What is the ruling for eating insects?
I am a Canadian Muslim and the Food and agriculture organization [FAO] in the USA confirmed that many insects have nutritional value, are edible and fight malnutrition. For instance, in the United States, there are biscuits made from white ants. Is it permissible to eat insects? Is thislawful? Whatarethe insects which are impermissible for consumption?
Scholars have differed on the ruling for eating insects. A group of scholars, such as the Hanafis, maintained their prohibition; Malikis deemed them permissible; and other scholars deemed them disliked. Shaf’i and Hanbali scholars prohibited the consumption of certain insects and permitted the consumption of others.
Ibn Rushd wrote in Bidayat Al-Mujtahid (vol.3, p.22),[The reason for this controversy is that scholars differed over the definition of the word ‘khaba`ith’ (what is bad and impure) as mentioned in the Qur`anic verse, “And prohibits for them what is bad (and impure)” [7: 157]. The scholars who maintained that the impermissibility is restricted to only those matters which are explicitly cited in primary texts do not prohibit what human nature finds repulsive or impure because they are not prohibited by a legal text. Those scholars who deem khaba`ith as what humans find repulsive consider insects prohibited.
Maliki scholars permit the consumption of insects provided they are slaughtered. According to them, an insect is slaughtered by any means that leads to its death.
Ibn Rushd said in Al-Bayan wa At-Tahseel (vol.3, p.306): "Scholars debated over eating locusts. Some maintained that it is not necessary to slaughter them before consumption and it is permissible to eat them if they are found dead. Others maintained that it is obligatory to slaughter locusts before eating them. Locusts are slaughtered by any means that causes their immediate death such as cutting off their heads, striking them with needles or thorns, throwing them in fire or hot water and the like.
However they differed over methods that do not cause immediate death such as cutting off their legs, wings or throwing them into cold water and the like. Sahnun, the Maliki scholar, and others did not maintain the necessity of their ritual slaughter. Ibn Habib, on the other hand, said that capturing locusts is tantamount to slaughtering them. They may be eaten if they die without any manner of slaughter.”
The Maliki Ibn Hajib said in Jami’ al-Umahat, “Vermin are edible and are slaughtered in the same manner as locusts.And if they fall into a pot, it would be permissible to eat from it. It is [likewise] permissible to eat worms found in food.”
In Ash-Sharh Al-Kabeer (vol.2, p.115), the luminary Abu al-Barakat Ahmed al-Dardir gave examples of insects permissible for human consumption. He said, "It is permissible to eat scorpions, beetles, cockroaches, grasshoppers, ants, worms, mites and ticks. All these are burrowing insects which find their way to the surface of the earth and return to it by digging their way back. Also permissible for human consumption are geckos, lizards, and sandfish which are considered filth when dead and only become pure through slaughtering.”
Through their medical heritage, past Muslim jurists realized the curative benefits of some insects such as ants. They have therefore permitted their sale and use for medical reasons. Imam Al-Rafi’i stated in Fat-h Al-Azeez(vol.8, p.119) and imam al-Nawawy in Al-Rawda (vol.3, p.353) said that Abu Al-Hassan al-‘Abady maintained the permissibility of selling ants in ‘Askar Makram, the famous city in Khurasan because they are used to treat diabetes. They are also permissible in Nasibeen for treating the bite of flying scorpions.
After citing some of the benefits of ants found in classical books of medicine, the Shafi’i scholar and imam Al-Isnawy,wrote in Al-Muhamat(vol. 5, p. 42), “Certain drinks to which the fat of flying ants have been added are prepared to treat the bites of yellow scorpions. It is therefore permissible for sale in the two afore mentioned cities because of the large number of scorpions found in them.”
Based on the above, the matter is contingentupon scientific, medical, and pharmaceutical studies which prove either the benefit or harm of these insects. It is permissible to use the insects and consume the substances manufactured from them for medicinal reasonsifitis proventhat they treat diseases or malnutrition without producing any harmful side effects. Otherwise, they are forbidden.
Allah the Almighty knows best.