Yet again: Unclean foods

Sam Shamoun

Not leaving well enough alone, Bassam Zawadi has once again decided to raise the issue of clean and unclean foods (1, 2). In the second article, he claims:

Leviticus 20:25

25 " 'You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile (shaqats) yourselves (nephesh) by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those which I have set apart as unclean for you.

The word shaqats means...

1) (Piel) to detest, make abominable, count filthy, make detestable

a) to detest

b) to make detestable


The word nephesh means...

1) soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion

a) that which breathes, the breathing substance or being, soul, the inner being of man

b) living being

c) living being (with life in the blood)

d) the man himself, self, person or individual

e) seat of the appetites

f) seat of emotions and passions

g) activity of mind

1) dubious

h) activity of the will

1) dubious

i) activity of the character

1) dubious


The most appropriate definition would seem to be soul.

So here we see that God is ordering not to eat certain unclean food because it can make someone's soul or self defiled. So unclean food could basically make someone spiritually unclean.


First, it is not correct that nephesh here is more properly translated as soul. Nephesh, as even the lexicon shows, can refer to the person himself, to the individual just as the following texts demonstrate:

"Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account." Genesis 12:13

It is obvious that Abraham wasn’t simply worried about his spirit, but about his person, that he didn’t want anyone to kill him.

"And the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.’" Genesis 14:21

Again, the king wasn’t simply asking that only the soul of an individual be given to him as opposed to the entire person.

"When any one brings a cereal offering as an offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour; he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense on it," Leviticus 2:1

The above reference is not saying that only disembodied Israelites are to bring offerings to God.

"Or if any one touches an unclean thing, whether the carcass of an unclean beast or a carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him, and he has become unclean, he shall be guilty." Leviticus 5:2

"You shall not make yourselves abominable with any swarming thing that swarms; and you shall not defile yourselves with them, lest you become unclean. For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls upon the earth." Leviticus 11:43-44

"the person who touches any such shall be unclean until the evening and shall not eat of the holy things unless he has bathed his body in water." Leviticus 22:6

God wasn’t saying that only spirits that touch anything unclean or eat of the holy things would be unclean and therefore guilty. Finally:

"Say to the people of Israel, When a man makes a special vow of persons to the LORD at your valuation, then your valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary." Leviticus 27:2-3

The Israelites weren’t vowing disembodied spirits to the service of the Lord!

Moreover, even if it did refer to one’s soul this still doesn’t prove Zawadi’s case, since it isn’t the food which defiles the person. Rather, it is disobedience to God’s prohibitions that causes defilement. In other words, the defilement occurs as a result of a person eating something which God prohibited, that it is the act of disobedience itself which pollutes an individual not the meats. After all, if it were the foods that actually polluted someone then this means that all the righteous believers from the time of Noah up until the advent of Moses were defiled since God allowed them to eat all foods with only one prohibition:

"And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it.’" Genesis 9:1-7

Speaking to Noah, God explicitly permitted all kinds of meats. This makes it highly probable that Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve sons of Israel etc., and even Moses and Aaron — up to the time when God gave the dietary laws in the Torah — consumed some kind of meat (e.g., pork, camel, etc.) which God would later prohibit. Did they all defile their souls and pollute their inner beings?

In fact, this means that Zawadi must accept that Muhammad was defiled, filthy, and polluted since he consumed meats which the Law of Moses prohibited:

Of the cattle are some for burden and some for meat: eat what Allah hath provided for you, and follow not the footsteps of Satan: for he is to you and avowed enemy. (Take) eight (head of cattle) in (four) pairs: of sheep a pair, and of goats a pair; say, hath He forbidden the two males, or the two females, or (the young) which the wombs of the two females enclose? Tell me with knowledge if ye are truthful: Of camels a pair, and of oxen a pair; say, hath He forbidden the two males, or the two females, or (the young) which the wombs of the two females enclose? - Were ye present when Allah ordered you such a thing? But who doth more wrong than one who invents a lie against Allah, to lead astray men without knowledge? For Allah guideth not people who do wrong. Say: 'I find not in the Message received by me by inspiration any (meat) forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it, unless it be dead meat, or blood poured forth, or the flesh of swine,- for it is an abomination - or, what is impious, (meat) on which a name has been invoked, other than Allah's'. But (even so), if a person is forced by necessity, without willful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits,- thy Lord is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. For those who followed the Jewish Law, We forbade every (animal) with undivided hoof, and We forbade them that fat of the ox and the sheep, except what adheres to their backs or their entrails, or is mixed up with a bone: this in recompense for their willful disobedience: for We are True (in Our ordinances). If they accuse thee of falsehood, say: "Your Lord is full of mercy all- embracing; but from people in guilt never will His wrath be turned back." S. 6:142-147

The sacrificial camels we have made for you as among the signs from Allah: in them is (much) good for you: then pronounce the name of Allah over them as they line up (for sacrifice): when they are down on their sides (after slaughter), eat ye thereof, and feed such as (beg not but) live in contentment, and such as beg with due humility: thus have We made animals subject to you, that ye may be grateful. S. 22:36

Muhammad made lawful what Yahweh had prohibited:

"And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Say to the people of Israel, These are the living things which you may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Nevertheless among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.’" Leviticus 11:1-4

"You shall not eat any abominable thing. These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the hart, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain-sheep. Every animal that parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two, and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cloven you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, are unclean for you." Deuteronomy 14:3-7

Thus, if Zawadi is to remain consistent he has to accept the fact that his prophet was defiled and unclean in God’s sight (which in fact he was, but for other reasons).

Amazingly, the Jews during Muhammad's time supposedly raised a similar objection against Muslims, that they were eating meats forbidden by God. They even claimed that such meats were prohibited even before Moses' time. The following Tafsir of Ibn Abbas (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn 'Abbs) on Sura 3:93 gives us Muhammad's response:

(All food was lawful unto the Children of Israel) all food that is lawful for Muhammad and his community today was lawful for the Children of Israel, the sons of Jacob, (save that which Israel) Jacob (forbade himself) by the way of vows, ((in days) before the Torah was revealed) before the revelation of the Torah to Moses, Jacob forbade himself the meat and milk of camels. When this verse was revealed, the Prophet (pbuh) asked the Jews: "What did Jacob forbid himself of food?" They said: "he did not forbid himself any type of food, and whatever is forbidden for us today, such as the meat of camels and other things, was already forbidden on all prophets, from Adam to Moses (pbut). It is only you who make such things lawful." And they claimed those things were also forbidden in the Torah. Hence Allah said to Muhammad (pbuh): (Say) to them: (Produce the Torah and read it (unto us)) where they are made forbidden (if ye are truthful) in your claim. But they failed to produce the Torah and knew they were liars since there was nothing in the Torah to substantiate their claim. (online source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Al-Jalalayn, on this same text, says that:

When the Jews said to the Prophet, 'You claim that you follow the creed of Abraham, but Abraham did not eat camel's meat nor drink its milk', the following was revealed: All food was lawful to the Children of Israel save what Israel, Jacob, forbade for himself, namely, camels: when he was afflicted with sciatica ('irq al-nasā), he made a vow that if he were cured he would not eat of it again, and so it was forbidden him; before the Torah was revealed, which was after the time of Abraham, AS IT WAS NOT UNLAWFUL IN HIS TIME, as they claimed. Say, to them, 'Bring the Torah now, and recite it, so that the truth of what you say may become clear, if you are truthful', in what you say; they were stupified and did not bring it [the Torah]. God, exalted be He, then said: (Tafsir Al-Jalalayn; online source; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

Zawadi continues:

However, Jesus says...

Mark 7:18

18"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean' (koinoo)?

The word koinoo means...

1) to make common

a) to make (Levitically) unclean, render unhallowed, defile, profane

b) to declare or count unclean


This is clearly talking about spiritual uncleanness because if you continue reading the rest of the passage...

Mark 7:20-23

20He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' "

So it is clearly talking about spiritual uncleanness.

Leviticus 20:25 shows that certain food could make a person spiritually unclean while Jesus says in Mark 7:18 that no food could make a person spiritually unclean. So who is right?


Since it isn’t the foods that defile a person, but the violation of God’s express prohibitions which does, there is therefore no problem with what Jesus said. Christ simply reiterated the point that foods in and of themselves do not defile people, and by so doing he ended up lifting the ban from certain meats. Thus, since the Lord Jesus has removed the ban on specific foods a person will no longer be defiled for eating them since he will not be violating God’s laws any longer.

But since Zawadi consistently ignores what we say, it seems that we need to point to his authority to convince him. The Quran claims that Jesus came to make lawful that which was unlawful to Israel:

"(I have come to you), to attest to the Law which was before me and to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you…" S. 3:50

The following exegesis of the above citation is taken from Mahmoud M. Ayoub's book, The Quran and Its Interpreters, Volume II, The House of Imran, State University of New York Press, Albany 1992. All bold and capital emphasis is ours:

"Tabari reports on the authority of Wahb bin Munabbih that ‘Jesus was a follower of the law of Moses. He observed the Sabbath and faced Jerusalem in prayer. He said to the Children of Israel, "I have not come to call you to disobey even one word of the Torah. I have come only to make lawful for you some of the things which were before unlawful and to relieve you of some of the hardships [which the Torah imposed on you]."’ Qatadah, according to Tabari, is said to have declared: ‘The [Law] with which Jesus came was much more lenient than that which Moses brought. The Law of Moses made unlawful for them to eat the flesh of camel, the fat covering the stomach of an animal, and some birds and fish’…

Ibn Kathir interprets the phrase ‘and will make lawful for you some of the things which were before unlawful’ as indicating that Jesus did indeed abrogate some of the precepts of the Torah. Nevertheless, he reports that some scholars have argued that Jesus did not abrogate anything, but only made lawful for the Children of Israel some of the things concerning which they had disagreed. Ibn Kathir, however, prefers the first view

Razi then raises the following question: ‘It may be argued that latter statement contradicts the one before it. This is because it clearly indicates that he came to make lawful some of the things which were unlawful in the Torah. This would mean that his legislation was contrary to that of the Torah, which would contradict his saying, "I shall confirm the Torah which was before me."’ Razi, however, holds that ‘there is actually no contradiction between the two statements because confirming the Torah can only signify the belief that all that is in it is true and right. If, moreover, the second purpose [of Jesus' apostleship] is not mentioned in the Torah, his making lawful some of the things which are unlawful in it would not contradict his having confirmed the Torah. Furthermore, since the Torah contains prophesies concerning the coming of Jesus, then neither his coming nor HIS LAW would be contrary to the Torah.’

Razi then reports the different views concerning what Jesus made lawful for the Children of Israel. He mentions that Wahb b. Munabbih interpreted this statement as first referring to the rabbis ‘who had invented some false laws which they ascribed to Moses. But when Jesus came, he abolished these laws, and thus matters reverted to what they were during the time of Moses.’ Razi also attributed to Wahb the view that ‘God had made some things unlawful for the Jews as a punishment for the transgressions which they had committed, as God says, "because of the wrongdoing which the Jews committed, We made unlawful some of the good things which were before lawful for them" (Q. 4:160). This prohibition remained until Jesus came and lifted these restrictions from them.’ Razi gives by way of example what Jesus altered in the laws of the Torah, his substituting Sunday for the Sabbath as a day of rest

Qummi briefly comments that the things which Jesus made lawful for the Children of Israel included work on the Sabbath, and eating such fats and birds which were before unlawful…" (pp. 149-150)


"… Qutb says: ‘The Torah was, like the Gospel, the scripture of Jesus, that is, the foundation of the religion which he came. The Gospel is intended to COMPLETE AND REVIVE THE SPIRIT OF THE TORAH and the spirit of faith which was obscured in the hearts of the Children of Israel. The Torah is the foundation of the religion of Christ and contains the law (shari'ah) on which the social order is based. The Gospel makes only slight modifications in the Torah, but it is a breath and renewal of the spirit of religion. It acts as a source of discipline for human conscience by bringing it into direct contact with God…’

… ‘By Saying, "I shall confirm the Torah that was sent before me" Jesus discloses the nature of true Christianity.’ Qutb argues that the Torah was essential to the message of Jesus, but his message introduced certain minor modifications to it. Jesus made lawful some of the things which God had made unlawful as punishment of the Children of Israel for their sins. ‘Then God wished to show mercy towards them through Christ.’" (pp. 152-153)


"… He [Razi] then presents another possible reason: ‘The Jews knew that Jesus was the messiah who was announced in the Torah, and that he was to ABROGATE their religion…’" (p. 160)

And here, also, is the English translation of the Tafsir of Ibn Abbas:

(And (I come) confirming) and I have come confirming Allah's divine Oneness in the Religion (that which was before me of the Torah) and all other Scriptures, (and to make lawful) to give you legal dispensation regarding (some of that which was forbidden unto you) such as the meat of camels, the fat of bovines and sheep, the Sabbath, and other things. (I come unto you with a sign) with a token (from your Lord, so keep your duty to Allah) so fear Allah in that which He has commanded you with and repent to Him (and obey me) and follow my command and Religion; (online source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says:

Likewise, I have come to you, confirming that which was before me of the Torah, and to make lawful for you some of that which was forbidden to you, in it. Thus he made lawful for them fish and birds which had no spikes; it is also said that he made it all lawful for them, so that ba'd, 'some', means, kull, 'all'). I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, He has repeated it for emphasis and to expand upon it: so fear God, and obey me, in what I command you of affirming God's Oneness and being obedient to Him. (online source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Please note that we cited the Quran solely because it has authority for Zawadi alone. We do not appeal to it to prove our point, but simply to put Zawadi in the same predicament which he tries to place the Bible writers in. Hence, in light of the foregoing, we want to challenge Zawadi to reconcile what the Quran teaches about Christ making lawful certain aspects of the Torah with his gross distortion and misinterpretation of Leviticus 20:25 that eating certain foods makes a person spiritually unclean. Is he saying that Allah sent Isa to make people spiritually unclean and polluted?

Important Note: In order to better understand the responsibility given to Jewish believers in Jesus to maintain and uphold specific aspects of the Law of Moses, in contrast to their Gentile brethren, we recommend the following articles:

Rebuttals to Answering-Christianity
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page