This Is What A Muslim Vegetarian Looks Like

Arwa meets three Muslim vegetarians from around the world whose views, lifestyles and paths to vegetarianism couldn’t be more diverse and distinct

When I was 16, I discovered the horror of factory farming and decided to become a vegetarian. That was 8 years ago and I have been a vegetarian ever since. Thankfully, I no longer have to explain why I- as a Muslim- have chosen to become a vegetarian amongst my family and friends or face a barrage of questions before I tuck into my veggie dinner. However, for many people the concept of a Muslim vegetarian is still confusing. So I wanted to introduce you a few – an eco-warrior, one of faith, and one vegetarian for animal rights.

“Are Muslims allowed to be vegetarians?” and “Why would any Muslim want to be a vegetarian?” usually follows the polite explanation that I don’t eat meat. Over the years my responses to these questions changed but I now usually respond with a rather non-committal ‘well, it depends on the person’. I have been asked to speak as a Muslim vegetarian on a couple of occasion and whilst I was more than happy to do it, I often felt uneasy ‘representing’ Muslim vegetarians due to the diverse views and opinions we hold.

For some Muslims, the decision to become a vegetarian has been a truly personal experience with no relation to their religion whilst for others it stems directly from their Islam faith. Caring for the environment may have been a root concern whilst for others protecting animals was the primary motivation. In the spirit of showcasing this diversity, I have asked three Muslim to answer set questions about their vegetarianism and I hope you find their responses as fascinating as I did!

1. Eco-Warrior Vegetarian

Munqeth Mehyar– Jordanian Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, Jordan

Munqeth Mehyar

1. How long have you been a vegetarian and what encouraged you to become a vegetarian?

It’s been 14 years now and I became a vegetarian as the result of a personal experience.

2. Would you advocate that all Muslims consider and take up vegetarianism?

I would advocate that everyone consider becoming a vegetarian when they pass the age of 40.

3. Did Islam play a big part in your decision to become a vegetarian?

No.

4. What have the reactions to your vegetarianism been like from the Muslim/non-Muslim community?

I would say that in our culture eating meat is a must, hearing that some one does not eat meat out of choice was considered to be unusual and weird.

5. Finally, what is your favorite vegetarian meal?

Salads and vegetable spaghetti


2. Vegetarian of Faith

Rianne ten Veen– Green Muslim and author of ’199 Ways To Please God‘ a faith-based green guide

Rianne ten Veen

1. How long have you been a vegetarian and what encouraged you to become a vegetarian?

Not sure there was a single moment (or that full time vegetarians would be happy with me considering myself vegetarian – my intention and preference is clearly to be vegetarian, but sometimes it’s not appropriate to push your preference, so I do end up eating some fish or chicken). Whilst living in Argentina I’d eat quite a bit of meat as part of existing local culture; in the Netherlands I ate much less for this same reason. When living in Belgium I never bought meat as I couldn’t consider cooking animals, it felt too cruel.

Now in the UK I still never buy meat as I know vast majority of meat on sale is from animals raised in ‘non-fitra’ situations (as Muslims we shouldn’t just care about how animals were killed, but also have a responsibility to ensure that animals have a chance to live their life as God intended them to live, and definitely not locked up in tiny cages being fed a non-natural diet, e.g. grains or soy to grass-eating cows) and do not want to have contributing to that system too much on my record for Day of Judgment.

2. Tell me one piece of information that you would like others to know about being a Muslim vegetarian?

Maybe more a question: all vegetables are halal, by definition, and the Quran and hadith mention many good qualities of vegetables; how come they are so scarce then at many a Muslim event where food is provided?

3. Would you advocate that all Muslims consider and take up vegetarianism?

It is not up to me to say what others, Muslim or not, should or should not do. For environmental, health, animal welfare and so many other reasons, I would suggest people do try to give meat a break more often.

4. Did Islam play a big part in your decision to become a vegetarian?

Most definitely. Just read how positively the Qur’an mentions vegetables (e.g. 6:99, 6:141, 16:10-11, 50:9-11) but just tolerates meat (e.g. 6:142); note how rarely Prophet Muhammed PBUH ate meat. With global grain prices going up to feed our (increasingly cloned or artificially inseminated) cattle and chickens out-pricing the poorest; with intensive farming contributing increasingly to climate change; with meat generally having a significantly higher eco-footprint than vegetables contributing need to over-exploit arable land; with fish demand leading to species collapse and genetically modified farmed fish… a more vegetarian diet seems much more Islamic to me.

5. What have the reactions to your vegetarianism been like from the Muslim/non-Muslim community

I’ve been quite surprised at the negative response from Muslims – as if choosing not to eat meat equated to making it ‘haram’ (forbidden) and sounding surprised when I replied with a question whether they’d made haram all the vegetables they never ate?

6. What is your favourite vegetarian meal?

A big mixed salad: fresh raw spinach leaves, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, red onion, fresh garlic; sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds (the ‘good cousin of the naughty cousin’: no marijuana, but very healthy), slightly roasted pine nuts; a dressing of organic olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard… delicious!

3. Animal Rights Vegetarian

Summreen Sheikh- Founder of Vegetarian Muslims Group on Facebook and works in the environmental sustainability sector in the UK

Summreen Sheikh

1. How long have you been a vegetarian and what encouraged you to become a vegetarian?

Since I was five, I learnt about animals at school and decided not to eat meat anymore as every time I saw the meat I thought of the animal.

2. Tell me one piece of information that you would like others to know about being a Muslim vegetarian?

It’s very normal and halal.

3. Would you advocate that all Muslims consider and take up vegetarianism?

No, I would encourage them to think about where their meat comes from. To learn about what is required for their food to be truly halal and question if they genuinely think that the meat industry meets all these requirements. I would also suggest that they look into the consumption of meat in the time of our Prophet and see how eating meat was treated. We are encouraged to think for ourselves as Muslims, not follow the masses.

4. Did Islam play a big part in your decision to become a vegetarian?

No.

5. What have the reactions to your vegetarianism been like from the Muslim/non-Muslim community?

Muslims especially have a problem accepting something that is not common in their culture. Often people will say its haram (forbidden) to be vegetarian- obviously this is quite insulting and ignorant and requires a lot of self restraint from me! Non-muslims are more open minded to the diversity of my lifestyle choice.

6. Finally, what is your favourite veggie dish?

Daal chaal – lentils and rice- yum!

Originally published in Green Prophet and written by Arwa Aburawa.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. arwafreelance
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 15:24:32

    Thanks for your comment Fred and I have to agree. Less is definitely more when it comes to meat and with all the great fruit and veg choices we have around us- we really have no excuses to reduce our meat intake!
    Arwa

    Reply

  2. fred
    Jan 30, 2011 @ 23:19:04

    Alhamdulillah! I think the prophet, peace be upon him, Muhammad and also the prophet, Isa, would praise those who are sensitive enough to the needs of animals that they will not eat them. There are so many hadith on treated animals with kindness that I suspect this would be one reason the prophet chose to eat meat infrequently.

    Reply

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