Fishy Reasoning: Hanafi Position on Seafood

I begin by praising Allah who created the salty seas, the roaring rivers, and the lustering lakes, then fashioned fish to flourish them, ships to sail them, and people to purpose them. I praise Him for His creation, and I thank Him for His guidance.

From the guidance given to us by Allah in His law is what to eat and how to eat. No one understands us better than He does, and no one is better positioned to tell us what to eat than He is.

From His wisdom is that He diversified the fish of the sea and diversified the opinions of mankind so that we may find reward in striving to find the correct opinion.

Of the differences of opinion that exists in seafood is the disagreement between the Hanafis and the other schools of thought on what seafood is allowed. The Hanafis say only fish is allowed and all other seafood is forbidden. The Malikis, Shafi’is, and Hanbalis say all seafood is allowed even beyond fish, notwithstanding some exceptions between them on specific sea creatures.

The opinion of the majority is based on two key pieces of evidence. They quote the verse of the Quran:

Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food as provision for you and the travelers, but forbidden to you is game from the land as long as you are in the state of ihram. And fear Allah to whom you will be gathered. 

Quran 5:96

They say “Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food” is a general statement which allows anything taken from the water.

They also quote the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) about the sea:

Its water is pure and its dead meat is permissible.

Malik, Abi Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Nasai, Ahmad

That is the reasoning of the side that allows all seafood.

This article will analyze the reasoning of the Hanafi view on seafood by first attempting to reconstruct the reasoning of Abu Hanifah and his students then the later justifications by the Hanafi jurists.

The Hanafi view is that all seafood is forbidden except fish, but fish that died in the sea naturally and floated to the top is also forbidden. This article will not discuss much about fish that die naturally in fear that the article becomes too long. So, the basic view the article analyzes is all seafood is forbidden except fish.

There are two main issues to consider:

  1. Reasoning: What exactly is the reason fish is allowed even though it is dead meat? Allah forbids dead meat (non-slaughtered meat) in general by saying ⟪Prohibited to you is dead meat⟫ (5:3)
  2. Response: How do they deal with the verse and hadith mentioned above?

The importance of the first question is that the reasoning one allows fish will affect whether one allows all seafood or not. The reasoning other scholars use to allow fish are the above two proofs, and that automatically makes them extend permissibility to all seafood since the two proofs are both very general.

The Hanafis, on the other hand, cannot use those two proofs to allow fish since they would be forced to allow all seafood if they did. That is why it is interesting to figure out what reasoning the Hanafis had in allowing fish. It gives hints as to why they didn’t allow other seafood.

The importance of the second question is obvious. Whatever way they allowed fish without those two proofs, they need to somehow deal with the two proofs and respond to the view that uses them.


Firstly, understanding where a view comes from is not the same as endorsing the view. This article should not be construed as either support for the Hanafi view or opposition to it.

Secondly, justifications from the later scholars should not be projected onto the earlier ones even if one claims to follow the mazhab of the other. It is possible an earlier scholar held an opinion for some reason, then later scholars held to the same opinion due to their loyalty to the mazhab but produced entirely different reasons to support it.

This usually happens when the reasoning of the earlier scholar becomes obsolete or disregarded but the later scholars still wish to uphold the position itself.

The reasoning of the earlier scholars is more interesting simply because they did the ijtihad to arrive at the ruling and were not affected by confirmation bias.

Reasoning of Abu Hanifah and His Students

When talking about the Hanafi mazhab, who better to start with than the namesake Abu Hanifah himself?

Abu Hanifah (d. 150AH) had two major students relevant here: Abu Yusuf (d. 181AH) and Muhammad ash-Shaybani (d. 189AH). Both of these students mention Abu Hanifah prohibiting seafood other than fish in their works.

Abu Yusuf says in his work Ikhtilaf Abu Hanifah wa Ibn Abi Layla (Differences between Abu Hanifah and Abu Laylah):

And when a man gets something from the game of the sea other than fish, Abu Hanifah used to say, “There is no good in game of the sea other than fish,” and that (is the opinion) we take, and Ibn Abi Layla used to say, “There is no harm in any game of the sea at all.”

Ikhtilaf Abu Hanifah wa Ibn Abi Layla p. 137

Ibn Abi Layla was another major Kufan jurist contemporary to Abu Hanifah.

Ash-Shaybani says in his work Al-Asl:

I said (to Abu Hanifah): Do you then dislike anything in the sea or in the water other than fish?

He (Abu Hanifah) said: Yes, I dislike its consumption.

Al-Asl p. 372

He says in another passage:

I said (to Abu Hanifah): Do you then dislike whatever is in the sea of game other than fish?

He (Abu Hanifah) said: Yes.

I said: Then, do you allow the sale of what is sold from it?

He said: No.

I said: Why not when you allow the sale of beasts of prey?

He said: Because beasts of prey have a value and what you mentioned of the game of the sea other than fish has no value.

Al-Asl p. 415

Note that many scholars of the past shied away from the word “haram” and they used the word “makruh” or “disliked” to refer to things they thought were forbidden. It is reported that Abu Hanifah was asked, “When you say about something ‘I dislike it’, what is your view (on it)?”. He responded, “It is closer to prohibition.” So, when he says “I dislike,” it should be understood as prohibition.

This is why Hanafis have the concept of makruh tahrīmi. This terminology preserves the manner of the earlier scholars.

May Allah have mercy on Muhammad ash-Shaybani, he could have made my work in this article much easier if he just asked his teacher why he dislikes sea creatures other than fish. However, Ash-Shaybani does not ask, so only theory is left.

Perhaps there is a clue in Ash-Shaybani not asking. It indicates that the position was obvious or well-known enough Ash-Shaybani did not feel the need to ask why Abu Hanifah held it.

Perhaps it was the common opinion of Kufa. That would make a good theory if it were not for the fact that Ibn Abi Layla is also Kufan. It still remains possible however. Perhaps Ibn Abi Layla departed from the common Kufan view or it was a view of Abu Hanifah’s strand of jurists.

Although, there is no explicit explanation by Abu Hanifah, the Asl still gives clues about his reasoning in other conversations. Ash-Shaybani says:

I said: What do you think about a fish caught by a Zoroastrian and perhaps he mentioned Allah’s name or didn’t, can it be eaten?

He said: Yes, there’s no harm in it.

I said: Why?

He said: Because a fish’s slaughter is its taking, and a Zoroastrian and anyone else is the same in that. Because fish are not slaughtered

I said: What do you think about a man who hits a fish and breaks off a part and takes it, can he eat what he took from it?

He said: Yes, there’s no harm in it.

I said: Why?

He said: Because that is slaughter for it.

Al-Asl p. 369

The reasoning for allowing the fish caught by a non-Muslim Abu Hanifah gives is interesting: “a fish’s slaughter is its taking.” It matches with a report Ash-Shaybani mentions from Ali (RA) earlier in the same chapter:

It reached us from Ali ibn Abi Talib that he said: “The slaughtering of a fish and locust is its taking.”

Al-Asl p. 356

This report as you can see has no chain and one could be skeptical of its origins.

To support it, however, Musannaf Abdur-Razzaq (d. 211AH) has a similar report:

From Ibn Uyayna from Jafar ibn Muhammad (as-Sadiq) from his father (Muhammad ibn Hussain al-Baqir) that he said: (It was written) in the book of Ali “Locusts and fish are (already) slaughtered.”

Musannaf Abdur-Razzaq 8761

Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaibah (d. 235AH) also has a similar report with a different chain to Jafar as-Sadiq:

[…] From Jafar from his father that Ali said: “Locusts and fish are all slaughtered, except for that which dies in the sea—for that would be dead meat (maitah).”

Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaibah 19744

Everyone in the two chains is trustworthy, but both chains miss a person between Muhammad al-Baqir and Ali (RA). The first explicitly mentions that Muhammad al-Baqir saw it in writing rather than receiving it by narration.

This narration from Ali being the only one quoted by Ash-Shaybani about fish suggests that Abu Hanifah’s opinion traces back to it. Even if it is not authentic, they are related somehow because of the similarity of Abu Hanifah’s phrasing.

With all this in mind, the following two steps are what appear to be a viable hypothesis about the reasoning of Abu Hanifah.

Firstly, Allah says in the Quran:

Prohibited to you are dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah, and [those animals] killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a head-long fall or by the goring of horns, and those from which a wild animal has eaten, except what you [are able to] slaughter [before its death] […]

Quran 5:3

This verse forbids the consumption of any animal that is not slaughtered in the prescribed way. It is legally classified as “dead meat” (maitah).

There is nothing that explains to us a prescribed way of slaughtering animals from the sea other than fish like crabs or shellfish. All of them are thus dead meat and forbidden by the verse in general.

As for fish, Ali (RA) said about them, “The slaughter of fish is their taking.” Hence, fish are exempted from the general rule of dead meat because they are considered slaughtered rather than dead regardless of how they are taken.

It is also possible Abu Hanifah would use consensus of the Muslims or the Kufans here: The Muslims agree that fish are considered slaughtered (i.e. not dead meat) however found, but this reasoning is problematic as will be mentioned later.

So, fish are not included in the general rule of dead meat. The rest of seafood does not have an exemption reported to us which says they are slaughtered, hence they are dead meat and remain forbidden as the general verse entails.

Reasoning of At-Tahawi

Abu Ja’far at-Tahawi (d. 321AH) was one of the major early Hanafi jurists and is among the most famous Hanafi scholars even today. His Aqidah is well-known. He also wrote important books explaining ahadith from the Hanafi perspective.

His works do not explicitly mention the full reasoning of the Hanafi view, but there are some indications.

In Sharh Muskhil al-Āthār, he quotes the following hadith:

A doctor consulted the Prophet (ﷺ) about extracting medicine from a frog but he prohibited killing it.

Abu Dawud

Then, he comments:

This indicates the difference of the ruling [of frogs] and the ruling of fish, because there is no problem in killing fish. […] This indicates that anything in the sea other than fish is disliked to eat as opposed to fish which is allowed to eat. If someone says, “He only forbade killing frogs because it does tasbīh,” we would respond that fish also do tasbih. Allah says ⟪And there is not a thing except that it exalts [Allah] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting.⟫ (17:44) and this doesn’t prohibit its killing and eating or benefiting from it. So, this shows that frogs were forbidden from being killed for something else, and that is because it cannot be eaten. And anything that cannot be eaten, its killing is a waste and waste in this is harām.

Sharh Muskhil al-Āthār 5/33

However, Tahawi’s phrasing indicates that this is not the original reason but a supporting reason.

Reasoning of Abu Bakr al-Jassas

Abu Bakr al-Jassas (d. 370AH) was one of the major Hanafi jurists of the 4th century, although he was inclined to Mutazilism. He writes defending the Hanafi position in detail. By this time, however, it is apparent that the scholars have an established opinion, and their proofs are for defending against opposition rather than for deriving the rule originally. That does not mean reading their defense is not valuable, but it is important to know the difference between that and those who formed the position in the beginning.

Allah says:

He has only forbidden to you dead animals (maitah), blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

Quran 2:173

Jassas defines maitah as follows:

Maitah in the Sharia refers to a dead animal that was not slaughtered. Something can be maitah due to natural death without human cause, and it can also be maitah when there was a human action but that action done to it was not a proper method of slaughter.

Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas for 2:173

Then, he states why he believes fish is exempted from the general rule of maitah:

And exceptions for the maitah of fish and locusts from the general rule were narrated from the Prophet (SAW). Abdurrahman ibn Zaid ibn Aslam narrated from his father than Ibn Umar said: the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: ⟪Two kinds of maitah and two kinds of blood have been permitted to us. The two kinds of maitah are fish and locusts, and the two kinds of blood are the liver and spleen.⟫

And Amr ibn Dinar narrated from Jabir about the expedition of Khabat that ⟪The sea washed ashore for them a fish, and they ate from it for half a month. Then, when they returned, they informed the Prophet (SAW) and he said: “Do you have with you some of it so you could give me some of it to eat?”⟫

And there is no difference of opinion among the Muslims regarding the permissibility of fish, other than those that are floating, and regarding locusts.

Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas for 2:173

Jassas appeals to two pieces of evidence. First is the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) about the two dead meats being permitted to us. Second is the consensus of the Muslims regarding the permissibility of fish other than that which died and is floating in the water.

The Hanafi usūl as formulated by Jassas himself in his Fusūl fil-Usūl and repeated by later Hanafi scholars is that singular (āhād) narrations cannot give exceptions to general statements of the Quran. If the Quran says maitah is forbidden, then fish cannot be considered an exception using āhād ahadith according to this principle.

Jassas does mention in his book Fusūl that an established Sunnah is acceptable evidence to specify Quranic commands. So, he could argue the hadith is famous and accepted by all the scholars, hence it is acceptable evidence.

But, this argument fails because many scholars including Malik did not accept this hadith as evidence, which is why Malik did not allow dead locusts to be eaten. He required their slaughter. The hadith is not only āhād, it is actually weak because Abdurrahman ibn Zaid ibn Aslam is considered a weak narrator by many of the hadith scholars.

So, the hadith of two dead meats does not appear to be enough evidence to specify the general rule of the Quran according to Hanafi usūl.

The only evidence left then is the consensus Jassas mentioned. He said:

And there is no difference of opinion among the Muslims regarding the permissibility of fish, other than those that are floating, and regarding locusts.

Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas for 2:173

Jassas does mention in Fusūl that consensus (Ijmā) is enough evidence to give exceptions to the Quran. The issue with using consensus is that it requires Jassas to be extremely careful to allow only the meat of fish that there is consensus about.

He could not look at doubtful situations that have no consensus like “what if a non-Muslim catches a fish” and say the meat is allowed, but that is exactly what Abu Hanifah did as already quoted earlier in the article. Allowance of fish caught by non-Muslims is also the view accepted by the later Hanafi scholars including Jassas himself.

The problem this poses is that there is no consensus that fish caught by a non-Muslim is halal. There are reports in Musannaf ibn Abi Shaibah of people like Ali (RA), Atā, and Saīd ibn Jubayr considering it impermissible to eat fish caught by them. See the chapter on “Those who disliked the catch of Zoroastrians.” (Musannaf 4/241)

If the evidence allowing fish as an exception from dead meat were the consensus about it, then it should only apply to the fish caught by Muslims as that is the only area of consensus.

This is all to indicate that Jassas’s reasoning here and this principle of āhād narrations not specifying verses from the Quran does not appear to be Abu Hanifah’s reasoning and methodology in the issue of seafood.

Jassas tries to specify the verse with the hadith of two dead meats and with consensus, both of which seem to be inconsistent with his usūl. Abu Hanifah specifies the verse with what seems to be the statement of Ali (RA) or perhaps the widespread opinion of the scholars of Kufa following that statement.

An interesting question to ask is whether Abu Hanifah knew the hadith of two dead meats. Shaybani does not quote this hadith anywhere in his book. Additionally, the reasoning Abu Hanifah used in his answers to Shaybani indicates he either did not know the hadith or did not consider it viable evidence.

I said: What do you think about a man who hits a fish and breaks off a part and takes it, can he eat what he took from it?

He said: Yes, there’s no harm in it.

I said: Why?

He said: Because that is slaughter for it.

Al-Asl p. 369

Someone using the hadith of two dead meats as evidence to allow fish would say a broken part of a fish is halal because dead meat of fish is halal. But, Abu Hanifah says it is halal because “that is slaughter for it.” Fish being called “slaughtered” rather than dead meat is ubiquitous in Abu Hanifah’s conversations with Shaybani.

So, it seems his reason for allowing fish was not this hadith but the report of Ali (RA) or something similar that indicates fish are considered slaughtered, not permissible dead meat as the hadith would entail.

Reasoning of Abu Bakr Al-Kasānī

Abu Bakr ibn Mas’ūd al-Kasāni (d. 587AH) was a major figure in the Hanafi school, and his book Badāi’ was-Sanāi’ is an important work of the mazhab.

He presents most of the same arguments as Jassas, and the only novel reasoning (relative to Jassas) he mentions is appealing to the verse of khabāith (meaning: disgusting, evil, or impure things):

[And evidence for our view is] the verse ⟪and makes unlawful for them khabāith⟫(7:157) since frogs, crabs, snakes, etc. are from the khabāith. It is narrated that the Prophet (SAW) was asked about using frogs in medicine and he forbade killing frogs. That is a prohibition of eating them (as well). It is also narrated that, when he was asked about it, he said: ⟪It is one of the khabāith⟫.

Badāi’ was-Sanāi’ 5/35

The source of this last hadith saying frogs are from the khabāith is unclear.

His reasoning in other words is like saying, “Even if we granted that the verse of Maidah allows the game of the sea, sea creatures other than fish would still be prohibited because they are khabāith and Allah prohibited khabāith. Only fish is the good game of the sea.”

What criteria would make something part of the khabāith is unclear. It is possible he may argue something is part of the khabāith if the Arabs considered it khabīth. However, he does not provide evidence showing the Arabs considered crabs or other seafood part of the khabāith.

Dealing With ⟪Lawful to you is game of the sea⟫ (5:96)

Allah says:

Lawful to you is game of the sea and its food as provision for you and the travelers, but forbidden to you is game of the land as long as you are in the state of ihram. And fear Allah to whom you will be gathered. 

Quran 5:96

Ash-Shaybani does not directly mention or deal with this verse in his Asl. So, Abu Hanifah’s exact interpretation of the verse is unknown.

Jassas on the other hand offers an interpretation of this verse that fits the Hanafi view:

Those who allowed all creatures of the sea argued based on this statement of Allah ⟪Lawful to you is game of the sea⟫ which is about all of it since it hasn’t been specified to something. But there is no evidence in it for what they mention because Allah’s statement ⟪Lawful to you is game of the sea⟫ is only about the lawfulness of hunting what is in it for the muhrim (person in ihram) and there is no evidence in it for eating it.

Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas for 5:96

The crux of the difference is Jassas saying the verse means “Lawful to you is hunting of the sea” rather than “the game of the sea.”

He presents two main arguments from the verse itself to prefer this interpretation: context and literal meaning.

The evidence for that is that it is followed by Allah saying ⟪but forbidden to you is game of the land as long as you are in the state of ihram⟫. So, this sentence was said to explain the different rulings for hunting on the land and sea for the muhrim.

Additionally, the word الصَّيْدَ is a masdar (verbal noun) and it is a word that means hunting even though it sometimes applies to the game (hunted thing) itself. Don’t you see that you can say صِدْتُ صَيْدًا? Since it is a masdar that refers to hunting i.e. the action of the hunter, there is no evidence in it that eating is permissible even if it is sometimes used to refer to the game. But, that is majaz (figurative) since it is referring to the maf’ūl with the word for the fi’l itself. And referring to something with a word that isn’t for it is a metaphor.

Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas for 5:96

The issue in this interpretation of الصَّيْدَ is that there is an almost total agreement among the mufassirūn that الصَّيْدَ refers to the game, not the act of hunting, and that the phrase “its food” refers to either the meat that washes up on shore or to preserved, salted meat. See the Tafsir of Tabari.

Jassas himself mentions this a few paragraphs before:

⟪Lawful to you is صَيْد of the sea and its food⟫ It is narrated from Ibn Abbas, Zaid ibn Thabit, Saeed ibn Jubair, Saeed ibn Musayyib, Qatadah, and Suddi that they said: “Its صَيْد is what was hunted from it fresh with nets, etc.”

As for ⟪its food⟫, it is narrated from Abu Bakr, Umar, Ibn Abbas, and Qatadah that they said: “What it throws out dead.” It has also been narrated from Ibn Abbas, Saeed ibn Jubair, Saeed ibn Musayyib, Qatadah, and Mujahid that they said: “That which is preserved by salting.” The first opinion is more apparent because it would indicate the permissibility of two types of things: that which is hunted and that which was not hunted. As for salted food, it is already included in ⟪the صَيْد of the sea⟫

Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas for 5:96

Jassas does not answer this problem, but Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Quduri (d. 428AH) the author of the eponymous Mukhtasar Qudūri says in one of his books:

They argue using: Allah’s statement ⟪Lawful to you is صَيْد of the sea and its food as provision for you⟫. Ibn Abbas said: “صَيْد is what we hunt from it, and its food is its dead meat.” And Umar said: “صَيْد is what is hunted and its food is what it throws.”

The response is that الصيد is a masdar that means “hunting” and the action of hunting is permissible according to us. The difference is only about eating. It is possible to hunt something that isn’t eaten to benefit from it in another way. And a Sahabi moving a word away from its literal meaning to a metaphorical meaning does not force us to leave the literal without evidence.

At-Tajrīd by Qudūri 12/6367

Quduri presents another argument from the verse to support the Hanafi view:

Something that clarifies this is that Allah differentiates between صَيْد and “food.” If all of it was edible, it would all be food.

At-Tajrīd by Qudūri 12/6367

So, the interpretation of the verse they offer is ⟪Lawful for you is hunting of the sea⟫ with three possible reasons:

  1. The context, specifically the second part of the verse, uses the word صَيْد to mean hunting. This only helps if someone has the view the second part only means hunting and not all hunted food is prohibited for the muhrim.
  2. The word صَيْد literally means “hunting” and it being used for “the hunted” or “game” is metaphorical. Moving from the literal to the metaphorical requires evidence. This works if someone grants it is truly metaphorical when it is so common.
  3. Allah differentiates between hunting in the sea and food of the sea, which indicates that not everything hunted is food. This works if you don’t look at the Salaf’s view of this verse and grant that two things being mentioned side by side necessitates difference.

Jassas goes on to present other arguments for the Hanafi view not specific to the verse.

One argument he uses is that specific animals of the sea would not be forbidden if this verse generally allowed them all. He uses the example that Allah forbade the flesh of pigs, and dolphins (called pigs of the sea in Arabic) are included in that. He (following the example of Tahawi) also uses the example that the Prophet forbade killing frogs, saying the Prophet would not forbid it if all sea creatures were allowed. He says all sea creatures other than fish are like frogs since no one differentiated between the two.

It is unclear what he means by no one differentiated between them. It is also unclear why he believes specific sea creatures cannot be forbidden if this verse is general.

An argument Jassas presents without condoning it is:

And some of our companions (the Hanafi scholars) thought limiting the allowed to a specific number is evidence that everything other than that is prohibited. So, when he specified the two of them by mentioning them [in the hadith of two dead meats] and differentiated between the two of them and other dead meat, that indicates a difference in their status.

Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas for 5:96

He does not condone this argument because he thinks it is too similar to mafhūm mukhālafah.

Mafhūm mukhālafah is a concept used by other mazāhib which states that mentioning some things explicitly implies those not mentioned get the opposite ruling. An example is if someone says “Don’t take the cake from the fridge,” that implies he does not mind the listener taking other things from the fridge.

The Hanafis reject this type of evidence in general, but mafhūm mukhālafah in the case of numbers has a difference of opinion among them. For example, if a doctor says, “Do not eat three things for a month: eggs, meat, and bread,” that implies other things are fine to eat. Jassas does not approve of mafhūm mukhālafah even in numbers as he mentions in Fusūl although he acknowledges the difference of opinion about it among Hanafis.

Dealing With ⟪Its dead meat is permissible⟫

Jassas says, criticizing the authenticity of the hadith:

Some people provide an exception for the general verse prohibiting maitah with the evidence of the statement of Allah: ⟪Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food as provision for you⟫ (5:96) and from the statement of the Prophet (SAW) in the hadith of Safwan ibn Sulaim Az-Zuraqi from Saeed ibn Salamah from Mughirah ibn Abi Burdah from Abu Hurairah from the Prophet (SAW) that he said about the sea: ⟪Its water is pure and its dead meat is permissible.⟫

But, Saeed ibn Salamah is someone majhul whose trustworthiness is not known. And Yahya ibn Saeed al-Ansari differed in the chain and narrated it from Mughirah ibn Abdullah ibn Abi Burdah from his father from the Messenger of Allah (SAW). And a difference like this in chain means the hadith has idhtirab (confusion) and it is not possible to make exceptions to a binding verse with it.

And Ibn Ziyad ibn Abdullah al-Bukaai narrated saying: Sulaiman al-Amash narrated to us saying: our companions narrated to us from Ibn Abbas that he said: The Messenger of Allah said about the sea: ⟪Its game is slaughtered and its water is pure.⟫ And this is even weaker according to the people of narration than the first one.

And another hadith was narrated about it, and it is what Yahya ibn Ayyub narrated […] that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said about the sea: ⟪Its water is pure and its dead meat is permissible.⟫

And this as well cannot be used as evidence due to the unknown state of its narrators and the apparent of the Quran cannot be given exceptions with it.

Abdul-Baqi said: […] from Jabir ibn Abdullah from the Prophet (SAW) that he was asked about the sea and he said ⟪Its water is pure and its dead meat is permissible.⟫

Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas for 2:173

He claims the weakness and idhtirāb in the hadith means it cannot be used to give exceptions to a verse, even though he himself uses the hadith of two dead meats, which contains weakness, to give exceptions to the same verse.

He also presents an argument for why the hadith only refers to fish even if it were authentic:

[These reports] even if proven would be assumed to refer to what he explained in the hadith of ⟪Two dead meats are permissible for us⟫. That is shown by the fact that he (SAW) did not specify sea creatures. He only mentioned what died in it. The apparent of that would include both sea and land creatures when they die in it, and it is known he did not intend that. So, it is proven that he intended fish specifically rather than others.

Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas for 5:96

When Two Specific Generalities Conflict

The standard case is that one proof is general and another proof is about something specific.

For example, someone can say “Shirts are allowed” and then say “Red shirts are not allowed.” The red shirts are clearly a specific group from shirts in general. So, it is easy to say an exception was made for red shirts out of shirts in general.

The problem arises when two proofs are both general and specific in different ways.

A famous example is that the Prophet said, “Whoever forgets a Salah (i.e. obligatory Salah) then he should pray it when he remembers it,” and Allah says ⟪Establish prayer when you remember Me⟫. But, the Prophet also forbade praying at sunrise and sunset.

Can someone who forgot Fajr and remembered at sunrise pray it at sunrise?

This case is far more difficult. The first statement is specific in one way: it is about prayers that were forgotten then remembered rather than prayers in general. It is general in another way: it includes any time. The second statement is about prayers in general but specific to the certain times.

What should one infer from this?

Are all prayers banned completely at those times including if a person forgot an obligatory prayer and remembered it? If so, he would not be allowed to pray Fajr until after sunrise. This is the opinion the Hanafis take.

Or are prayers banned in general at sunset but one can pray an obligatory prayer if it was forgotten? Then, he should pray Fajr as soon as he remembers even if the sun is rising. This is the view the other mazāhib take.

It is tricky to deal with cases like that where there are two proofs, each general and specific in its own way. It ultimately comes down to the judgement of the mujtahid, and difference of opinion in this area is understandable.

As this article has shown, the approach of Abu Hanifah and the later Hanafis on seafood is quite different.

Abu Hanifah’s view that fish are considered slaughtered rather than dead meat leads to a situation of two specific generalities in the Quran.

One is Allah saying ⟪Forbidden for you is dead meat⟫, and the second is ⟪Lawful to you is the game of the sea⟫.

The first is specific to dead meat but general to the land and sea. The second is general to all meat (slaughtered and dead) but specific to the sea, the slaughtered meat of the sea being fish based on the report of Ali (RA).

Abu Hanifah thus seems to prefer the generality of the first verse, hence only allowing fish from the sea. His ijtihād is understandable.

However, the approach of the later Hanafis to consider fish among dead meat makes no sense and makes the situation clearly like one general proof and one specific exception. It is no longer understandable.

Now, the second verse ⟪Lawful to you is the game of the sea and its food⟫ is specific to dead meat, since even fish is dead meat according to them! Hence, this verse is a clean exception from the verse prohibiting dead meat.

However, it is understandable why they adopted this view rather than Abu Hannifah’s: Abu Hanifah’s view means relying on a report of a Sahabi while their view is at least based on a hadith albeit disputed in authenticity.


This article hopefully sheds light on why seafood other than fish is forbidden in the Hanafi school and shows how the justifications evolved as the school progressed.

Jassas appears to be the earliest source of justifications that dominated the school later on. As for Abu Hanifah and his students, they seem to have different reasoning for their view.

So, while the ruling remained the same due to their loyalty to the school, the justification and reasoning changed.

The justification changed due to the different methodology of the later scholars, but their difficulty in justifying the Hanafi view based on this methodology indicates that Abu Hanifah’s methodology was not the same. They were ultimately trying to justify an opinion with a methodology that the opinion was not made out of.

I end by praising Allah for giving us giants whose shoulders we can stand upon, and I pray he forgives our mistakes.

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