IN PART 2 we focused on the modern question of what we humans are meant to eat. This question is currently being repeatedly asked relative to discussions of Vegetarianism. While taking the life of our fellow human beings is forbidden and punishable with severe measures, the killing of an animal for the purpose of nourishment is allowed. Even so, the life and well-being of an animal is protected and its [humane] slaughter for food is regulated in our Law. The Islamic ritual for ḥalâl slaughter serves to remind us that we do not take lightly the ending of a life, even of an animal.
We continue in response to the general question of what–and how–we are intended to eat as best fitting us for living our earthly lives in conformity with our purpose of pleasing our Lord in all its facets of our experience.
Some Modern Issues and Answers
Ancient peoples—as well as those belonging to numerous ethnic groups still alive today—ate their wealth-on-the-hoof on special occasions, not every day. Success in hunting, when agricultural products might be scarce—even with the from-a-distance killing technology of the bow-and-arrow, and later of the firearm—is not a sure-fire venture. In Medieval Europe, regular meat-eating was a luxury attainable only by royalty and their feudal acolytes.
Today’s so-called ‘farm-raised’ does not measure up to the so-called ‘wild-caught,’ especially with the injection of immunizations, of growth hormones, and of other substances designed to increase the supposed equivalence of ‘health’ (freedom from live infection) in the live animal—so as for it to be legally fit for slaughter when market demand determines that its time has come. The same goes for eggs and milk products derived from medicated animals. However, even ‘wild-caught,’ while free of injectables, may have fed from environmentally polluted areas. We Muslims must not be ignorant of our food sources; we must make informed choices, to the best of our ability. This affects the health and holistic well-being of our families, as well as the overall strength of our Community.
The profit motive is infamous for corrupting the humane raising of animals (over-crowding, sawed-off beaks, et. al.) and for compromising the final product—the meat that comes so cheap to our tables for daily consumption. It was in this context that a modern-day Arab medical doctor once put it to me, “There is no longer any goodness in the products of our modern meat industry.”
Al-hamdulillâh, there are enterprises offering ḥalâl meat—marketed to our own meat-focused community—and even ḥalâl ‘organic’ meats of various kinds. We should pay attention to such industries and support them with our business and with our demand for the highest standards of quality, fair trade policies and fair treatment of employees. Also–when ḥalâl meat is not locally available–be aware that “kosher” meat is halal for us. More and more, packaged foods that carry a “K” symbol for “kosher” also carry an “M” symbol for “Muslim.”
Let this be a call for the meat producers among us, Muslim and non-Muslim—and the consumer, Muslim and otherwise, to settle for no less than the highest level of truly healthy animals in our food supply. After all, we are what we eat; we depend upon healthful food for optimal health, maximally enabling our bodies to attain health that develops from the inside out. Let us be leaders in this industry, whom the general public can trust as a reliable source and model for food excellence and safety.
Let us settle for no less than a humane treatment of animals at every stage, including the Islamic practice of calling upon Allah for His blessing and acceptance in our humane slaughter—respecting Allah’s provision of sentient beings as one of our food sources, in our preparation of and in our eating of the wholesome foods—meats included, if we so choose—that He has created for our health and enjoyment. If ‘organic’ is the market guarantee of wholesomeness in food today, than let us go for ‘organic.’ The price of organics will decrease as we increasingly support the organic farmer—the organic producer of meat as well as the organic grower of fruits/ vegetables /grains, etc. And then there is the question of GMOs.
The whole issue of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is another critical field that we Muslims must educate ourselves about and engage in. As an acquaintance of mine has said, GMO stands for “God Move Over.” So, we must ask ourselves, Is the technology of genetically modifying organisms just another means of “corrupting the earth”—just because man has the power to see how far we can “push the envelope”—or are there reasons to use our knowledge of genetic structures, medically for example, “to correct defects” or to choose the kind of [food] hybrids we want to engineer? Is it a matter of Either /Or? Either we feed our planet’s population or we take care of the well-being of the earth that produces our food. Alternatively, can we not have both? We Muslims need to be involved, Islamically—especially so for our youth looking for a career that will make a difference—for the sake of our Ummah and for mankind.
Remedying Our Over-Consumption
Let us back away from the overconsumption of animal foods. High consumption of animal products can set up an over-acidification of the body, producing a ‘terrain’ for opportunistic disease. Indeed, let us back away from the over-consumption of all foods—avoiding completely the foodless foods (‘junk foods’) that typically fill our stomachs with non-nutrition and pollute our God-given, delicately-balanced digestive systems.
An important question that few people think to ask is why we over-consume to begin with. Perhaps it is because junk foods are cheap—due to government subsidies of common agricultural products. And then, the processing of subsidized wheat, corn and soybeans gives them prolonged shelf-life in exchange for loss of nutritional value. This is a gain for the food processing industry’s financial profits, but a gradual and tragic loss to the consumer’s health! Is this a trade-off we are willing to support? Let us wake up!
Then because such non-natural foods are not satisfying to the long-term needs of the body, we must eat more processed foods to get our required nutrition—leading to a physiological imbalance in the body, medical complications and unwanted overweight. Couldn’t we switch to buying—for the same price—fewer foods of the highest quality so as to satisfy our needs with less volume, and at the same time not struggle with overweight (and misshapen figures!), depression and disease? Instead of our over-eating of meat or of any other food, let us choose for our families only the best quality and let us eat in moderation.
And once we sit down to eat, the ‘Last Bite’ should come when the body has said ‘Enough!’  Yes, hearing this subtle “Enough!” may take some serious listening and self-training. Let us begin this training. It is harmful to prolong the pleasure of tasty food by gulping down more. Prolonging the pleasure by spacing it out and by savoring each smaller, highly nutritious bite is a healthful practice. Eating leisurely in pleasurable company is a great start. In any case, an expanded gut, a bloated, over-loaded digestive system is an inefficient one, struggling to do its job, especially when loaded with make-shift, ersatz, over-processed, not-so-raw ‘raw materials.’ We must stop expecting an acceptable quality of any food to come discount-cheap, and especially so in the case of meat.
Let us eat better quality in lesser quantity. There are many movements, programs and books or websites which address this venture. In the long run, this is a win-win proposition for all. Less work for the digestive system means better health. Herein is a prime example of the situation where “LESS IS MORE.”
The Prophet ﷺ as Our Model
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, in 7th century Arabia, fortunately did not have to face the modern concern for quality in dealing with an animal-food health industry. But one thing we can count on—as a general, over-arching principle to guide us in our quantity of food intake—is the saying of our Beloved Prophet ﷺ in regard to quantity:
The worst vessel that the human being can fill is his stomach. Rather, he should take in [no more than] a third [of the stomach’s volume] in food, [no more than] a third in drink, leaving [the remaining] third for [ease of] breathing.
Those of us who are so careful to follow—in all else—the Hadith-recorded example of our God-given Guide ﷺ, can we not follow him in regard to our plates and our palates—out of respect for our stomachs?