May 4, 2014 By interactive scholars

Is Islam a non-vegetarian faith

camel-meat-482Can you deny my argument that Islam has a non-vegetarian angle? I made myself believe that the non-vegetarianism (anti-vegetarianism) of Muslims does not have theological basis until I stumbled upon a verse in the Quran: ‘And [recall] when you said, “O Moses, we can never endure one [kind of] food. So call upon your Lord to bring forth for us from the earth its green herbs and its cucumbers and its garlic and its lentils and its onions.” [Moses] said, “Would you exchange what is better for what is less? So the preference of Muslims for meat over veg in their dishes is divinely ordained. A prophet says that non-veg are much better than herbs and vegetables. So jihad and fundamentalism and ruthless violence on non-Muslims are all pre-ordained, aren’t they?

There is a confusion of so many discourses in this question. There is the discourse on food, discourse on jihad and fundamentalism, discourse on violence. We think that the doubt of the questioner regarding the Quranic verse is relevant and should be clarified. Hope he believes that eating non-veg has caused Muslims to be violent. He needs to ponder over a single fact: the ultra-nationalists in India who are the perpetrators many communal violence in country are ideologically vegans. In the book Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Hitler claimed himself to be a vegan and spread veganism among his coteries. He is quoted as saying that the future will be inherited by vegans. We don’t want to discuss too much about the discourse of food, about the comparative merits of vegans and non-vegans. The conflation of jihad and violence comes out of prejudice. Since that too is not the focal point of the question, we would like to come to the crux of the matter.
The above quoted verse of the Quran is not prescriptive; so it does not set a divine norm or pattern to follow. It is descriptive; so it narrates or describes a particular event whose overall message or its deep meaning is contextually relevant. For it to be made clear, we think it would be better to quote the passages that precedes and succeeds the portion the questioner has quoted. The verse (indeed the chosen part of verse) is 2:61 of the Quran: And [recall] when you said, “O Moses, we can never endure one [kind of] food. So call upon your Lord to bring forth for us from the earth its green herbs and its cucumbers and its garlic and its lentils and its onions.” [Moses] said, “Would you exchange what is better for what is less? Go into [any] settlement and indeed, you will have what you have asked.” And they were covered with humiliation and poverty and returned with anger from Allah [upon them]. That was because they [repeatedly] disbelieved in the signs of Allah and killed the prophets without right. That was because they disobeyed and were [habitually] transgressing.
Here the Quran and Prophet Moses address the community of believers called children of Israel. God has saved them from Pharaoh and settled them in a tranquil province. However, when Moses, their savior, was absent from them for forty days, they disobeyed him. Thereafter God punished them. (2: 47-56). Then the God awakened them from their morbidity and provided them Manna and the quails (2:57). Several scholars citing Prophet Muhammad’s tradition have pointed out that Manna and the quails are the heavenly food and hence, a special divine bestowal. They come down from above, as the setting of their bestowal is a cloud shaded over them. But the children of Israel were not content with divine bestowal. It is similar to their dissatisfaction with Moses’ status as a Prophet and Tora (which he received during the 40 days they transgressed). The vegetarian dish they insisted on came to symbolically represent their transgression of divine ordinance and bestowal and their preference for heaven over earth; for their own selves over the divine benevolence. So “Would you exchange what is better for what is less means ‘would you exchange the divine bestowal for your own preferences? Here it is not the food items as such but the mentality and consciousness of a community that is disparaged or denigrated.
There is not even a single verse in the Quran which advocates veganism or non-veganism. Quran has much more serious missions to achieve than prescribing human dietary norms. The Book simply asked people to take wholesome food and abstain from unwholesome, injurious and stale diets.
It is true, however, that the Prophetic traditions throw light on meat and non-veg dishes the Prophet and his followers preferred. Mutton was favorite dish of the Prophet. This is because the Prophet considered meat wholesome and asked his followers to have it. Muslims sacrifice animals and charitably share the same. Indeed, in the whole Abrahamic tradition, sacrifice is a common theme and it is impossible in a vegetarian context.
The absence of vegetarian dishes in the early history of Islam is borne out by the geography of Arabia, a land of deserts where nothing grows on earth.
We ask the questioner to read the review on the book Foreigners and Their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law, which Islam Interactive has carried.

Posted in: Q&A