Islam & Veganism in the West
What the Vegan Philosophy has adopted from Islam
By: Hadeel Abbas
Collaborators +Editors: Kadjadtou Balde, Nausheen Mazri and Zaianb Gilani
There exists a growing population of Muslim vegans in our community. Some Muslims have adopted its philosophy fully and others question whether it conflicts with Islam and to what degree. We will discuss the definition of veganism and a few Islamic perspectives on it within the context of animal rights in the Western World.
This article will not discuss plant-based eating but rather the ethical philosophy behind veganism and vegetarianism. The following article of this series titled Ethical & Sustainable Living in Isalm, will discuss plant-based eating and Islam.
What is Veganism?
“Veganism is the philosophy that seeks to exclude (as far as possible and practicable) the exploitation and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” (The Vegan Society)
It is a lifestyle that includes the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products for the benefit of animals, human health and the environment. Ethical vegans believe that animals are sentient and conscious beings that deserve autonomy, and therefore this philosophy is consistent in their life, beyond just the food they consume.
There are two main approaches in Veganism:
1) an Utilitarian or Protectionist approach that focuses on improved welfare for animals, usually with regards to factory farms in the West.
2) Abolitionism that strives to end the commodity or property status of animals and to provide animals with individual rights. For example, viewing farmed animals as commodities is shown in auction yards when they are tagged with a barcode and traded based on certain physical qualities.
Addressing ‘White’ Veganism
It is also important to note that there are varying viewpoints that come with veganism, with some being very problematic. ‘White veganism’ is a term that describes those that believe veganism is the only way forward, overlooking the unethical practices that exist in plant-based food production as well. It is inherently racist and blatantly disregards the social injustices and exploitation of migrant farmers in the overall food system.
White vegans impose their personal choice on others without considering people’s cultural way of living. They often pose hunting bans as a solution to animal oppression, while although necessary in some cases, they believe it should be imposed on Indigenous peoples, which is integral to their ancestral way of life, therefore perpetuating modern day colonialism.
Abolistionalism, however, recognizes the animal and human injustices in industrialized farming and aims to dismantle all forms of injustice and discrimination in society.
In this article, we will speak to the basic definition of veganism while discussing aspects of protectionist and abolitionist philosophies and how it relates to Islam.
What the veganism philosophy has adopted from Islam
The Quran is adamant that animals not be looked at as mere resources, which the veganism philosophy has adopted. It also recognizes that animals are conscious and sentient beings with their own communities just like human beings. Islamic teachings constantly highlight their rights to have a peaceful life.
Islam aslo recognizes that animals have personhood, similar to how the vegan philosophy believes that animals should be acknowledged as, “non-human persons” and have a right to life and freedom.
See our previous article on how Islam advocates stongly for the protection of animal rights here: Animal Rights & Islam
Why have some Muslims adopted a plant-based lifestyle?
Some Muslims reject consuming animals and animal products due to the cruel treatment of animals in the Western world in halal and non-halal slaughterhouses alike. Tayyab, which translates to pure and wholesome, is an important principle of meat consumption in Islam. It states that animals should be treated with compassion from birth to sacrifice.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s said that no pain should be inflicted upon animals before slaughter, thus if an animal is cruelly treated, it’s meat is considered unlawful to eat (Makrooh). Therefore, today’s intensive farming practices go against these principles of Tayyab.
“There is a stark difference between what Islam dictates and the shocking conditions mass-farmed animals endure every day. These animals spend their lives confined to tiny cages and cramped windowless buildings. Chickens are de-beaked and cattle mutilated — castration, de-horning and ear slitting are just the tip of the iceberg.”
However, The Entirety of the Veganism Philosophy Does not Comply with Islamic Teachings.
Islam also asserts a balance between the rights that are given to living creatures and the needs of humans. In Islam it is justifiable to eat meat that is Halal and Tayab. From our knowledge, Islam is also a faith that has existed for a long time, and so naturally, it make sense that its philosophy is made for populations of any time period.
The vegan philosophy states that animals have a right to life and should not be killed for human consumption. This worldview that slaughtering animals, in general, is inhumane or unfair is problematic in Islam. It is also forbidden to dictate that certain foods are completely impermissible in Islam.
“This is because it amounts to accusing Allāh the Most Merciful, and the Messenger (pbuh), of legislating and encouraging something that is unjust and immoral. He is the One who permitted the slaughter of animals in a way that is gentle and merciful to animals.”
We found that Islam is based on similar animal rights principles that the vegan philosophy advocates for. Industrial factory farming occurring in the West also goes against the principles of Tayyab. However, when the precise definition of veganism is put to test with Islamic teachings, from our research, we have found that some parts comply while others do not.
Note: We are a group of BIPOC Muslims interested in the intersections between environmental justice and Islam. We are by no means Islamic scholars or academics and the information provided in this article came from the following sources.
Animal Rights & Welfare in Islam https://medcraveonline.com/IJAWB/IJAWB-03-00135.pdf
When the earth speaks against us: Enivonmental Ethics in Islam
“Muslims can’t be Vegan” Where Veganism and Religion Collide. https://www.onearabvegan.com/2012/01/muslims-cant-be-vegan-where-veganism-and-religion-collide/
Veganism and Vegetarianism from and Islamic Perspective. https://www.reviewofreligions.org/23928/veganism-vegetarianism-meat-consumption-islamic-perspective/
Commodity Status of Animals. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodity_status_of_animals
Definition of Veganism. https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism
Can a Muslim be Vegan?. https://www.islam21c.com/islamic-thought/can-a-muslim-be-vegan/
The Problem with White Veganism. https://julianayaz.medium.com/the-problem-with-white-veganism-f86c0341e2a2