Every year around Eid-ul-Adha articles start popping up from Muslim vegans on the “barbaric” practice of sacrificing a lamb, goat, cow, or camel as part of the Eid ritual. The point of such articles usually tends to be trying to discourage the Muslim community from engaging in the sacrificial practice and even abandoning it altogether. There are also other articles, far better than the former, which put forward the vegan case but remain true to the Islamic tradition as well.
Qur’an and Sunnah both speak about the sacrificial practice on Eid-ul-Adha. For example, the following verses in the Qur’an speak about sacrificing animals as ritual practice or food:
“Therefore turn in prayer to your Lord and sacrifice (to Him only)” [al-Kawthar 108:2].
“Say (O Muhammad): Verily, my Salaah (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the ‘Aalameen (mankind, jinn and all that exists). He has no partner. And of this I have been commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims” [al-An’aam 6:162].
“And for every nation We have appointed religious ceremonies, that they may mention the Name of Allah over the beast of cattle that He has given them for food” [al-Hajj 22:34].
“And the camels and cattle We have appointed for you as among the symbols of Allah; for you therein is good. So mention the name of Allah upon them when lined up [for sacrifice]; and when they are [lifeless] on their sides, then eat from them and feed the needy and the beggar. Thus have We subjected them to you that you may be grateful” [al-Hajj 22:36].
From the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), we have the following:
‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “The Prophet (pbuh) stayed in Madeenah for ten years, offering sacrifice (every year on Eid).” Narrated by Ahmad, 4935; al-Tirmidhi, 1507; classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Mishkaat al-Masaabeeh, 1475.
Prophet (pbuh) said: “Whoever offers a sacrifice after the prayer has completed his rituals (of Eid) and has followed the way of the Muslims.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5545.
Prophet (pbuh) said: “The greatest of days before Allah is the Day of Sacrifice.” Narrated by Sunan Abi Dawood, 1765; classed as saheeh by Al-Albaani.
Prophet (pbuh) said: “The day of ‘Arafah, the day of Sacrifice, and the days of al-Tashreeq are our festival, us Muslims, and they are days of eating and drinking.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 773; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi.
So the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) explicitly mentions the 10th of Dhul Hijjah as the Day of Sacrifice (يوم النحر). Despite this, the Muslim scholars differed whether it was obligatory to do this sacrifice on Eid-ul-Adha or not. The majority actually said that it was not. Instead, they opined that it was a highly recommended practice but not obligatory. This is the view of al-Shaafa’i, Maalik and Ahmad according to his most well-known view. Abu Haneefah is of the view that it is obligatory to do so. This is why you find many of our Indo-Pak brothers and sisters insisting on it because they usually tend to follow the Hanafi school of thought.
There is no doubt that there are some reprehensible practices in the meat industry, which do not conform to the Islamic way of treating animals but does it mean we should just abandon the practice of sacrificing animals on Eid-ul-Adha altogether?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being vegan and Muslim provided one does not do so thinking it to be part of the religion. It’s a matter of personal choice. However, I do not think calls to abandon the practice on Eid should be encouraged as well for numerous reasons:
- There is too much textual evidence in the Qur’an and Sunnah that suggests that the practice is at a minimum highly encouraged.
- It is part of the human experience to eat meat as food and is one of the purposes behind the creation of animals that are religiously permissible to eat in Islam. As some have correctly indicated, “Unlike plants, animals can’t synthesize their own food. They survive by eating plants or other animals.”
- One of the purposes is to remember the moral lesson from Prophet Ibrahim that he almost sacrificed his beloved son Ismaeel for the pleasure of his Creator. It should remind us every Eid-ul-Adha that our desires, ambitions, and wants should be subservient to Allah’s Will and what He wants from us. So no matter how badly we want or do not want something but if Allah has commanded us to do the opposite, then we must sacrifice that want or desire for the sake of our Creator just like Ibrahim. This is why when speaking about sacrificing animals, Allah says in the Qur’an [meaning of which is], “Their meat will not reach Allah , nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you” [al-Hajj 22:37]. Commenting on this verse, the classic exegesis of Jalalyn states, “it is your righteous action performed purely for Him together with your faith that shall be raised up to Him.” So the whole point is to please Allah through this sacrificial practice and follow His guidance.
- Another purpose is to distribute meat among the poor and needy. There are many in the Muslim world who cannot afford meat and this would deprive them of this natural pleasure. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) referred to Eid-ul-Adha and the three days after it as “the days of eating and drinking” and Muslims are encouraged to include the poor and needy in this annual celebration.
However, we can advocate for a more sunnah based diet in the sense that we reduce the consumption of meat overall. There is no doubt that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ate meat occasionally and not regularly. This is very different than saying to abandon a particular explicitly sanctioned practice in the religion. Some point out that some of the companions of Muhammad (pbuh) purposefully did not sacrifice on Eid-ul-Adha to show that it was not obligatory. While this is true, however, they did it solely for educational purposes and not to advance some sort of vegan agenda. I am not aware of any evidence which suggests that these same companions advocated abandoning the sacrificial practice on Eid-al-Adha. At the end of the day, they were still meat eaters even if occasionally. Also, in Islam a recommended sunnah always takes preference over particular habits of a companion.
A mostly plant-based diet that is low in animal foods is far more healthier as numerous studies have shown. Red and processed meats are linked to higher risk of cancer, heart disease and early death. In contrast, white meat intake, such as chicken and fish, has been linked to lower risk as pointed out by nutritionist Katherine Livingstone in her article entitled Why you should eat a plant-based diet, but that doesn’t mean being a vegetarian. She concludes that:
“Eating a variety of unprocessed fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes is key when it comes to maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. Although high intakes of red and processed meats may increase risk of major diseases, a healthy, balanced, plant-based diet can still include small amounts of lean meat trimmed of visible fat (particularly unprocessed white meat) and reduced-fat dairy products.”
We can definitely utilize this material to advocate a more plant-based diet and less meat-based one and link it to the Prophetic practice. As Muslims, we can also advocate to improve animal rights and more humane treatment of animals in the meat industry. Rather, we should be forefront in this effort because humane and fair treatment of animals is part of our faith as well. These are all good things but advocating an abandonment of a confirmed and strongly recommended practice of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) should not be suggested. Instead, we can use Eid-ul-Adha to educate the masses on the humane way to treat animals and run the meat industry.
The author of the book A Critique of the Moral Defense of Vegetarianism argues that it’s impossible to actually be a vegetarian. He makes some really good points such as:
“Plants acquire nutrients from the soil, which is composed, among other things, of decayed plant and animal remains. So even those who assume they subsist solely on a plant-based diet actually eat animal remains as well. This is why it’s impossible to be a vegetarian.
Many vegetarians cite the sentience of animals as a reason to abstain from eating them. But there’s good reason to believe that plants are sentient, too. In other words, they’re acutely aware of and responsive to their surroundings, and they respond, in kind, to both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.
All life is bound together in a complex web of interdependent relationships among individuals, species and entire ecosystems. Each of us borrows, uses and returns nutrients. This cycle is what permits life to continue. Rich, black soil is so fertile because it’s chock full of the composted remains of the dead along with the waste of the living.”
I’ve also noticed that at times some of the more vocal vegans can be very harsh against those who choose to eat meat (and vice-versa). Perhaps it was this experience that led a writer on Telegraph to state:
“For me, the most grating thing about veggies — the moral ones, not the ones who do it for religious or health reasons — is their sanctimoniousness.
Like overgrown teens, clones of meat-dodging Morrissey, they see everything in black and white. Animal good, man bad. There’s a strong streak of misanthropy to some forms of vegetarianism, and certainly to animal-rights activism. Their pity for animals grows in direct correlation to their declining faith in mankind. Man is reimagined as a cruel, machine-like despoiler of nature, while a chicken — a goddamn chicken! — is held up as innocence personified.”
Lastly, there is a great article published on Muslim Matters entitled A Rebuttal to ‘Should Muslims Reconsider Animal Slaughter on Eid?’ and it addresses some of the criticisms of the Muslim vegan community against sacrificial practices on Eid-ul-Adha and responds to them. I highly recommend it.
In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim vegan as a personal choice without believing it to be some sort of Divine command. There are many reprehensible practices in the meat industry that are negatively impacting the animals’ lives, our lives and our environment and we should be part of the struggle to correct them. We can even advocate an overall reduction in meat consumption for health and environmental reasons. All of these are good and admirable qualities and as Muslims we should strive to be part of solving these problems. However, at the same time we should also stick to the teachings of our perfect religion and remember that at the end of the day, the Qur’an and Sunnah take preference over everything else.
I am a Pakistani-American Muslim blogger. I hold a B.S. in Information Technology and a B.A. in Islamic Studies. I am also a follower and a student of the Hanbali school of Islamic law. Read more