subject.

Now it starts to get fun, and while I don’t know sheikh al-Munajjid’s reputation, I believe he is having fun with this answer. After all, the questioner didn’t even ask if it was permissible to eat mermaids.

Many of the fuqaha’ mentioned mermaids and differed on the ruling concerning them. Some of them said that they are permissible (to eat) because of the general meaning of the evidence which says that whatever is in the sea is permissible. This is the view of the Shaafa’is and Hanbalis, and is the view of most of the Maalikis and of Ibn Hazm and others. And some of them regarded it as haraam because it is not a kind of fish. This is the view of the Hanafis and of al-Layth ibn Sa’d.

Now here comes the word of an Islamic scholar who really seems to think mermaids exist and that a Muslim can eat them:

Ibn Hazm (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Muhalla (6/50): As for that which lives in the water and cannot live anywhere else, it is all halaal no matter what state it is in, whether it is caught alive and then dies, or it dies in the water and then floats or does not float, whether it was killed by a sea creature or a land animal. It is all halaal to eat, whether it is the pig of the sea (i.e., a dolphin), a mermaid, or a dog of the sea (i.e., shark) and so on. It is halaal to eat, whether it was killed by an idol-worshipper, a Muslim, a kitaabi (Jew or Christian) or it was not killed by anyone. The proof of that is the verses in which Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And the two seas (kinds of water) are not alike: this is palatable, sweet and pleasant to drink, and that is salt and bitter. And from them both you eat fresh tender meat (fish)” [Faatir 35:12] and “Lawful to you is (the pursuit of) water game and its use for food — for the benefit of yourselves and those who travel” [al-Maa’idah 5:64]. Allaah spoke in general terms and did not exclude anything, “and your Lord is never forgetful” [Maryam 19:64]. End quote.

Ibn-Hazm died in 1064. He was a Muslim Arab in Andalusian Spain, and he’s famous for his book of poetry, The Ring of the Dove, about the art of love.

In the Arabic, which Islam Q&A is kind enough to provide right there, Ibn-Hazm uses the terms “dog of the sea,” for sharks and “pig of the sea” for porpoises. “Dog of the sea,” is still in the Hans Wehr dictionary, and “pig of the sea” appears in the Arabic Wikipedia article on porpoises. I’m confident that Muslims didn’t think that porpoises were literally pigs that live in the sea. And I’m confident that medieval Romans didn’t, either. Let’s see if I can back that up:

The name derives from French pourpois, originally from Medieval Latin porcopiscus (porcus pig + piscus fish).

Oh my, look at this:

Until the 16th century,[3] sharks were known to mariners as “sea dogs”.[4] According to the OED the name “shark” first came into use after Sir John Hawkins’ sailors exhibited one in London in 1569 and used the word to refer to the large sharks of the Caribbean Sea, and later as a general term for all sharks.

The OED? That’s the Oxford English dictionary. How dare they make Christians look as silly as Muslims.

So when the medieval scholar Ibn-Hazm says “people of the sea,” (انسان الماء), is he really envisioning creatures who are human from the waist up and fish from the waist down? I don’t know. I tend to think his term “sea people” is analogous to “sea dog” and “sea pig.” Help me out, Wikipedia:

The word “dugong” derives from the Tagalog term dugong which was in turn adopted from the Malay duyung, both meaning “lady of the sea.”[14] Other common local names include “sea cow,” “sea pig” and “sea camel.”[8]

dugong range today

dugong range today

Dugongs inhabit the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the east coast of the African continent, etc. Arab sailors would have seen dugongs.

But so far I don’t have anything definitive to back me up on this. So maybe Ibn-Hazm believed in the Hans Christian Andersen genre of mermaids. al-Munajjid seems to be playing it this way. And I believe al-Munajjid is having fun with it.

He then quotes al-Durayr, who does not mention mermaids but says it okay to eat animals from the sea.

Then he quotes al-Saawi, who says that al-Durayr meant to include “sea people.”

Then he quotes al-Nawawi, who says nothing about mermaids, al-Mardawi, who says nothing about mermaids, and al-Kaasani, who says nothing about mermaids.

The penultimate authority mentioned, Ibn-‘Aabideen, does mention “sea people:”

Ibn ‘Aabideen – who was a Hanafi scholar – said in Radd al-Muhtaar (6/307): Anything other than fish and the like, such as mermaids and dolphins, is impure and remains prohibited.

This reads ambiguously to me. Is he saying mermaids are like fish and you can eat them, or that they’re not like fish and you can’t eat them? I think the Arabic is a little less ambigous:

وقال ابن عابدين – حنفي – في “رد المحتار” (6/307) : ” وما عدا أنواع السمك من نحو إنسان الماء وخنزيره خبيث فبقي داخلا تحت التحريم “.

In any case, the same issue remains. Did he mean literal mermaids, or did he mean dugongs?
Ibn ‘Aabideen died in 1836.

I found some Arabic-language sites discussing this exact fatwa back in 2007. Like this one, Mujahideen Ryder, “Not the average Muslim blog.” The blogger posts the entire fatwas from Islam Q&A with the preface:

Note: This is not mockery towards any scholar or any Muslim. Just read, laugh/smile and move on, inshaAllah!

In the comments to that blog post:

More questions:

– Is the feces of Godzilla considered najas?
– Is it permissible to wear dragon-skin belts?

It’s true (and useful!) for students of law to ask odd questions like that not so much as to really reach a conclusion, but to learn how to apply the rule to various fact patterns.

However, such an exercise, in my opinion, should be kept amongst those who understand the purpose of them and benefit from them. It might be fun for legal nerds to ponder this, but to pass out as a fatwa, especially when that’s not even what the asker had posed, is kind of off to me.

Very good. I guess if one is a werewolf it would be best to follow the Maliki madhab. Do you have to make ghusl after changing back into human form or is wudhu ok?

The blogger adds a comment:

Actually. I’m not making fun of it. This is halal comedy. I think the ulema probably wanted the readers to have a little laugh. I see nothing wrong in this. This proves the statement “there is no such thing as a stupid question”.

Truly, how many sites can boast of fatwa bases in so many languages. This is a case of ignoring the overwhelming good and focusing on the controversial. Not the best attitude you’d like to show your fellow Muslim, more so a scholar.

Good point. I think what bothers me about many of the commenters on PZ’s site is that they take for granted that Muslims are stupid, humorless, and gullible. I hope my blog post helps to dispel this notion.

Jazakl’Allah Khayr rrrrryder… i’ll keep that in mind next time i catch a mermaid.

It’s funny and should make everyone smile and laugh.

Well, I’m glad we got that cleared up. Who wants to come over for some mermaid biryani?

haha…to eat a mermaid!!!
I am laughing with you, MR. nice funny fatwa which should not offend anyone. I don’t think any mermaid reads your blog or not.

Just to add to this. This fatwa shows that the ulema of the present and past have a sense of humor and also a sense of knowledge about almost everything possible.


Since Ibn ‘Abidin said its not a fish – I can’t eat mermaids. Good to know, often I am hungry and think, is that mermaid over there edible or no?

What if the mermaid meets an evil Sea Witch who makes a deal with her to give her human form for a couple of days. While the mermaid is in her human form – u cant eat the mermaid then…. Im sure theres no ikhtilaf on this issue.

can we marry the mermaid?

and if we do, then divorce her, can we still eat her?

this is a very pressing question for me…

Probaly not. Either way Hanafis cant eat them since their not really considered fish. So on the bright side, I’d never accidentally eat the Sea King’s daughter but a Shafi’i might. But you know mermaids shouldn’t engage in magic – its really haram – basically kufr…

One of my friends, who is studying at AOU, mentioned to me once that there was one school of thought that focused a great deal on hypothetical situations because “what if” it really happened? In fact, long before space travel became reality, people wondered what direction to pray in if they weren’t on earth (i.e. if they were in space).

al-Munajjid, the fatwa writer, does not in fact end up with, “And that’s why mermaids exist.” He ends with, “And Allaah knows best.”

This whole edible mermaid fatwa reminds me of a funny thread on the Straight Dope Message Board way back in 2002, on the topic, “What would Jesus Drive.” My vote for best answers are:

A Honda. But he didn’t own it: “For I come not of my own Accord, but of my Father’s.”

— ResIpsaLoquitor


A Plymouth:
And God drove Adam and Eve out of Paradise in a fury.

— SlowMindThinking

plush feejee mermaids

plush feejee mermaids

UPDATE: Mermaid sighting in Israel expected to boost tourism.


Filed under animals, arab, arabian, arabic, arabist, beasts, Islamic relations, language, pedantry