One of the major concerns when it comes to halal cosmetics has been the use of carmine in products such as lipsticks and eye shadows. Carmine (or carminic acid) is a chemical extract from Cochineal and Porphyrophora species of insects and is used in creating the bright red color seen in many cosmetics. However, carmine is also used in food products such as yogurts, juices, syrups, sauces, and candy.
How is Carmine Made?
In order to make the bright red dye, the insect shells are first crushed and boiled in ammonia or sodium carbonate. It is then filtered, and alum is added to the salt solution of carmine to precipitate the red aluminum salt, called "carmine lake" or "crimson lake". To create purple shades, lime is added to the alum and the color is formed not only by carminic acid but also by the added chelating metal salt ion. (ref. wikepedia.org).
Many people have asked whether or not consumption of this chemical is considered halal as it originates from an insect. Therefore, it’s important to examine the Islamic rulings on insect consumption, as well as understand the rulings scholars have made on what constitutes an “animal product” vs a synthetic or chemical compound.
In Islam, there are four basic schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali) that have made rulings on things that are and are not halal for consumption.
Hanafi Ruling on Eating Insects
The Hanafi school of thought says that some insects are permissible for consumption and include those that are from the locusts and grasshopper species. This is because the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was known to have eaten locusts or grasshoppers on the battlefield as a source of sustenance. Some of the scholars believe that other species of insects (such as beetles, flies, spiders etc.) are not considered permissible because they are said to not have blood. However, all insects (regardless of the species) have a type of blood called hemolymph. Hemolymph is a combination of blood and lymphatic fluid, and unlike humans and mammals, it does not contain red blood cells.
Shafi’i and Hanbali Rulings on Eating Insects
The Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought state that insects are distasteful and not a proper source of food. However, in the event of necessity such that there is not any other source of sustenance, insects can be consumed.
Maliki Ruling on Eating Insects
In the Maliki school of thought, eating insects is permissible as long as they are killed first and made fit for consumption. In other words free of any harmful toxins. In this case, carmine can be considered an extract that is prepared and processed for consumption. (see how is carmine made above).
According to a ruling by Ustadh Shuaib Ally (on seekersguidance.org), it is permissible to eat negligible amounts of insects, if they are part of a larger thing that is being consumed. Some examples generally given include an ant that has fallen into honey, or a fly that has fallen into food, and have been cooked in it. Other examples involve an insect that is in fruit or grain. The rationale given for its permissibility involves the difficulty in its removal, or because consuming such a negligible amount is not considered distasteful because the insect has been subsumed in the larger quantity and is no longer akin to eating an insect by itself.
Transformation Cancels Prohibition
A fatwa on the following websites (islamweb.com and islamonline.net) also talks about how “transformation cancels prohibition”. In other words, in certain cases, when the final product or chemical is an altered or different substance, it no longer falls into the category of being prohibited. Carmine is therefore an example of such a chemical.
“According to Muslim scientists, substances that have been transformed into totally different substances cannot have their original attributes and thus they cannot be named according to the original substance they are made of. This chemical or natural transformation made the substance into another one. It is permissible then to eat products containing those substances after it loses its original attributes. The Muslim scholars know that transformation cancels prohibition. An example of this was given by the known scholar imam ibn taymiyah :” if a pig or a dog falls into a saltcellar and transformed under the effect of salt until it loses its original attributes, it is permissible to use this salt” this is a known rule to the early Muslim scholars.”
A similar ruling was made by the Council of Senior Scholars in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In their book al-Buhooth al-‘Ilmiyyah (3/467), they said:
Similar to that is the purity of that which has been fertilized of trees and crops with impure things; their fruits are permissible because of the transformation of the impure substance. Another similar case is the purity of alcohol which turns into vinegar; it is permissible to consume it, sell it, drink it and use it in other ways, after it had been alcohol which it is haraam to drink, sell or buy, and that is because of this transformation.
Regardless of which school of thought you follow, it’s always important to know the reasoning behind each jurisdiction. Without context it’s difficult to understand the basis of the ruling as well as its application to other aspects of life.