Living in majority Muslim countries I never paid much attention to what I ate. The question of whether or not something was halal didn’t even occur to me as I blissfully ate kebabs, shawerma, stuffed pigeon, liver sandwiches, roast chicken, and gigantic cheeseburgers with beef bacon (thanks Lucille!). On trips back to the U.S. to visit family and friends I found avoiding meat for a few weeks to be not too great a burden, and the joy of feasting on halal chicken at a Pakistani restaurant in San Francisco or gorging myself at halal food carts in NYC almost made the abstention worth while. It was only when I moved back to the U.S. in 2007 to go to grad school that I started to think more critically about my food and the impact of my choices around eating. As I began to look past how animals are killed and I started to question how they are raised, I realized that eating what is merely halal does not guarantee that my food choices will be in line with my ethics, ethics that are primarily rooted in the Islamic tradition and an understanding of God sending the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him), and thereby everything that he brought, as a mercy to the universe. “What would it mean,” I asked myself, “For my food choices to be a manifestation of mercy?”
One answer that presented itself to this question was to become a vegetarian. Some Muslims may come to the conclusion that the best thing for them to do for their own health, as well as for the well-being of other creatures and of the planet as a whole, is to refrain from eating meat entirely. While this may be a valid position to take as a Muslim provided it is given the appropriate context, I wondered if there wasn’t something that I could do other than cut meat out of my diet. Becoming a vegetarian wouldn’t even be enough since the reservations I have with how animals are treated do not apply to meat-eating alone. Chickens that are raised for eggs and dairy cows find themselves in the same predicament as, if not one that is worse than, their counterparts that are raised for meat. In order for my diet to be wholly in line with my principles, I would have to become a vegan. While it would pose some difficulties for me, a life without animal derived foods did not strike me as entirely unreasonable, or even entirely undelicious, but I wondered if there was a way for me to eat meat, eggs, and dairy and remain fully faithful to the teachings of Islam?
Even if I might be able to get on board with a vegan diet, I doubted that I could convince many of my friends and fellow Muslims to join me. Although my primary goal was to find a sense of harmony in my life and to strive to have the least negative impact possible on God’s creation around me, an approach that made room for others who shared my principles and concerns, but who weren’t quite ready to give up eating meat, would involve an even greater benefit. Since we are told that it is those of us who are of the most benefit to God’s creation that God loves the best, it struck me as imperative to find a more inclusive strategy. Additionally, there is nothing that I have found in the Islamic tradition that would make eating meat in and of itself a negative action, so the challenge became how to continue engaging in something that God has made permissible while minimizing, if not eliminating, those contemporary practices that make consuming animals and animal products harmful and worth avoiding.
I started doing some research and I soon found that I was not alone. Yasir Syeed had begun to provide meat from humanely and sustainably raised animals online at Green Zabiha, and Qaid Hassan was doing similar work on a more local scale in Chicago through Whole Earth Meats. I was enormously pleased to find Muslims engaged in such trailblazing work, but what they are doing is not enough. Where we now have a few isolated efforts, we need a network of regional initiatives that can interact with each other, cross pollinate, and grow into a global movement. I’m not starting this movement, this movement is something that exists before me and around me, but it is something that I have become passionate about in my life. I have a lot of ideas about how to move forward, but I know that no matter how good my ideas are, there’s probably going to be someone out there with better ones, or at least a way to improve them. I’m going to be sharing my thoughts on these issues here, as are other contributors, and I invite you to participate in building this site with us through commenting on what you read as well as by engaging with other like-minded people on our discussion boards. Through sharing knowledge I hope we will grow into a movement that has a positive impact on the world by learning from each other how to more fully manifest God’s mercy as members of the community of Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him).
- Aisha (ra) narrates: "I was riding a restive camel and turned it rather roughly. The Prophet ﷺ said to me 'it behooves you to treat the animals gently'."