The Law of Necessity

The Law of Necessity

In Islamic jurisprudence, the law of necessity states:  That which is necessary makes the forbidden permissible.  (Let me state straightaway that whatever I write about Islamic food prohibitions has been learned in about two hours of internet searching, and I’m quite possibly the last person who could claim authority on any religiously derived law.  That said, the Islamic prohibition on the consumption of pork and the law of necessity exception seem to be straightforward, so no matter how deep the water, I’m reasonably sure I can tread.)  Here it is straight from a Wikipedia page on Islamic dietary laws:

“He has only forbidden you what dies of itself, and blood, and flesh of swine, and that over which any other (name) than (that of) Allah has been invoked; but whoever is driven to necessity, not desiring, nor exceeding the limit, no sin shall be upon him; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”  Qur’an, Sura 2 (Al-Baqara) ayat 173

I’ve always thought that any prohibition of eating pork was rooted in the perception that pigs are filthy animals who’ll eat just about anything.  Omnivores with a strong stomach, unburdened by disgust.  (The existence of pig latrines couldn’t have helped matters in this regard.)  A recent anthropological study claims that keeping pigs fell out of favor in what is now the Middle East long before the formulation of any religious prohibition.  Why?  The rise of chickens.  Small, easy to transport, not difficult to feed, simple to slaughter.  Pigs are not docile, easy to control animals.  Could it also be that there’s something about pigs that gives human beings pause at the time of slaughter?  I certainly think so, though not from experience; as I’ve already written, I’ve never killed a pig.

There are about a billion domesticated pigs alive in the world at any one time, and they exist, largely, to be slaughtered for human consumption.  The human desire for pork has made Sus scrofa domesticus one of the most prolific large mammals on the planet.  Whatever the reason for prohibition, it’s not strong enough to be more universally adopted. What interests me, though, is the law of necessity.  In my post a few days ago, I asked: Is it necessary for my family to eat pigs?  I answered no, without hesitation. The difference between want and need, necessity and desire, may be the most important distinction we, as human beings, will make as we move through the challenges of the 21st century.  So what, I ask, does it mean to be necessary?  Tough question.

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