Meat & Modernity

Yahya related to me from Malik from Yahya ibn Said that Umar ibn al-Khattab said, "Beware of meat. It has addictiveness like the addictiveness of wine." (Muwatta 49.36)

Many have sought to claim that Islam is essentially a vegetarian religion. Rafeeque Ahmed in his book Islam and Vegetarianism posits that Allah (swt) made humans herbivores and whereas carnivores absorb the nutrients in meat, humans absorb the putrifications because our guts are more than twice as long as the intestines of carnivores. The Holy Qur'an does say that animals have souls:

There is not a moving (living) creature on earth, nor a bird that flies with its wings, but are communities like you. We have neglected nothing in the Book, then unto their Rabb (the One and Only Creator, Owner, Organizer, Provider, Sustainer, Cherisher) they shall (all) be gathered. (HQ 6:38).

See you not that whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth, and the sun and the moon, and the stars, and the mountain and the trees, and Ad-Dawabb [moving (living) creatures, beasts], and many of mankind prostrate themselves to Allah. But there are many (of mankind) on whom the punishment is justified. And whomsoever Allah disgraces, none can honour him. Verily, Allah does what He wills. (HQ 22:18)

And your Rabb revealed to the bee saying: "Take your habitations in the mountains, and in the trees and in what they [humans] erect. Then eat of all the fruits, and follow the ways of your Rabb made easy." There comes from their bellies, a drink of varying colour wherein is healing for men. Verily, in this is indeed a sign for people who think. (HQ 16:68)

"The Qur'an Majeed uses the same Arabic word wahi for God's revelation to all His Prophets, including the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saws), as it has been used in the case of the proves the basic fact that animals have a sufficient degree of psychic endowment to understand and follow God's messages - a faculty which is higher than instinct and intuition."]

In an account of Solomon (as) in Suratul-Naml [The Ants], Allah (swt) says:

They came to the valley of the ants, one of the ants said: "O ants! Enter your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts should crush you, while they perceive not." So he smiled, amused at her speech and said, "My Rabb! Inspire me and bestow upon me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favours which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds that will please You and admit me by Your Mercy among Your righteous slaves." (HQ 27:18-19)

[Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

Verily Allah and His angels, the dwellers of the Heavens and of the Earth, even an ant in its home and fish (in water) invoke blessings on one who teaches people goodness. (Tirmidhi 213 Abu Umamah al-Bahili)]

Yet, the Holy Qur'an permits meat eating:

Say: I find not in that which has been revealed to me any (meat) forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it, unless it be Maitah (a dead animal) or blood poured forth, or the flesh of swine; for that surely is impure or impious meat which is slaughtered as a sacrifice for others than Allah. (HQ 6:145)

And Allah (swt) would not make halal something which is harmful, and has forbidden the unnatural use of intoxicants for this reason. The kalima recited at the time of slaughter, when fully realised, would make the idea of killing an animal for food deplorable. Nevertheless, the Prophet (saws) is reported on occasion to have killed animals himself:

I never felt so jealous of any woman as I did of Khadija, though she had died three years before the Prophet married me, and that was because I heard him mentioning her too often, and because his Lord had ordered him to give her the glad tidings that she would have a palace in Paradise, made of qasab and because he used to slaughter a sheep and distribute its meat among her friends. (Bukhari 8.33 Aisha)

Social Justice

It is indisputable however that the Prophet (saws) did not eat a lot of meat. A vegetarian diet is certainly in agreement with his sunna (saws). Take for example this hadith:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Yahya ibn Said that Umar ibn al-Khattab saw Jabir ibn Abdullah carrying some meat. He said, "What is this?" He said, "Amir al-muminin. We desired meat and I bought some meat for a dirham." Umar said, "Does one of you want to fill his belly apart from his neighbour or nephew? How can you overlook this ayat? 'You squandered your good things in the life of this world and sought comfort in them.' " (HQ 46:20). (Muwatta 49.36 under the title 'General Section on Food and Drink')

It is interesting that Umar (ra) in explaining this ayat would say "does one of you want to fill his belly apart from his neighbour or nephew" because we know that in this dunya at the present time, the gluttonous every-day consumption of mass-produced meat is responsible for famines and inequitable distribution of food resources. As Rafeeque Ahmed points out one person eating a meal of meat is actually eating 12 people's food because of the amount fed to the animal, the deforestation which allows them to graze and the use of water in the meat industry.

Eat and drink but waste not by extravagance, certainly (Allah) does not like Al-Musrifun (HQ 7:31)

To quote Dale Jamieson, "The addiction to beef that is characteristic of people in the industrialised countries is not only a moral atrocity for animals but also causes health problems for consumers, reduces grain supplies for the poor, precipitates social divisions in developing countries, contributes to climate change, leads to the conversion of forests to pasture lands, is a causal factor in overgrazing, and is implicated in the destruction of native plants and animals" ('Animal Liberation is an Environmental Ethic' in Environmental Values February 1998, p.48).

Stockpiling food while people go hungry is also forbidden in the Sunna:

Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said, "The table was sent down from Heaven with bread and meat, and they were commanded not to be unfaithful nor to store up for the morrow. But they were unfaithful, sorted up and laid by for the morrow, so they were changed into apes and swine." (Tirmidhi 5150 Ammar ibn Yasir)

'Apes and swine' is used in the Qur'an (e.g. 5:60) and hadith to describe the spiritual or actual condition of despised people. The current spiritual malaise in rich countries is exactly as described by the Prophet (saws) while the supermarkets and butchers are overloaded. Many Muslims cannot even get a glass of clean water to drink, while their brothers and sisters in rich countries eat like Kings! Malik Shabazz described the American practise of using surplus ships to stockpile grain until it becomes inedible in his autobiography (Autobiography of Malcolm X, Penguin, 1992, p.434). Humankind is materially the richest it has been in history, yet we are spiritually impoverished as half our population is materially impoverished also.


We know that half the world is starving because of the rampant consumption - including meat - by the rich. In the Prophet's time (saws), meat was only desired at Eid (see Bukhari 2.74 and 7.457 Anas). If the Prophet (saws) ate much meat other than at Eid, how is this hadith to be explained?

Umm Salamah said: Allah's Messenger, you necessarily develop trouble every year because of the eating of the poisoned (meat) of sheep. He said: Nothing befalls me but that which was destined for me while Adam was still a lump of clay. Transmitted by Ibn Majah. (Tirmidhi 124 Umm Salamah)

At Eid, those who could not afford meat were kept in mind:

I asked 'Aisha "Did the Prophet forbid eating the meat of sacrifices offered on 'Id-ul-Adha for more than three days" She said, "The Prophet did not do this except in the year when the people were hungry, so he wanted the rich to feed the poor. But later [when there was abundance for everyone, see Abu Dawud 2807] we used to store even a trotter of a sheep to eat it fifteen days later." She was asked, "What compelled you to do so?" She smiled and said, "The family of Muhammad did not eat to their satisfaction white bread with meat or soup for three successive days till he met Allah." (Bukhari 7.334 Abis)

And the welfare of sacrificial animals was also kept in mind. The Prophet forbade a number of pre-Islamic practices which he condemned as cruel including fara' (sacrificing the first-born):

The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) was asked about fara'. He replied: If you leave it (i.e. let it grow till it becomes a healthy camel of one year or two years, then you give it to a widow or give it in the path of Allah for using it as a riding beast, it is better than slaughtering it at the age when its meat is stuck to its hair, and you turn over your milking vessel and annoy your she-camel. (Abu Dawud 2836 Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As)

The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) forbade the devil's sacrifice. Abu 'Isa added in his version: This refers to the slaughtered animal whose skin is cut off, and is left to die without its jugular veins being severed. (Abu Dawud 2820 Ibn Abbas)

Artificial abundance

In the Prophet's time (saws), there was no artificial abundance of meat. Hormones and factory farming did not exist. Even so, the Prophet disliked that meat should become a staple. In stories about previous Prophets, the Prophet (saws) mentioned this:

Abraham...came to Ishmael's wife and asked her about Ishmael. She said, 'He has gone in search of our livelihood.' Abraham asked her, 'How are you getting on?' asking her about their sustenance and living. She replied, 'We are prosperous and well-off (i.e. we have everything in abundance).' Then she thanked Allah. Abraham said, 'What kind of food do you eat?' She said. 'Meat.' He said, 'What do you drink?' She said, 'Water." He said, "O Allah! Bless their meat and water." The Prophet added, "At that time they did not have grain, and if they had grain, he would have also invoked Allah to bless it." The Prophet added, "If somebody has only these two things as his sustenance, his health and disposition will be badly affected, unless he lives in Mecca." (Bukhari 4.853 Ibn Abbas)

Yahya related to me from Malik that he had heard that Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus Christ) used to say, "O Banu Israil! You must drink pure water and the green things of the land and barley bread . Beware of wheat bread, for you will not be grateful enough for it." (Muwatta 49.27)

Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said: A family which has dates will not be hungry. (Muslim 5078 Aisha)

Why does the Prophet (saws) say this? Because even though he lived in an arid region (Arabia), fruit and vegetables are good food. It is striking when reading the hadith literature to learn how hungry the Prophet (saws) and the Sahabah (ra) were (e.g. Muslim 7075, Tirmidhi 514 etc.). Still, a perusal of the books also shows that the Prophet (saws) preferred to eat fruit and vegetables.

Sunna wa'l Jama'a

Now if we are supposed to follow the Sunna of the Prophet (saws), then what about his culinary habits? Should we not emulate these too or is that too hard - after all, said Umar (ra), meat is addictive like khamr!

A complete month would pass by during which we would not make a fire (for cooking), and our food used to be only dates and water unless we were given a present of some meat. (Bukhari 8.465 Aisha)

A tailor invited Allah's Apostle to a meal which he had prepared. I went with Allah's Apostle to that meal, and the tailor served the Prophet with barley bread and soup of gourd and cured meat. I saw Allah's Apostle picking the pieces of gourd from around the dish, and since then I have kept on liking gourd. (Bukhari 7.350) Anas. Anas is quoted in Muslim (5068) as saying "Allah's messenger (may peace be upon him) ate that pumpkin with was since then that pumpkin was always my favourite". Incidentally that tailor was a slave, see Bukhari 7.346)

There was a woman amongst us who had a farm and she used to sow silq (a kind of vegetable) on the edges of streams in her farm. On Fridays she used to pull out the silq from its roots and put the roots in a utensil. Then she would put a handful of powdered barley over it and cook it. The roots of the silq were a substitute for meat. After finishing the Jumua prayer we used to greet her and she would give us that food which we would eat with our hands, and because of that meal, we used to look forward to Friday. (Bukhari 2.60 & 3.539 Sahl bin Sad and 8.265 Abu Hazim)

The Prophet stayed for three days at a place between Khaibar and Medina, and there he consummated his marriage with Safiyya bint Huyay. I invited the Muslims to a banquet which included neither meat nor bread. The Prophet ordered for the leather dining sheets to be spread, and then dates, dried yogurt and butter were provided over it, and that was the walima (banquet) of the Prophet. (Bukhari 7.89 & 5.524 Anas)

Allah's Apostle used to love sweet edible things and honey. (Bukhari 7.342 Aisha)

I saw Allah's Apostle eating fresh dates with snake cucumber. (Bukhari 7.351 'Abdullah bin Ja'far bin Abi Talib)

The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) used to eat melon with fresh dates, and he used to say: The heat of the one is broken by the coolness of the other, and the coolness of the one by the heat of the other. (Abu Dawud 3827 Aisha)

The Prophet died when we had satisfied our hunger with the two black things, i.e. dates and water. (Bukhari 7.295 Aisha)

We were in the company of Anas whose baker was with him. Anas said, The Prophet did not eat thin bread, or a roasted sheep till he met Allah (died). (Bukhari 7.297 & 8.464 Qatada)

Nor did the Companions (raa) eat a lot of meat:

Abu Hurayra passed by a group of people in front of whom there was a roasted sheep. They invited him but he refused to eat and said, "Allah's Apostle left this world without satisfying his hunger even with barley bread." (Bukhari 7.325)

Yahya related to me from Malik from Yahya ibn Said from Sulayman ibn Yasar that Umar ibn al-Khattab led the people in the subh prayer and then went out to his land in Juruf and found semen on his clothes. He said, "Since we have been eating rich meat our veins have become fulsome." He did ghusl, washed the semen from his clothing, and did his prayer again. (Muwatta 2.84)

Allah's Apostle said, "A believer eats in one intestine (is satisfied with a little food), and a disbeliever or a hypocrite eats in seven intestines (eats too much)." (Bukhari 7.306 Ibn Umar)

So, it is an act of kufr (state of unbelief) to eat a lot - let alone eat a lot of meat! And there are other reasons for not eating meat: an important one being the barbaric practise of factory farming.

Care for animals

The Prophet (saws) as we know liked animals very much.

Malik related to me from Abu Ubayd, the mawla of Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik from Khalid ibn Madan who attributed it to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, "Allah, the Blessed and Exalted is kind and loves kindness. He is pleased with it and helps you with it as long as it is not misplaced. When you ride dumb beasts, stop them in their stopping places, and quicken their pace when the land is barren. Travel by night, because the land is travelled faster at night than it is during the day. Beware of pitching tents on the road, for it is the path of animals and the abode of snakes." (Muwatta 54.38)

Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) forbade inciting animals to fight with one another. (Tirmidhi 4103 Abdullah ibn Abbas) Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud transmitted it.

We were with the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) during a journey. He went to ease himself. We saw a bird with her two young ones and we captured her young ones. The bird came and began to spread her wings. The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) came and said: Who grieved this for its young ones? Return its young ones to it. He also saw an ant village that we had burnt. He asked: Who has burnt this? We replied: We. He said: It is not proper to punish with fire except the Lord of fire. (Abu Dawud 2669 Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, also reported by Abdul-Rahman ibn Abdullah, Abu Dawud 5248)

Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) was asked about the cleanliness of the cistern situated between Mecca and Medina and where the beasts, dogs and asses came down. He said: For them is that which they have taken into their bellies, we have what is left (from them) and it is pure. (Tirmidhi 488, Abu Said al-Khudri) Transmitted by Ibn Majah.

When a camel saw the Prophet (may peace be upon him) it wept tenderly producing yearning sound and its eyes flowed. The Prophet (may peace be upon him) came to it and wiped the temple of its head. So it kept silence. He then said: Whose camel is this? A young man from the Ansar came and said: This is mine, Apostle of Allah. He said: Don't you fear Allah about this beast which Allah has given in your possession? He has complained to me that you keep him hungry and load him heavily which fatigues him. (Abu Dawud 2543 Abdullah bin Ja'far)

A funeral procession passed by Allah's Apostle who said, "Relieved or relieving?" The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is relieved and relieving?" He said, "A believer is relieved (by death) from the troubles and hardships of the world and leaves for the Mercy of Allah, while (the death of) a wicked person relieves the people, the land, the trees, (and) the animals from him." (Bukhari 8.519 Abu Qatada bin Rib'i Al-Ansari)

Animals as consumer items

He (saws) also banned vivisection and the use of animals in medical experiments:

The Prophet cursed the one who did muthla to an animal (i e., cut its limbs or some other part of its body while it is still alive). (Bukhari 7.424 Ibn Umar)

When a physician consulted the Prophet (may peace be upon him) about putting frogs in medicine, he forbade him to kill them. (Abu Dawud 3862 Abdul-Rahman bin Uthman, listed under Disapproved Medicines)

Animals are not to be branded on the face. This is a practise common on farms - many cows have plastic tags on their ears. It certainly isn't dignified to treat an animal as a consumer item:

Ibn 'Umar disliked the branding of animals on the face. Ibn 'Umar said, "The Prophet forbade beating (animals) on the face." (Bukhari 7.449 Salim)

Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) forbade (the animals to be beaten) on the face or cauterisation on the face. (Muslim 5281 Jabir ibn Abdullah)

When the animal is killed it should be killed swiftly:

Forbidden to you (for food) are: Al-Maitah, blood, the flesh of swine and that on which Allah's name has not been mentioned while slaughtering and that which hath been killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a headlong fall or by being gored to death. (HQ 5:3)

Two are the things which I remember Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) having said: Verily Allah has enjoined goodness to everything; so when you kill, kill in a good way and when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way. So every one of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably. (Muslim 4810 Shaddad ibn Aws)

The animal cannot be tied before being killed. Muslim has listed this in a section entitled 'It is haram to tie the animals (and then kill them)':

Hishim b. Zaid b. Anas b. Malik reported: I visited the house of al-Hakam b. Ayyub along with my grandfather Anas b. Malik, (and there) some people had made a hen a target and were shooting arrows at her. Thereupon Anas said that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) had forbidden tying of the animals. This hadith has been narrated on the authority of Shu'ba through other chains of transmitter. (Muslim 4812)

Sa'id b. Jubair reported that Ibn 'Umar happened to pass by some young men of the Quraish who had tied a bird at which they had been shooting arrows Every arrow that they missed came into the possession of the owner of the bird. So no sooner did they see Ibn 'Umar they went away. Thereupon Ibn 'Umar said: Who has done this ? Allah has cursed him who does this. Verily Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) invoked curse upon one who made a live thing a target. (Muslim 4816)


Further stipulations are to be found in the article Animals in Islam by B.A. Masri who has ruled that factory farming is haram. Yet factory farming has been ruled as halal by others and animals are even exported live in ships to Muslim countries. For example, a prominent Sunni alim has ruled that:

As long as the slaughtering has been performed according to Islamic conditions, then there is no problem with eating veal. The calf being too young or being confined in a cage does not make it haram to slaughter and eat.

Similarly, a Shi'a marja responding to a question about slaughtering chickens on an automated assembly line ruled:

If [the slaughterer] repeats the name of Allah as long as the machine is continuing to slaughter, it is sufficient.

These ruling do not consider animals as communities which worship Allah (swt) but as, Peter Singer writes, "machines that convert fodder into that their flesh can be made available to humans at the lowest possible cost" (Practical Ethics, p.63)

Milk and eggs

I doubt that the way milk is produced these days conforms to the Prophet's (saws) ethics on kindness to animals, although he liked milk very much. Allah knows best. If you eat free-range eggs have you ever wondered what happened to the roosters? They are killed as chicks.

The Prophet said, "There is no man who kills a sparrow or anything smaller, without its deserving it, but Allah will question him about it". (Nasai 7.206 Ibn Umar)


What some consider as halal has been ruled haram by others and, as Ibn Taymiyyah has stated, "slaughtered animals are not made permissible where doubt exists". (The Collection of Fatawa of Ibn Taymiyyah, v.32, p.190).

Ash-Shawkani has concurred with Ibn Taymiyyah declaring that "the slaughtered animal does not become lawful if there is doubt... and the person is not sure if it has been killed in due form or not." (Nayl Al-Awtar, v.8, p.140).

Is 'due form' merely what we consider zabiha, i.e. bleeding the animal to death by cutting the neck veins? As the above ahadith demonstrate there are several conditions which need to be met regarding the use of animals for food to be in accordance with the Prophet's Sunna (saws). Furthermore, if we are to be environmentally conscious, and believe in social justice - both of which are enjoined in Islam, then we must curtail our consumption of meat. When Allah (swt) permits something, it is often qualified by the Sunna. We have the finest example in the Prophet (saws) who remained mostly vegetarian in an area with frequent droughts and sparse vegetation - much of which only animals could eat. Can we really pretend to be serious about solving social injustice or environmental problems when we thoughtlessly take meat as a staple? The myth of overpopulation explodes when we understand that selfishness and greed epitomised in consumption habits and land mismanagement are the problems. Allah (swt) has provided more than enough for everyone to live comfortably!

'Umar bin Khattab got some land in Khaibar and he went to the Prophet to consult him about it saying, "O Allah's Apostle I got some land in Khaibar better than which I have never had, what do you suggest that I do with it?" The Prophet said, "If you like you can give the land as endowment and give its fruits in charity." So Umar gave it in charity as an endowment on the condition that would not be sold nor given to anybody as a present and not to be inherited, but its yield would be given in charity to the poor people, to the kith and kin, for freeing slaves, for Allah's cause, to the travellers and guests; and that there would be no harm if the guardian of the endowment ate from it according to his need with good intention, and fed others without storing it for the future. (Bukhari 3.895 Ibn Umar