There is no reason why Muslims should kill and eat animals today.
That statement may unsettle many readers causing a flurry of textual references from the Qu’ran and/or hadith to justify their position.
However, I did not say Islam doesn’t permit it under certain circumstances. I’m contending there is no valid reason to do it today and if you bear with me, I’ll furnish my thoughts on precisely why I believe it is substantially better and more in line with Islamic principles to stop consuming animals in our time.
I have highlighted in much detail here and here the catastrophic environmental and physical toll the meat, egg and dairy industries exact on our world. These two posts also cover the issues of slaughtering animals on Eid (and Hajj) and the urgent need for factory farming to be declared impermissible globally.
Please take the time to familiarize yourself with them as this is the backdrop from which this discussion will proceed.
A Problematic Mindset
First off, there are a few important things that need to be clarified.
Many Muslims cite certain verses (Qu’ran 2:29, 22:65, etc.) to substantiate their claim that animals were put here for our use. In other words, they feel these verses give us free and open license to eat them as we see fit and to profit from them in the same manner.
This is precisely what we have done and look at the result. Absolute ruination of our world. So long as we believe animals are only here for us to use, our world will continue to suffer.
I strongly disagree with this viewpoint or any variant thereof.
My understanding is Islam is a faith of reason that seeks to better the world, not plunder and pillage it. It seeks to connect us with the world’s vastness and wonders; not keep us indifferent to its demise. It even urges us to explore space and the earth’s multiple layers:
Oh jinn and mankind, if you are able to pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, then pass! You will not pass except by authority (from Allah). -Qu’ran 55:33
Animals have been in existence (around 550 million years) a whole lot longer than humans (200,000 years). They have their specific roles in their respective ecosystems. To set aside these established facts and claim they are just here for us is patently false and arrogant.
While the concept of mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationships are extremely common in nature where two or more animals benefit by cooperating with the other, humans generally have done nothing but subjugate, dominate and oppress.
I’d like to offer an alternative viewpoint to these verses.
Strangely enough, the very next verse after (2:29) states God has put us here as His caretakers (Qu’ran 2:30). A caretaker doesn’t trash his Lord’s house.
Perhaps the true benefits come from studying and observing life rather than taking it.
Did we not study birds, their flight, structure and aerodynamics as inspiration to invent the plane…which coincidentally, looks exactly like a bird in its general make up with a body, wings and tail?
Now isn’t that “use” far more beneficial than mass murdering them?
Wolves have been studied in depth and farmers who have had no luck keeping them away from their flocks have had instant success by…doing exactly what wolves do. Instead of trying to poison or shoot them, they simply broadcast calls from another pack. Cruelty free predator control.
Ants and termites have been studied for their architectural brilliance – burrowing a labyrinth of tunnels complete with built in air conditioning systems to keep airflow circulating.
There are many other examples of nature captivating us and showing us new opportunities to advance.
So yes, God put everything here for us not to exploit as we have been, but to learn from and become better beings thereby benefiting all life around us.
I feel this view is within the true caretaker spirit of the Qu’ran rather than the unbridled attack we have unleashed on our world thus far.
Slaughtering Animals In Context
Currently, the mainstream belief is killing and eating certain animals is allowed. The irony is our world has drastically deteriorated and continues to do so as a direct result.
So we need to stop, reflect and ask ourselves where we went wrong and how we can correct our course.
It’s very important to not just look at our texts in black and white terms, but to understand the relevant context to really get an appreciation of how life was at the time. As we shall see shortly, the historical context which the Qu’ran permitted the consumption of animals reveals very real and very difficult circumstances.
Now let’s evaluate the mention of domesticated animals in the Qu’ran; like camels and cattle.
Those are the types of animals that existed in the Arabian desert back then and they existed 9,0000 years before then as well.
Yes, the Qu’ran refers to them as sources of food, clothing, housing and transport (Qu’ran 23:21-22) because that’s exactly how the people at the time utilized them. It did not introduce these practices, it dealt with them as they were.
The Arabs were a largely nomadic people who relied very heavily on their animals for survival:
The Bedouins, able to survive the harsh conditions of the desert with a miraculous animal like the camel, generally lived inside tents made of camel hair. -Arabia in the Pre-Islamic Period, Nihal Şahin Utku, PhD
The author goes on to cite detailed benefits of camels and why they are perfectly suited to the desert environment and why they were such a good fit for for the people of Arabia.
Now do you think if the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) lived in Scandinavia, the Qu’ran would talk about camels?
Of course not.
The only reason the Qu’ran mentions them in the context of food, clothing, transport and housing is they were such an intricate part of Bedouin society. The Qu’ran was addressing its audience in terms they could relate to.
Food was scarce. They lived in a very harsh desert environment so they ate what was available (including lizards) and used whatever they could for their housing and clothing. They used animals for transport in the absence of any other mode.
Now let’s be real…
We don’t use animals for those purposes anymore because we have found better alternatives.
So why single out eating them?
When you factor in the world’s current state, that’s the very worst thing one can do so – why do it?
Just as there is no ethical reason today to kill animals for clothing, housing or use them for transport in the developed world, there is no reason to kill them for food when you can do just fine without them.
So the Qu’ran gives us a snapshot of history when people were absolutely dependent on animals for basic necessities. This was the blueprint for survival in 7th century Arabia. It doesn’t mean you need to replicate your diet around 7th century Arabs!
Nor does it mean we ignore the mountain of scientific evidence telling us raising and killing billions of animals is destroying the planet.
So can we eat them from a strictly legal perspective in our day and age given the circumstances?
I would argue an emphatic no and invite Muslim scholars who are not hooked on fast food to have this conversation urgently.
As I understand, when something becomes undoubtedly harmful, even if it is a practice permitted in the Qu’ran, then removing that harm and preserving life comes first.
Why Not Eating Animals Today Is The Right Thing To Do
1. Animal Abuse
The overwhelming majority of animals bred for human consumption are factory farmed and are treated appallingly. I have highlighted this via numerous articles and videos on this site. I urge you to conduct your very own research.
As discussed earlier, the Islamic texts are replete with unequivocal instructions clearly forbidding animal abuse. Textual evidence aside, where has our humanity gone? We should not need a textbook or scholar to teach us compassion.
One who makes their stomach a graveyard for tortured animals churned out by the meat, egg and dairy industries is neither consuming “halal” nor “tayyib”.
I feel Muslims should not be in any way, shape or form be associated with industries like this – in fact; they should be actively fighting against them.
Common decency calls for it.
Animals are not here for us to exploit, enslave and treat in such abhorrent ways.
The Qu’ran makes it clear it is absolute misguidance and Satanic-like to maim, disfigure and treat animals badly. We see Shaytan openly admitting what he does to inspire evil:
“And I will mislead them, and I will arouse in them [sinful] desires, and I will command them so they will slit the ears of cattle, and I will command them so they will change the creation of Allah.” And whoever takes Satan as an ally instead of Allah has certainly sustained a clear loss.” Qu’ran 4:119
Interestingly enough, changing the creation of Allah is not limited to tattooing on the face as has been cited in various tafasir (commentaries).
In our world, hurting animals by way of cutting their body parts like horns and beaks, grinding them up alive for being the wrong gender, branding them particularly on their faces and sensitive areas and injecting them with hormones to get them to grow bigger and produce more are all manifestations of evil inspiration.
These are standard industry practices in the meat, egg and dairy industries and are done to serve the bottom line of a global, profit driven industry.
The very nature of today’s world mandates factory farmed animals are treated in an absolutely unacceptable manner.
You cannot sustainably “farm” billions upon billions of animals without violating the environment and Islamic Law.
Such operations are based on speed – the more animals they mass kill (aka “processing” as the industry sugarcoats it), the more money they make. Applying stringent Islamic guidelines that mandates animals be treated in a diametrically opposed manner isn’t viable to these industries.
Livestock currently occupies 26% of the habitable land on our planet and there is more livestock than humans and wild animals combined. Ask yourself if this is responsible governance towards the planet we were entrusted with.
4. Causes Far More Harm Than Good
It is beyond question animal agriculture causes far more harm than good as has been highlighted throughout this site.
Aside from tainted profits on the backs of billions of sentient creatures who did not deserve to die, one would be hard pressed to think of any good it provides.
Avoiding harm and bringing benefit is actually an axiom in Islamic law (out of many) that’s used as a moral compass when determining whether a practice is allowed or not (discussed below). I guess the pertinent question here is “If eating animals today causes so much destruction, why are we too afraid to consider forsaking it?”
Allah (swt) is not a heedless god who doesn’t know the current state of the world.
Thanks to us, we have our feet firmly planted on the accelerator, fast heading towards Mount Decay. He does not demand we continue going in the wrong direction.
We have many cruelty free alternatives to meat which are far more sustainable, environmentally friendly, extremely tasty and much healthier.
There also has been a recent debate about cultured (lab grown) meat which I will explore another time but the point here is we have so many existing and emerging options, there’s no need to put billions of sentient creatures through anymore harm.
Now some may argue the presence of vegan alternatives does not negate the permissibility of animal based options. If we did not face the enormous challenges we do today then I would be compelled to agree with this sentiment.
However let me put this question out there: Is it tenable Islam would sanction behaviour that would accelerate destruction? Surely, it would incline towards innovative solutions to alleviate suffering.
When you juxtapose the above reasons with any limited benefits of killing animals, even the staunchest critic will acknowledge that on principle alone, not doing so today is far more beneficial.
Islamic Law Demands Excellence
So what do we do, when due to our greed and negligence, we have a normally permissible action in Islam that’s directly responsible for so much harm? It is beyond question the raising and mass killing of over 70 billion land animals every year is destroying both our own health a well as the planet’s.
With this in mind, there are 5 established axioms in Islamic Law:
- Matters shall be judged by their objectives
- Certainty is not removed by doubt
- Hardship shall bring alleviation
- Harm shall be removed
- Cultural usage shall have the weight of law
To help answer the question above, I’d like to focus on items 3 & 4:
Hardship shall bring alleviation
“This principle embodies the fact that Islamic Law is built upon achieving ease and not upon imposing hardships. Whenever difficulties present themselves, the Law makes provisions to facilitate matters. The condition for such measures to be taken is that the difficulties are real and not imagined.” – Sh. Abdel-Rahmân b. Ahmad al-Jar`î , General Principles of Islamic Law and Their Practical Application for Islamic Work
Harm shall be removed
“Islamic Law completely forbids that which causes harm. That which is harmful must be completely avoided whenever possible. When it is not possible, then the lesser of two evils should be perpetrated to avoid the greater. That which brings harm on a smaller scale is to be preferred to that which visits general harm to society. Likewise, the avoidance of harm takes priority over the attainment of some benefit.” – Sh. Abdel-Rahmân b. Ahmad al-Jar`î , General Principles of Islamic Law and Their Practical Application for Islamic Work
If we look at the current state of affairs through these lenses, it becomes abundantly clear ceasing the mass killing of so many animals is the most effective and beneficial way forward. Removing hardship and harm particularly when it is at such biblical proportions becomes mandatory.
In fact, researchers from Oxford University recently did an analysis on a very interesting scenario: What would happen if the entire world went vegan?
Here are their key findings:
1. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food system in 2050 would fall by more than half compared to 2005/2007 levels.
2. The emission savings alone would be worth $570 billion.
3. Health care cost savings: $1 trillion
This of course does not factor in how much healthier our oceans, soil, air and forests would be as well as countless other factors.
Islamic law demands excellence from us – to continually seek improvement and bring about positive change to those around us.
Now I ask scholarship and laity alike:
Based on this alone, would this not align us much closer to our principles?
Think About This…
There are provisions in the Qu’ran by God Himself that suspend specific actions if there is risk of a greater harm or even inconvenience:
“Fasting is only for a certain number of days. One who is sick or on a journey, can make up the same number of days at another time. Those who can afford a redemption should feed a poor person. Good deeds performed on one’s own initiative will be rewarded. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.” -Qu’ran 2:184
Here we learn, that even when it comes to a fundamental pillar of Islam like fasting Ramadan, we are to suspend it if it is not in our best physical interests. This ruling by the way also extends to menstruating and pregnant women as well as the elderly (who are unable to fast); in order to facilitate ease.
So if we are allowed to stop doing a major pillar of Islam due to extenuating circumstances, why wouldn’t we look into stopping something that’s not a pillar of Islam that’s causing so much harm?
The second thing to consider is the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) society was a warrior, tribal society that was heavily into conflict, raids and violence. They regularly raided other caravans, looted villages and fought tribes; killing and capturing it’s people for ransom.
Killing humans was not seen as a major affront if they felt it was warranted. So killing and eating animals was just part of everyday life. Abusing them was not seen as a societal taboo. In fact, it was wholly sanctioned by a culture that was steeped in mythology and legend.
The hadith traditions give us some insight into some of the abhorrent practices that took place pre-Islam: cutting off parts of live animals like a camel’s hump or part of a sheep’s buttock, beating cattle across the face, starving and branding them and even cutting off their feet while still alive were all common practices among pre-Islamic Arabs.
It was a very dreadful place to be if you were an animal at the time.
Even during the Prophet’s time, old habits lingered and people would tie animals up and use them for target practice, overload them, make animals fight for entertainment and even use them as chairs by sitting on them for no good reason.
It was in direct response to such inhumanity and injustice that the Prophet Muhammad outrightly forbade each and every one of these practices. So aside from food, anything that harmed animals was categorically forbidden.
Did you catch it?
Right in the midst of mass animal abuse was the precise time the Prophet took a stand and said no, you cannot do this to God’s creatures. He was a champion and visionary for animals almost 1,000 years before the Western world even started discussing whether animals felt pain!
Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) maintained that animals cannot reason and do not feel pain; animals are living organic creatures, but they are automata, like mechanical robots. Descartes held that only humans are conscious, have minds and souls, can learn and have language and therefore only humans are deserving of compassion.
Do you see how far ahead of the curve Prophet Muhammad was? Peace and blessings of God be upon him.
So Islam not only pioneered animal rights at a time when it was unfathomable, but it also set a trajectory over the ages for its followers to reflect the best ethics of their time.
We have the same duty – to oppose an existing culture that’s reminiscent of 7th century practices.
A Forgotten Legacy & The Fallout
Not only have we not adapted to the onslaught against our planet but our collective scholarship has regrettably taken a back seat to ignorance and consequently, apathy.
The once forward thinking tradition of Muslim scholarship has by and large devolved into a heedless, reactionary segment that has simply failed on these issues. This is a reflection of a wider culture of indifference that’s taken hold and we are paying a dear price for it.
I’ve written previously about the urgent need for a new fiqh (jurisprudence) for food today and judging by how fast the world is changing, Muslims will be compelled to adapt.
After all, the existing global trend is shifting away from animal products. If today’s scholarship doesn’t wake from their decades old slumber and provide real solutions, history will bear witness to its complicity in the crimes against our world.
Scholars of the past on the other hand had the vision to issue rulings that were way ahead of their time.
Here are two quick examples:
“Mothers with young are not milked except what is in excess of their children’s sustenance. They are not milked while the offspring are left to die of emaciation.” – Imam Al Shāfi’, Al-Umm (Beirut: Dār al-Ma ”rifah, 1990), 5:510-11
This great scholar saw the importance of the mother-child bond in 760 AD! His view was the offspring of the animal eats first then if there’s any left over, one could take some.
Compare this to today’s standard industry practices where calves are separated from their mothers immediately after birth so they can hook their mothers up to milking machines for the rest of their short, miserable lives.
So not only is their sustenance stolen, they are sent off to slaughter never having suckled. This cycle of depravity ends with the mother, after enduring multiple rapes and abuse over 5-7 years, is sent to have her own throat cut.
The second example is just as impressive:
“It is permissible to steal food and thread [to stitch a wound] if it (the animal) is on the verge of dying – according to the evident opinion of the school. A traveler puts the need of animals for water above his ablution (for prayer) and, thus, makes dry ablution (tayammum). If the land becomes barren, he must provide food for animals that graze. It is not obligatory for him to maintain his house, irrigation canals, and immovable property – even if those are on the verge of destruction, since inviolability is for that which possesses life. If he refuses to provide food (to an animal), the judge can force him to sell it, or sell it on his behalf.” Imam Al-Ghazālī, Al-Wasīṭ (Cairo: Dār al-Salām, 1996), 6:248–9.
The level of care and priority given to animal welfare was truly remarkable even by today’s standards. Only this was written around 1100 AD.
What’s important to understand here is these were not random opinions that were formulated spontaneously in the midst of unrelated issues. These were carefully thought out solutions for the people of the time. The rulings were then documented and categorized in designated chapters on animal maintenance.
The need for courageous, well versed scholars in both the Islamic texts and today’s major environmental, health and ethical issues is absolutely immense. This will better equip them to reclaim a legacy that once championed animal rights for so long.
Before this occurs however, the gravity of the problem must be acknowledged (please see the “Muslim Scholars Should Declare Factory Farming Haram” post here).
We can no longer rely on outdated, centuries old mindsets governed strictly by religion and devoid of any objective scientific literacy.
To insist eating meat today is fine “because Allah made it halal” or “because the Prophet ate it” in the face of scientific findings showing consuming animals is bad for both human and planet is highly irresponsible.
It would be like refusing to abstain from drinking water in your town even though you have been told by experts it holds numerous types of lethal viruses. Just because theoretically it is permissible, does not mean it should be done. In fact, this is a clear cut case where it most definitely should not.
Make no mistake…
We live in a materially and substantially different time than when the Qu’ran was revealed. Becoming dogmatic is as dangerous as it is narrow minded. We need some scholarly direction for modern day realities previous generations never faced like:
- Factory farming
- Additives and preservatives
- Processed food particularly cancer causing meat, sodas and artificial sweeteners like aspartame
- Unprecedented damage to our planet
Our unwillingness to critically reevaluate our modern day practices may be attributed to numerous archaic beliefs and traditions many in the Muslim world still uphold.
Beliefs such as “It’s mandatory to eat meat!” or “black dogs are devils, it’s ok to kill them”. Quite frankly, these ideas are absurd and do little to advance positive change.
When you couple these attitudes with today’s meat, egg and dairy industries’ relentless bombardment of patently false and misleading claims, the problems become more compounded.
Some may well argue “well look, wouldn’t it be better to correct the current conditions in order to bring about “more humane” animal products?”
- It still views killing animals as necessary when it’s not.
- It’s not sustainable and will only migrate existing problems.
The first point is the source of this current mess.
Why are we so insistent on killing in our day and age?
We won’t starve or become nutritionally deficient if we stop slaughtering animals but we may very well reverse the damage to ourselves and our world.
There is enough plant food on the planet to feed the world several times over but instead of feeding the 795,000,000 starving humans, we take this food and feed it to billions of cattle instead and let the people starve. Then we claim to sacrifice animals on our religious festivals and ceremonies to feed the poor!
It’s utter madness.
In order to “correct the current conditions”, you have to stop doing what created those conditions in the first place.
Secondly, replacing billions of abused animals with billions of well cared for animals changes nothing. The existing environmental disasters we face will actually get much worse. See, there is not enough space on this planet to “humanely” raise billions of animals in open pastures without razing swaths of even more forests, killing off even more wild species and creating even more ocean dead zones.
There is no ethical argument against not killing other sentient beings.
What You Can Do
The animal agriculture industry relies on mass ignorance to survive.
They push the very worst products onto you and your families so they can load you up on artery-clogging saturated fat, cholesterol and animal hormones. Then we wonder why our children start showing signs of heart disease by the age of 10.
As a Muslim and as a free human being, you can make a huge difference by voting with your wallet.
The most powerful thing you can do to bring these industries down is to boycott them. Each and every animal product you consume is giving a green light of approval to these industries to continue their destruction of our world. Every dollar is a direct encouragement to inflict cruelty and horror on billions every year.
Enough killing. Let’s rebuild and prosper without hurting other beings.
Start now and do the very best you can. Even if it means replacing just one meal a day with plant foods; do it. Anything you do to help, helps!
Our communities are riddled with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other top killers and they are all directly tied to what and how we are eating.
There is nothing “halal” or “tayyib” about that.
Islam is a religion of reason, intelligence and commonsense.
It is a religion that doesn’t back down from proven scientific facts and realities.
It is a faith that embraces them and urges it’s followers to excel and show others a better way.
15,000 scientist from 184 different countries recently signed a warning to humanity citing the very things I’ve written extensively about throughout this site. Our planet is in peril and it’s largely due to our global addiction of raising and eating animals.
We cannot respond to seismic warnings like this from the scientific community with emotion, tradition, decontextualized rulings and texts, myths and legends. It makes us appear detached from reality and highly ignorant. Islam demands we spearhead efforts to clean up our world.
Despite so many Muslims eating meat in ridiculous quantities, there are no less than 60 references in the Qu’ran to fruit, vegetables and plants. When you consider the Qu’ran was revealed initially to a people who relied heavily on animals to survive, it becomes even more telling the Qu’ran strongly emphasizes plants and espouses their goodness.
Even though the Prophet Muhammad lived in a society that was animal-dependent, he very rarely ate meat. His staple was dates and barley. Sometimes he would go on dates and water for months at a time. He would fast twice a week; Mondays and Thursdays. He would walk in the scorching heat among sand dunes and mountains. He would eat little.
We on the other hand, have fallen very short of his example.
Slaughterhouses are not humane, they are grotesque.
Think about the concept for a moment: Places specifically built to forcibly decapitate and mass kill sentient beings who did absolutely nothing to anyone. Saws, grinders, stun guns, blades, gas chambers, kill floors, hooks, prods – let’s call a “slaughterhouse” what it really is: a house of horrors.
Consider that it is forbidden in Islam to not only show the knife to an animal but to kill it in front of others.
If you’ve never seen slaughterhouse footage, then go ahead and watch some or visit one of these places. Then try to convince yourself what you have just witnessed is in line with the faith we proclaim to be full of compassion, mercy and be for all humanity, for all times.
I refuse to accept Islam sanctions such actions.
Killing billions of animals caused this problem.
Now saving them may very well be the solution.
Feel free to leave your comments, questions, thoughts, criticisms and whatever else you have below.