Are non-Muslims ritually pure and can we consume the food they prepare?
A non-Muslim is an individual that denies one of the three fundamental tenets of Islam, which include the belief in one God, the Prophethood of Muhammad, and the concept of afterlife. In Islamic legal tradition, non-Muslims are known as Kuffār (disbelievers) and can be broadly subdivided into the following categories:
- Ahl al-Kitāb (the People of the Book) – This group includes non-Muslim individuals that belong to religions that possess divine books, such as Christians and Jews. However, they deny the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad.
- Mushrik (polytheist) – This group includes individuals that do not believe in the notion of one God or associate partners to God.
- Mulhid (deviant) – This group includes individuals that unjustifiably deny fundamental tenets of Islam, such as the existence of God or the existence of afterlife etc. This group would include atheists, agnostics, heretics, extremists etc.
Some past jurists have classified all non-Muslims to be ritually impure (najis), which means that they are physically and spiritually impure. The implication of non-Muslims being physically impure is that if a Muslim comes into physical contact with a non-Muslim, then he/she must wash themselves prior to performing devotional acts that require a ritual state of purity (such as ṣalāt), provided the contact is through wetness. Moreover, another implication of non-Muslims being physically impure is that it is impermissible to consume food prepared by them, if at any point during the process of preparation their body has come into contact with the food through wetness. 
Other earlier jurists have made a distinction between different groups of non-Muslims and accordingly classified some groups to be ritually impure and others as ritually pure (ṭāhir).
Non-Muslims are not physically impure. Accordingly, it is permissible to consume lawful food that is prepared by them.
1. The word impure (najas) is used once in the Quran in the context of polytheists (mushrik): “O you who have believed, indeed the polytheists are unclean, so let them not even go near the sacred mosque after this year.”
There are a number of markers that indicate that this verse uses the term ‘impure’ in the context of spiritual impurity as opposed to physical impurity:
- This verse should be understood in its political context. Other verses in the same chapter indicate that this verse was revealed when a fringe group (amongst Meccan polytheists) was being unjust to Muslims by not respecting and adhering to the terms of their agreed treaty. As a result, Allah revealed that the polytheists must be expelled from the sacred precinct of Mecca except for those who adhered to the treaty and declared the other polytheists as impure,  and warned that they “should not go near the sacred mosque”. The context of this verse suggests that polytheists were only deemed impure by Allah because they had broken their treaty with Muslims, as opposed to being essentially impure due to being polytheists. As a result, the context in which the above verse was revealed makes it impossible to extend its meaning to all polytheists, let alone all non-Muslims.
- If polytheists are deemed physically impure and hence not allowed near the sacred mosque, then what about other substances and objects that are undisputedly physically impure in their essential nature, such as certain animals, blood, faeces etc? It is known that these things were brought near the sacred mosque and existed within the sacred precinct of Mecca. Therefore, it is clear that that the impurity of polytheists refers to spiritual impurity only, as otherwise Allah would have banned every physical impure substance or object to be bought near the sacred mosque or the sacred precinct of Mecca.
- There are many references in the general verses of the Quran that indicate that terms such as ‘impurity’ (najāsa) and ‘purity’ (ṭahāra) are used in a spiritual context as opposed to a physical context. For instance, in 3:55 the term purity (ṭahāra) is used directly in contrast to disbelief (kufr). Another example is in 8:11, where the term purity is depicted in dispelling the defilement (rijz) of Satan. Therefore, the word ‘impurity’ is indicative of one’s spiritual and psychological state of impurity through polytheist belief systems, and moral state of deficiency through polytheist practices.
- The notion of physical impurity of non-Muslims contradicts the Quranic verse in which Allah depicts reverence to all children of Adam by claiming: “Certainly, we have honoured the children of Adam”. This verse amplifies an overarching message of the dignity of humanity as a whole, and is in contrast with the legal opinion of the physical impurity of some non-Muslims.
2. Apart from the above verse of the Quran, there are two sets of contradicting narrations regarding non-Muslims that belong to the group of Ahl al-kitāb. One set of narrations declare Ahl al-kitāb as pure, whereas another set of narrations declare Ahl al-kitāb as impure.
Furthermore, there are narrations that declare other groups of non-Muslims as impure with the Ahl al-Kitāb. For instance, the Sixth Imam narrates: “Do not wash in public baths, for in there gathers used water from the washing of the Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and our enemies (Nāṣibī). The Nāṣibī (a person that has hate for the family of the holy Prophet) is the most impure among them, for indeed Allah has not created anything more impure than a dog however the Nāṣibī is more impure.”
The above hadith evidently supports the notion that Ahl al-Kitāb, Nāṣibī and – by priority - other groups of non-Muslims are physically impure. However, this hadith does not only contradict Quran 17:70, but also contradicts 5:5, which explicitly permits Muslims to marry and consume the food prepared by Ahl al-kitāb.
It can therefore be concluded that the narrations regarding the purity or impurity of non-Muslims are contradicting and unclear. These narrations fail to provide the necessary context to comprehend the expressive treatment of the Imams with their targeted audience. Accordingly, even if it is assumed that the hadith literature that claims the physical impurity of non-Muslims is reliable, recourse to the general verses of the Quran (in particular 5:5 and 17:70), leads to the conclusion that there is no substantive evidence to prove the physical impurity of non-Muslims
 Tabṣirat al-mutʿallimīn, pp. 34-35
 Quran 9:28
 Quran 9:28
 Quran (17:70)
 Al-Kāfī, vol. 6, p. 263
 Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, vol. 3, p. 419