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Vegetarianism in Islam

Islam and Vegetarianism


Those familiar with Islam may balk at the thought of an animal-friendly or vegetarian Islam. After all, of the three monotheistic religions, Islam is the only one that still calls for animal sacrifice. The Quran is also as explicit, if not more so, as the Torah or the New Testament with regard to using animals for human purposes. While these observations are true. A deeper look at the tradition will reveal teachings of kindness and concern for animals, teachings that may indicate Muslims need to take another look at the animals they eat nowadays.

Not too long ago, We had the privilege of talking to an eminent Islamic scholar, who wishes to remain unnamed. Our conversation covered a wide range of topics. The one closest to his heart, however, was the treatment of animal kind according to the tenets of Islam.

Islam and Animal Welfare

“Islam was one of the earliest faiths to care about the rights of animals,” he waxed eloquent. ‘In general, kindness to animals has been promised by reward in the life hereafter’. We find this sentiment in line 178 of verse 8, Chapter 7, Book 6 of the Mishkat-al-Masabih. This is the groundwork: it tells us what our attitude should be in general towards animalkind. Then we have more specific references. Consider this line from Abu Umama, Al Tabarani: ‘He who takes pity even on a sparrow and spares its life, Allah will be merciful to him on the Day of Judgement.’

“Yes, but Islam allows the killing of animals for food and for religious sacrifice,” I interposed. “If Islam cares so much about animal welfare, why does it allow meat-eating and slaughter?”

“A good point,” the scholar conceded good-humouredly instead of taking umbrage. “We have to remember that several customs and conventions prevalent in Arab lands may be pre-Islamic and thus without specific Islamic sanction. Furthermore, nearly 1500 years ago, what was Arabia? Mostly desert land, and war-torn at that. There were few peaceful and settled agricultural communities as we had in India, for instance. The nomadic tribes found food when they could – by hunting animals and eating them. That is no longer true, and Arab countries today are very modern in many ways. They have plenty of vegetarian food available, as with India. So there is absolutely no compulsion as such to eat meat. I can only hope that individual Muslims will voluntarily give up meat-eating because nowhere is it said that meat-eating is compulsory….”

“And what about cruel sports such as cock fights? In some neighboring countries, the utterly barbarous practice of bear-baiting continues still!”

“Ah, but our Holy Prophet forbade the setting up of animals to fight each other! We can find this in Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi. It is my understanding that the government of this neighbouring country has forbidden bear-baiting as un-Islamic, but the practice continues because of the greed and cruelty of men. And in Muslim, we are told that the Holy Prophet forbade the beating or branding of animals. Once he came upon a donkey which had been branded on its face. He is reported to have exclaimed: ‘May Allah condemn the one who branded it.’ He also disapproved of the cutting of a horse’s tail, for example, as unnatural and interfering with the natural beauty of the horse. He was clearly opposed to mutilation and vivisection of any animal, according to Ahmad and other authorities. As you may know, our noble religion of peace and harmony emphasises intention. Therefore, the Holy Prophet’s intention was clearly to instruct us, his followers, to be kind to animals and not to diminish their health and dignity in any form. I would say that this was quite advanced for the times.”

“Oh, absolutely,” I concurred heartily. “Many people do not know these things. Please tell me some more about the Holy Prophet’s sayings regarding treatment of animals.”

“Well, there is plenty of material, although – as far as I know – those who preach in the mosques never seem to highlight these important teachings. For instance, there is the story of the Prophet hearing the call to prayer one day. He wanted to take along his prayer mat, but one of his cats was curled up on the carpet, comfortably asleep. Not wanting to disturb the cat, and yet being required to take his mat along, the Prophet solved the problem by carefully cutting off a portion of the carpet and taking it with him. Then there is the story he told his followers about a prostitute, according to Muslim. On a hot day, a poor dog lay panting from thirst near a well. When this woman came along, she took pity on the poor creature. She lowered her socks into the well, drew water in them and squeezed it into the dog’s mouth. Our Prophet said that, because of this one act of kindness, all her sins would be forgiven her. In the same source, we learn that he had a vision about a different kind of woman. Although not a sex worker, she was chastised after death because, on earth, she had tied up her cat continually and neglected to feed it or water it – so that it was not free even to fend for itself! In all of these narratives, the intention is crystal clear: Whatever our position in society, we must be kind to animals and must not neglect them or hurt them wantonly.”

“But meat-eating….”

“True. Perhaps the unsettled conditions of the time and the aridity of the land did not allow of vegetarianism. Yet, as I said, many more of us should be voluntary vegetarians for our own good.”

“And animal sacrifice?”

“That is, it is true, mentioned in our scripture. However, in our Holy Quran, we also find this extraordinary line in Chapter 22, Verse 37: ‘Their flesh will never reach Allah, nor yet their blood – but your devotion and piety will reach Him.’
“This wonderful saying lends itself to a very humane interpretation: namely, that we should concentrate on our prayers and personal devotion rather than relying blindly on animal sacrifice. Could that not also be extended to mean that animal sacrifice is not actually mandatory? Who is to say?”

“Perhaps those among you who preach and lay down the law?”

“Yes, one does wish that these eminent scholars and theologians would pronounce just such a ruling. The intention could be that we should exert ourselves in the matter of personal holiness rather than killing some poor animal.”

Sufism and Vegetarianism

Although the majority of Muslims are meat eaters, there is also widespread remembrance of Muhammad’s warning, ”Do not allow your stomachs to become graveyards!” For this reason, meat is used in moderation in many traditional recipes. Many Sufis (esoteric Muslim practitioners) maintain that vegetarianism is in complete accord with Islamic doctrines and principles. The Sufi Qadiri Shaikh Abdul Karim Jili, commenting on Ibn Arabi’s advice to avoid animal fat during retreats, stated that “animal fat strengthens animality, and its principles will dominate the spiritual principles.”

Similarly, the Chishti Sufi Inayat Khan, who introduced Sufi principles to Europe and America in the early 1900s, observed that vegetarianism promotes compassion and harmlessness to living creatures, and that a vegetarian diet aids in the purification of the body and refinement of spiritual faculties.


Centuries ago, when it became necessary to feed large groups of persons in the desert, perhaps a camel was sacrificed. There is no need for it in this day and age. Let us hope that the custom would be abolished. Ending as I began, I should like to go back to another saying from the same book in the Mishkat-al-Masabih: ”A good deed done to a beast is as good as doing good to a human being; while an act of cruelty to a beast is as bad as an act of cruelty to human beings.” In the light of such a marvellous pronouncement, it is my earnest hope that our Muslim religious authorities in India will do their utmost to prevent needless cruelties to animals.”

Vedic Observer

Islam and Christianity are not complete religions according to the Bhavisya Purana rather they are set of instructions given by prophets according to that time, place and circumstances. At one point in time Vedic culture was prevalent all over the world but as the time passed there was a a gradual degradation in values as predicted by [ Srimad Bhagavatam].

Hence in order to regulate the people the Lord ordained Judeo-Christian religions through some of his representatives so that people who have given up their vedic culture can at the least be humans instead of being as good as animals. So these religions evolved in western Asia. Their literature are no more than a set of rules and regulations that helps bringing some sanity and purpose in their lives. But they do not go in detail with respect to the Supreme God his qualities and the ways to approach him. That is the subject of the Vedic Scriptures. Devout and sincere followers of these religions might get an opportunity to go to heavenly realms to enjoy the results of their previous pious deeds but to relieve oneself from the cycle of birth and death one has to surrender to Lord Krishna.


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1 thought on “Vegetarianism in Islam

  1. Great article!! Vegetarianism should be practised everywhere and all the cruelty should end!

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