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Feeding on ants and bugs – Did they lie to us? Islam, Judaism and Christian Religious perspectives

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Feeding on ants and bugs
Feeding on ants and bugs

Feeding on ants and bugs – Did they lie to us? Islam, Judaism and Christian Religious perspectives

Overview

Feeding on ants and bugs is presently becoming a concern. People have been eating crickets, grasshoppers, ants, bugs, and termites since the beginning of civilization. Today, 80% of the world’s population in Asia, Africa, and Latin America still eats insects (FAO, 2013). Since the 1990s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that people can eat insects. However, U.S. consumers have been slow to try them (FAO, 2013).

So, newer White House statements and releases (2023) show that US broadcasting is pushing people in the US to eat bugs and insects to help the Biden administration’s plans to deal with climate change. The bigger goals for climate change are to move the world’s food supply away from cows, pigs, and chickens and toward eating insects and bugs, which is a more sustainable way to live. In the US, President Joe Biden has promised that his entire administration will work to protect the planet and reduce carbon emissions.

This article will look at this conundrum from the point of view of how different religions feel about eating ants and other bugs. First of all, Christianity is the most common religion in the United States.

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Other religions include Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and many others.[1] Food habits are known to be affected by culture, which in the past has been shaped by religious beliefs (Sibal, 2020). This article looks at how the different religions see the practice of eating ants, bugs, and other arthropods. This includes everything from Christianity to Islam to Judaism.

Feeding on ants and bugs
Feeding on ants and bugs

This practice has been looked at from many different religious points of view, which can be seen in the holy books of each religion, like the Holy Bible for Christians, the Quran for Muslims, and the Torah for Jews, which all have different religious beliefs.

The holy books of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths all talk about people who eat ants, bugs, and other insects. So, let’s look at this topic from the point of view of each religion.

Food in the Context of Religious Beliefs

One of the most important parts of religious events is the food. [2]The importance of food in religion is a big part of how people show respect in their societies, and many followers of these religions follow the rules of their religions, some beliefs and habits about food come from religion, which gives our lives meaning and value.[3]

Muslims fast during Ramadan, which is thought to be the month when God gave the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. The Quran is the most important book in Islam. During this month, Muslims do not eat or drink during the day. They only eat and drink before dawn and after dusk.

Some Orthodox Jews and most Orthodox Jews follow what is called a kosher diet, which is written about in their Jewish text. Dietary rules that say how animal foods can be used and cooked are followed for the sake of spiritual health. Many Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains are vegetarians because they believe in not hurting or killing other living things.

In many religions, people don’t eat meat because they do not want to kill other living things. Even among people of the same faith, eating habits vary a lot, even though some religions have rules about what people can eat.

These differences can be caused by different branches or denominations of the same religion, differences between countries, and the amount of orthodoxy or religious loyalty of an individual or family. In light of this, it is clear that food shows how people feel about their religion, giving them their own identity and making them stand out (Saliva, 2020).

Christian Religion Perspectives on Feeding on Ants, bugs and insects

Genesis 1:29-30[4] is the first place in the Bible where meat is mentioned as being eaten.

God said, “Look, I’ve given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every fruit-bearing tree. You can eat them. I’ve also given them to every animal on the earth, every bird in the sky, and everything that crawls.

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God told man very clearly in the beginning in the Garden of Eden to eat both plants and animals. Can we say that this means Adam and Eve were vegetarians? Not necessarily. The text only says that people can eat plants; it doesn’t say that they can’t eat meat. So, while the text says that people can eat plants, it doesn’t say that they can’t eat meat (Gen 2:16-17).[5]

So, God’s command to Noah in Genesis 9:1-3[6] may not be a new permission to eat meat, especially since meat-based meals may have been part of earlier sacrifices after the Fall. However, it was a new rule not to eat meat that had been mixed with blood (Gen 9:4).[7] So, there is no proof either way about whether or not people ate meat before the Flood. However, it is very likely that they did.

Feeding on ants and bugs
Feeding on ants and bugs

The Bible is the sacred text of the Christian faith, and it purports to recount the history of the Earth from its genesis to the advent of Christianity in the first century. In Leviticus, the Bible refers to “locusts” as food, most likely referring to the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria.

Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth (Leviticus 11: 21) Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind (Leviticus 11: 22)

In the book of Leviticus, the Bible talks about Insect as food:

 All flying insects that walk on all fours are detestable to you. However, you may eat the following kinds of flying insects that walk on all fours: those having jointed legs above their feet for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket, or grasshopper.

All other flying insects that have four legs are detestable to you. These creatures will make you unclean. Whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean until evening and whoever picks up one of their carcasses must wash his clothes, and he will be unclean until evening. (Leviticus 11: 20-25).[8]

Also, in the Bible, insects come in swarms, eat crops, and cause a lot of pain and suffering (Exod. 10:14).[9] In this style, insect life is more like a force of nature than a group of different lives that deserve to be looked at as separate things.

Even though the author of the book of Leviticus paid more attention to insects (Lev. 11:20–23),[10] they cared more about whether certain insects were clean (those that hopped) or not clean (those that crawled) than about what the insects were like as individuals. Probably the author does not know much about insects, as shown by the fact that the writer mistakenly calls locusts “four-legged.”[11]

The adult locust, on the other hand, has four wings and six legs. Even though the Bible did not pay much attention to the details of insect bodies, the place of insects in the dietary rules of Leviticus says a lot about how Christians feel about eating ants, bugs, and other insects.

Because the question is now whether any insect that meets the required locomotive structure, that is, a bug that hops, is fit for human consumption, as opposed to bugs that crawl, which Christians consider unclean. From this, we could say that the Christian religion’s view on eating ants, bugs, and other insects is ambiguous, in that it neither condemns nor supports eating insects in general.

The Christian holy book, the Old Testament, seems to divide insects into groups based on how they move. However, this is probably not just a statement that jumping is better than crawling. On the other hand, another argument is that the idea that hopping is clean may be based on the well-known example of an insect that hops.

For example, the Christian rule against eating blood would not be broken by eating a locust that eats plants and does not survive on human blood.[12] In other words, the permission to eat locusts can be seen as an implied rejection of hunting and the violence that goes along with it as being incompatible with holiness.

In this analysis, if we move our focus from the fact that locusts are allowed to be eaten to the more general rule that insects can’t be eaten, we find an alternative explanation for how Christians see insects.

In the New Testament, it is clear where Saint John got his protein:

John was dressed in camel hair and had a skin belt around his waist. He ate locusts and honey from the wild (Mark I: 6).[13]

In the second part of the Christian Bible, the New Testament, a prophet named John is said to have eaten locusts, which is another way of saying that locusts are food. This seems to back up the idea that locusts are okay, not because they are clean or hop, but because they do not eat human blood and can’t live on it.

Do we now think it’s okay for Christians to eat locusts? Also, let’s take another look at this subject. On the other hand, it’s clear that eating ants, bugs, and other insects have taken on a new meaning in modern Christianity. In 2012, a Danish priest used this practice to help his congregation understand the story of John the Baptist, which is told in Mark 1:6. In the New Testament, it is clear where Saint John got protein from locusts:

John was dressed in camel hair and had a skin belt around his waist. He ate locusts and honey from the wild (Mark I: 6)

Further, a good example is a scenario when a bishop read the above verse and experience strong opposition from his church member, one of the church members was in strong opposition to this, but a Danish bishop clarify that the priest had not done anything wrong because he was showing what the Bible says.

After seeing the priest eat grasshoppers, the person who made the complaint left the church. Furthermore, “It is known that some Christian missionaries have said that eating winged termites is a heathen practice.” Because of this, a Christian said that “he would never try such things because he thought they were very un-Christian.”

Research in Malawi has shown that people who live in cities and who are very religious do not like eating bugs (Brown, 2011).

Islamic Religion Perspectives on Feeding on Ants, bugs and insects

When we look at our topic from the point of view of the Islamic region, there are several references to eating insects, such as locusts, bees, ants, lice, and termites, in Islamic religion (El-Mallakh and El-Mallakh, 1994).[14] A lot of the information in this reference supports eating locusts, and some of it even says it’s okay to eat them: You are allowed to eat locusts (Sahih Muslim, 21.4801)[15]

Locusts are sea creatures that you can eat (Sunaan ibn Majah, 4.3222).[16] You can eat locusts because they are Allah’s soldiers (Sunaan ibn Majah, 4.3219, 3220).[17] The Islamic religion seems to put more emphasis on eating locusts, and its law seems to be more clear about which bugs it supports. Both the Christian and Islamic religions have similar ideas about eating ants and other insects.

This is shown by the fact that both religions consider the same kind of insect to be clean and safe to eat. Christianity makes up about 71 percent of the different religions in the US, so if Christians and Muslims eat locusts because of their beliefs, what about eating bugs, cockroaches, and other arthropods? So, this is what the holy book of the Islamic faith says:

Locusts can be eaten (Sahih Muslim, 21.4801). [18]Locusts are game of the sea, so you can eat them (Sunaan ibn Majah, 4.3222)[19]

You can eat locusts because they are Allah’s soldiers (Sunaan ibn Majah, 4.3219, 3220).[20]

So, research also shows that despite this direct view from the holy Quran, Islamic clerics and scholars have different ideas about eating ants, bugs, and other insects that eat other bugs. Some people said it was against the law, while others said it was okay. Others just didn’t like the idea. For example, Shafi and Hanbali scholars said that you couldn’t eat some insects but that you could eat others.

Rushd wrote in Bidayat Al-Mujtahid[21], that it would be good to explain why there are different beliefs within the same faith. He said that some scholars had different ideas about what the word “khaba’ith,” which means “what is bad and impure,” meant in the Qur’anic verse, “And forbids for them what is bad (and impure)” (7: 157).[22]

Scholars who said that the only things that are not allowed are those that are explicitly mentioned in primary texts don’t ban things that people find disgusting or unclean because they are not in a legal text. Scholars define khaba’ith as things that make people feel bad to think that insects are forbidden. Maliki scholars say it’s okay to eat insects as long as they are killed first. They say that an insect is killed by any method that causes it to die.

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Ibn Rushd also wrote in Al-Bayan wa At-Tahseel,[23] “Scholars argued about whether or not locusts should be eaten. Some people said it was not necessary to kill them before eating them, and it was okay to eat them if they were already dead. Some people said it was necessary to kill locusts before eating them.

Feeding on ants and bugs
Feeding on ants and bugs

Locusts are killed by cutting off their heads, hitting them with needles or thorns, throwing them in fire or hot water, and other methods that kill them right away. But they had different ideas about how to kill them that didn’t kill them right away, like cutting off their legs or wings or putting them in cold water.

Sahnun, the Maliki scholar, and others did not believe that their ritual killings were necessary. On the other hand, Ibn Habib said that catching locusts is the same as killing them. They could be eaten if they die without being killed in any way. In Jami’ al-Umahat, Maliki Ibn Hajib wrote, “Rats are edible and are killed in the same way as locusts. And if they fall into a pot, you can eat from that pot.

It is also okay to eat worms that are found in food.”[24] Abu al-Barakat Ahmed al-Dardir, a great scholar, wrote in Ash-Sharh Al-Kabeer,[25] about insects that people can eat. He said, “Scorpions, beetles, cockroaches, grasshoppers, ants, worms, mites, and ticks can all be eaten. All of these are insects that dig holes to get to the surface of the ground and then dig their way back to it.

Geckos, lizards, and sandfish can also be eaten by humans, even though they are dirty when they die and only become clean when they are killed. Muslim jurists in the past knew that some insects, like ants, had healing properties because of their medical history. So, they have given permission for them to be sold and used for medical purposes.

Imam Al-Rafi’i wrote in Fat-h Al-Azeez and Imam al-Nawawy wrote in Al-Rawda[26] that Abu Al-Hassan al-‘Abady said it was okay to sell ants in ‘Askar Makram, a famous city in Khurasan, because they are used to treat diabetes. In Nasibeen, they can also be used to treat the bites of flying scorpions.

Al-Isnawy, a Shafi’i scholar and imam, wrote in Al-Muhamat[27] “The bites of yellow scorpions can be treated with certain drinks made with the fat of flying ants.” He was referring to some of the benefits of ants found in ancient medical books. Because there are so many scorpions in those two cities, it can be sold there.

Judaism Religion Perspectives on Feeding on Ants, bugs and insects

In Jewish literature, there are references to people eating ants, insects, and other bugs for food. According to Amar (2003), it was widely considered acceptable in ancient times to consume specific species of kosher locusts for food.

The practice, on the other hand, became less common among a significant portion of the Jewish diaspora as a direct result of a lack of familiarity with the numerous kinds of “winged swarming things” that are referred to in the Torah.

The only people who kept to the tradition were the Jews who lived in Yemen and other parts of northern Africa. Amar (2003) proposed that the influence of western culture led Jews who had previously consumed locusts to abandon the practice.

References

“Edible insects – Future prospects for food and feed security”, FAO 2013.

White house statements and releases (2022). FACT SHEET:  Health Sector Leaders Join Biden Administration’s Pledge to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions 50% by 2030. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/

Sibal V. (2020). Food: Identity of Culture and Religion. https://www.wathi.org/rubrique/wathinotes-debat-alimentation/

Brown, A. (2011). Understanding food: Principles and preparation (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Amar, Z. 2003. The Eating of locusts in Jewish tradition after the Talmudic period. The Torah u-Madda Journal, 11: 186–202

  1. “Measuring Religion in Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel”. Measuring Religion in Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel | Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center. January 14, 2021. Archived from the original on February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 9, 2021. Statistics are from the 2020 ATP profile survey after adjustments from NPORS.
  2. Sibal V. (2020). Food: Identity of Culture and Religion. https://www.wathi.org/rubrique/wathinotes-debat-alimentation/
  3. Kittler, P.G., Sucher, K.P., & Nelms, M.N. (2012). Food and culture (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies Volume 8 – June, 2014 Food and identity,
  4. Genesis 1:29-30
  5. (Gen 2:16-17).
  6. Genesis 9:1-3
  7. (Gen 9:4).
  8. (Leviticus 11: 20-25).
  9. (Lev. 11:20-23)
  10. Gene Kritsky, ‘The Insects and Other Arthropods of the Bible, the New Revised Version’, American Entomologist 43.3 (1994), pp. 183–88.
  11. Jonathan Burnside, ‘At Wisdom’s Table: How Narrative Shapes the Biblical Food Laws and their Social Function’, Journal of Biblical Literature 135.2 (2015), p. 234.
  12. Simon Leather, ‘Institutional Vertebratism Threatens UK Food Security’, Trends in Ecology and Evolution 24.8 (2009), pp. 413–14.
  13. (Mark I: 6)
  14. (El-Mallakh and El-Mallakh, 1994).
  15. (Sahih Muslim, 21.4801)
  16. Sunaan ibn Majah, 4.3222).
  17. (Sunaan ibn Majah, 4.3219, 3220).
  18. (Sahih Muslim, 21.4801).
  19. (Sunaan ibn Majah, 4.3222)
  20. (Sunaan ibn Majah, 4.3219, 3220)
  21. Bidayat Al-Mujtahid
  22. Quaran (7: 157).
  23. Al-Bayan wa At-Tahseel
  24. Umahat, Maliki Ibn Hajib
  25. Ash-Sharh Al-Kabeer,
  26. Fat-h Al-Azeez
  27. Al-Muhamat

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