Eid and Veganism: To Meat or Not to Meat?

Green eating and debates over animal sacrifice come to the fore every year during Eid Al-Adha in the next iteration of “Islam and _ism”

O you who believe! make not unlawful the good things which God has made lawful for you but commit no excess: for God does not love those given to excess. [Qur’an 5:87, Sahih International]

Vegetarianism and veganism do not preclude one from the incorrect and unethical, nor does meat-eating preclude one from discussions about ethical animal treatment. Many popular posts online come from well-known Islamophobes who use the supposedly barbaric sacrificial practice on Eid Al-Adha to further anti-Muslim fervor – though one would be hard-pressed to find them causing a ruckus on Thanksgiving, the Jewish Kapparot, or the animal sacrifices at the Gadhimai festival. Perhaps we may even find them enjoying a slice of bacon themselves. They are not to be taken with even an iota of seriousness. It’s also noteworthy that at this time of year, many magazines, especially in India where meat-eating is a contentious religious and political issue, pick up on such stories and perspectives that cite broad-brushed claims on fiqhi (jurisprudential) issues.

However, our community should still examine the philosophical underpinnings of arguments for and against eating meat prior to taking on these labels. In an article discussing lab-grown meat, the author references Shaykh Musa Furber’s lengthy paper on intensive animal farming practices. In his conclusion, he writes,

Completely eliminating the consumption of animal products is neither a viable or desirable option for Muslims, since animal sacrifice is involved in several religious rites and occasions. Additionally, moderate consumption of meat is a Prophetic norm (Sunnah). So one really cannot make a case that the Sacred Law calls for vegetarianism or that it is in line with the Sunnah. Instead, something must be done to ensure that our consumption is within the limits set by religious norms and sound medical advice, and that the animals we consume are raised according to the Sacred Law.[1]

Any discussion on reconciling Islam with veganism/vegetarianism must look at the premises of different arguments. For example, a blog post on PETA claims Muslims “can honor [their] faith without harming animals.” The premise here is that every kind of slaughter is harmful, and they cite an unknown website and questionable blog post as evidence that this is not a problem for Muslims to believe. Yet the Muslim’s definition of what makes an action harmful or beneficial and moral or immoral is fundamentally at odds with their framing: Allah (ﷻ) has made some animals a source of permissible nourishment for human beings, and He not only allows animal slaughter but highly encourages it on several occasions, the biggest one being Eid Al-Adha.

Of course, eating meat is not mandatory, and arguments for limiting meat from one’s diet are not wrong as long as they do not stem from the premise that eating meat, or that slaughter done in accordance with the letter and spirit of divine law, are inherently wrong and immoral. [2] This includes believing a vegan/vegetarian diet is inherently superior to eating meat and animal-based products, or that it’s more pleasing to Allah (ﷻ). That would be the equivalent of saying a particular diet superior to that of the Prophet (ﷺ) is possible. In one hadith (narration), some of the companions mentioned acts they intended to refrain from, including marrying, eating meat, and sleeping in order to achieve higher states of spirituality, so Prophet (ﷺ) rebuked them:

He (the Holy Prophet) praised Allah and glorified Him, and said: What has happened to these people that they say so and so, whereas I observe prayer and sleep too; I observe fast and suspend observing them; I marry women also? And he who turns away from my Sunnah, he has no relation with Me. (Sahih Muslim) [3]

This hadith highlights the gravity of abandoning any sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ) and the mistaken idea that going to extremes, in this case completely abandoning the consumption of meat, brings one closer to God (ﷻ). Rather, the sunnah is what brings us closer to God (ﷻ), and the sunnah is moderation.

Indeed, scholars like Shaykh Salman Younas have emphasized the need for wholesome food, stating,

The issue is not only one of the permissibility of consuming the animals being slaughtered, but the wholesomeness of such food as well. [2]

These problems are not uniquely addressed by humanitarian movements; Muslim communities have been aware and active on these issues, and inshaAllah (God-willing) they continue to do so en masse. Religion is not solely a list of legal rights and wrongs, but of the exemplar as well – overconsumption, viewing eating meat as an inviolable right, charlatans in the halal meat industry, or assuming that eating zabiha automatically absolves Muslims from responsibility to the environment and other creations of Allah (ﷻ) are all problems we must rectify. Animals are often slaughtered in ways that either directly contravene Islamic law, or in ways that are not in line with its spirit. Many who can afford it eat much more meat than the Prophet ﷺ and sahaba (companions) did, despite severe injunctions against gluttony, addiction, and excess. Additionally, unhygienic practices and animal abuse run rampant in many Muslim-majority communities and countries. Advocating for less meat in one’s diet in this context may be a laudable choice with the correct intentions, but with the caveat that it’s not a permanent solution. Rather, Muslims should be proactive in rectifying these abuses so that animals are honored both in life and as sources of nutrition, as we are custodians of this Earth [Qur’an 2:30].

Ethical veganism and vegetarianism movements generally don’t make this distinction: they are opposed on principle to the commodification of animals, which includes meat consumption. Their goals don’t end in improving the conditions animals are grown and slaughtered in, but extend to eliminating the use and trade of animals (and animal products) entirely. This is why a better approach for Muslims is to advocate for Islamic treatment and slaughter, because our premises, goals, and understanding of our relationship with animals aren’t the same as those of vegetarian and vegan activists. They argue harming animals is wrong and shouldn’t be done, because animals are like humans, and harming humans is wrong.

However, from an Islamic perspective we question the premise that animals are no different to humans. Every creature and even inanimate objects have a divinely-ordained role. Allah (ﷻ) says in the Qur’an:

It is neither their flesh nor their blood that reaches Allah, but what does reach Him is the taqwā (the sense of obedience) on your part. Thus He has made them (the animals) subjugated to you, so that you proclaim Allah’s glory for the guidance He gave you. And give good news to those who are good in their deeds. [Qu’ran 22:37]

As Allah (ﷻ) says in the rest of the ayah, which vegan activists often quote but conveniently ignore the second half, the divinely ordained role of animals of sacrifice is to submit to humans and be a means for them. A human’s divinely-ordained role in udhiyya/qurbani (animal sacrifice on Eid) is to remember that the animal’s submission is from Allah and to praise Allah (ﷻ) because Allah (ﷻ) put us in that role of responsibility. Our carrying out of the practice of udhiyya and fulfilling divinely-ordained roles is all praise of God. In a display of seemingly human dominance over animals in udhiyya is the deeper, metaphysical understanding that the truly dominant is Allah (ﷻ) alone. Al-Qurtubi says in the tafsir (exegesis) of this ayah: “So that people know that the Almighty is God, the One, the Supreme, above His servants.”[4]

Other arguments claim that because animal sacrifice is not a pillar of Islam, it’s not mandatory – which is in fact not the case. Udhiyya is a sunnah mu’akkadah (strongly emphasized sunnah) in the Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali schools of jurisprudence, and wajib (mandatory) according to the Hanafi school.[5] One can fulfill this by doing the slaughter himself or by appointing someone else to do so, although it’s preferable if one does it himself. 

For others, the call to leave the practice entirely stems from a misapplication of principles, Islamic law, and misinterpretation of sacred texts. These kinds of posts, especially made by non-experts and to audiences of thousands, are misleading and irresponsible. It is religiously blameworthy to leave udhiyya continuously and erroneous to believe it is simply a contextual and superfluous act. This misinformation jeopardizes a Muslim’s act of ibadah (worship). Vague descriptions of Eid Al-Adha as a time of compassion and self-reflection, not unlike how Lent is now popularly practiced in America, reinterprets the story of Prophet Ibrahim (as) away from an example of obedience and complete trust in what Allah (ﷻ) commands. Compassion and self-reflection are a part of every holiday for Muslims, of course, but the understanding of the story of Ibrahim (as) cannot undermine the act of Ibrahim’s (as) sacrifice. The heavy act of animal sacrifice done on Eid Al-Adha remembers his complete and total submission to Allah (ﷻ). For us, it teaches the possibility to obey a divinely inspired command even at the cost of something precious and when it can be difficult to perceive the wisdom behind it. As Muslims, we take pride in all of our acts of worship, whether it is standing in prayer or laying down an animal for sacrifice, because our only aim is to please Allah (ﷻ).

We ask Allah ﷻ to guide us to follow His religion as it is, to make the sunnah of our Prophet beloved to us, to accept our worship during the blessed days of Dhul Hijjah, to accept our sacrifices, and to allow us to live to do these acts of worship again.

Works Cited:

  1. Furber, Musa. “Intensive Animal Farming: Wrongs & Responsibilities.” Tabah Research. pp. 25-26 
  2. https://seekersguidance.org/answers/hanafi-fiqh/is-adopting-a-vegan-diet-permitted-in-islam/
  3. ​​https://sunnah.com/muslim:1401
  4. https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=1&tTafsirNo=5&tSoraNo=22&tAyahNo=37&tDisplay=yes&Page=1&Size=1&LanguageId=1
  5. https://seekersguidance.org/answers/hanafi-fiqh/is-there-a-difference-of-opinion-on-whether-slaughtering-qurbaniudhiya-is-necessary-and-how-does-one-deal-with-years-of-makeups/

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