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What is the ruling of eating horseshoe crab and its eggs?



Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.

We are asked regarding the issue of eating horseshoe crab and its eggs because there are some restaurants in certain regions in Malaysia that offer them as part of their menu. Hence, what is the ruling of eating them? Before we answer this question, let us first study and learn about this animal known as horseshoe crab.

Definition of Horseshoe Crab

Horseshoe crabs are marine and brackish water arthropods of the family Limulidae. Horseshoe crabs live primarily in and around shallow coastal waters on soft sandy or muddy bottoms. They tend to spawn in the intertidal zone at spring tides. They are easily captured for they do not bite. The scientific name for horseshoe crab that lives on beaches is Tachypleus gigas and in muddy waters is Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda. These arthropods have a body shaped like a steel helmet (carapace) and a long and sharp tail. It could grow and reached up to 51 cm (20 inches). Any injured parts of their body can grow back, and they have an impressive immune system.

These animals are classified as sea animals, thus, are included as bahri or ma’i animals. This is in accordance with a general hadith of the Prophet PBUH:

هُوَ الطَّهُورُ مَاؤُهُ، الْحِلُّ مَيْتَتُهُ

“Its (the sea) water is a means of purification and its dead meat is permissible. (to be eatan)”

Sunan al-Nasa’ie (332)

According to the above hadith, Syeikh Abdullah bin Bassam said, all dead animals from the sea is permissible. This statement is supported by a verse of the Quran that states:

أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ صَيْدُ الْبَحْرِ وَطَعَامُهُ

“Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food as provision,”

Surah al-Ma’ida (96)

Umar bin al-Khattab RA said: “Game from the sea is anything that you catch from sea, and its food refers to whatever animals that travels on the beach that comes from the sea. Ibn Abbas said: It means animals that comes from the sea.” [1]

Any animal that has no clear evidence on its prohibition is permissible to be eaten. This is according to:

الأَصْلُ فِي الْأَشْيَاءِ الْإِبَاحَةُ

“The original ruling for something is it is permissible.”

The types of animals that is permissible to be eaten is anything that would not harm us or our health. This is in accordance with a hadith of the Prophet PBUH:

لَا ضَرَرَ وَلا ضِرَا

“There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm.”

Sunan Ibn Majah (2341)

According to the custom in Malaysia, people have been eating horseshoe crabs for generations and there are no reported cases of harm or poisoning due to eating these animals. Thus, this is a clear evidence of the permissibility of eating horseshoe crabs.

Regarding the eggs of horseshoe crabs, according to syarak, if the parent or mother is permissible, the same applies to its eggs. This is in accordance with:

التَّابِعُ تَابِعٌ

“The ruling is according with the one it is affiliated with.”

الْفَرْعُ يُتْبِعُ الْأَصْل

“The branch of something follows the ruling of the origin.”

This is supported by the decision made by The Muzakarah of the Fatwa Committee of National Council for the 93rd Malaysian Islamic Religious Affairs Meeting convened on 21st February 2011 which discussed the Ruling of Eating the Meat / Flesh and Eggs of Horseshoe Crabs. Muzakarah has decided as follows:

  1. After examining the evidence, the arguments and views expressed, Muzakarah views that there are no solid evidences that prohibit humans from eating horseshoe crabs. Marine life experts state that horseshoe crab is an animal that lives in the deep sea and just goes up to the beach to lay eggs. It is an animal that lives in sea and in freshwater swamps and cannot survive on land because it breathes through gills.
  2. Thus, in accordance with the views of the majority of the scholars which state that animals that live in sea alone and cannot survive on land are permissible to be eaten, then the Muzakarah has agreed that it is permissible to eat horseshoe crabs and their eggs.


End Notes:

[1] Ibn al-Arabi said: “There are 3 opinions regarding the meaning of this verse:

  • All animals captured from the sea
  • The animals captured from the sea meant in the verse are fishes. This is the opinion presented by Mujahid.
  • The verse meant catfish. This is the opinion of Ibn Jubair.

All three opinions refer to the opinion that include the meaning of fish. From isytiqaq (morphology; an understanding from the word animals from the game of sea) means animals that is captured through the efforts of humans. This meaning is included in the first opinion which states all animals captured from the sea. The problem is, this verse apparently means: It is permissible for you to catch fishes in the sea with some effort to get it, and it is also permissible for you the food (found in the sea), without any effort to get it.