Confessions of a Muslim Vegetarian

Muslim Vegetarian

I was about 12 when I decided I should be a vegetarian — yes, a Muslim vegetarian. Naturally, my creative parents would mush up chicken and hide it in my dinner, then lie about the entire affair. Perhaps it was observing the bloody slaughters on my trips back home, or the cuddly animals from my storybooks; Either way, I loved animals and wished to not eat them. In retrospect, it may have been the childhood experience of being chased by a severed goat’s head one Eid-ul-Adha by a tyrant cousin that resulted in this life-altering decision.

In my young age I didn’t understand the attention garnered at family dinners and holiday get-togethers by this relatively innocuous concept to not consume meat. Soon, tiring of unwanted attention and endless questions, comments, and jokes at every gathering, it was decided in the interest of my mental health that I would eat chicken and fish — for protein, of course. Now my parents wouldn’t have to resort to subterfuge and I could disappear into the background again. It was nice.

When I reached the age of 25 I wondered why I was still eating something which incessantly made me feel morally gross. Why didn’t I have the courage to be who I wanted to be? My faith is supposed to give me the confidence to do the right thing. I became a vegetarian again with renewed confidence and the dreaded social dinners picked up where they had left off over a decade ago. I have been poked, prodded, patronized, sneered at, criticized, joked about, and judged. I have also been accused of blasphemy.

When I reached the age of 25 I wondered why I was still eating something which incessantly made me feel morally gross.

Truth is, most days I’m vegan and almost decided to go public recently. When I broached the topic one daring day, a close relative declared in his booming voice that Veganism is a cult similar to Scientology. I wish I were joking. So I declared nothing. I practice being a pseudo vegan instead. This means I am mostly undercover. Cruelty products rarely enter my home.

Blasphemy. This is when the critics pull out the story of prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), The sheep sacrificed in this instance, which represents love and obedience for Allah, serves as a tradition we carry out yearly to mark the end of the Hajj. Putting the difference of opinion aside, I’d like to discuss the original sheep.

Now, I think it relatively reasonable to assume that this particular sheep was not subject to cruel industrialized farming practices. It’s feed wasn’t polluted with other animal byproducts. It wasn’t pumped with growth hormones or antibiotics. It wasn’t starved before its death for monetary gain (permissible under Canadian law). It didn’t break limbs due to cramped dwellings or brutal transportation methods. It didn’t have parts of its anatomy cut off without anesthesia.

It is relatively reasonable to assume this sheep was not shackled, beaten, tortured, or mutilated.

The reason I am writing this article is to ask my fellow Muslims to engage in Ijtihad. To stop asking ‘Is it halal?’ in this sheep-like (pun intended) thought process and start asking, ‘What is halal?’ How did this animal live, what did it eat, how was it treated, how was it slaughtered and was it in accordance with the provisions Islam is very very clear about? Indisputably clear.

The common reality of the current state of our halal meat is not a pretty picture. Industrialized farming practices do not follow Islamic guidelines. Often times we fail to draw a distinction between zabiha and halal. The two are not synonymous.  Halal in its entire depth covers more ground than hand slaughtering in the name of Allah. It is also the manner in which an animal lives. A natural life in natural conditions, with a natural diet. It’s also pertinent that the animal doesn’t see another animal slaughtered. If these requirements are not met, how can we be certain the meat we are eating is halal?

Often times we fail to draw a distinction between zabiha and halal. The two are not synonymous.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was known for his simple and often meatless diet. With colonization came the correlation between meat and wealth. Along came the factory farming industry with its policies that make life challenging for small farmers and impossible for voiceless animals.

Artificial: Hormones and antibiotics injected into the animals, to prevent disease in their confined quarters; we consume these by extension. Inept and cruel living standards, chemical interference, and mysterious animal feed; these conditions do not translate into a natural life where animals can roam and eat as they please.

Cruelty:

Two recent investigations revealed horrid conditions on factory farms in Ontario this year. Quoted directly from Mercy for Animals website (company names removed for legal purposes):

‘Hidden-camera video exposed extreme cruelty to animals at a chicken hatchery, one of Canada’s largest meat producers. The shocking video footage shows baby chicks flung by their fragile wings and slammed into metal dividers, live chicks sent through a scalding washing machine, burned, and drowned, and birds being overloaded and roughly crammed into macerators to be ground up alive.’

‘An investigator from MFA Canada secretly filmed workers abusing birds in filthy, overcrowded warehouses at the world’s largest primary turkey breeder. Workers were caught on hidden camera kicking and throwing turkeys, crushing their spines, and violently beating them with shovels and metal rods. Turkeys with open, pus-filled wounds, rotting eyes, and festering infections were left to suffer and die.’

These chickens and turkeys are also made to grow so quickly, they become crippled under their own weight, suffocated by the lack of space they are afforded.

 

Animal feed: Often animal feed used in factory farming contains discarded animal byproduct. This is in direct conflict with halal tenants, as animals permissible for consumption need to have an herbivore diet.

Environmental impact: The environmental set backs of factory farming are well documented. As Muslims, we have been called upon to be stewards of this earth. How can we participate in meat consumption of this manner when it is one of the most wasteful and environmentally damaging industries on our planet? It is famously quoted that we save more water by not eating a pound of meat than by not showering for 6 months. Antibiotics pumped into the animals have been found in local water sources along with dangerous phosphorus and nitrogen levels. Factory farming is also the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a popular local halal meat butcher shop that promises adherence to strict Islamic rules. What this means is, and I quote, “the chicken can spread their wings, they have enough room”. Yeah… no. This does not work for me. Maximizing profits and supplying exorbitant meat products to match gluttonous diets, this is not my Islamic way. There are a few places that adhere in all respects to Islamic practices. They’re expensive. They’re supposed to be.

Capitalism is a profit driven concept that puts our ethical compass on the back burner. It’s a system that will try to mislead us by using deceptive terms that are shrouded in mystery like free-range, which doesn’t mean free at all. However, we can do our best to take a stand against injustice.

With every dollar you spend, you vote for what manufacturing policies you support. Grocery shopping is when our food choices are entirely in our hands. This is when I choose to be as vegan and cruelty free as possible because my Islam teaches me respect for animals. I cannot and will not finance an industry with my purchases that perpetuates cruelty. We don’t have to fund and condone abhorrent farming practices. We have an abundance of choices here. Let’s make the right ones.

Written by Zehra Abbas, Founder, Executive Director of Studio.89

By: January 28, 2015

15 Comments


  • This matches my experiences exactly


  • solution is simple…eat Organic


    • Even with organic meat, animals still suffer in cramped spaces and are not treated with the respect they deserve


  • thats why theres a place called BlossomPure Organics 🙂


  • I thought I was the only one


  • I just don’t like the statement “They’re expensive. They’re supposed to be.” Why can’t we change that? It’s only in North America that processed food is cheaper than natural, organic food. The model in Europe and certain other places is the opposite. I know people who would love to make this type of food choices but their lifestyle (read income) does not allow them to do so and these statements do exactly that – lead one to believe that if you are poor, keep eating the crap; good food is only for the rich!


  • Its disheartening that the pejorative with vegan and vegetarian perspectives is the way it is, and carnivorousness in the ubiquitous “Muslim dish” has to be legitimized by so-called nutrition and contrived piety. Thank you for adorning your humanity with your sense of justice and Islam.


  • abachan88@aol.com on March 8, 2015

    do you consume qurbani or aqeeqah meat?


  • So you’re vegetarian because you’re saying the process of the meat slaughtered is not Halal. I agree that animals treated wrongfully but slaughtered in the Halal way are not truly Halal,but there are many farms in Ontario that raise their animals properly and slaughter them halal too. So your point of not wanting to eat meat due to this point would be invalid no?


  • It’s like I was reading my own thoughts on paper. I just started by veganism recently and feel great because of it, mentally and physically. I, however, don’t swear off meat because there is a sunnah in it. I swore off the meat that you speak of in this article, including eggs and dairy. Right now I don’t see myself ever eating meat again and I am ok with that. The Muslim diet is contaminated with processed meat, packaged dinners etc etc. the halal industry has exploded. I also don’t think most of the ‘halal’ labels are truly halal and one is better off keeping away from meat all together.


  • Thanks for this, Zehra! The commodification of the “Halal” designation has been prolific these past few years. It’s disheartening to see so many in our community uncritically participate and exacerbate the problem.
    As you’ve wonderfully stated, industrialized farming is detrimental to animals, people and the planet – thus it defies everything that Halal is suppose to exemplify.


  • Being vegetarian should be perfectly fine as long as you still do Qurbani. You am sure you can choose to not eat the meat from the Qurbani and give it to the poor and relatives. I don’t think there is any restriction in Islam if you choose to not eat meat yourself.
    As long as you don’t preach it as Islamic way (since Allah has permitted it) and still do Qurbani when it’s required, I see no problem. I would rather applaud you for your effort.


  • I can’t believe I just found this page!


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