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Reflections on Udhiya

Considering Alternatives to the Animal Sacrifice

In modern times, the killing of millions upon millions of animals for food has become a big, profitable business that is no longer moral or ethical.

Eid-ul-Adha is a very important holiday for 1.9 billion Muslims around the globe.

It marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage and also commemorates the story of Prophet Ibrahim’s (may peace be upon him) sacrifice.

A traditional animal sacrifice, the Udhiyah, has been an integral part of this holiday, with meat being shared between friends, family, and those in need.

But can there be an alternative to the traditional animal sacrifice?

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And can those alternatives still celebrate the spirit of Hajj, commemorate the story of Ibrahim, and fulfill our purpose —faith in and obedience to God —all in a manner of pure love towards all of creation?

There is some level of disagreement among scholars as to the obligatory nature of Udhiyah. Some believe that it is wajib, and others believe that it is sunnah.

However, there is consensus that the reason for Qurbani is to demonstrate complete submission to God for His pleasure.

“It is not their flesh nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches him.” (22:37)

One of the most beautiful things about Islam is its promotion of critical thought.

Muslims have been leaders of critical thinking throughout history, as exemplified by their use of Qiyas, or deductive analogy, and Ijtihaad, or diligence and independent reasoning.

Islam is timeless because Muslims think critically about the Quran and hadith and are able to use these texts to create solutions to new problems. As times change, new problems are inevitable.

Additionally, the meat industry requires extraordinary amounts of natural resources and results in millions of tons of waste that contribute directly to climate change.

Muslims are already researching and developing alternatives to factory farms, but more can be done, especially around the time of Eid-ul-Adha, when we place a large demand on the industry.

With critical thought, we can address the industry’s problems and perhaps find alternatives to Udhiyah.

Meat and Colonialism

The first thing to consider critically is the relationship between meat consumption and Islam.

According to Richard Foltz in his book, “Animals in Islamic Traditions and Muslim Cultures,” pre-Islamic Arabs lived a pastoral-nomadic existence in a harsh desert climate.

A vegetarian diet would have been difficult.

Nevertheless, with the revelation of Islam and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, rules and restrictions were placed on eating meat, suggesting clearly that alternatives do exist and that Muslims were challenged to find these alternatives.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is recorded as being semi-vegetarian with minimal meat consumption.

As Islam traveled to different lands with different climates, the possibility of decreased meat consumption became an easy reality, if not already an existing cultural practice.

Considering Alternatives to the Animal Sacrifice - About Islam

With colonialism, however, meat consumption rose dramatically, even in countries where this was not the norm.

As Drs. Colin and Thomas Campbell assert in their book, “The China Study,” European notions that plant-based diets were for the poor and primitive, while meat-based diets were for the wealthy and civilized, led to the incorrect construct that intelligence was tied to meat consumption—a notion that spread globally through colonialism and survived post-colonization.

Even today, many Muslims link meat and wealth together, even though meat has become one of the cheapest things to buy, cheaper in many places than organic produce.

Halal and Factory Farming

Protecting the planet and all of its creations is a difficult task and is also a way to submit to Allah, for the Earth and its dwellers are His creations.

The second thing to consider critically is the depth of the word halal as it applies to meat. All meat is not halal, or permissible.

In “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet,” Ibrahim Abdul-Matin discusses the conditions under which meat is considered halal.

The most basic conditions are that the animal feeds on plants and is not strangled, beaten, killed by a fall, gored, or killed by another animal. Then, the conditions get even more detailed.

The slaughter of animals must not occur in front of other animals. The knife must be wiped clean and put down before being used again.

Conditions regarding the animal’s upbringing are also clarified. Animals are to be raised in natural conditions, eat natural foods, and be respected.

Considering Alternatives to the Animal Sacrifice - About Islam

All of these conditions of permissibility emphasize the seriousness of animal life.

Furthermore, if these conditions are not met, the meat, according to most scholarly opinion, is not halal.

The factory farming industry of today is where the vast majority of all meat, including so called halal meat, comes from.

The problem is that absolutely nothing related to the factory farming industry can be considered halal.

The simplest investigations have uncovered that animals are fed other animals, not plants. Animals are tortured.

For example, cows are burned with hot irons, dehorned, and castrated without anesthesia.

Animals are starving. Veal, which is derived from male calves, is deliberately raised anemic to keep its flesh pale and thus marketable as a delicacy.

Animals are genetically engineered — chickens are often pumped with hormones to make them grow so quickly and unnaturally that they cannot stand on their own two feet.

Neither the basic nor the more detailed conditions of halal are met by the factory farming industry.

This industry is about profit and profit alone. Factory farming maximizes agribusiness profit by minimizing space and quality of life for the animals, confining them into incredibly crowded and filthy cages.

Chickens, for example, are confined to spaces smaller than your iPad with no ability to stretch their wings, often suffocating to death. This treatment is far, far from halal.

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