Who says Muslims can’t be Vegetarian?

By Yahya Monastra

The option to be vegetarian has always existed in Islam, whether or not it was actualized at any time or place. The great Sufi Râbi‘ah al-‘Adawîyah of Basrah was an early Muslim vegetarian. In recent times, the renowned Sufi shaykh Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was a notable vegetarian Muslim. Nowadays there are more and more Muslims in different countries choosing to be vegetarian, although they have mostly kept quiet about it.

VegetarianSometimes we get negative, hostile, indignant, or incredulous reactions from other Muslims who have never considered the possibility. One common line of attack goes, “You can’t make harâm what Allah has made halâl! That is a sin!” Excuse me, but who ever said anything about making anything harâm? Why even bring that issue into it? Why do they have to think of everything in life in terms of force and compulsion and forbidding? In Islamic law there are more categories than just obligatory and harâm. There are various shadings of desirable and undesirable, and in the middle there is the neutral (al-mubâh). The choice of what halâl food to eat is a neutral one—it doesn’t have any direct bearing on what is forbidden or obligatory. I’m not making meat “harâm.” I just don’t wish for any, thank you.

Some Muslims will tell you that in Islamic law you are not allowed to refuse to eat meat. This is mere opinion unsupported by any evidence from the sources of the Shari‘ah. Suppose they establish the “Islamic State,” then how will they enforce this ruling? Hold me down, force my mouth open, and shove kebabs down my throat? Come on, I don’t think so.

Others try to persuade you by saying that the Prophet, peace be upon him, ate meat, so you should too. Well, let’s look closer at that argument. We all know that we should try to emulate the Prophet’s sunnah. And what is more important in the Sunnah: to observe specific details of the Prophet’s personal taste which others may or may not share? Or to abide by the great universal principles of behavior and character that he exemplified?

The Prophet recognized that each person is a unique autonomous individual with his or her own personality. When giving advice to individual Companions, he would specifically tailor the advice according to that person’s own characteristics. He did not enforce any overbearing uniformity on the people. Especially when it came to eating, he recognized that different people have different tastes. And for that matter, not even the Prophet and his Companions ate meat all the time; it was only once in a while that they did, not every day. Some Muslims seem to be under the impression that eating meat is the sixth pillar of Islam or something, but clearly there is no reason for thinking so.

The one overall guideline on food that the Prophet gave was: Eat of what is halâl and what is agreeable to you. That says it all. Within the wide range of halâl food, each individual can choose to eat whatever suits him or her.

If people want to follow the Prophet’s sunnah of eating, consider this: The Prophet ate what he liked and he left aside what he didn’t like. That’s all we vegetarians are doing! Furthermore, he never coerced anyone else into eating what they didn’t like. How about imitating this sunnah?

There was a Bedouin tribe whose custom it was to eat lizards, and the Prophet never forbade them from doing so. But he himself would never eat a lizard. This shows that just because something is “halâl,” that doesn’t require you to eat it if you don’t want to.

The bottom line is: no one has the authority to dictate to you what halâl food you can choose to put into your body. I slamic law is completely neutral on this issue; it is only a private matter for each individual to decide for his or her self.

Moreover, note that the Qur’ân does not simply say to eat halâl meat: it says to eat what is good and wholesome (tayyib), and what is halâl. Therefore, if any food is not tayyib, the Qur’ân does not encourage us to eat it. Considering the diseases linked with meat eating (hardening of the arteries, which causes circulatory failure and stroke, in addition to other ills; gout; E. coli infection; and Mad Cow Disease), the hormones artificially put into animals, the filthy conditions of feedlots and slaughterhouses, and the danger of meat going bad, I can only conclude that meat does not pass the test of being tayyib, so Muslims are better off without it.

Ever since I became vegetarian, I feel lighter, fresher, happier, healthier. I can think better. Now, who will argue with that? 🙂

Hadith on Milk, Ghee and Beef

This comes from the famous hadith collection Zâd al-ma‘âd by Ibn Qayyim. I have been all through the many hadith books and I have never found any saying that the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him, ate beef. In fact, he advised against it. If this guidance from the Prophet would be better known, then it could really help to ease the tensions between Hindus and Muslims over the beef issue, if the Muslims would leave off eating beef on the advice of their own Prophet. Let there be peace and harmony between Hindus and Muslims, peace and harmony in the whole world. I wish that could come true!

First, the hadith in the original Arabic:

‘an suhayb radiya Allâh ‘anhu yarfa‘uhu:
‘alaykum bi-laban al-baqar fa-innahâ shifâ’ wa-samnuhâ dawâ’ wa-lahmuhâ dâ’.

The Urdu translation:

hazrat suhaib raziyallâhu ‘anh se rivâyat hai keh huzûr-e akram sallá Allâh ‘alaihi va-sallam ne farmâyâ:
“gâ’î kâ dûdh isti‘mâl karnâ lâzim pakaR lo, kyûnkeh us men shifâ hai, aur us ke ghî men davâ kî tâsîr hai, aur us ke gosht men rog hai.”

Free translation in English:

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said:
“You should use cows’ milk, because it is good for health, and cows’ ghee is good for health, but beef is bad for health.”

Actually, the literal meaning of the words the Prophet used is much stronger than that. He said that milk is “healing,” ghee is “medicine,” and beef is “disease.”

Urdu commentary by Hafiz Nazr Ahmad:

mustadrak-e hakîm kî kitâbuttibb men pahlî hadîs yeh hai keh rasûlullâh sallallâhu ‘alaihi va-sallam ne farmâyâ, “allâh ne ko’î bîmârî nahînutârî jis kî davâ nah utârî ho, aur gâ’î ke dûdh men har bîmârî se shifâ kî tâsîr hai.” us kitâb kî tîsrî hadîs men shifâ kî vajah yeh farmâ’î, “kyûnkeh gâ’î har dirakht se cartî hai — fa-innahâ tarummu min kull shajar.”

yeh ek haqîqat hai keh ûnT, bhens, bheR, bakrî, aur dusre tamâm janvaron ke muqâbalah men gâ’î kâ dûdh sab se a‘lá hai. tamâm mazarrat se pâk hai aur muta‘addid ‘avâriz ke liye shifâ bakhsh hai. gâ’î ke dûdh kâ makkhan aur ghî bhî kitnî hî bîmâriyon kâ mudâvâ hain. atibbâ’ ba-taur-i davâ tajvîz karte hain. dûsrî taraf gâ’î kâ gosht garm hai, aur apnî garm tâsîr ke bâ‘is ba‘z-i ‘avâriz paidâ kartâ hai. lekin hamain yeh bât hargiz farâmosh nah karnî câhi’e keh gâ’î halâl hai aur kisî halâl shai ko apne aur harâm qarâr dene kî hargiz ijâzat nahîn. tibbî nuktah-i nazar se isti‘mâl aur ‘adam-i isti‘mâl kî sûrat aur hai.

In the Book of Medicine of the Mustadrak al-Hakîm [a classical hadith commentary by al-Hakîm al-Nîsaburî], the first hadith is: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings upon him, said: “Allah did not create any disease without creating its cure; and in cows’ milk is a cure for every disease.” The third hadith in this book says on the subject of healing: “Because the cow grazes from every kind of plant.”

It is a fact that, compared to that of camels, buffaloes, sheep, goats, and all other animals, cows’ milk is superior. It is free from everything harmful and provides healing for various illnesses. The butter and ghee from cows’ milk are a treatment for several more diseases. Physicians prescribe it as medicine. On the other hand, beef is hot in nature, and its heat causes some diseases to occur. But we should not neglect that beef is halâl and it is not permissible to declare that something halâl is harâm. From the medical point of view, the question of using it or not using it is another thing.

This hadith and commentrary were published in a book called Tibb-i nabavî by Hâfiz Nazr Ahmad (Dihlî: Varld Islâmik Pablikeshanz, 1982), p. 226