Vegan Muslims: Plant-Based and Proud
Kelly Izdihar Crosby
Within the past few years, vegan and vegetarian dishes have become very popular. More restaurants and grocery stores are offering meatless options to their customers. Meatless Mondays have been embraced by many Americans who are looking for ways to incorporate more vegetables into their diet. With a focus on environmental sustainability, health concerns, and the knowledge of what takes place in modern slaughterhouses, many have chosen to refrain from eating meat, dairy, and other animal byproducts. Muslims have joined the ranks by becoming vegetarians or vegans. They have even created their own online groups such as Be Muslim. Be Vegan. Be Proud; Raw Vegan Muslims; and the Vegetarian Muslim Society.
For those unfamiliar with the latest in vegan cuisine, sometimes the words vegetarian and vegan are used interchangeably. There are key differences between the two terms. A vegetarian avoids eating all meat, poultry, seafood, and the flesh of animals. Vegetarians follow a variety of different diet regimens. Some vegetarians include eggs and dairy products into their diet while other vegetarians avoid them. Vegans avoid all red meat, poultry, and seafood but also eschew honey, dairy products, eggs, beeswax, and all animal-based products. Veganism is also supported by the belief that animals should not be used for human consumption.
There are many reasons why some Muslims choose to follow a vegan diet. For some, their choices are often rooted in environmental and health concerns. Other vegan Muslims consider the modern American method of raising and slaughtering animals as not in line with the Islamic principles of animal welfare. Some Muslims only consume meat that is organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, and slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines. Because these kind of slaughterhouses are still rare, some have chosen to avoid eating meat altogether in order to avoid any doubt of its halal quality.
The huge demand for meat worldwide has led to the creation of Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs), agricultural enterprises where animals are kept and raised in confined situations for at least 45 days out of the year . AFOs also congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. When the number of animals is great, e.g. at least a thousand cattle, or ten thousand sheep, the operation is classified as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). Since the animals are confined, rather than roaming a pasture for food, feed, typically cheap grain, is brought to them. According to the United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are approximately 450,000 AFOs in the United States, with 15 percent of them being considered CAFOs. While truly halal meat should not come from animals raised in this manner, some Muslims do not feel confident that they can obtain meat that is truly halal, i.e. free to roam the pasture, fed a healthy diet, and slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines.
Some Muslims choose a vegan diet simply because of their love for animals. Many of them belong to animal advocacy groups, such as the American Humane Society, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), that work to protect and nurture all forms of animal life. These vegan Muslims apply the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]) as reported by Abu Hurairah (may God be pleased with him): When asked if we should be rewarded for showing kindness to animals, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “A reward is given in connection with every living creature” (Bukhari and Muslim). Additionally, they can apply the verse in the Quran that states, “And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered” (6:38). This basically compares the lives of animals to that of humans; they behave in a similar manner and shall meet the same fate in the end. God also declares that Earth was created for all creatures (“And the earth He laid [out] for the creatures” [55:10]), which some interpret as reason to treat animals in the same way as humans.
The production of meat also raises concern for the environment. The EPA admits that manure and wastewater from AFOs have the potential to contribute pollutants to the environment and can contaminate drinking water supplies drawn from groundwater. Additionally, a study published in July in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that animal agriculture is responsible for about one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In Ibrahim Abdul-Matin’s book Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet, Zachary Twist, a convert to Islam and a vegan long before embracing the religion states, “My central motivation for all of this, including my diet choices, is simply treading lightly upon the Earth. I concluded at one point in my life that if I can minimize the degradation and suffering caused by my lifestyle, without an excessive amount of cost or inconvenience, why shouldn’t I? To me, treading lightly is an Islamic precept.”
In a world with a growing human population and dwindling natural resources, eating a diet rich in vegetables can improve our health and conserve global water supplies. Shireen Hakim, a registered dietician, is author of The Meatless Protein Cookbook. She says, “A vegan diet can be an effective temporary tool to treat health issues like obesity and cancer. I personally know people that are slim and trim, thanks to a vegan diet. As a flexitarian myself, for health and environmental reasons, I relate to vegans’ practice of avoiding certain foods.”
Vegan Muslims do face some criticism for their decisions. There is some peer pressure at Muslim gatherings to eat meat since it is a staple food in many Muslim cultures. Plus, it is considered rude in some cultures not to serve meat to guests. Fellow Muslims contend that by avoiding meat and dairy products, vegan Muslims are attempting to prohibit what is permissible. They point to the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) recommendation of consuming honey, milk, and the moderate consumption of meat. Sheikh Rachid Belbechir says, “As long as they [vegan Muslims] are not claiming that eating meat is haram [forbidden], there is nothing wrong with adhering to a vegan or vegetarian diet.” Hakim says, “Paradoxically, the vegan diet both coincides and contradicts Islamic practice. It follows Islamic recommendations for health and environmental care, but avoids healthy foods that are encouraged in the Quran and Hadith. The Prophet’s (PBUH) habits, including eating habits, are our best example to follow.”
With all diet regimes, there are advantages and disadvantages. Vegans can be deficient in certain nutrients, vitamins, and calcium. Hakim points out, “A vegan diet can be restrictive and difficult to follow long term. It can cause deficiency in key nutrients, namely vitamin B12, calcium, and iodine.” She goes on to state, “Vegans are commonly deficient in B12, with 52 percent deficient. This leads to anemia, depression, stroke, decreased cognition, nerve damage, artery damage, brain shrinkage, and bone damage. This can be avoided with proper B12 supplementation.” There is also a loss of DHA and EPA omega-3 fats because of the absence of fish in the diet. DHA and EPA omega-3 fats are crucial to brain development and neurological health. However, there are vitamin and supplement companies, like Nutrilite and Aloe Vera of America, Inc., which offer these supplements in vegan and vegetarian capsules.*
Despite the challenges they face for their choice, vegan Muslims are confident that they have made the best choice in regard to their lives, their environment, and their faith. As Muslims become aware and cognizant of the impact of their eating choices, we will see a future where there is more emphasis on consuming that which is best for our planet, our bodies, and our souls.
Kelly Izdihar Crosby is a writer and multidisciplinary artist living in Atlanta, Georgia. You can find out more about her and her work at www.kellycrosbydesign.com.
*Aloe Vera of America, Inc. offers halal-certified B12.
While Muslims may have reasons to be vegan, God clearly allows the eating of meat, seafood, and honey and the drinking of milk. There are many verses in the Quran attesting to this. In fact some verses state that part of the reason for the creation of these animals is for human consumption. So no one should believe that eating meat is against Islamic principles. Some of the references from the Quran regarding meat, seafood, and dairy products are listed here:
“Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food as provision for you and the travelers, but forbidden to you is game from the land as long as you are in the state of ihram (sacred purity). And fear God to whom you will be gathered.” (5:96)
“So eat of that [meat] upon which the name of God has been mentioned, if you are believers in His verses.” (6:118)
“And the grazing livestock He has created for you; in them is warmth and [numerous] benefits, and from them you eat.” (16:5)
“And indeed, for you in grazing livestock is a lesson. We give you drink from what is in their bellies — between excretion and blood — pure milk, palatable to drinkers.” (16:66)
“And your Lord inspired to the bee, ‘Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct. Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you].’ There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.” (16:68-69) [IFANCA]