Why does the Koran forbid eating pork?

Sura 6 verse 145The pork ban in Islam and its meaning

"Say: I find in what has been given to me
nothing that is forbidden to eat
except dead and poured blood and pork -
because it is unclean -
or abominations about which other than God were invoked.
But when someone is in a predicament
to cherish without covetousness and to commit a transgression -
well, your Lord is forgiving and merciful. "

The verse just recited is one of four passages from the Koran that use almost identical words to set up a series of fundamental food bans: It is forbidden to eat dead animals, blood, pork and food that has been consecrated to beings other than God.

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This is followed by a hardship clause, which in emergencies approves a violation of the established prohibitions. This underlines the claim of the Koran to set up rules of conduct, the observance of which does not overwhelm people: "God wants to make it easy for you, not difficult", it says in sura 2 verse 185 in connection with a similar hardship clause that the sick and travelers postpone the month of fasting allowed.

Nicolai Sinai teaches Islamic studies at the renowned Oxford University in England. (Photo: N.Sinai) The fact that the Koran repeatedly underlines the affordability of the rules of conduct it has established also has a polemical dimension. This can be shown by the verse quoted at the beginning, which is followed by an opinion on the much more complicated Jewish dietary regulations. The Koran recognizes that these have a divine origin, but presents them not as divine grace but as divine punishment. In the background there is probably a thought that is also familiar from Christian texts: The arduous regulations of the Mosaic Law are as retribution for the worship of the golden calf to understand.

For a reader familiar with the Bible, the list of four Koranic food prohibitions will inevitably remind you of a passage from the New Testament Acts of the Apostles. There the disciples discuss whether pagans converted to Christianity should submit to the Mosaic Law. In the end it is decided that Gentile Christians should only "abstain from sacrificing to idols and from blood and from the strangled and fornication".

Both the Acts of the Apostles and the Koran therefore prohibit the consumption of blood - in accordance with the Old Testament - and also show other parallels.

In one point, however, the Koran goes conspicuously beyond the apostolic dietary regulations, namely forbidding the consumption of pork.

The abstinence from pork was of considerable symbolic value in the late antique world: it signaled the observance of Mosaic dietary regulations and thus a Jewish identity. A pre-Koranic Christian church order condemns the doctrine that Christians should avoid pork as downright heretical.

The quoted Koran verse thus chooses a deliberate middle course between the much more comprehensive regulations of Jewish law and the far-reaching renunciation of the majority Christians on any regulation of eating habits. In this way, the Koran establishes a new community identity that is equally demarcated from Jews and Christians: Anyone who does not eat pork but otherwise does not adhere to the Jewish dietary law can already be recognized by their everyday life as a member of a religious community that is different from Judaism and Christianity.