IN PART 1 we discussed how Islam accepts the norm of eating the flesh of [properly slaughtered] animals as one of the sources of our food. Until recent times meat was consumed on an irregular basis, and generally for special occasions. Vegetarianism is not an Islamic moral imperative, though the humane treatment of animals is clearly required, extending to the process of slaughter for consumption. The co-habitation of animals with humans from prehistoric times and their use as working partners—in more modern times as house pets–was noted.
Just what, then, are we designed, biologically, to ingest, digest and thrive upon as our food source(s)? Clearly, fruits/nuts, vegetables, and grains, have been mankind’s food sources from the earliest days, as confirmed by the archaeological record.
And, even if we take the Biblical record as no more than an early recollection of mankind’s development, therein we find plant foods recognized as having been [the first] created for man’s diet.
Bible, Genesis 1:29 So God created human beings … and said, … I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat…
Regarding meat-eating: Years ago I came across the rabbinical comment that another early Genesis passage is to be interpreted as giving the permission of Elohim (i.e., Allah) for humankind to eat meat. Such a statement—or implication—of divine permission could be taken to suggest the existence of a controversy at some point in man’s development over the acceptability of eating slain animals–after all, sentient beings and our fellow creatures in this world.
Regardless of how early this question arose, it is a live issue for many thoughtful people in our age of violence, an age in which many others, less reflective, lack respect for the weaker of Allah’s creatures. If some of our fellow human beings over-reach in reacting to modern violence by forbidding what Allah has permitted to us for food, then we should celebrate their compassionate attitude, even when our conclusions regarding Vegetarianism differ.
The earliest offspring of the first man (Adam) and woman (Ḥawwâ’ / Eve) are portrayed—in both Judeo-Christian and Islamic sources—as vying for preference before God: one as a husbandman of livestock (Abel, the slain brother) and the other as an agriculturalist (Cain, the slayer of his younger brother). First the biblical text:
Bible, Genesis 4:1-15 …Abel became a shepherd, but Cain was a farmer. After some time Cain brought some of his harvest and gave it as an offering to the LORD. Then Abel brought the first lamb born to one of his sheep, killed it, and gave the best parts of it as an offering. The LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering, but he rejected Cain and his offering. Cain became furious and he scowled in anger.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why that scowl on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling; but because you have done evil, sin is crouching at your door. It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it.”
Then Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out in the field. When they were out in the fields, Cain turned on his brother and killed him.
The Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
He answered, “I don’t know. Am I supposed to take care of my brother?
Then the LORD said, “Why have you done this terrible thing? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground, like a voice calling for revenge. You are placed under a curse and can no longer farm the soil. It has soaked up your brother’s blood as if it had opened its mouth to receive it when you killed him. If you try to grow crops, the soil will not produce anything; you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”…
In the West we Muslims live among a Christian majority; in North America the Jewish minority is roughly equal in number to our Muslim population. So let us make use of Judeo-Christian scriptures as they now exist as a springboard to our own unquestioned sources of Revelation; we cannot afford to be ignorant of their assumptions and their ways of thinking if we want to dialogue with them on any issue of substance.
Note that in the Biblical account above—as in the Quranic narrative below—it is the agriculturist (Cain) who turns violent against the raiser of animals (Abel), not the other way around. But in today’s thinking, it would be the war-like meat-eater who would turn violent against the peaceful vegetarian. Perhaps such a prehistoric narrative leaves unanswered more questions than it explains to us in our modern cultural mindset. Be that as it may, the Quran picks up this story—known among the Arabs during the time of Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ, so we can assume—and builds upon it in addressing issues of man as susceptible to death at the hand of a rival, as well as how to deal with the body of the slain, among other aspects of manslaughter.
And lo! Thy Sustainer said unto the angels: “Behold, I am about to establish upon earth one who shall inherit it.” They said: “Wilt Thou place on it such as will spread corruption thereon and shed blood – whereas it is we (i.e., angels) who extol Thy limitless glory, and praise Thee, and hallow Thy name?” [God] answered: “Verily, I know that which you do not know.” [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2: 30]
And convey unto them, setting forth the truth, the story of the two sons of Adam – how each offered a sacrifice, and it was accepted from one of them whereas it was not accepted from the other. [And Cain] said: “I will surely slay thee!” [Abel] replied: “Behold, God accepts only from those who are conscious of Him. Even if thou lay thy hand on me to slay me, I shall not lay my hand on thee to slay thee: behold, I fear God, the Sustainer of all the worlds. I am willing, indeed, for thee to bear [the burden of] all the sins ever done by me as well as of the sin done by thee: [but] then thou wouldst be destined for the fire, since that is the requital of evildoers!”
But the other’s passion drove him to slaying his brother; and he slew him: and thus he became one of the lost. Thereupon God sent forth a raven which scratched the earth, to show him how he might conceal the nakedness of his brother’s body. [And Cain] cried out: “Oh, woe is me! Am I too weak to do what this raven did, and to conceal the nakedness of my brother’s body?” – And he was thereupon smitten with remorse. Because of this did We ordain unto the children of Israel that if anyone slays a human being – unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind. [Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5: 27-32]
Many lessons and rulings are to be derived from the above Text, but there is one which is clearly relevant to our present discussion: The killing of human beings in revenge, or by mistake—which is forbidden and punishable—is clearly in a category different in Islam from that of killing an animal for food; the latter is provided for but protected with restrictions in our Law.
To be continued, inshâ’ Allah, in Part 3…