Written by Zinnira
“Being Vegan is HARAM!”
If I had a riyal for every time someone has said this to me, I would be able to single-handedly fund the vegan restaurant of my dreams.
This is by far the most common myth that pervades surface-level discussions on veganism and Islam. Yet, it is also the easiest to refute. Even scholars who do not understand the reasoning behind current-day veganism concede that the practice of veganism is permissible in Islam. Perhaps most surprisingly, even the Salafi scholars at Islam Q&A accept that practising veganism does not make one less of a Muslim.
They do specify however, that a Muslim veg(etari)an:
Should not think that it is better to abstain from these foods, or that doing so will be rewarded, or that a vegetarian is closer to Allah than others, and so on. It is not permitted to draw closer to Allah in this way. The Prophet ﷺ, who is the best of mankind and the closest to Allah, used to eat meat and drink milk and honey.
This argument does not stand for various reasons. For starters, we do not obtain our milk and honey and meat in the way the Prophet ﷺ or even pre-modern humans did, so the comparison does not hold up. But more embarrassingly for the Salafis, there are ahadith that clearly contradict their claim about not drawing closer to Allah through abstention from killing animals (presumably to eat them), even in the absence of a different context and animal farming practices:
Mu’awiya ibn Qurra reported that his father said, “A man said, ‘Messenger of Allah, I was going to slaughter a sheep and then I felt sorry for it (or ‘sorry for the sheep I was going to slaughter’).’ He said twice, ‘Since you showed mercy to the sheep, Allah will show mercy to you.’”
Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-‘As:
The Prophet ﷺ said: The Compassionate One has mercy on those who are merciful. If you show mercy to those who are on the earth, He Who is in the heaven will show mercy to you.
Clearly, even when animals are raised and slaughtered in Islamically-humane and halal ways, abstaining from such slaughter out of mercy is a morally praiseworthy act, and a Prophetically-approved means of getting closer to the mercy of Allah.
Being Vegan is Recommended
Unlike most contemporary scholars, at Islamic Veg, we make the case that veganism is more than just a permissible practice; it is recommended and morally praiseworthy for Muslims to be vegan. Moreover, it is largely unjustifiable for Muslims in our day and age to participate in animal consumption, due to the numerous harms that it directly causes. This position is explained best by Dr Mohamed Ghilan in this comprehensive essay. Like Dr Ghilan, we believe that being vegan in our day and age is closest to the Sunnah of he who is a mercy to all the worlds, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
However, even if a Muslim isn’t particularly motivated to emulate the highest ideals of the Sunnah, they should consider their personal responsibility as individuals who contribute to and fund the most cruel industries to ever exist. These industries breed billions upon billions of Allah’s beautiful creatures solely to abuse them in ways that are unimaginably cruel. If this knowledge isn’t cause enough for a Muslim to immediately boycott and denounce these industries, then they should worry about the disturbing lack of empathy and mercy in their heart and fear for themselves:
Abu Sa’id said that the Prophet ﷺ said:
‘Someone who does not show mercy will not be shown mercy.’
They might also want to consider how the production of their diet requires literally setting the earth on fire, diverting edible crops that could feed four billion human beings to make animal feed while 10% of the human population suffers from chronic undernourishment that could be prevented, is incredibly wasteful of water and land and is all round, a threat to life on the planet. Large-scale adoption of plant-based (or vegan) diets is essential for ensuring a future for humans on the planet; it is impossible to prevent the rise in global temperature by more than 2 degrees Celsius while maintaining current levels of animal products in our diet. Speaking of threats to human existence, it is important to mention that the infamous COVID-19, which has devastated lives and livelihoods across the globe, is a reminder of and a direct result of our cruelty to animals.
When the consumption of animals leads to such horrific consequences (as it inevitably does in our world), the question is no longer why one would abstain from it but rather why one would knowingly and intentionally continue to participate in it. Participating in and continuing to contribute to it does not befit anyone with a conscience, let alone Muslims.
Bearing this in mind, asking vegans (whether they are Muslim or not) why they are vegan is like asking someone why they aren’t setting fire to the Amazon rainforest. Setting things on fire requires justification, not doing so does not.
Even after having cited numerous sources for all the harmful consequences of eating animals, we imagine (and know, from years of personal experience) there will be those Muslims, who will still protest, however feebly, “but eating meat is halal!” To them we say, wake up and smell the (vegan) coffee! Sure, eating animal products is halal in principle, but in practice, are the requirements that make animal use halal being fulfilled? Unfortunately, for most Muslims in most parts of the world, the answer is no.
Halal – Myths and Realities
Before showing that most meat and animal products don’t fulfil Islamic standards, there is a crucial question that Muslims who say “I eat whatever is halal” must answer. Even if you don’t make this claim, this question is still important to gauge the relevance of the “halal issue”. If you are telling yourself that you eat what is halal, consider this: are you one of the numerous Hanafis who continue to eat shrimp (which is not considered halal by many Hanafi scholars), or are you a Hanbali who does not eat horses or giraffes or donkeys (halal in the Hanbali school), or a Shafii who’s never had fox or hyena meat (halal in the school) or just a Muslim who’s never had desert lizard (halal according to most scholars) or locusts (halal by scholarly consensus)?
If you’re not fighting for your God-given (madhhab-derived) right to eat hyenas or horses or desert lizards with the same fervour that you claim your right to eat genetically-modified hormone-fed unnaturally huge chickens and cows, perhaps you’re not worried about vegans making the halal haram, but are looking for justifications for your own addictions to the animal products you grew up with, not the ones the scholars termed halal or makrooh.
I would know, I’ve been there, and done exactly that. For one thing, halal does not mean recommended or compulsory; if lifelong abstention from desert lizard meat does not make me less of a Muslim, why does lifelong abstention from other types of animal bodies mean that I am making the halal haram?
The real reasons why most of us eat meat (of certain animals) and other animal products, can be inferred from the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ where he explains why he does not eat the meat of a particular animal:
Ibn ‘Abbaas said: “Khaalid ibn Al-Waleed and I entered the house of Maymoonah with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and he was brought a roasted Dhabb lizard. He stretched his hand toward it. Someone said, ‘It is a Dhabb lizard, O Messenger of Allah.’ He ﷺ withdrew his hand. Khaalid said, ‘Is it unlawful, O Messenger of Allah?’ He ﷺ said, ‘No, but there were none in my people’s land, and I find that I dislike it.’ Khaalid added, ‘I chewed and ate it while the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was looking.’”
Especially in our day and age, when plant-based sources of nutrition are widely available to most of us, the main reasons we continue to eat meat are: cultural conditioning and personal preference (which is often taken to the heights of hedonism by consumerist culture). We are meat-eaters not because we want to follow the Sunnah, but because we couldn’t give it up if we wanted to:
Yahya ibn Sa’id reported: Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “Beware of meat, for meat can be as addictive as wine.”
It is crucial to have self-awareness of the reasons and motivations behind our actions, lest we give ourselves more credit than we deserve.
Let’s talk about the other halal myth – the comforting lie that Muslims tell themselves about how they only eat halal meat, and that this equals ethical and Islamically-approved means of slaughter and animal welfare. We’ve already tackled the sorry state of affairs in terms of welfare for animals, but let’s look at meeting the bare minimum standards for “halal”, i.e, Islamic slaughter.
Recently, Mawlana Yunus Dudhwala, Chair of the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC UK) stated that halal certification measures in the UK are so unregulated that anyone could print a halal sticker at home and paste it on a chicken. (A similar lack of regulation exists in the Australian halal industry as well). To be fair to him, he did say he didn’t want to give us any ideas. It’s too bad that he said it in a video uploaded on YouTube. “Halal” meat consumers in the UK, watch out. Although if you do get conned by the halal certifications (which you most likely will), it would be unfair to blame Shaykh Yunus. Months before his comments, the Asian Express reported that gassed chicken that was not halal-slaughtered had been passed off as halal in the UK, presumably for years, and that up to 75% of all chicken labelled halal was apparently not halal at all. Butchers aptly nicknamed “the haram boys” have been sourcing cheap chicken, much of which isn’t safe for human consumption, and pasting fake health labels and halal stickers on it. This is an open secret among halal retailers, wholesalers, and even van drivers. So who’s to blame? We are, apparently. Industry insiders say that this illegal business continues to prosper thanks to the “increased consumer demand for chicken”. Besides reconsidering our appetite for chicken, and other animals, this story also shows how difficult it is to implement halal regulations in modern-day marketplaces, driven purely by profit.
Now you might say, “wait a minute, that’s only in the UK, Muslims are a minority there!” To that I’d reply, you’re right, but consider this: Muslims make up 5% of the UK population, but 46% of poultry consumers, 24% of lamb consumers, and 16% of mutton consumers. One might think that their concerns as consumers would be of importance, if not as Muslims, but this story tells us that we would be wrong. Animal welfare concerns of consumers do not stand a chance in today’s profit-driven capitalist industries where animals are commodities, not sentient beings, let alone spiritual creatures that praise and worship Allah in ways beyond human comprehension.
Further, let’s analyse the situation in countries that do have Muslim-majority populations. Surely, in a Muslim-majority country where the official religion is also Islam, this would never happen, right? Wrong. Brace yourself, because this halal meat scandal is bigger – and more biodiverse – than the previous one. In a scandal that would put The Haram Boys to shame, cartels in Malaysia had been selling non-halal (aka haram) meat imported from countries including Ukraine and China as halal meat on the Malaysian market. These fraudsters had not only managed to bribe officers in senior positions (with money and sex!) across various government agencies, but also mixed in kangaroo and horse meat (for added nutritional benefit?) and sold it as halal beef. Lastly and most shockingly, this had been going on for 40 years! Four decades. In a Muslim-majority country that has Islam as its official religion. Malaysian fraudsters have been duping non-vegan Muslims since before we were even born, let alone trying to tell people halal certifications can’t be trusted. The situation is no better in Muslim countries in the Middle East. In the words of animal welfare campaigner Peter Stevenson, “there is nothing I have seen as awful as slaughterhouses” in these countries. A novel issue in providing meat and dairy to these places is the use of “live animal exports” where it is routine for animals on board ships to starve, suffer from heat stress, and die by the thousands. In Australia, the country of origin of these exported animals, it was revealed that corruption is rampant in the halal industry, where many halal-labelled chickens are gas stunned, which kills them without being slaughtered Islamically, thus rendering their meat haram.
The aforementioned stories all lead to one conclusion – around the world, the permissibility of animals labelled halal is highly doubtful. In most cases, there is no way to find out with certainty whether the animal was slaughtered according to Islamic requirements. This poses an issue for Muslims because what is obtained of slaughtered animals is considered haram until it can be proven halal.
“The default status of slaughtered (animals) is that they are prohibited (haram), and this is by consensus of the four juristic schools – The Hanafi, the Maliki, the Shafi’i, and the Hanbali…
When there was doubt regarding whether or not the condition of permissibility was fulfilled, the hunted animal remained in its original state of prohibition, so this is evidence that the default state of slaughtered animals is prohibition (being haram). And his (the Prophet’s ﷺ) saying “So don’t eat it, because you don’t know which of them killed it” contains the explanation of an important principle, which is, when there is doubt as to whether or not the animal has been slaughtered in a way that renders it permissible for consumption, it is not permissible, because its default state is prohibition, and there is no difference of opinion regarding this.” (The original status of slaughtered animals is that they are prohibited)”
With this legal principle in mind, in addition to the facts regarding rampant corruption in halal industries across the world, non-vegan Muslims would do well to occupy themselves with looking for evidence of the permissibility of what they conveniently assume to be halal, instead of demanding evidence from vegan Muslims that it is not.
The burden of proof lies upon those who eat animals to prove that the animals they consume fulfil the requirements to be considered halal, not upon those who don’t consume animals. Crucially, any doubt regarding the permissibility of the slaughter means that it remains haram, according to the hadith and legal principle agreed upon by the four major Sunni schools of law. Until such doubts can be cleared, it would be fair to say that most Muslims are making the haram halal, while, ironically, accusing vegan Muslims of making what is halal haram.
Moreover, as Muslims, we are commanded not only to avoid that which is haram, but also that which is doubtful. Shaykh Musa Furber stresses the importance of ascertaining the permissibility of one’s food and drink and the severe spiritual consequences of neglect thereof:
“He (the Prophetﷺ) mentioned the case of a man who, having journeyed far, is disheveled and dusty, and who spreads out his hands to the sky saying: “O Lord! O Lord!” while his food is unlawful, his drink unlawful, his clothing unlawful, and he has been nourished with the unlawful—so how can his [supplication] be answered?
Imam al-Nawawī comments that this hadith indicates that drink, food, clothing, and the like must be entirely lawful and completely free of dubiousness.” (Furber, 2017, 21)
When the majority of animal products grown around the world involve animal abuse and large scale corruption is widespread even in the halal industry, any product of the animal industry can, at best, be considered “dubious” or doubtful, unless one has raised and slaughtered the animal oneself, which is not a possibility for the majority of people.
Shaykh Musa further notes that the negative spiritual impact of abuse is passed down from the abusers through the bodies of those animals to those who eat (or even wear) them.
“Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller writes: Everyone knows that unslaughtered meat is haram to eat, but few realize how little baraka [n.b. blessing] there is in even slaughtered meat when the animals have been raised in misery and suffering, or when cooked by those of indifferent morals. One should be aware of what one is doing to oneself.” (Furber, 22)
As consumers who drive the demand that sustains the animal agriculture industry, we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility for the abuse carried out in the industry.
“Everyone involved in the production and consumption of factory-farmed animal products is engaging in wrongs of one form or another. The wrongs of animal abuse are not limited to the abuser and the abused. Rather, those wrongs extend to everyone involved. And rectifying them is a communal responsibility.
Allowing things to remain as they are, or to increase, would both be violations of the Sacred Law.” (Furber, 22)
The Conundrum of Free-Range/Organic Farms
Now, you might ask -what if I only consume animal-origin foods from my uncle’s farm where I know the animals are happily frolicking away on lush green grass and the farmer treats them like his best friends and we all take turns braiding their fur (and then slaughter them nicely)? The response to this is multi-faceted. First, most people in the world cannot afford and do not have access to such farms and their products, because of urbanisation and industrialisation. The mere existence of such farms as “sustainable” and (debatably) “cruelty-free” is premised on their tiny scale. In other words, we cannot provide animal products to match demand through such farms; if we tried to, they would no longer be sustainable and would essentially require animal abuse. Now, we can either encourage growth of such farms and sell their products at prices that reflect the high standard of animal welfare or we can encourage large-scale adoption of plant-based diets and leave small farmers to eat from what they raise ethically and sustainably. The first option would essentially be a licence for the rich to continue on their way while everyone else pays the price, and would be, to put it mildly, unfair. In our day and age, limiting animal products to those from halal, sustainable animal agriculture would create a system that depends on only a few people being able to afford and access its products – an inherently classist system. For this reason, the second alternative is preferable.
Having said that, it should be mentioned that organic animal farming is just as harmful to the climate as conventional animal farming, and the highest impact plant foods are eight times less damaging to the climate than the lowest impact meat. In the words of Dr Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network:
“There is only one way of being sure that you cut down on your carbon emissions when buying food: stop eating meat, milk, butter and cheese. These come from ruminants – sheep and cattle – that produce a great deal of harmful methane. In other words, it is not the source of the food that matters but the kind of food you eat. Whether people are prepared to cut these from their shopping lists is a different issue, however.”
Even if it were possible to achieve the Islamic standards of welfare in raising animals and slaughtering them, eating animals and their products would continue to be at most, a permissible thing to do, i.e., not doing it does not bring punishment and doing it does not deserve reward. The question then arises – when there is a morally neutral act, one that is neither rewarded nor obligatory, and its consequences are harmful to numerous creatures of Allah in ways that are absolutely punishable (say, for instance, separating mother cows from their babies and depriving the babies of the mother’s milk, grinding male chicks alive, or starving hens to increase egg production), what justifies the performance of that morally neutral act despite all the disobedience and harm directly caused by it? Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl puts it best:
The more I learned about the animal industry, the more my conscience has become unsettled and I feel it is not right to support this industry… The meat industry also contributes to pollution and I think as Muslims, we have an affirmative obligation to fight this and combat the destruction of the environment [which] is a very grave sin… Start thinking about alternatives and ways of avoiding supporting this inhumane industry, because I would be very worried that in the Hereafter, I would be asked about the inhumanity that the animals suffered and I wouldn’t have a response. And I don’t think telling Allah that I had a craving for meat will cut it.
To Kill or Not To Kill?
From the perspective of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), the killing of animals for food is justified since it provides benefit to human beings in the form of sustenance and means to perpetuate the human species, and this benefit overrides the harms caused to animals in slaughter (Shaykh Musa Furber, page 11). However, Shaykh Musa also points out that the permissibility of killing animals may be limited if it causes harm:
The Sacred Law prohibits us from inflicting harms—even to ourselves. Killing animals and consuming their meat are permitted as a means for obtaining the objective of protecting human life and perpetuating the species (ḥifẓ al-nafs). But a means ceases being permitted if it leads to the very opposite of its intended objective. So while the default is that killing animals and consuming their meat are permissible, they cease being permissible when it leads to harm and undermines the very objective for which they are permitted.
(Intensive Animal Farming, page 12)
Shaykh Musa further says in a Facebook post:
Eating meat excessively to such an extent that it becomes detrimental to human health is not halal, and neither is animal abuse. Putting the human race in jeopardy is not only a threat to the maqsad of human life, it is also a threat to our ability [to] practice Islam which is itself a maqsad.
Although Shaykh Musa mentions harm to human health (diseases caused by meat-eating) in this context, we believe that the harms mentioned above, such as global warming, pollution, resource depletion, deforestation, and pandemic risks are all harms that should count as compelling reasons for Muslims to give up using animals for food and also for scholars to reconsider its permissibility.
Why Islamic Veganism
So these are the reasons why we, at Islamic Veg, are vegan, and why we would encourage you to go vegan.
“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
We believe that veganism, according to this definition, is compatible with the teachings of Islam. At Islamic Veg we are not vegan although we are Muslim, we are vegan because we are Muslim.
As Muslims, ideally both beliefs and actions should be aligned. Refraining from killing and eating animals is not only permissible, but in fact is considered closer to mercy as in the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ . We appreciate that Islam as a religious system needs to be accessible and available in theory and in practice to all people and at all times, and certain people in certain times would find it impossible to survive without the use of animals. Therefore, slaughtering animals is considered permissible in the Islamic sources under specific circumstances. However, as discussed, fulfilling the conditions laid out by Islamic legal scholars is largely impossible in the world we live in. Muslims have to face the fact that making changes to lifestyle and diet has become inevitable and necessary to stay within the bounds of Islamic teachings. The use and consumption of animal bodies in our day and age necessarily causes large-scale destruction and corruption in the earth, which is not justifiable according to the Qur’an and Sunnah. Our veganism is thus fully inspired by Islamic ideals and teachings.
Knowledge brings responsibility, and knowing the truth about the halal industry and animal agriculture in general demands that we change our lifestyles to align with our morals. Therefore, we believe it is recommended for Muslims who can go vegan to go vegan and that this is the best practice for many Muslims in our time. Beyond this, it is also our religious and ethical responsibility as Muslims who are aware of these facts to spread the word, and to stand up for justice and compassion, as witnesses for Allah:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ ۚ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا ۖ فَلَا
۞ تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَن تَعْدِلُوا ۚ وَإِن تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well Acquainted with what you do.
(Surah An-Nisaa, 135)
۞ ثُمَّ كَانَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْمَرْحَمَةِ ۞ أُولَٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ الْمَيْمَنَةِ
Then he became one of those who believed, and recommended one another to perseverance and patience, and (also) recommended one another to compassion. They are those on the Right Hand (the dwellers of Paradise).
(Surah Al Balad, 17-18)