Question # 504: Is it permissible to consume medicines containing gelatin?
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Shorter Answer: Particularly in the West, gelatin is derived from animal sources, especially pig, and is commonly found in food, beverages, medications, vitamins, and cosmetic products. The following rulings are important with regard to the medicine containing gelatin:
- If one is certain or predominantly thinks that the medication contains haraam gelatin, then it is unlawful to consume it unless it has been treated and transformed in a way that it has been changed into another substance. Therefore, gelatin produced from Istihaalah (the process of transformation) is pure (taahir) and permissible.
- Since achieving a complete transformation in the manufacturing process is a matter of difference among the chemists, and it is still unclear, the default in such cases will be abstinence until the complete transformation is verified. However, there would be no blame in taking such medicines which contain a minuscule amount of haraam ingredients, when there are no other alternatives and especially when a trustworthy doctor confirms that this medicine is useful for the treatment of that particular disease.
- As an alternative in the case of capsules, the gelatin may be avoided by opening them and swallowing their contents, only when it is safe and verified with the pharmacist; else if doing so impacts the effects of the medicine, then one may swallow the whole capsule.
- Lastly, if a person is not certain that a certain medication includes haraam ingredients, then there is nothing wrong in consuming it in accordance with the principle that all things are permissible.
Long Answer: Gelatin is a translucent, colorless, flavorless food ingredient, commonly derived from collagen taken from animal body parts… [It] is a collection of peptides and proteins produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish. It is commonly used as a gelling agent in food, beverages, medications, drug and vitamin capsules, photographic films and papers, and cosmetics… Partial alternatives to gelatins derived from animals include the seaweed extracts agar and carrageenan, and the plant extracts pectin and konjac. (Wikipedia.org)
Therefore, with regard to medicines containing gelatin, … [it depends] on the type of gelatin used and whether it is of plant or animal origin. If it is from an animal source [and] from a halal animal that was slaughtered in the prescribed manner, then… [this type of gelatin is permissible, and there is nothing wrong with using it or consuming it in food or medicine. (Mawsoo‘ah al-Fiqh al-Islami). However, it is] …from maytah (lit. “dead meat”) an animal that was not slaughtered in the prescribed manner or from an animal that it is haraam to eat, such as pigs, [then the matter is subject to further discussion].
With regard to haraam gelatin,… if it has become transformed (istihaalah) into another substance during the manufacturing process, and there is no detectable trace of the haraam substance in terms of taste, color, or smell, then there is nothing wrong with using the medicine that contains it. [Also,] if it is in small quantity that has been completely absorbed and left no trace in the medicine, then there is nothing wrong with taking the medicine in that case.
By referring to the words of specialists concerning this matter, it is clear that they differ concerning this issue. Some of them say that transformation in the case of gelatin is complete, and others say that this is not the case. Some researchers stated that gelatin which is derived from the bones and skin of cattle and pigs has undergone a complete transformation and is different from the substance from which it was derived and that it has acquired chemical properties that differ from those of the original substance from which it was extracted, thus it comes under what the scholars have said about transformation.
It says in a statement of the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences – which researched the topic of Haraam and Impure Substances in Food and Medicine, with the participation of al-Azhar ash-Shareef, the Islamic Fiqh Council in Jeddah, the regional office of the World Health Organization in Alexandria, and the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health, 22-24 Dhu’l-Hijjah 1415 AH/22-24 May 1995: “Istihaalah (the process of transformation) means that the substance has turned into a different substance with different characteristics; this process turns an impure (najis) substance or a substance that is contaminated with impurity into a pure (taahir) substance and turns a haraam substance into a halal one. Based on that, gelatin that is produced from the istihaalah of bones, skin, and sinews of impure (najis) animals is pure (taahir) and it is permissible to eat it.”
[On the other hand,] Dr. Wafeeq ash-Sharqaawi (President of the administrative committee of the Arabian Company for Gelatin Products in Egypt) said: “The skin and bones of pigs do not undergo a complete transformation; rather it is a partial transformation and by means of testing it is possible to determine the origin of the gelatin that is extracted from the skin and bones of pigs after they are subjected to the chemical processes by means of which gelatin is extracted. That is because of the presence of some properties in this gelatin, from which it is possible to determine its origin. So, we cannot say that the parts of the pig that are turned into gelatin have undergone a complete transformation.” (Majallat al-Buhooth al-Fiqhiyyah al-Mu‘aasirah)
If we assume that the haraam gelatin has remained as is, and is of a large quantity that has not been fully absorbed into the medicine, then it is not permissible to treat sickness with it or to prescribe it to the patient except in the case of extreme necessity, which is when there is no other medicine available [as Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “…while He has explained to you in detail what is forbidden to you, except under compulsion of necessity?….” (Soorah Al-‘An`am, 6:119)] Al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abd as-Salaam said: “It is permissible to treat sickness with impure substances (najaasaat) if there is no pure (taahir) substance that could be used instead, because the interests of well-being and good health are more important than the interest of avoiding impurity.” (Qawaa‘id al-Ahkaam) [In addition to this, a trustworthy doctor should inform that this medicine is useful for that kind of disease and that there is no other permissible alternative.]
In principle, all things are permissible, as Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth.” (Soorah al-Baqarah, 2:29) If a person is not certain that a medication or any other item includes what is forbidden, then there is nothing wrong in consuming it and using it in accordance with the principle, that it is lawful. However, if one is certain or predominantly thinks that the bones are from an impure animal, or that the (pure) animal was not slaughtered according to Islamic rites, then it is not lawful to use due to it being impure unless it has been treated and transformed before adding it in a way that it has been changed into another substance because according to the most preponderant opinion of the scholars, an impure substance becomes pure by it being transformed.
(Unless stated otherwise, the above reply is based on various answers on similar topics provided by:
- Islamqa.info; and
- Islamweb.net, a web site belonging to the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in the State of Qatar)
Furthermore, according to Dr. Hatem al-Haj, Member of the Fatwa Committee of Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America: “…in the West, [gelatin and glycerin] are mostly derived from animal sources, especially pig. Since achieving a complete transformation in the manufacturing process is a matter of difference among the chemists, and it is still unclear, the default in such cases will be abstinence until we verify complete transformation. Therefore, it is obligatory to avoid food products containing these substances (i.e., gelatin, glycerin), although there would be no blame in taking a medicine containing a minuscule amount of them when there are no other alternatives. That was the position of the Fiqh Assembly of the OIC regarding gelatin. The same could be said about glycerin as well…” He also said: “…The gelatin in the capsules may be avoided by opening them and swallowing their contents (when safe – verify with the pharmacist). If it is not safe or may impact the effects of the medicines, you may still swallow the capsule.”
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.