Veganism and Islam
Güncelleme tarihi: 25 Nis 2019
Is eating halal simply good enough?
Islam, similar to other Abrahamic religions, has certain guidelines when it comes to consuming food. Word Halal, meaning lawful or acceptable, is being used to classify any act as good or bad. It is also used about eating animal meat which will be the topic of this post together with other animal origin products.
We know that there has been no tendency in any of Abrahamic religions for vegetarian or vegan applications as today's definitions. However, It is certainly worthwhile to deep dive into that further, as living in this 21st-century modern life is drastically different compared to back then.
There are no specific rules about dairy consumption in the Quran. Animal Milk mentioned in the Quran(1), drawing attention to the fact that milk production is a mesmerising mechanism in the animal body which is indeed fascinating. It is accepted as okay to drink milk from the animals which are considered okay to be consumed.
About sea animals, it has been made lawful to hunt and eat from the sea(2). In today's situation, we are dealing with the extinction of species or unbalance ecosystems in the ocean due to illegal, out of season, and excessive hunting. Same for birds, it is allowed to hunt and consume them for need(3). Nowadays, it is very common in chicken farms that male chicks are violently killed right
after they are out of the eggshell. About honey in the Quran(4), there is stated no restrictions. However, it is known that in most big producers, all of the honey is harvested which is also crucial for the health and survival of bees. Replacement of honey with sugary water seems to be the trick which is endangering the quality of life of the bees. I hope, you started questioning the term of Halal with today's meaning, please keep on reading.
When it comes to land animals, anything pure and good is ok to be consumed except for the flesh of a dead animal, spilled blood, the flesh of swine due to health and sanitary reasons. Slaughtering for meat consumption, several statements exist In the Holy Quran(5). Similar to Kosher rules from the Torah, Islam rules involve slaughtering quick and swift at a single point on the throat, draining blood completely, and slaughtered by a Muslim( or jew in other cases). One can see the tendency for the least painful approach for the animal. Islam also requires prayer and the act should be for the name of God. It is partly to avoid worshipping to any other creature than God. In today's application, this order is translated into saying “Bismillah(6)”, but it may have a deeper meaning than that such as someone who remembers God and has enough wisdom to perform the action in a fair way. It is also interesting to see in the Quran statements that restrictions are not valid in case of a serious need for a human such as survival, not often the case nowadays.
Profit Muhammed warns about not slaughtering except for a need for consumption in his Sunnah(7). He also warns against harming any animal in general without a good reason, with his words “not a sparrow, not even anything smaller than that(8)“. One can see deep respect and clear guidance to keep the balance in the ecosystem against any excessiveness. Today, We live in a world that there are people killing elephants for their teeth, hunting and collecting butterflies to have a showroom at the house, building waterparks with dolphin prisoners in it and many more... All of which created enormous illegal business behind them. That also makes me think about using fur or leather just for fashion despite the availability of alternative clothing. Even innocent materials like wool or cashmere cause very poor conditions for animals due to mass production simply because animals injured by workers who are under time pressure. Yet, If an animal is fairly slaughtered for a need at the end of a fair life, it may be understandable, may even be honorable to make use of every part of its body. And yes, hunting should not be a sport.
In addition to those, In Sunnah, an animal should be at least a certain age(9), should be slaughtered in privacy, especially away from other animals, in a compassionate way. It is known that Hz. Muhammed used to even hide the blade out of animals sight. Today we see during the sacrifice festive, Muslim society often slaughters animals altogether while animals hearing each other moaning. We must act more sensitive than this, especially for a religious duty whose foundation is about sharing, making sure to have a balanced society where rich and poor have the same living conditions.
Now when it comes to shopping for meat & dairy products, there is a lot going on at the background. Having a halal certificate for the manufacturers is a matter of fulfilling some rules, mostly paperwork. For example, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs has fetwah saying that (for chicken and turkey), if the operator on the production line says “Bismillah” before pressing the start button for slaughtering machines, it is considered as enough for halal according to some religious authorities. If you think you have fulfilled all your responsibilities to your existence and religion by buying simple halal certificated food from the market, continue reading.
Let’s start with comparing today's conditions to those days. More than 1400 years ago, in a desert climate of Saudi Arabia, the same region where other Abrahamic religions have had lived, they did consume animal meat and dairy when in need. Non-industrialized world in a dessert, living with tribes, they have had animals not only used for transportation but also as a food source. They hunted in the wilderness to survive. It is even an interesting fact that most of the profits were shepherds once.
Let's look at today's picture. The majority of world meat & dairy is obtained from big farms, where most animals have limited space for living. This is the source for almost all of your purchases from supermarkets. Animals basically live in dark, on top of each other with no freedom about the daily schedule nor their natural will. They are impregnated artificially to make sure to have babies every year to boost milk production. As soon as their babies are born they are separated from the mother - watch an example or more disturbing version-, so that milk for the infant is drained from them for our tasty kitchen, may be butter, cheese or cream… Pumping milk is done by big industrial tools, mostly automatic on a belt that animals forced to move on. This agony repeated every year for the animal until they reach an age limit when the milk production efficiency decreases. Then they are slaughtered for the meat and other by-products. What a life, right?
I faced the truth during my first visit to a Dutch cow farm in 2016. I remember feeling horrible and end up thinking about how industrialization has no heart or feelings but only cares about numbers, efficiency, and profit. It hit me again once more when I had my first born in 2018, I was lucky to experience what a living creature can feel by giving birth and trying to breastfeed their infant. Maybe animals don’t have the same comprehensive brain as we have as humans but they do have hormones, bonds, and feelings to a certain level, more than we are willing to acknowledge. How can we be sure that their energy comes from suffering, their state of mind from unhappy lives will not cause any consequence when we consume their products into our bodies? Remembering words from Quran “Whoever does an iota’s weight of good will see it, And whoever does an iota’s weight of evil will see it(10)”
In Islam society I live in, most people have beliefs that animals exist for slavery for humans. They do not see us together in a way of harmony or co-dependency, but only in a hierarchy. It is only based on cultural beliefs and mainstream applications, not the truth. Yes, there is a food chain in the ecosystem, a natural balance in this magnificent mother earth. But is always works on the basis of natural selection and against exploitation. That's why today we are dealing with problems created by the human ego. Extinction of species, pollution, global warming, health problems and many others…We will keep paying the price unless we change and go back to our roots & spirituality. Reminds me of a couple of scenes from the famous movie Avatar where Neytiri was mad at Jack Sully when they first met because a couple of animals had to die to save him due to his ignorance. And she was teaching him later hunting in a wise & respectful way so that Jack was ‘’ready’’ for the next step.
Alternative ways still exist. My parents happen to have relatives live in a close village to us, they own a couple of cows in the backyard similar to other neighbours in the area. Cows go out freely to green areas to spend the day in good weather. I was amazed by seeing how they found their way back to home individually each evening, often without a Shepherd. They literally take a walk and come back at the end of the day together with the other animal friends from the neighbourhood. They respond to their names when they are called. When my mother asks for ordering some butter or cheese, owners may simply say no because their cow has a baby calf, and they will wait until the infant is weaned naturally for some extra milk. It is a true story, that type of people are maybe rare but still exists. As an Islam community, we must try to insource our food from such fairly local alternatives. And when most of the case if that is not possible, vegan cuisine is a valid option. That's why as a family, we often try to eat a plant-based diet with exception of eggs (fairly local)and occasional fish, including my one-year-old. We do not label ourselves vegan or any other but we passionately search for a fair living for every creature in this world. We believe that's how we can try for a true definition of halal. In the end, we are far from being perfect, some rare times it doesn’t work. But isn't it about feeling responsible and trying your best?
In this case, you may have doubts about having adequate nutrition on your diet by avoiding meat & dairy. As a person who is a food engineer myself and has worked 8 years in research for big companies, I have no doubt of the sufficiency of a well-balanced plant-based diet from a nutrition point of view. You do not need to take my word on this, you may do your own research. You will even find some famous, professional athletes choosing a vegan diet due because they perform better with that way. Animal based food sources you are buying from the market is full of artificial shots and antibiotics, causing hormone imbalances and health problems in humans. Today, Animals lack nutrition with no exposure to sun and fed by mostly genetically modified feeds and all antibiotic resistant. Due to these, you are likely to be nutrition deficient with your current diet anyway. Also, think about that: we are the only mammals on earth still drinking milk after infancy. It is now in such a way that it became more understandable to consuming meat & dairy because they are tasty than their nutritional value.
Besides from an ethical perspective, I want to include a small caption of the environmental impact of the meat & dairy business. The impact is so huge that If we all went vegan, the world’s food-related emissions would drop by 70% by 2050(11).Especially big size land animals like cows are the least sustainable source possible. This is very important because global warming is here, we are only trying to slow it down to survive ,but details will be the topic of another article. If one must consume or even own animals, choosing rather small species like sheep, goat over a cow or bull is at least what can be done for smaller carbon footsteps on the planet.
In my conclusion, the vegan community should be appreciated for what they are trying to do. They are right about poor, unfair conditions for animals, they are right about the environmental impact of big farms. Thanks to activist communities like them, there is awareness and consumer demand for alternatives is raising. Especially in big countries, lots of alternatives are derived for consumers, from vegan meat to fake leather clothing. There are brands for cosmetics to medication completely cruelty-free(no animals harmed or used for testing). It is a proof that this could have been achieved for many years if there were demand and awareness. Whereas in countries like mine where religion is the considered priority of everything, it would have been expected that we would have been the initiators of these in the first place.
Answering the question in the title; eating Halal as today's rules far from being good enough and what most of us do is not Halal. Claims of vegan community is not contradictory with values of Islam. As a religious person, I know we held responsibility against the beautiful planet earth. We hold power to not create demand for the capitalist big farms. If you claim to have no time to check every label, search for a fairly local alternative and do research, I admit that it is not easy. Living in the modern century with the chaos of speed of time, we are all far from being perfect. But remember that when you just try and make an effort, the reward will be proportionally more, no doubt of the justice of the creator Allah. Ask yourself; What would profit Muhammad do if he lived today?
“ There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.” (Quran, El En’am 38)
Nice to watch the video of Mayim Bialik, topic is well put together : link
1- Holy Quran; Nahl 66, Mü'minun 21
2- Holy Quran; Maide 96, Fatr 12
3- Holy Quran: Vakıa 21, except for some wild birds stated in Sunnah;Müslim, Sayd, 15,16; Ebû Dâvud, Et’ime, 32.
4- Holy Quran: Muhammed 47/15
5- Holy Quran: Bakarah 173, Maide 3, En’am 145, Nahl 115, Hac 37, Yasin 72
6- Bismillahirrahmanirrahim :is a phrase in Arabic meaning "In the name of God"; it is the first word in the Qur'an, and also refers to the Qur'an's opening phrase (named the basmala).
7- Taberî, Târih, Beyrut 1387, III, 226-227; Ali el-Müttakî, Kenz, no: 30268. Krş. Beyhakî, es-Sünenü’l-kübrâ, IX, 85; İbnü’l-Esîr, el-Kâmil, Beyrut 1987, II, 200
8- Nesâî, Sayd, 34, Dahâyâ, 41; Ahmed b. Hanbel, Müsned, 3/166.
9- Müslim, “Edâhî” 13
10- Holy Quran: Zilzal 7-8
some inspirational people;