A question that often comes up from both Muslim, non-Muslim, and even ex-Muslim vegans is, “why did God allow humans to kill animals?
“Why would God create something that can feel pain and suffer then allow you to harm it?! Any ideology that allows killing can’t be from God!”
Many struggle with this, questioning why The Most Merciful would permit us to do something that, to our perceptions, isn’t merciful.
These are very valid and interesting questions I’ve reflected on for some time, and it’s difficult to give a black and white answer without first examining the concept of life and death from a historical and evolutionary perspective.
What appears to be happening among many well-intentioned folks is they look at this issue through the lens of their limited human faculties, essentially reducing God to the confines of human thought. However, it’s not unreasonable to ask when something is troubling you:
And when Abraham said, “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” [Allah] said, “Do you not believe (that I can)?” He said, “Yes, but [I ask] only that my heart may be reassured.” 2:260
If it was good enough for Prophet Abraham to question and want answers from God himself, then it’s sure good enough for us to ask around when we’re unsure.
So why would God allow the killing of animals?
Some Muslims have attempted to answer this by arguing it’s because God can do whatever He likes; He is All-Knowing, All-Seeing, and All-Hearing. Therefore, we humans can’t possibly be more merciful than God.
That’s all good and well, but it doesn’t answer the question of “why.”
I want to point out those posing such questions invariably live in a developed country where life is relatively comfortable. They have ample food and water on demand among many modern-day comforts. There are zero risks of dying of starvation unless they choose not to eat.
I make these observations as a prelude to this discussion, and to propose questioning from a position of privilege that’s divorced from historical context isn’t conducive to objective analysis. It’s essential to get some perspective.
I will try and address these critical questions and highlight how we as Muslims can forge a better way forward in a deteriorating world.
When Did This All Start?
To get the big picture, one must take a step back – way back to when advanced life first started appearing on Earth. The Qu’ran encourages one to explore the origins of life:
“Say (O Muhammad to them), “Travel throughout the land and see how He began creation…”-Qu’ran 29:20
So let’s do that!
The geological timescale shows periods rich in flora and fauna hundreds of millions of years ago.
From gigantic dinosaurs to supersized insects, behemoths in the sea, and birds as big as fighter jets, each era eventually died out, paving the way for new and different ones to emerge.
The common denominator between all eras – prehistoric and modern-is that the natural world had a finely tuned predator-prey balance without exception.
This was extended to all types of animals, whether they lived in the land, air, or sea.
Predators didn’t always catch their prey, and prey didn’t always escape. Each was equipped with abilities to catch/evade the other, and this plays itself out to this very day (Vs. today when humans mass-produce defenseless animals in tight enclosures claiming it’s “natural”).
Prey animals have also developed breeding cycles that ensured their numbers would be plentiful, which supported both predators, scavengers, and the plants around them. Consider if everything were either herbivorous or carnivorous, life would cease to exist pretty quickly. Animals would either rapidly overpopulate and starve to death, or they’d wipe each other out.
God had already established that both predator and prey together are essential for life on this planet. This was nature’s built-in mechanism of checks and balances that keeps everything in order. God states in the Qu’ran:
And the heaven He raised and imposed the balance. That you not transgress within the balance. And establish weight in justice and do not transgress against the balance. 55:7-9
This balance is played out perfectly in the video below. In nature, death releases so much new life. Watch this until the end:
Every creature is connected to the other in a divinely expressed balance. This is in every ecosystem on the planet: you will find when one animal eats another, there is a positive cascading effect on the rest of the ecosystem (we, on the other hand, actually have a very negative impact on the natural world through the killing of other creatures).
So the concept of taking life between animals has been occurring for hundreds of millions of years until the present day. If you are ok with “nature” as it’s been for 550-600 million years, then by default, you accept some level of “suffering” naturally occurs without humans regardless of whether you believe in God or not. God “allowed” other life forms to consume one another as part of an interdependent ecosystem.
Then another life form emerged some 210,000 years ago that would change the world forever.
At this point; I’d like to examine a verse from the Qu’ran that I feel is critical to this discussion and offer an alternative interpretation:
And when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority (khalifa).”They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption in it and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” (Allah) said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.” Quran 2:30
The common understanding of this verse has generally been that God is creating a vicegerent/caretaker/trustee/custodian or anyone who takes care of something and establishes authority. Now, this understanding of being God’s caretakers is undoubtedly one of great honor; however, it raises an important question:
Given the planet was doing just fine for billions of years before mankind, why did God suddenly need a caretaker? He had taken care of the Earth very well without humans, and judging from how we have destroyed this world, perhaps it’s time to consider an alternate explanation in light of what we know today about our own species’ evolution.
The word “khalifa” comes from the root word “khalf,” which means to come after something; to succeed, or to follow something after its end:
This is interesting because we (homo sapiens) came after the last homo species. All species within the genus except us are extinct.
So doesn’t it stand to reason this verse could very possibly mean: God is going to create humans in their “final form” to come after the previous homo species? A successor to all previous species in this genus.
One homo to rule them all.
Here’s a brief video to give you a visual:
The second question here is why did the angels think this new creation God had just informed them about would shed blood and cause corruption when they had nothing to base their assumption on? God hadn’t created the new creation yet.
Or had it?
I’ve read many different explanations, such as they witnessed jinn wars and infighting, they were given prior knowledge, etc. Still, I’d like to explore something a bit more contextually relevant in light of the above.
What if the angels had prior experience with hominins before humans? It turns out the genus homo has a long history of violence and bloodshed. In fact, they’ve been violent since their very beginning.
So the angels were well within their right to ask, having witnessed all other hominins killing each other.
As the “final form” of humans, it is not only our technological advancements that distinguish us from early man but also our ability to demonstrate consistent levels of compassion to other beings. Early hominins were opportunistic feeders and ate whatever they could find or catch. They had no moral or religious regulations on their consumption since they operated purely from survival instincts.
A Critical Point In History
We also now know that cattle were first domesticated in the Middle East nearly 10,000 years ago via genetic mapping. Domestication of sheep occurred around 11,000 – 12,000 years ago and goats 12,000 years ago. So basically, all around the same time.
This is much earlier than the advent of all religions, so clearly, religion incorporated animal consumption as it was already occurring and did not originate the idea.
This thoroughly refutes the fallacious argument of “if religion weren’t around, we wouldn’t have needless suffering of animals” that’s propagated within certain vegan circles.
So based on these timelines, it’s clearly established earlier humans had pre-existing relationships with domesticated animals about 10,000 years before Islam.
Now here’s the pertinent question:
Why did humans have pre-existing relationships with animals through domestication thousands of years before Islam?
In short – food, transport, shelter, clothing, and warfare.
Even the staunchest vegan will concede early humans had little choice but to eat and use what was available.
Certain animals also made life much easier, particularly when transporting goods via trade caravans or moving possessions from place to place, which is a hallmark of nomadic societies. These were largely symbiotic relationships where both humans and animals benefitted. Animals gained protection, constant sources of food, water, breeding, and in return, humans sustained themselves with them and used them for work and transport.
Interestingly, camels were first domesticated in the Southeast Arabian Peninsula. It helped them enormously maintain a genetic diversity only found in wild animals due to them constantly traveling into different geographical areas for trading purposes. Their original ancestors died out. This is a prime example of how a symbiotic human-animal relationship should play out instead of today’s one-way domination.
So clearly, domestication, use, and consumption of animals occurred out of absolute necessity.
This human dependency on animals continued right up to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Pre-Islamic Arabs were one link in a long chain of civilizations that relied heavily on animals for survival.
Before the agricultural revolution, people who lived in isolated or nomadic societies ate whatever was available, and hunger was a real and present threat. Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) society was a desert-dwelling, semi-nomadic tribal society that had relied on animals for sustenance for thousands of years. They ate, among other things, lizards and locusts.
So when the Qu’ran speaks of consuming animals, it does so from a very contextualized understanding of the human-animal dynamic as it was for tens of thousands of years and, by extension, how people lived during the time of the Prophet. The Qu’ran spoke to them in a language they were already living daily:
And the grazing livestock He has created for you; in them is warmth and [numerous] benefits, and from them you eat. 16:5
And they carry your loads to a land you could not have reached except with difficulty to yourselves. Indeed, your Lord is Kind and Merciful. 16:7
It is Allah who made for you the grazing animals upon which you ride, and some of them you eat. 40:79
Given animals were so crucial to society then; it would have been genuinely oppressive for God to forbid a civilization’s primary source of sustenance.
This is the backdrop with which the Qu’ran dealt with the topic. It did not introduce animal consumption. The Qu’ran recognized then regulated it just like it did with polygamy and slavery.
So now we know:
- Other life forms had been consuming one another 500-600 million years before humans appeared in a finely tuned balance.
- We are the final chapter in the genus homo; the last of our species
- We’ve had an inherently violent streak since we existed some 200,000+ years ago.
- We domesticated animals out of pure necessity.
- Islam was the only major faith that heavily regulated animal consumption
Up until the advent of Islam, the people of Arabia had no moral guidance on interacting with the natural world around them.
Despite The Prophet Muhammad living in a society with no concept of animal rights, he was plagued with political, economic, and social turmoil; his diet was predominately plant-based, where dates and barley were his staples. He showed compassion not only to animals but gave hope to those who showed the same compassion:
Qurra ibn Iyas reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, I was going to slaughter a sheep but I had mercy on it (or felt sorry for it).” The Messenger of Allah said, “If you had mercy on the sheep, then Allah will have mercy on you twice.” (al-Adab al-Mufrad 373 Book 20, Hadith 373), Graded as Sahih (authentic) by Sh. Al-Albani.
What About Animals Feeling Pain?
Central to the argument of animal consumption is causing pain to another sentient creature.
It’s essential to recognize if God was to take away our and our animal friends’ ability to feel pain, emotion, and suffering; this takes away that which makes us who we are. Our ability to empathize and extend compassion to others is centered around our perception of their state of being.
All vertebrates with a central nervous system can feel pain.
It is clear from the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that if an animal was to be killed, his priority was to spare that animal any suffering:
“Verily Allah has prescribed ihsan (excellence) in all things. So if you kill, kill well; and when you slaughter, slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.” –40 Hadith, Nawawi #17
Now bear in mind; this statement was made 1400+ years ago when even the concept that animals were sentient beings was non-existent. Until the Prophet’s arrival, animals had zero rights and were treated in horrific ways.
Even today, in the United States and most Western nations, “livestock” have no rights whatsoever. One can torture a cow, sheep, pig, or chicken to death with minimal to no consequences.
Yet from this narration, we see the Prophet Muhammad’s only concern here was to spare the animal any suffering. The quickest way to spare an animal suffering known at the time was to cut the throat region with a very sharp blade quickly.
Given the fact the Prophet’s only goal was to spare any animal suffering, it’s only fair and reasonable to state had he known of a better way to eliminate animal suffering; he would have used it.
How can we possibly argue he would stand for the ghastly slaughterhouses, gas chambers, butchers, and other modern ways in which animals are killed whereby they endure GREAT suffering from birth to death?
This is why I strongly believe that today if one absolutely must consume an animal, they do it by using anesthetic or some sedative, so the animal does not suffer at all. I feel this is far more in line with the Prophetic tradition than the horrific bloodbaths that occur amidst agonizing screams of dying animals.
We can no longer claim “halal slaughter” is painless as this has been thoroughly studied and disproven – this latest study just being released months ago.
If we have used other advancements they didn’t have at the time – like calculating exact prayer times – why can’t we do the same when it comes to the suffering of God’s creatures?
Better yet, don’t kill animals; then there’s no debate.
That Was Then, What About Now?
Okay, let’s set aside what we’ve covered so far in the past and examine our present.
- Do we need (out of necessity) domesticated animals for food, shelter, warfare, clothing, or transport? NO.
- Are we following the symbiotic relationship model with domesticated animals where both species benefit? NO.
- Are modern-day humans modeling current-day practices of early humans? NO.
- Are modern-day Muslims modeling current practices on the Prophet Muhammad’s society? NO.
There is absolutely nothing in today’s mainstream or “halal” farming industries that mimic what our ancestors did out of necessity.
It has devolved into insidious exploitation globally where greed, gluttony, and profit maximization have canceled out any notion of animal welfare. Our ancestors did not artificially breed billions of land animals, fish the oceans dry, and literally burn the world around them for a sandwich.
In fact, from 1961 to 2004, the population of “livestock” skyrocketed from 2.7 to 4.1 billion, and domesticated fowl went from 3 to an astounding 16 billion. It is outright insulting and disingenuous to draw parallels with the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and even those who came before him as they did not engage in this type of systematic exploitation.
They didn’t create a global “halal food” market soon to be worth $12 TRILLION; they consumed what was necessary to survive from the small flocks they kept.
To invoke the Qu’ran in justifying these modern-day crimes is just offensive.
It is an outright crime against God to continue mass producing and consuming animals when this very action is the prime impetus of the current global meltdown. We cannot continue turning a blind eye to what animal agriculture is doing to our world. Tens of thousands of scientists have issued enough warnings, and the Muslim world and its idle leadership have done very little.
We have largely stopped using animals for transport, war, shelter, and clothing but have increased our demands to consume them even though we have many healthier, better options. It’s time we stopped using Islam to justify our unchecked greed and live as if we’re the only ones worthy of this planet.
God didn’t allow animals to be killed any more than what was already occurring for hundreds of millions of years.
However, what He did do was hold humans to higher standards than other animals.
So while animals routinely kill one another out of necessity, sometimes in quite brutal ways like – ripping one another apart, eating another alive, or sometimes killing rivals for territory, Islam’s focus was on minimizing/eliminating suffering as much as possible.
Right now, there is even more reason not to consume animals. Not only do we not need to since there’s an overabundance of plant-based options, but doing so is contributing to the current sixth mass extinction of our wildlife. The last mass extinction to have occurred was 66 million years ago.
Let that sink in before you insist on “but it’s halal!”.
Humans domesticated animals around 10,000 years ago out of necessity, and religion dealt with the reality on the ground.
We are blessed to be living in this day and age where we no longer need to kill animals out of need. Of course, it is good to know that if the situation ever called for eating an animal, then there are sanctioned options, but by and large, we do not need to imitate our early ancestors.
Remember, it is always better not to kill than to kill.
When it comes to eating animals, now’s the time to ask yourself, “Is this the right thing to do?” rather than worry about your right.
The Qu’ran dealt with issues as they arose and set a trajectory for its followers to emulate its highest principles and reflect the ethics of their age. This is why slavery is now unequivocally declared haram even though it’s not expressly forbidden in the Qu’ran.
Given that the Prophet Muhammad forbade cutting down trees even during a war, I sincerely believe if he were alive today and saw what was happening to these animals and our world, he would be distraught on so many levels.
He ate for survival.
Now our survival depends on what we don’t eat.
This article has 52 Comments
This is an superbly written and well-supported article. Congratulations! I am not a Muslim (in fact, I am not a religious person, I tell people that my religion is that of my conscience) but I do see the same lame arguments being used by Christians (“God wants us to eat meat.”) and it pains me to hear them use God to justify harming animals.
It is also great to know there are many vegans in the Muslim world. Islam has been so demonised ever since September 11th that finding out about compassionate Muslim communities is refreshing. I wish everybody read your article and didn’t pay so much attention to the news (because good news are seldom shared). Well done for such an informative and kind piece of writing.
God bless you Raquel and thank you for your support!
I’m not a muslim, but i came across this so beautifully written article on your site in search of answer to a question, which got popped up in my mind all of a sudden.It was really convincing going through this article.
I have one more question to ask, why doesn’t God protect a poor deer running away as fast as he/she could to secure his/her future life, or a helpless tree from being cut off for its wood?
I believe that the presence of God is within everything, and that’s why God doesn’t mind if one kills a deer or cut off a tree intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or unknowingly.
“Equilibrium is God and impurity is the creation”
Do you agree?
(By the way, i am a vegan too.)
Waiting for an earliest reply possible!
Hello and thank you for your support, glad you enjoyed the article.
As outlined in the article, God equipped the deer (and all prey animals) with everything they need to escape. Acute hearing, sight, smell, speed, and endurance, etc. They usually get away but other times, their hunters prevail. However, He has also enabled deer to reproduce and outnumber their predators significantly, ensuring the propagation of the species. Predation ensures healthy herds and ideal numbers which protects the lands from overgrazing; which would in turn would kill many more species. It’s by precise design, not accident.
Many trees don’t die when you cut them down, they are miracles of regeneration and will eventually bounce back. They can also burn in fires and regenerate very quickly. Keep in mind; nothing in excess will create equilibrium.
i have send you an email
check it and revert back please
Will do, thank you.
Plz someone tell me is it mandatory during hajj to slaughter an animal??
I’m confused if it is how could a merciful God tell us to do so??
I’m totally confused 😔
In short, we have a plethora of examples of the Prophet’s closest companions who literally say they didn’t slaughter every year because they didn’t want others to believe it was mandatory. Secondly, this practice must be contextualized. We have explored this in depth throughout the site.
Assalamu aleikum sammar! I am from sri lanka and as a muslim living in a buddhist country, i always had a hard time explaining certain Islamic theories to my fellow Buddhist friends. This is one of the best articles that i’ve come across regarding this controversial subject and a big “Thanks” for the logical explanation and the videos.
Walaykum Assalam Shaheed, super happy you found this helpful! Thank you for your support.
This sounds so refreshing to me i hv been struggling with this so hard. But i have a confusion in quran it is said that we hv to slaughter an animal during hajj. And most of the scholars says it is mandatory ti do so but for me it’s seem like I can’t accept with that.
How many innocent animal are killed during hajj i can’t think of a merciful God telling us to do so
Is it really mandatory during hajj??
And finally in the Quran it is said that it’s not the blood or the meat which reaches the God but your piety but how pious is that ??
How can be pious to God by killing an animal?? I’m totally lost😢and it is really affecting my faith in God
Have you checked out the other articles on the site addressing killing animals during Eid/Haj? They are very detailed and hopefully provide you an adequate answer. Thank you.
Very interesting article I really hope it will reduce animal suffering and killing. And promote at long last the plant based diet.
Why is my comment not showing up?
It’s there 🙂
Kindly reply to my earlier comment on hominins.
Alhamdulillah! What a wonderfully, meticulously, diligently, written document it is! With a few exceptions, every line touched my spiritual self and I was indeed looking for someone writing something like this to ease the burning issues I had in mind like many others in regard to animal suffering. It is you, Sammer.
Thank you. However, there is one thing I need to point out which I believe is dangerous. It is so profound that it feels like identity crisis!
Allow me to explain. You quoted another article with the link “very beginning” where the author had written about 5/6 types of hominins taking distinct routes of evolution in different parts of the world. The author drops a bombshell by saying that evidence indicates that when homo sapiens dominated and spread around the world, they bred with those hominins before hominins went extinct. As a result of that, a certain population from a certain part of the world are known to carry genes from hominin X, and another population from another locale carry genes from hominin Y, and so on.
I think this is dangerous because those hominins species naturally had differences in qualities in terms of various criteria. So, that gives extreme groups like white supremists, aryan race, etc the excuse to back up their ideology that they are better than others.
What a refreshing piece of writing.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the sacrifices done during Eidul Adha in terms of methods and necessity.
My gratitude in advance.
In terms of Eid-ul-Adha mass killings, it’s completely unnecessary. Here’s an article addressing it:
Alhamdulillah, I’m glad I found this article. Thank you so much for the thought.
You’re very welcome Luthfi; hope it can help folks understand and reconcile any conflicting beliefs.
Hello sammer, I am not Muslim, but I am fascinated by the religion and have many close Muslim friends.
Would just like to give my deepest thanks to you for writing these incredible articles, they are important pieces of work.
Hi Louis, you’re most welcome irrespective of your faith 🙂
I am glad you found them helpful. Thank you for your support!
wow. I am glad to find this site
Thank you, hope you find it helpful.
Thank you, Sammer, for this article and website! It is a great resource.
You’re welcome Kamal.
Assalamu alaikum, Sammer, here I am again, commenting from a different article. I am SO GLAD to have found this website as a resource!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As a vegan animal rights jihadi, who is a volunteer paleontological explainer at the American Museum of Natural History (I recognized that video right away), I have struggled to reconcile my fervent belief that killing animals for food is wrong when survival does not depend on it with clear passages in the Holy Qu’ran decreeing that eating the flesh of certain animals is lawful to believers. This really helps me to do so. I value it greatly.
Walaykum Assalam Cathleen. Glad you’ve found this article and website a useful resource! Thank you for your tireless efforts.
I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to put these well thought out articles together. As a vegan muslim, it can be difficult to find a foot to stand on sometimes. I too believe that there is no need to consume animals in any capacity in our day and age. Then again, the vegan philosophy does not acknowledge the act of animal consumption as something that is natural for the human species. Being caught between the two webs can be quite confusing and thought provoking.
I am also from Melbourne Australia and would be interested to connect with you to discuss more thoughts and ideas.
Thank you Randa for your feedback and support and glad this site has been helpful for you. Please feel free to share the articles if you need to. If you’d like to join our Vegan Muslim Facebook group, we have over 5,000 members from all over the world including Melbourne:
If you’d like a direct email, our contact info: email@example.com
Sammer, I m immensely grateful for this elaborate article of your’s. It’s essential that this reaches everyone. People need to be educated. In ignorance a lot of crime is being committed on the innocent voiceless lives. This has to stop. I wish u reach out to as many as possible. Keep going ahead with bringing greater insights. Regards !
Thanks Pranathi, your support is appreciated.
This is so well written and makes me so informed and happy. I wish this reaches more meat eaters and muslims who blindly follow the traditions without researching.
Glad you found it helpful Ishita.
Dear Sammer, is there a way to contact you directly?
Dear Sammer, please if you can get in contact, our correspondent would like to do a TV report around the subject.
thank you very much
May ALLAH bless you !
Thank you for this profound article. I hope our Malaysia gov leaders can see this.
Ameen. Thank you! 🙂
You’re a muslim and you’re quoting the theory of evolution which was created by a freemason satanist jew Darwin?
The theory of evolution was actually coined by Muslim scholars hundreds of years before Darwin.:)
Great initiative. I truly admire it. I am a vegan too , although I am not Mushlim, and religion doesn’t matter to me. I wish lot of people read your blog and understand the thing. Hats off to you.
Thank you Manisha for your support, we are all one human family.
A very well-thought-out, compelling and persuasive piece. Thank you for writing + sharing!
Dear Vegan Muslim Institute,
I am a student in the United States working on a project in which I am asking Muslim vegans to share about their experiences with Islamophobia in the online vegan community. The answers can be *anonymous* and will contribute to a greater understanding of what non-Muslim vegans can do to support Muslim vegans in the community.
If you would please consider sharing this survey with your followers on your platform (on this website or elsewhere), I would greatly appreciate it! This is a wonderful opportunity to make the online vegan community a safer and more inclusive space for Muslims. Thank you.
The survey link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdKw2a_hNyGuL8Zlsuu_L98nrfORcuc95FHGhI-DJ29lEyZlQ/viewform?usp=sf_link
Addie P., Graduate Student, United States
Will post it on our Facebook community.
Thank you so much!