Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
This is an authentic hadîth related in Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim.
Abû Tha`labah al-Khushanî said to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him): "We come from a land populated by the People of the Scripture. Can we eat from their dishes?
The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: "Do not eat from them unless you do not find anything else to eat from. In that case, wash them and eat from them."
The wording of the hadîth gives a general prohibition of using such dishes if other dishes are availible, meaning that this prohibition applies even if we know that those dishes are clean and free from impurities. The basic assumption in Islamic jurisprudence would be that the prohibition of the Prophet (peace be upon him) indicates the unlawfulness of doing the prohibited act.
However, in this case, we have Allah’s statement in the Qur’ân: “The food of those who have been given the Scripture is lawful to you.” [Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 5]
Moreover, there are many cases where the Prophet (peace be upon him) ate the food of the People of the Book. All of this shows us that the prohibition given in the hadîth under discussion cannot mean that eating from such dishes is unlawful. Scholars differ as to whether doing so is generally disliked or generally permissible.
The strongest opinion on the matter is that such dishes are lawful to use, even if it is known that they had formerly been tainted by impurities like pork or the meat of unlawfully slaughtered animals. This is the position of the Hanbalî school of thought. It is supported by a large body of evidence which is as follows:
1. Allah says: “He is the one who created for you everything that is on the Earth.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 29] This verse indicates that the default ruling for everything is an underlying assumption of permissibility. These dishes fall under the general ruling indicated by this verse.
2. Allah also says: “The food of those who have been given the Scripture is lawful to you.” [Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 5] Since their food is prepared and served with their dishes and utensils, it follows that their dishes are lawful as well.
3. The Companions performed their ablutions in front of the Prophet (peace be upon him) from the water left over by a pagan woman. Both he and they drank from that water. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim] If it was unlawful to use their dishes, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would not have allowed them to use that water or drink from it.
4. One of the strongest pieces of evidence supporting this view is the hadîth related by Jâbir who said: “We used to go on military expeditions with Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and acquire the dishes and drinking vessels of the pagans. We would use these things and did not consider doing so to be objectionable.” [Musnad Ahmad (3/379, 327, 343, 389), Sunan Abî Dâwûd (2/391), Musnad al-Bazzâr (1/32), and Sunan al-Bayhaqî (1/218)] In Irwâ’ al-Ghalîl, al-Albani determines the chain of transmission for this hadîth to be authentic.
It is a well-known historical fact that during their military campaigns, the Muslims used to acquire the dishes and cookware of the pagans and freely use such things. They were never ordered to avoid these items. This shows that such dishes were permissible to use and were assumed to be free from impurities.
If there had been something wrong with using those dishes, it would have been a matter public concern that all the Muslims would have needed to be informed of. It would have been widely discussed and related to others. The fact that no such discussion has reached us is proof that no problem ever existed.
6. The Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions used to live alongside the pagans in Mecca. In many cases, a Muslim would have been living with his pagan parents in a pagan household. Later on, the Muslims emigrated to Madinah, which was inhabited by both Jews and pagans. It was not uncommon that that they would invite one another to their homes for food and offer each other something to drink. It has never been mentioned even once that the Muslim avoided using the dishes of the non-Muslims or so much as expressed an aversion to doing so.
If we think about it, this last point is the strongest evidence there can be, since it shows a widespread practice of the Companions that has the strength of a mutawâtir (widespread) narration. Such sweeping evidence cannot be dismissed on the basis of texts that make no decisive statement on the matter and that are open to multiple interpretations, especially when those texts can be easily reconciled without any contradiction.
From the strength of all this evidence, we maintain that the strongest opinion is that such dishes are permissible to use as long as they are clean. And Allah knows best.
As far as the hadîth you asked about, it needs to be understood in its proper context. In his commentary on Sahîh Muslim, al-Nawawî observes that the dishes that were being asked about on that particular occassion were those that that the questioner knew had been specifically used for cooking pork and for drinking alcoholic beverages. This is clearly mentioned in the narration of the hadîth that is found in Sunan Abî Dâwûd. The reason why using such dishes is disliked, even after washing tthem, is out of distaste for using items that are frequently used for impure things. Therefore, eating from such dishes is disliked, even after washing them.
The hadîth of Abû Tha`labah refers to the specific situation he was coping with in his locality, where the non-Muslims were eating pork and drinking alcohol from the dishes in question. The answer that he received was appropriate for his situation. It is not a ruling that applies generally to all the dishes of all non-Muslims.
What we can say generally is that the dishes of non-Muslims – whether they be those of Jews, Christians, Magians, or pagans – should preferably be washed before use if such dishes are often used for impure things like pork, even if those dishes are clean. Of course, if those dishes are actually contaminated with impurities, there is no argument that we must wash them before we can use them.
It is disliked - but not unlawful - for Muslims to use dishes that are known with certainty to be frequently used for unlawful and impure things if other dishes are available. In this case, it is preferable to use the dishes of Muslims as well as the dishes of non-Muslims that are not frequently used for impure and unlawful things.
And Allah knows best.
Source: Islam Today