Judaism vs. Islam: The Real Reasons Behind the Prohibition of Pork

Judaism vs. Islam: The Real Reasons Behind the Prohibition of Pork March 17, 2023

Prohibition of pork
Prohibition of pork
Photo via CHUTTERSNAP / Unsplash

Many people love the taste of bacon or pork chops, but two of the world’s major religions abstain from eating any pig products. The prohibition of pork in Judaism and Islam is well-known to most people, though many don’t know exactly why. Though some pigs might be cute, they’re considered “unclean” according to religious dietary standards.

These two religions have more in common than you might think, including their dietary beliefs. Eating pork in Islam and Judaism is forbidden, but they also share other dietary restrictions, like abstaining from eating predatory mammals or reptiles, which are considered unclean in those faiths. To fully understand these religions, you should also know why they avoid pork dishes.

This article details specific verses that reference why pork is not kosher or halal in Judaism and Islam, as well as some of the reasons pigs might be considered unclean.

Why Do Jewish People Not Eat Pork?

Judaism is the oldest of the religions originating in the Middle East, and Islam and Christianity build off of it. As such, it makes sense that these religions would all have a few things in common, including dietary restrictions. Eating pork in Islam and Judaism is forbidden, and Jews follow the dietary rules of Kashrut, which notes which foods are clean and pure (“kosher”) and, therefore, safe to eat.

Most people realize shellfish is not kosher, meaning Jews cannot eat it. The prohibition of pork in Judaism is also well-known in society, a trait Judaism shares with Islam. According to the Hebrew Bible, pigs are unclean animals that Jews should not eat or even come in contact with.

Leviticus 11 outlines clean and unclean animals for Jews. Verse 3 states that animals with divided hooves that chew their cud are safe to eat. Pigs do not chew their cuds, so they’re considered one of the unclean animals. Deuteronomy 14:8 also makes it clear that Jews should not eat pork.

Deuteronomy 14:8: “And the pig, because it has a split hoof, but does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You shall neither eat of their flesh nor touch their carcass.”

Since it’s reiterated several times in the Hebrew Bible, Jews tend to stay away from pork in adherence to Jewish customs. Still, Jews can eat other kinds of meat, so supplementing their protein isn’t typically an issue.

Why Do Muslims Not Eat Pork?

Like Jews, Muslims do not eat pork in adherence to their religion. Learning why Muslims do not eat pork is as simple as understanding a few verses in the Qur’an. Several times, the Qur’an mentions not to eat the “flesh of swine,” meaning that pork is forbidden.

Surat An-Nahl 16:115: “Allah has forbidden you only carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine; also any animal over which the name of any other than Allah has been pronounced.”

This passage indicates that meat dedicated to anyone other than God is also forbidden. The Qur’an references that pork is prohibited four times, with the only exception being in the case of starvation — then, they may partake in pork to save their lives. Abstaining from eating pork shows these followers’ dedication to God, as pork dishes are enmeshed in many cultures all over the world. Being able to resist something so popular in society is nothing less than devotion.

To learn more about the Muslim belief systems, you must understand the difference between halal and haram, which pertains to food and beyond.

  • Halal: anything allowed within Islamic law.
  • Haram: anything illegal or not acceptable under Islamic law.

So, why is pork haram scientifically? It might be due to how filthy pigs are. Pigs can easily spread diseases and live in foul conditions — not to mention, they will consume just about anything. Due to their dirty living conditions, pork might be haram from a scientific standpoint as well as a belief one.

Where the Two Religions Meet on Pork

The three Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — have many things in common. These faiths all share the belief of fasting for a designated period to feel closer to their spirituality or possibly reconnect with their faith. However, Christians eat pork, while followers of the other two faiths do not. Eating pork in Islam and Judaism is forbidden, and depending on who you ask, you may hear several reasons why this particular animal was deemed unclean.

Why Are Pigs Unclean?

Unfortunately, around 30 diseases pigs can contract can be passed on to humans, which might be one reason they’re considered unclean. For certain diseases, like African Swine Fever, incubation periods can last up to 15 days, making it difficult to detect immediately. These diseases can typically be passed through contact with the animal or contaminated food or fluids. In both of these religions, God is known as a healer. It would make sense for God’s people to follow the rules of not eating an animal that can easily spread illnesses.

Another reason pork could have been forbidden might be the difficulty of raising pigs in the Middle East. They require a balanced diet with several nutrients mixed, and having them in shady, wooded areas is a great way to let them root for what they want while enjoying a reprieve from the sun. While there are forests in the Middle East, they aren’t as common as in the West.

Here are just some of the things that pigs require to raise well:

  • Plenty of water
  • Shady, wooded environments
  • A balanced diet with several nutrients
  • Supplemental feedstuffs for guaranteed nutrition
  • Indoor space to keep piglets warm
  • Additional equipment when breeding pigs and raising piglets

Since pigs will also eat just about everything they come across, they might encounter and eat trash or rotten food or meat. Because they consume carrion and other unclean things, they themselves might be unclean as well. Pigs will eat almost anything they come across and will root the ground for anything to consume. In a way, when you eat a pig, you’re putting what it has eaten into your body, though not literally.

Finding Other Protein Options

Still, followers of these two religions can eat other kinds of meat. They can still receive their daily protein from other sources, as well as find a suitable substitute. For example, jackfruit is an excellent substitute for pork because you can shred and dice it just like the meat. Substituting different protein sources can be a great way to adhere to a halal or kosher meal, the latter of which forbids dairy and meat from being eaten at the same meal.

However, followers of Judaism and Islam also have to pay attention to how a meal is prepared. For example, they might think twice about buying from a manufacturer if that company produces food made with animal oils or alcoholic products. 

Pareve food is safe for both Muslim and Jewish dining. Since common foods like hummus and falafels consist of chickpeas, they’re a great source of protein that can replace meat in many circumstances.

Ultimately, though the real answer behind the prohibition of pork may never be found, it’s a belief that followers of these religions subscribe to because it’s important to them. Though these rules may seem like a lot to follow to someone who doesn’t follow these religions, believers are used to the differences and will likely know how to accommodate themselves in certain dining situations. Still, anyone hosting those of the Islamic or Jewish faith should know how to prepare food according to their dietary needs.

Understanding How the Prohibition of Pork Affects Religions

In 2019, hostilities against religions met their fifth year of decline, indicating that society is heading toward a more accepting and loving world. As people seek to relate more to one another, you should remember to see things from other perspectives. The prohibition of pork is easy to understand once you know its faith-based reasoning. You can even understand it scientifically, with how much risk of disease spreading to humans pigs have. Understanding someone’s belief systems and respecting their boundaries is the best way to show them you care.

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