There are two conflicting hadith on shrimp called Irbiyaan in Arabic. One hadith refers to it as a morsel of Shaitaan. Another classifies it as a type of fish and therefore permissible. In this situation, the Usuli ijtihad applies the principle of al-bara’a al-asliyya, which makes a thing permissible if it can not be conclusively proven to be forbidden and even if there are conflicting indicators. However, in the school of Ahlulbayt (as) the preferred approach is to exercise caution (ihtiyaat) and refrain from consuming it.

Shrimp – Morsel of Shaitaan

وعن محمد بن الحسن عن الصفار عن أبي طالب عبد الله بن الصلت عن عثمان بن عيسى عن سماعة بن مهران عن أبي عبد الله (عليه السلام) قال: لا تأكل جريثا ولا مارماهيجا ولا طافيا ولا اربيان ولا طحالا لانه بيت الدم ومضغة الشيطان

Imam Abdullah ( peace be upon him ) said: DO NOT EAT (1) the eel (jareesa) (2) and the dead floating fish (marmahiga) (3) and the snake fish (taafiya) (4) and SHRIMP (IRBIYAAN) (5) and spleen (tahaala) because these harbor the blood and are THE MORSEL OF SHAITAN. [Reference: Wasailushia Vol-24 Page-185, Bihar Vol-62 Page-177 and 205 Ilalusharia Vol-2 page 562]

Shrimp is a type of fish

وباسناده عن محمد بن الحسن الصفار ، عن محمد بن عيسى بن عبيد ، بن يونس بن عبد الرحمن ، عن أبي الحسن ( عليه السلام ) ، قال : قلت له : جعلت فداك ، ما تقول في أكل الاربيان ؟ قال : فقال لي : لا بأس بذلك والاربيان ضرب من السمك ، قال : قلت : قد روى بعض مواليك في أكل الربيثا ، قال : فقال : لا بأس به

Yunus bin abdurrehman narrates that I asked Imam Musa Kazim (as) about eating IRBIYAAN. He (as) said: ‘There is no problem because Irbiyaan is a type (species) of fish’. The narrator said: ‘Some of your followers (mavaali) are also narrating about RIBBITHA (that it is permissible to eat)’. He (asws) said: ‘Yes there is no problem with it too’. [Reference: Wasail us Shia Urdu volume 16 page 271]

Hadith on Ribbitha (Shrimp Fish)

Added confusion is caused by several hadith on a type of fish called ribbitha. What exactly is ribbitha? Most likely it is a type of fish that has some physical resemblance to shrimps – possibly Shrimp Fish. From the hadith we can glean that it is a type of fish that has scales. In Arabic, scales are called Qishr.

ـ محمد بن يعقوب ، عن علي بن ابراهيم ، عن أبيه ، عن ابن أبي عمير ، عن هشام بن سالم ، عن عمر بن حنظلة ، قال : حملت الربيثا يابسة في صرة ، فدخلت على أبي عبد الله ( عليه السلام ، فسألته عنها ، فقال : كلها ، وقال : لها قشر

Umar b. Hanzhala said: I carried a dried ribbitha in a package, and I entered upon Abu Abdillah (as), so I asked him about it. And he said: Eat it. And he said: It has a qishr (scales). [Reference: Wasail us Shia H30181]

ـ وعنه ، عن أبيه ، عن حنان بن سدير ، قال : أهدى فيض ابن المختار إلى أبي عبد الله ( عليه السلام ) ربيثا ، فأدخلها عليه ـ وأنا عنده ـ فنظر اليها ، فقال : هذه لها قشر ، فأكل منها ونحن نراه .

And from him from his father from Hanan b. Sadir. He said: Fayd b. al-Mukhtar gave Abu `Abdillah a ribbitha as a gift, so he brought it in to him – and I was with him – so he looked at it. So he said: This has a qishr (scales), and he ate from it and we were seeing him. [Reference: Wasail us Shia H30184]

ـ وعن السياري ، عن محمد بن جمهور ، عن رجل ، عن أبي عبد الله ( عليه السلام ) ، أنه سأله عن الاربيان ، وقال : هذا يتخذ منه شيء يقال : له الربيثا ، فقال : كل ، فانه جنس من السمك ، ثم قال : أما تراها تقلقل في قشرها .

And from as-Sayyari from Muhammad b. Jumhur from a man from Abu Abdillah (as), that he asked him about shrimp. And he said: This, something is taken from it, which is called the ribbitha. So he said: Eat, for it is a species of fish. Then he said: Do you not see it quivering in it’s qishr? [Reference: Wasail us Shia H30190]

In the above hadith, the person asks the Imam about Shrimp. Imam responds that it is in fact ribbitha (and not irbiyaan). That it is a type of fish and it has a qishr.

Also note that in all the above hadith Imam (as) keeps referring to the two characteristics that makes it halal – that it is a fish and that it has scales.

General hadith on seafood

Besides the hadith above on Irbiyaan and Ribbitha, every other hadith on seafood again emphasize the two characteristics that make it permissible:

  1. It must be classified as a fish
  2. It must have scales (qishr)

Below are the rest of the hadith on seafood:

ـ محمد بن يعقوب ، عن عدة من اصحابنا ، عن سهل بن زياد ، وعن محمد بن يحيى ، عن أحمد بن محمد جميعا ، عن ابن محبوب ، وأحمد بن محمد بن أبي نصر جميعا ، عن العلاء ، عن محمد بن مسلم ، عن أبي جعفر ( عليه السلام ) ـ في حديث ـ قال : قلت له : رحمك الله ، إنا نؤتى بالسمك ليس له قشر ، فقال : كل ما له قشر من السمك ، وما ليس له قشر فلا تأكله .

Narrated from Abu Ja’far (as) in a hadith wherein he said: May Allah have mercy upon you. We are brought the fish that does not have a qishr (scales). So he (as) said: Eat that which has a qishr from the fish, and that which does not have scales, then do not eat it. [Reference: Wasail us Shia H30146]

ـ وعن الحسين بن محمد ، عن معلى بن محمد ، عن الحسن بن علي ، عن حماد بن عثمان ، قال : قلت لابي عبد الله ( عليه السلام ) : جعلت فداك ، الحيتان ما يؤكل منها ؟ قال : ما كان له قشر الحديث .

I said to Abu Abdillah (as): May I be made your ransom, the fish, what do we eat of it? He said: Whatever has a qishr (scales). [Reference: Wasail us Shia H30147]

ـ وعنه ، عن أبيه ، عن عبد الله بن المغيرة ، عن عبد الله بن سنان ، عن أبي عبد الله ( عليه السلام ) قال : كان علي ( عليه السلام ) بالكوفة يركب بغلة رسول الله ( صلى الله عليه وآله ) ، ثم يمر بسوق الحيتان ، فيقول : لا تأكلوا ، ولا تبيعوا ما لم يكن له قشر من السمك .

Imam Ali (as) would be at Kufa riding the mule of the Messenger of Allah (s) then he would pass by the fish market, saying: Do not eat and do not sell whatever does not have a qishr (scales) from the fish. [Reference: Wasail us Shia H30149]

ـ وعنه ، عن أبيه ، عن حنان بن سدير ، عن أبي عبد الله ( عليه السلام ) ـ في حديث قال : ما لم يكن له قشر من السمك فلا تقربه .

Abu Adillah (as) in a hadith said: Whatever does not have a qishr (scales) from the fish then do not come near it. [Reference: Wasail us Shia H30150]

ـ وعنه ، عن هارون بن مسلم ، عن مسعدة بن صدقة ، عن أبي عبد الله ( عليه السلام ) : أن امير المؤمنين ( عليه السلام ) كان يركب بغلة رسول الله ( صلى الله عليه وآله ) ، ثم يمر بسوق الحيتان ، فيقول : الا لا تأكلوا ، ولا تبيعوا ما لم يكن له قشر .

And from him from Harun b. Muslim from Mas`ada b. Sadaqa from Abu `Abdillah (as) that Amir al-Mu’mineen (as) would ride the mule of the Messenger of Allah (s), then pass by the fish market, and he would say: Indeed do not eat and do not sell whatever does not have a qishr (scales).
[Reference: Wasail us Shia H30151]

Shrimp in Jewish Law

Of the things that are in the waters, you may eat anything that has fins and scales. Lev. 11:9; Deut. 14:9. Thus, shellfish such as lobsters, oysters, shrimp, clams and crabs are all forbidden. Fish like tuna, carp, salmon and herring are all permitted. [Reference: http://www.jewfaq.org/kashrut.htm]

Conclusion

To draw a conclusion we must review all the hadith on a given topic collectively (as opposed to picking one of them in isolation). When there is conflict or confusion in hadith, we must adapt the safest course – ihtiyaat (precaution) and tawaqquf (suspend judgement). Tawaqquf means that we label it neither as halal nor haram. Imam (as) on his re-appearance will clarify insha Allah.

Based on scientific classification, shrimp is classified as a crustacean in the same category as crabs and lobsters which are not permissible. Neither does shrimp have scales in the same way that a fish does. Shrimp is outlawed in the Jewish law too. Lastly, and non-religiously it does not appear to be a healthy source of food.

Given all this, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to consume it. Therefore, the safest course is to keep away from it.