Can I eat cheese which was made from rennet that came from an animal?

Short Answer

Yes.

Reason for Asking the Question

Rennet can come from an improperly slaughtered cow or even from a pig. Since this rennet is impure, the questioner wants to know if the final cheese product produced with it is also impure and forbidden to eat.

Detailed Answer

Cheese is produced by using some rennet mixed with milk. Rennet is an enzyme produced in an animal’s stomach to help digest milk, and can come from a vegetable, synthetic, or animal source. Since the amount in the final cheese product is approximately less than 0.00003%, even if the rennet came from a pig or an improperly-slaughtered cow, it is overlooked and fine to eat the cheese, like a drop of urine/blood/wine in a lake. However, the rennet solution by itself (before mixed with cheese) contains about 1%, so it is impure if it comes from a pig and should not be sold by Muslims.

What the Scholars Said

Abū Hanīfah, Ahmad (the view chosen by Ibn Qudāmah), and Ibn Taymiyyah: Cheese containing rennet from improperly-slaughtered animals is allowed.

Shafī’ī and Mālik: Cheese containing rennet from improperly-slaughtered animals is not allowed.

Ibn Hazm: If a drop of wine were to fall into (a large quantity of) water, there is no effect (on the purity of that water), and the same applies for all other substances as well (Al-Muhallā, 7:422)

Ibn Taymiyyah: “As for the milk and rennet of dead animals, then there are two well-known opinions about this issue. The first of them is that it is pure, and this is the opinion of Abū Hanīfa and others, and one of the two opinion of Ahmad. The second opinion is that it is impure, and this is the opinion of Mālik, and Shāfi’ī, and the other opinion from Ahmad. Based on this difference of opinion, they then differed regarding cheese manufactured by the Zoroastrians, for the animals sacrificed by the Zoroastrians are considered impermissible [to eat] by the vast majority of scholars of the past and present, so much so that it is said that the Companions unanimously agreed on this ruling. Hence, if they made cheese – and cheese is made from rennet – then these two opinions will apply. But the stronger opinion is that their cheese is indeed permissible, and that the rennet and milk of dead animals is pure. The proof for this is when the Companions conquered Iraq, they ate the cheese of the Zoroastrians, and this was something common and well-known among them. As for what was narrated of the disapproval of some of them in this matter, there is a problem with it, since it is of the opinion of some of the people of Hijaz [i.e., Arabia]. The people of Iraq were more knowledgeable of this, since the Zoroastrians were in their land and not in the land of Hijaz. What makes this matter even clearer is that Salmān al-Farsi, who was the governor of ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb over al-Madā’in (in Iraq) and was active in calling the Zoroastrians to Islam, was asked about fat and cheese, to which he responded, ‘The halāl is what Allah has made permissible in His Book, and the ḥarām is what Allah has prohibited in His Book. Whatever He has remained silent about has been forgiven.’ Abū Dawūd also reported this as a prophetic hadīth. Of course, it is understood that he was not being asked about the cheese of the Muslims or Ahl al-Kitāb, for that is a clear-cut issue. Rather, the question was about the cheese manufactured by Zoroastrians. This shows that Salmān gave a fatwā for its permissibility…” (Majmū’ al-Fatāwā, 21:102-103)

‘Umar and his son ‘Abdullāh allowed the eating of cheese, without regards to their origin. ‘Umar is reported to have said, when asked about it, “Eat, for it is only milk or whey.” (Musannaf of ‘Abd al-Razzāq, #8787)

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal: He was asked about eating cheese, so he said, ‘It may be eaten from anyone,” meaning regardless of who made it. He was explicitly asked about the cheese made by the Zoroastrians, to which he responded, “I do not know; but the most authentic hadīth narrated in this regard is the hadīth of ‘Amr b. Sharahbīl, in which he said that ‘Umar was asked about cheese, and he was told that the rennet from dead animals is used, to which he said, ‘You say the bismillah yourself, and then eat.’ Imam Ahmad also said, “Isn’t most of the cheese we eat manufactured by the Zoroastrians?” (Al-Mughni, 13:352)

The European Council for Fatwa: Fatwa #34 states that any impure substance added to pure food items does not make the food impure if either: (a) the substance underwent a complete chemical change (istihāla), or (b) was totally used up and dissolved in the food item, such that its traces became negligible (istihlāk).

Advice

It is best to avoid cheese produced from porcine rennet and Muslim societies who have the ability should boycott such a process and insist on other forms of rennet to be used.

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Shaykh Mustafa Umar