Confessions of a Muslim Vegetarian


By: Zehra Abbas

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 investigations found on Mercy for Animals website, revealed horrid conditions in factory farms in Ontario this year alone.

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.

Zehra Abbas is the founder and Executive Director of Studio.89, a social enterprise café based out the west end of Toronto. This article was originally featured on Halal Foodie in January 2015.