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Islamic Society ( 25 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Is Eating Meat an Obligatory Act in Islam?

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

25 September 2015

There has been an outcry over Muslims’ meat-consumption ever since the Maharashtra government announced a ban on the sale and possession of beef in the state. For couple of weeks before the coming of Eid-ul-Adha in India, there has been much talk over the ban both in public and in media. It seems as if the meat-consuming Muslim has become a stereotype.  With scores of communities, castes and religions in India, some norms, religious rites and customs will obviously have to clash or overlap. It’s quite natural. Nevertheless, any attempt to create communal disharmony out of this ritualistic conflict does not augur well. Mutual understanding and tolerance is the only way out for the forward-looking Indians. Just as it is mandatory for the Jains not to slaughter, and for the Hindus not to consume the meat, it is mandatory for the wealthy Muslims to sacrifice animals on the Eid-ul-Adha to distribute to the poor in remembrance of the sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh). However, we must try to find an agreeable solution in order to save the syncretism of our Indian culture and peaceful coexistence in our multi-religious country without altering, tampering or harming the basic tenets of religions.

Given this, it is gratifying to take note of healthy discussions, respectable and tolerant attitudes and a decent way to express dissenting views on this issue, especially on social networking sites like Facebook. This is, of course, the strength of Indian pluralism with an overwhelming number of citizens adhering to different faith traditions, while at the same time, believing in ‘unity in diversity’.

While a considerable number of Muslims suggest their community members to abstain from consuming meat, most particularly the cow’s meat, it is quite interesting to see a large chunk of friends from Hindu faith traditions coming out there to support Muslims’ eating meat. In this respect, a Hindu fellow, Girija Gopalakrishnan raises a question in a Facebook debate on the ban on meat: “The big question is: who is a vegetarian? Milk, curd, sweets etc. are all of animal origin. The so-called vegetarians consume only these things on auspicious days. An apple or banana is more alive than chicken or mutton which is served only after being properly cooked. These differences have their roots in the philosophy 'I am better than you because I do things in a different way and my way is always correct.'……..”

In the same thread of comments, Mr. Supradeep Mukherjee says: “What I fail to understand is how north Indian upper caste vegetarianism and Marathi Gujju upper caste veg-Hinduism can be allowed to stop Muslims, Christians, atheists and Hindus of Bengal, Assam (and also Nepal) from freely eating meat in India? Also, almost all the Dalits and lower castes of India who are 60 to 80% of Hindus who are almost 80% of India…”

There are also many people who take this issue as merely a political gimmick rather than a religious polemic. Mr. Jagmohan Chopra, for instance, writes in his comment that “these are all political gimmicks, which are destroying the fabric of the country”. ….. “instead of looking into the serious problems of the country, they indulge in playing games”, he says. In the same line of thinking, Mr. Satindar Puri writes, “ My request to politicians is: Enough is enough. Please stop this Tamasha (game) now. You are no better than those 'fatwa' spouting fundamentalists”.

On the other hand, moderate and peace-loving Muslims have also come up with a tolerant, progressive and forward-looking view on this issue. A well-known Delhi-based writer, activist and author of a popular book on Sufism (Sufism: the heart of Islam), Ms. Sadia Dehlvi writes on his Facebook page: “I am not for bans on eating one's preferred form of meat, but let us understand that in the syncretic culture of the Kashmir valley.  There has traditionally always been an understanding that beef and pork are not served on the table. The Kashmir cuisine enjoyed by both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims uses sheep mutton and not beef. The Rishi Sufis of Kashmir who brought people to the fold of Islam were all vegetarians......with the high court order; a voluntary decision based on mutual respect by the Kashmiris unnecessarily becomes an issue.”

Surprisingly enough, a Muslim fellow namely Muhammad Arif Ali comes up with an idea diametrically different from the mainstream Muslim view. He says, “ I would recommend complete ban on meat and animal products including poultry, tannery industrial products country wide and not just in sporadic States nor on certain days. I ask for the complete ban because the sentiments of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs are hurt…..together with meat, alcohol should also be banned, not only on dry days….”

It is good to see tolerant views on this critical issue held by both progressive Muslims and Hindus in India. Nevertheless, there is a misconception deeply steeped in the larger communities. That is, non-vegetarianism or eating meat is a necessity or near obligatory in Islam. This notion is completely wrong and baseless. It is not obligatory for a Muslim to be non-vegetarian. A pure vegetarian can be a very good and devout Muslim. All that the holy Qur’an says with regard to having food is: “Eat of the good things we have provided you” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:168). This verse is very clear in its statement that eating meat is not a necessity in Islam. The Qur’an, however, permits a Muslim to have non-vegetarian food too, as it is mentioned in this verse: "O ye who believe! Fulfil (all) obligations. Lawful unto you (for food) are all four-footed animals with the exceptions named."  [Al-Qur’an 5:1]

Muslims today should also remember that the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was not an advocate of constant meat consumption. Instead, he warned his followers against it, as it could become addictive. Furthermore, Prophet (pbuh) particularly exhorted his followers to abstain from eating the cow’s meat. He is reported to have said in a Hadith, " There is value in cow's milk, a healing quality in its ghee, and a disease in its meat'. However, this prophetic tradition is an advisory and not a binding ruling for the Muslims. But there are no records of the Prophet (pbuh) having eaten cow or beef.

As for the Qurbani or animal sacrifice being obligatory on the days of Eid-ul-Adha, it is performed in remembrance of the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismail, when God asked him to sacrifice the most precious thing to him. It was none other than his only beloved son whom Allah gifted to him after he spent sleepless nights in constant prayers, asking for a child. However, when Ibrahim had fully prepared to sacrifice his son, God put a sheep in his place.

Prophet Ibrahim’s infinite devotion and complete submission to the will of God are the core values that Muslims celebrate during Eid-al-Adha. Thus, they remind themselves of the Prophet’s willingness to sacrifice anything for the sake of God. Muslims sacrifice the Halal (permissible) animals in remembrance of Ibrahim’s devotional sacrifice to God and distribute them to the poor and the less fortunate who cannot afford their meals. However, animal sacrifice is not the core essence of this historical event. The holy Qur’an relays that God does not actually take pleasure in flesh and blood: “their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you” (22:37).

Given the above verse, it is patently clear that meat is not a necessity in Islam. If someone prefers to be vegetarian, then she/he is fully allowed and encouraged. While Islam has given permission to eat meat of Halal animals, it has not made it obligatory upon Muslims. It is a matter of one’s personal choice and taste rather than of religiosity. Clearly, this solemn occasion cannot be confined to only animal sacrifice. We must engage in all virtuous and harmonious acts based on kindness and sharing to achieve the noble objectives of Eid-ul-Adha.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur'anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. After graduation in Arabic (Hons.), he has done his M. A. in Comparative Religions & Civilisations and a double M.A. in Islamic Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.