Rennet in Cheese
Selam Aleykum wa rahmetullahi wa barakatuh,
Is cheese that contains animal rennet halal? And if its haram, is it for the Muslims in the West possible to follow the Opinion of another Madhab who thinks it is halal, because it is a alternative Food to all the haram food that is present?
Wa alaykum salam wa rahmatuLlahi wa barakatuHu,
Rennet comes from the stomach of cud-chewing animals, like sheep or cows, and is frequently used in cheese production. In America, some companies use rennet from non-animal sources to produce the vast majority of their cheeses. Kraft Cheese, for example, started making most of their cheeses with such rennet. The cheese manufacturer will usually know the rennet’s origin, and should be contacted for further details.
Rennet’s purity is contingent on specific conditions. Imam Nawawi stated,
وأما الإنفحة فإن أخذت من السخلة بعد موتها أو بعد أكلها غير اللبن فنجسة بلا خلاف وإن أخذت من السخلة المذبوحة قبل أن يأكل غير اللبن فوجهان الصحيح الذي قطع به كثيرون طهارتها
“Regarding rennet, when it is taken from a lamb after it dies or after having eaten something besides milk, then it is impure without any difference of opinion. And when it is taken from a slaughtered lamb before it has eaten something besides milk, then there are two opinions. In the relied-upon opinion, which the majority authoritatively related, it is pure.” (Rawdat al-Talibin 1/16-17; also see al-Sharh al-Kabir 1/39)
Therefore, the Shafi’i Madhhab’s ruling is that pure rennet comes exclusively from a slaughtered, solely suckling lamb. This is on account of the tarjih at the hands of Shaykhayn, Imam Nawawi and Imam Rafi’i. In Sharh al-Muhadhdhab 2/570, this is again stated.
When considering cheese, taking into account the origin of its rennet, Sh. Abd al-Hamid al-Sharwani mentioned,
لأن أصله وهو اللبن طاهر وشك تنجسه والأصل عدمه
“Because its origin, milk, is pure; and there is only doubt that it may be impure. Then, the default ruling is the absence of it [impurity].” (Hashiyat Tuhfat al-Muhtaj 1/308)
Also, Sh. Zayn al-Din al-Malibari mentioned,
قاعدة مهمة وهي أن ما أصله الطهارة وغلب على الظن تنجسه لغلبة النجاسة في مثله فيه قولان بقولي الأصل والظاهر أو الغالب أرجحهما أنه طاهر عملا بالأصل المتيقن…
“A very important principle is the default ruling that a thing is pure. And when overwhelmed by suspicion, due to its kind generally being impure, there are two opinions. The relied-upon is that it is pure; considering its source, of which one is certain…” (I’anat al-Talibin 1/179)
Imam Ramli mentioned,
نعم يعفى عن الجبن المعمول بالإنفحة من حيوان تغذى بغير اللبن لعموم البلوى به في هذا الزمان كما أفتى به الوالد رحمه الله تعالى إذ من القواعد أن المشقة تجلب التيسير وأن الأمر إذا ضاق اتسع وصرح الأئمة بالعفو عن النجاسة في مسائل كثيرة المشقة فيها أخف من هذه المشقة
“In fact, one is excused [ma’fu anhu] from cheese made with rennet from an animal that has eaten something besides milk. This is due to the public affliction [‘umum al-balwa] happening currently. Accordingly, my father [i.e. Shihab Ramli] issued a fatwa on it, as it is from the principles [qawaid fiqhiyyah] that difficulty brings about ease, and when a matter becomes constricted, it widens. Authorities have clearly excused impurities in many situations, on account of difficulty in matters much less burdensome than this.” (Nihayat al-Muhtaj 1/245)
The default ruling of cheese is that it is pure, like what Sh. Shatta al-Bakri mentioned,
وجبن شامي فهو طاهر عملا بالأصل
“And Roman Cheese, it is pure considering its default ruling.” (Hashiyat I’anat al-Talibin 1/180) [Roman Cheese was known to be made with questionable rennet. It is also noted that Roman Cheese was served to the Prophet Muhammad and he ate it without questioning its origin. (I’anat al-Talibin 1/180; Tuhfat al-Muhtaj 1/308)]
In our times, it is often easy to determine the source of rennet. When it is not printed on the packaging, a mere phone call or e-mail can inform one regarding its origin. Moreover, many companies are producing cheese with non-animal rennet; therefore, viable alternatives exist. That is not to say that ‘umum al-balwa does not feature here. Rather, out of prudency one should seek the available alternatives. Rennet’s source is milk. Its default ruling is pure. And mere doubt does not make it impure.
And Allah knows best.
Shafiifiqh.com Fatwa Dept.