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Can a Muslim be Vegan?

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With ʿEid al-Aḍḥa fast approaching, some vegans have decided to call on others to avoid performing the highly recommended Sunnah of the Uḍḥiyah (Qurbānī). While this may be well-intentioned, it becomes highly problematic when Islamic legitimacy is sought to be given to these calls, despite their clear opposition to Islamic teachings. Most Muslims understand the importance of the Sunnah of the Uḍḥiyah, but I thought it would be useful to highlight some rulings relevant to veganism and vegetarianism.

A well-established Islamic principle states that consideration is not given to mere labels and names, but rather to realities and substance.[1] This principle applies to our discussion on veganism and vegetarianism. Although labels can be important and should at times be used carefully, we must first establish the precise definitions of the concepts at hand, and then put them to the test against Islamic teachings, rather than give rulings based on labels such as ‘vegetarianism’ or ‘veganism’ as a whole.

To keep things concise, we can say that those who avoid eating meat do so for a variety of reasons:

“I don’t like it”

Some avoid eating meat due to health reasons or because they do not have any desire for it, but they believe meat to be pure and Ḥalāl. In this case, one should minimise their intake of meat, but not avoid it altogether. This is so that the Sunnah of eating meat on ʿEid al-Aḍḥa, at a ʿAqīqah, and other such occasions can be acted upon.

“I don’t trust it”

Some are overly cautious and do not trust the meat today to be slaughtered in a purely Islamic manner, so they completely avoid meat altogether in order to be on the safe side.

Such paranoia should be avoided. One should not take an absolute stance that meat today cannot be trusted. Eat from the Ḥalāl and Ṭayyib (pure) as Allāh commanded,[2] and if you have good reason to doubt something then there is no harm in leaving it, as the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) commanded.[3]

Our mother ʿĀ’isha (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) narrates that some people said to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that a people came to them with meat that they were not sure whether or not the name of Allāh had been mentioned on the animal before killing it. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) replied, “Mention the name of Allāh upon it and eat it.”[4]

The jurists have said that this ḥadīth proves that the actions of people are ordinarily considered to be correct and appropriate, while deviation or error must be proven.[5]

“It’s bad for you”

Perhaps some Muslims believe that excessive meat intake contributes towards health problems or other issues, while still appreciating the importance of Islamic symbols of sacrifice and the lawfulness of meat. These are certainly discussions that should be held, and wherever there is some sort of harm, solutions should be provided while still encouraging the spread of the Sunnah. For instance, it is true that the meat industry dominant in the Western world is rife with all types of harms, due to the prioritisation of un-Islamic values of putting profit before animal welfare. It is also true that global capitalism and imperialism has caused this to creep into the rest of the world as well. As a result, there is a serious conversation that needs to be had concerning the harms to both people and animals from excessive consumption of meat.

However, rather than campaigning against the act of worship that is Uḍḥiyah or suggesting that it should be kept to a minimum, one can campaign for stricter monitoring of animal slaughter and meat production at the same time as encouraging Uḍḥiyah in areas where there is a higher likelihood of the practice being carried out in a way which is more pleasing to Allāh. Where there is a will, there is a way.

“It’s wrong”

The final category of those who avoid meat are those who do so because they believe that slaughtering animals is inhumane or unfair. It is such justifications that are problematic. In fact, this statement is so severe that it could constitute disbelief by taking one out of the fold of Islām, if the implications of such a statement is understood. This is because it amounts to accusing Allāh the Most Merciful, and the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), of legislating and encouraging something that is unjust and immoral. We belong to Allāh, and so does all of creation. He is the One who permitted the slaughter of animals and made it pure and good, while also reminding us of the etiquettes of slaughter that include being as merciful to animals as possible. None is wiser than Allāh.

‘’O you who have believed, do not prohibit the good things which Allāh has made lawful to you and do not transgress. Indeed, Allāh does not like transgressors.’’[6]

In the verse above, Allāh the Almighty tells us that one of the forms of transgression is to consider the lawful to be harmful or unlawful. There is no doubt that the one who claims that which Allāh has made lawful to be inhumane or unjust is committing a grave transgression. Plenty could be written on the importance of showing compassion and kindness towards animals in Islām, but below are just some examples.

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: ‘’Let one of you sharpen his knife and allow his animal to rest.’’[7] He also taught us that a woman was punished in the Fire for keeping a cat locked up without taking proper care of it.[8] In another incident, some of the companions passed by a bird with her chicks. When they decided to take her chicks, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: ‘’Who has frightened her by taking her babies? Return them to her.’’[9]

Praise be to Allāh the All-Wise, who has guided us towards balance, moderation and excellence in life with this perfect religion. Islām has taught us the beautiful middle path of benefitting from animals while showing them care, kindness, and compassion.

While it is worth remembering that we are living in an age in which people may not realise the implications of what they say. It is common for many Muslims today to wish to become part of a rights movement while accepting all the values of that movement, regardless of their consistency with the spirit of Islām. For this reason, people need to have things clarified gently so that they may understand. We ask Allāh to bring back to the path of guidance those who have erred.

Success is from Allāh alone. Peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allāh, and upon his family, companions, and followers.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Sharh Al-Qawā’id Al-Fiqhiyyah, Ahmed al-Zarqa (1/55)

[2] Al-Qur’ān 2:168

[3] Tirmidhi (2442), Nasā’i (5615), and Ahmad (1630)

[4] Sahih al-Bukhāri (5188)

[5] The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradāwi (p. 50)

[6] Al-Qur’ān 5:87

[7] Muslim (1955)

[8] Bukhari (2365) and Muslim (2242)

[9] Abu Dawud (2675)

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About Zahed Fettah

Zahed completed his LLB Law degree from the University of Birmingham, a BA in Sharī'ah Law from the European Institute of Human Sciences, and an MA in Islamic Studies from Newham University. His classical Islamic studies were mainly with scholars in the UK and Algeria, and he holds ijazahs in various books of Hadith and Fiqh. He is currently a researcher in Islamic Studies.

4 comments

  1. Thank you for this very timely and well articulated article. All areas are covered, although, as you have stated, some certainly need more debate, understanding and details.

    I believe that points #2 and #3 together would constitute the core issues. I will however certainly advocate the explicit connection between halal and tayyib, even though this may have been debated no end elsewhere, but I feel there is still much to learn; I was always under the impression that halal and tayyib were closely related but different in that for something to be truly halal, it also has to pass the test of being tayyib; as per my understanding, halal essentially is a broad term and means permissible and lawful. It is used to describe food (in most cases meat) or drink which we can or cannot consume, although it also applies to certain actions or lifestyle choices.

    Tayyib however is a bit more descriptive and generally taken to mean wholesome, good, pleasant, excellent, fair, lawful, pure and clean.

    There is a lot more information coming out (both positive and negative) about our food supplies. One just needs an open mind and inquisitive nature to learn more about modern farming practices, and I won’t go in to the specifics in this response, other than to question are we being ethical in our food consumption or turning a blind eye to the back story of the animals’ welfare because it is convenient to do so and uncomfortable to face the disturbing reality? After all, animal welfare is a key point in our religion and there are many hadiths that point towards the importance and relevance of this.

    If because of industrial farming, with animals raised in factory farms, in what may be poor conditions or ill treated, the meat there-from may well be halal, but can we with a clear conscience say that it is tayyib? This is particularly true for diary where intensive dairy farming results in an increasing number of tayyib concerns for dairy cows and where the milk we drink has been proven to have impurities in it because of those farming practices. In fact it was my daughter who brought this to my attention when she asked me that if we know that our milk was not pure or tayyib, is it still considered halal, especially as there are now alternatives which one can use (various non diary options).

    If anything, I strongly feel that it should be Muslims who should be at the forefront and champions of the animal welfare movement. This is something I will certainly be thinking of when I tuck in to my barbeque this Eid. Eid Mubarak.

  2. Our local scholar, Mufti Abdurrahman ibn Yusuf, has given talks where he mentioned that the diet of the Prophet (pbuh) was mainly vegetarian. He encourages at least one meat free day a week to start with, with the aim of heavily reducing meat intake. With meat being consumed in excess these days, I think this side of the discussion is missing from this article. Otherwise an interesting read.

  3. “The final category of those who avoid meat are those who do so because they believe that slaughtering animals is inhumane or unfair. It is such justifications that are problematic. In fact, this statement is so severe that it could constitute disbelief by taking one out of the fold of Islām, if the implications of such a statement is understood.”

    I’m pretty sure that the people who make such objections are commenting on the huge, industrial scale rearing and slaughter of the animals – i.e., the cruel manner in which they are treated, and the thereby seemingly token nature of the “halalness”. That is a 100% legitimate concern.

    You also fail to mention climate change in relation to this. The simple fact of that matter is that intensive livestock farming, at an industrial level, is hugely damaging to the environment. We Muslims have a moral duty to cut back on our meat consumption to help in the efforts for preserving the planet.

  4. Julie Amal Rashid

    This is a new trend which I’m are seeing a lot, many Muslims being vegan. There is nothing superior to the Sunnah, we don’t as a family eat huge amounts of red meat, we lean towards fish. But we also enjoy meat once a week.
    Must admit we don’t eat chicken as there is a huge shortage of free range Halal chickens, and I’m highly uncomfortable buying battery chickens. And something being tayyib is relevant here, a chicken with broken legs due to the hormones it’s fed, is relevant. Dead chickens, lying next to live ones in a A4 space is relevant.

    Rather than have huge debates around tayyib etc, we need to be proactive as a community and provide responsibly sourced meat. I’ve yet to find a free range HMC chicken, which is certified for being free range. Yes, the Halal side is monitored but the free range part, is left unmonitored. It should be monitored and certified. And yes it’s going to cost more, but it will be healthier and not cause unnecessary pain for the chickens.

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