Shafaqna (Shia International News Association) – The Grand Ayatollah Sistani answered some questions regarding eating and drinking.According to Shafaqna the questions and answers are as follows:
Question16: There is this vinegar that is made from wine, in the sense that it was wine and then, through a manufacturing process, changed into vinegar. Therefore, the label on the bottle reads: “wine vinegar” as opposed to the vinegar made from barley or other items. One of the signs [of differentiating between “wine vinegar” and the wine itself is that] the bottles of this vinegar are displayed in the area of vinegar, and it has never happened that these bottles are placed on the shelves of wines. Moreover, there is no difference between such vinegar and the vinegar made from dates for example. So, can this wine which has turned into vinegar be considered vinegar under the rule of change (istihalah)?
Answer: If the name “vinegar” can be applied in the view of common people upon that product, as has been assumed in the question, the same rule governing vinegar would apply to it. [That is, it is pure as well as permissible.]
Question17: The manufacturers of food and sweets as well as of the food packed in cans are required to mention the ingredients of the items being sold. To prevent the food from going bad, manufacturers add preservatives to them; these preservatives could be from animal source and are listed by alphabetical codes like “E” alongside a number like “E 450” or “E 472,” etc. What is the ruling in the following situations?When one does not know the origin of these preservatives? If one sees a list issued by those who have no idea of the rule of chemical transformation (istihãlah: a purifying agent) that says that the items described by so and so alphabet and/or number are forbidden because they come from animal source? When one does preliminary research and is satisfied that the preservative agent does not retain its original form but transforms in characteristics and changes into another substance?
Answer: It is permissible to eat the food containing those preservatives. If it is not ascertained that it is from an animal source —even if such a claim is made— it is permissible to eat it. Similarly, [it is permissible] if it is ascertained that [it is from an animal source] but one is uncertain whether it comes from an impure mayta and that its amount mixed in the food stuff is so minute that it is completely absorbed in it in the view of common people. There is no problem in applying the rule of purity and permissibility whenever the chemical change is proved in the form that it transforms into another substance and in the view of common people nothing of the original substance remains.
Question18: It is requested of you to answer the following two questions: In itself is gelatin considered pure (tãhir)? If we have doubt whether or not istihãla (chemical change) has occurred [in the process of manufacturing the gelatin] because of uncertainty about the concept and the extent of applying the rule of istihãla, do we extend the previous knowledge (istishãb) that gelatin is still impure?
Answer: As for the gelatin derived from animal source, if the impurity of the origin is not established (for example, if there is a probability that the animal was slaughtered according to Islamic laws), it will be considered pure; however, it should not be added to the food, except in such amounts that it would be completely absorbed. [That is, it is pure (tãhir) but should be used in food items in very minute quantities only.]This [latter caution] is for a case where it is neither established that the animal was slaughtered according to Islamic rules, nor had istihãla taken place. [If any of these two issues were established, then there would be no restriction in using gelatin in food items.]The above ruling does not differ whether the gelatin was derived from parts of the animal that has feeling (like cartilage, gristle) or has no feeling (like bones). This ruling about parts with no feeling is based on obligatory precaution. However, if its impurity was established (for example, it is known that it comes from an essentially impure animal or from the cartilage of an animal not slaughtered according to Islamic rules, or from its bones without purifying them, in which case it would be considered mutanajjis by coming into wet contact with an impure item), then considering it pure and permissible for use in food items depends on establishing istihãla. And in this matter [whether istihãla took place or not], one should refer to the common perception of the people. We have explained its criterion earlier. [Istishãb is a principle that says that in case of doubt one should extend the previous knowledge about that particular issue until proven otherwise.] The principle of istishãb is neither applicable in cases of doubt concerning the concept [of the law], nor in cases of the law themselves—as has been proven in its appropriate place in the Science of ‘Usûl. However, since the issue of impurity (najãsat) is related to the generic concept in a common man’s perspective and extension of judgement about najãsat depends, in the eyes of sensible people, on continued existence of its elements — this makes the doubt about occurrence of istihãla (whether its application is limited or broad) into a doubt about continued existence of impure elements [in the gelatin]. And this is a matter of application of the law. There is therefore no problem in applying the principle of istishãb in this case. Allãh knows the best.
Question19: We are unaware of the ingredients of food sold in shops in Western countries: it might be free from those ingredients that are forbidden to us or it might contain them. Are we allowed to eat such items without looking into their ingredients, or inquiring about them? Or is that not allowed to us?
Answer: It is permissible [to eat such food] as long as it is not known that it contains meat, fat, and their derivatives that are forbidden to us.
Question20: Is it permissible to use, in our foods, oils derived from fish that are forbidden to us? What about using such oils for other matters?
Answer: It is not permissible to eat such oils but their other usage is permissible. Allãh knows the best.
Question21: Is it permissible for a Muslim to attend a gathering where intoxicant drinks are being served?
Answer: Eating and drinking in those gatherings is forbidden. However, the prohibition in attending such gatherings is based on compulsory precaution. But there is no problem in attending such gatherings for the purpose of forbidding the evil (nahi ‘anil munkar), if one is capable of doing that.
Question22: Is it permissible to eat lobster, crayfish, and snails?
Answer: Is it not permissible to eat from marine animals anything except fish that has scale; shrimp is considered from that category [of permissible sea animals]. But other than fish, like lobster, and similarly the fish that does not have scale is forbidden.
Allãh knows the best.
Source: Ayatollah Sistani