Can I Eat With My Left Hand?

10 January, 2017
Q 'Assalamu Alaikum, I'm left-handed and it is difficult for me to do things with my right hand. Can I eat with my left hand?

Answer

Asalamu Alaikum,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Dr. Shabir Ally addresses this question in the video below:

Transcript:

Aisha Khaja: So, Dr. Shabir, today’s question is from Azeem. And he’s asking: can I eat with the left hand because I’m left-handed?

Dr. Shabir Ally: Well, I did some research into this question, and mostly, we find that there’s an emphasis in the sunnah that one eats with the right hand.

But that emphasis never addressed the question of left-handedness as a genetic inheritance, and so we need to make some adjustments here and look at the question more broadly. 

A question was asked also about performing the ritual slaughter and using the left hand. And even traditional scholars have said that if a person is left-handed probably it is actually better for them to use the left hand in performing the slaughter.

Because there’s nothing in our tradition that specifies that it must be with the right hand. Normally, the right hand is given preference, and one might say here too, the right hand is given preference. But that’s all things being equal.

But they’re saying in this case what is needed is to do it well. And the left-handed person would probably do it better if they use the left hand for this purpose.

Aisha Khaja: Is it … I grew up believing and knowing … is it sunnah to eat with your right hand?

Dr. Shabir Ally: Well, this is where we need to get …

Aisha Khaja: Yeah, this is a bigger question. 

Dr. Shabir Ally: This is where the complication arises here because–whether it is the performing ritual slaughter or writing or some other function—it seems that to use the left hand is, it’s not a problem, especially for somebody who was left-handed.

But now, when it comes to eating, there are specific hadiths that recommend eating with the right hand. And then, also, the flip side of that is that there are hadiths that condemn eating what the left.

For example, there is a hadith that says, do not eat with the left hand [quoting hadith in Arabic]: because certainly the Satan eats and drinks with his left hand.

So, does that mean that, you know, the non-physical Satan, who inspires people to work evil deeds, that Satan eats and drinks with the left hand? Some hadith actually seem to indicate that as well, to the extent of saying that if you eat with the left hand, the Shaytan or Satan is eating along with you.

Which is a bit strange anyhow to think of how exactly this would happen in practical terms. But nevertheless, these are the hadith that drive the thinking to say there’s a strong emphasis on eating with the right hand.

So, some would say that even if somebody’s left-handed—just as we right-handers can actually, eat with, we can do things with the left, including eating if we wanted to. But in our tradition, we abstain from that.

But somebody physically could still do it. So, in a similar way, they’re saying even if the person is left-handed that person could still eat with the right. Maybe not, it won’t be the most comfortable thing initially. but one can actually train oneself to do that.

More to it, and there is a tradition that says that there was a young man at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet told him: eat with your right hand. And he said: I’m not able to. And the narrative said that he only said so out of obstinacy.

Aisha Khaja: What do you mean by that?

Dr. Shabir Ally: I mean that he could have if you wanted to. But he just wanted to reject what the Prophet was saying to him. And then, the Prophet said: OK, be it so. And so, it happened that he was not able to eventually lift his right hand to his mouth.

Of course, the saying seems to reflect the legendary situation. this may not have actually happened in fact. And it’s unreal to think that the Prophet (peace be upon him) would put a curse on the young man like this.

But hadiths like this have tended to shift the thinking of Muslims into a very strong rejection of eating with the left hand. And to the extent that somebody complains, I won’t attend Muslim functions anymore because I’m left-handed, and when I eat with my left hand, there is always somebody trying to correct me.

And who wants to be corrected by 50 people? And so, I think the more lenient approach needs to be seen here. In the case of a person with genuine left-handedness, there can be some allowance for that.

But if somebody can eat with the right hand that more fits within the Islamic ethos. But I wouldn’t insist on this as an absolute.


A note from Theresa Corbin about left-handedness: I am left-handed and when I came to Islam and was instructed to eat with my right hand, I found it quite easy to train myself to do so. It is not an impossibility, but everyone differs in their abilities.

The point is to not tell yourself you can’t eat with your right hand if you are left-handed, but to try and eat with the right hand, seeking the pleasure of Allah. And see what Allah allows.

That being said, as Dr. Shabir affirms in this video, there is nothing spiritually inferior or wrong with being left-handed or using your left hand for things like writing and so on. My left-handed grandmother was beaten as a child in Catholic school for using her left hand, and she was trained to use her right hand in all things.

Her use of the right hand rendered her writing nearly illegible and made tasks difficult for her for the remainder of her life. This is not an Islamic teaching. We do not find the left hand to be a source of evil or bad or any other superstition like this.

InshaAllah, we need not apply a specific ruling in general ways. And Allah Knows best. 

I hope this helps answer your question. Please keep in touch.

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Foods of the Prophet (S.A.W.S.)

Eating Disorders Breaking Cultural Boundaries

Journal of Herbalist: Eating Right