What is the ruling on gelatin whether derived from cows or pigs?
In the Name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful. All praises are due to Him and we ask Him to bestow His Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad.
We read in the authentic texts that we are taught that Islam is easy and not difficult and/or rigid. Therefore, one should not go out of ones way to find haram. It has been authentically narrated that the Prophet forbade at-takalluf from the Sahabah (meaning that one is determined to find something to be Haram). Although in any given circumstances, if we find (for sure) something to be haram or there is a heavy suspicion that something is prohibited, then and only then we should stay away from that thing. The scholars of Juristic Principles say that the basic ruling for everything is permissibility except that which has been expressly forbidden by either the Qur’an, Sunnah, or consensus of Muslim scholars.
As regards to your question, believe it or not, there is a difference of opinion about the permissibility of gelatin.
The average Muslim and most scholars will tell you that without a doubt anything with gelatin made from animals is Haram especially if it is from Pork. It might be startling to hear this new ijtihad which is based in science. Of course there is no doubt that it is categorically forbidden to eat any type of pig meat or that of a dead animal. So of course before the issue of the chemical molecular process of making gelatin was brought up, there was a consensus that gelatin was forbidden if derived from pork. The new opinion which is held by many scholars on the major Fiqh councils is based in the reality that gelatin is taken from the collagen molecules from the bones or skin usually from pigs and sometimes cows. Through a process called “Istihaalah” in Arabic the chemical structure and molecular class of protein in the collagen is changed to form a new gel-like substance known as gelatin.
Similarly grapes are permissible, but when they are transformed into alcohol then they become forbidden, but then when alcohol becomes vinegar then it becomes permissible.
Regarding this process in general, the scholars are split about the purity of something that changed through istihaalah in which it has transformed due to a chemical reconfiguration to the point that the new substance could not be called by the name of the old. So naturally, the scholars are split on the permissibility of gelatin. Some of those who hold that through istihaalah [seeking to make something impure pure] something becomes pure are not convinced that the process of changing collagen (substance in cow and pig bones) to gelatin is enough to call it different molecular structure than its origin. But many scientists would disagree with them, thus supporting the new opinion. The role in making a fatwa on an issue like this is not to allow the fact that it came from pork to influence the final ruling, instead it should be to establish scientifically if the process of istihaalah took place or not.
I support the first opinion that there is a clear change in chemical structure thus becoming a different substance altogether which does not carry the ruling of cow or pig bone. This opinion is based on thorough scientific research from Muslim and non-Muslim resources. But I am still wary of eating things with gelatin because of the original disagreement of the process of istihaalah.
Some scholars who support the purity of gelatin are Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (Member many Fiqh councils), Dr. Abdul-Ghaffar Ash-Sharif (Former Dean/Professor of Shari’ah Kuwait college), Tahir al-Mahdi al-Baleeli (European Fiqh Council), Muhammad Al-Hawaari (European Council for Fatwa Research).
And Allah knows best,