WE ALL ASPIRE to be more ‘healthy,’ more ‘wealthy,’ more ‘wise.’ How do we attain to the ‘more’? When does ‘less’ turn out to be more? Our dietary practices are a strong key to reaching our full potential—as individuals and as a vibrant, ideal Community. How can we make the best choices regarding the foods available to us? How can we as the Muslim Community contribute to the betterment of a healthful food source available for all?
Modern Muslims in the West have the convenience of shopping for their meat supply—ready to cook—at every local supermarket. Consumers are encouraged to eat three ‘square’ meals per day, emphasizing the strong protein proportion and quality found in the meat and dairy component of the current U.S. Government Department of Agriculture’s recommended Food Circle/ MyPlate / Food guide pyramid. Fruits, vegetables and grains are also bountifully available and at reasonably easy access for those who know what their bodies need in order to flourish.
Focus On Animal Protein
The desert Arabs, too, were known to relish the flesh of their livestock, along with their staple diet of grains and dates, and along with seasonal agricultural produce. Raising livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, and camels) was part of their lifestyle. The Revelation sent down to Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ did not suggest that Allah was displeased with their use of animals, whether domestic or wild-caught, as a source of food. On the contrary, a ritual of careful and humane slaughter of animals was proactively mandated for Muslims:
Verily, Allah has enjoined excellence (iḥsân) with regard to everything. So, when you kill, kill in a good way; when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way. Every one of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably. (Muslim)
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In another hadith
the Prophet rebuked a person who put the animal [to be slaughtered] on the ground such that it was looking at him sharpening the blade. [The Prophet] said to him: “Do you want to kill it twice? You should have sharpened the blade already.” (Al-Mundhri, Al-Tarhîb w’l-Targhîb)
Furthermore, while alive and serving man, the animal must be treated humanely.
The Prophet entered a field, and a camel came to him and started gurgling and tearing. The prophet wiped the camel’s face until it calmed down. Then, he asked: “Who is the owner of this camel?” A young man from the Anṣâr said: “It is mine, O Messenger of Allah.” So he said: “Revere Allah regarding this animal that Allah gave you ownership of. It complained to me that you leave him hungry and you overwork him.” (Ṣaḥiḥ Abû Dâwûd, Al-Albâni 2549).
The sharing of meat is promoted in the Quran as a charitable deed. In fact, our Islamic festival day ͑ Eîd Al-Aḍḥa features the slaughter of an animal and the distribution of its meat—as part of the Pilgrimage (Ḥajj) rituals.
Hence, [O Muḥammad,] proclaim thou unto all people the [duty of] pilgrimage…so that they might experience much that shall be of benefit to them, and that they might extol the name of God on the days appointed [for sacrifice], over whatever head of cattle He may have provided for them [to this end]: eat, then, thereof, and feed the unfortunate poor. [Sûrat Al-Ḥajj, 22:27-28]
And as for the sacrifice of cattle, We have ordained it for you as one of the symbols set up by God, in which there is [much] good for you. Hence, extol the name of God over them when they are lined up [for sacrifice]; and after they have fallen lifeless to the ground, eat of their flesh, and feed the poor … [But bear in mind:] never does their flesh reach God, and neither their blood: it is only your God-consciousness that reaches Him… [Sûrat Al-Ḥajj, 22:36-37]
Those who are celebrating ͑ Eid Al-Aḍḥa at home may slaughter a goat or sheep—in concert with those performing Ḥajj in Makkah.
Among domesticated animals, only pork, the flesh of pigs, is expressly forbidden for our consumption—and even then, allowance is made for hardship conditions when other food sources are unavailable:
He has forbidden to you only carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; but if one is driven by necessity – neither coveting it nor exceeding his immediate need – no sin shall be upon him: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:173]
Nor is there a prohibition against pursuing and capturing ‘game’ for one’s cooking pot. Hunting is forbidden only during the time when one is in iḥrâm, performing the rites of Pilgrimage (Ḥajj or CUmrah).
…Lawful to you is the [flesh of every] beast that feeds on plants, save what is mentioned to you [hereafter]: but you are not allowed to hunt while you are in the state of pilgrimage … and [only] after your pilgrimage is over are you free to hunt. [Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:1]
And why should you not eat of that over which God’s name has been pronounced, seeing that He has so clearly spelled out to you what He has forbidden you [to eat] unless you are compelled [to do so]? … Hence, eat not of that over which God’s name has not been pronounced … [Sûrat Al-AnCâm, 6:119, 121a]
We cannot then, Islamically, make a case for Vegetarianism as a moral imperative against the practice of raising and killing our fellow creatures for the purpose of eating their flesh. Note, however, that there is a valid argument for quality non-meat sources of protein. In fact, Islamic peoples have traditionally relied on non-meat sources for their daily protein requirements.
Prehistory to Today
The physical records—archaeological evidence, cultural artifacts and traditions—of the human species indicate the widespread dependence of mankind upon meat-eating. Millennia after the first appearance of humans, say our scientists, some populations that had previously hunted and opportunistically gathered berries and nuts, then discovered the “shelf-life” of grains and pulses (beans, lentils, etc.); cultivation was thus born and spread across the earth.
Today, nutritionists stress the concept of incorporating, in certain proportions, all the various food groups to ensure a healthful diet, able to sustain all the biochemical processes of our bodies.
Modern Trends Regarding our Co-Creatures
In our current global-village world, various alternative belief systems are aired and sympathies for the rights of animals are fore-fronted. In fact, Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ could legitimately be cited as an ideological pioneer in the present animal rights movement.
The Prophet told his Companions of a woman who would be sent to Hell for having locked up a cat—not feeding it, nor even releasing it so that it could feed herself. (Bukhâri).
The Prophet was asked if acts of charity even to the animals were rewarded by God. He replied: “Yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive.” (Bukhâri)
The Prophet told his Companions of a serf who was blessed by Allah for saving the life of a dog by giving it water to drink and quenching its thirst. (Muslim)
We humans are responsible to ensure the well-being of our co-creatures, as much as we are able. We must accept this as one of our issues as a Community and take it on in our Islamic context, whether we live in the West or in the East.
Western peoples, whenever circumstances are favorable, commonly opt to keep one or more house ‘pet(s)’—treated as an integral member of the household and fed well. Leaving aside the issue of under what conditions a Muslim can consider keeping a dog, we note that across the centuries for many human societies, “A house without a dog is not a home,” represents a common sentiment. Others keep house cats, and many families have both cats and dogs at one time or another. Traditionally, such domestic ‘partners’ have been working animals, catching grain-eating rodents or protecting livestock from prey, for example. We, too, can profit from the use of animals attached to our households, but within our own Islamic framework. Various types of birds also have been our hunting partners or simply favored ‘pets.’
It is perhaps a sign of a prosperous Western middle-class that veterinary doctors are doing a brisk business in preventative medicine and in the care of senior dogs, cats, horses and of other domesticated creatures, including farm animals. The discomfort with taking the life of, and eating the flesh of, a living creature (one that can look you in the eye) is compelling—even though many animal species themselves (the ‘carnivorous’ ones) catch and eat other animals as a matter of fact in the existing natural order on our planet.
Modern proponents of Vegetarianism argue that humans have neither the digestive system of carnivores nor their dentition (types of teeth) to be meat-eating. But according to modern mainstream representation, we humans are classified as ‘omnivores,’ meaning that we are maximally adapted as a species to living in a variety of climes, geographical and seasonal agricultural situations—equipped to eat both plant foods (fruits – nuts – grains – vegetables) and animal foods, including meat, fish, eggs and milk products.
To be continued, inshâ’ Allah, in Part 2 …
Originally posted 2015-10-15 03:00:01.