When I was younger, I used to pretend I was a pescetarian so that my mum wouldn’t force me to eat the meat she had cooked. I wasn’t really, but I had an unhealthy obsession with fish fingers and all things junk and as a child I just didn’t fancy eating good, wholesome food much to my family’s frustration. This frustration would reach high levels when we would travel to a Muslim country where all meat is ‘halal’ and I would quite happily pig out on a big mac just because I knew I could.
Fast forward a couple of years and despite still occasionally pigging out at fast food chains, I am increasingly conscious of the food that I eat and where it comes from. As a matter of preference (and I guess habit from my childhood), I just don’t get excited over meat.
With this preference in mind, I have realised it would be quite easy for me to make a big change to my lifestyle and become a ‘conscientious meat eater’, and I have often wondered about our big meat eating culture in society.
There is a strange concept in the Muslim community, whereby if an animal is slaughtered with a sharp instrument, with the name of God being pronounced, then it automatically becomes halal and permissible to eat.
While meat that is slaughtered in this way is most definitely a condition to the permissibility of the meat and should not be dismissed at all, the Quran tells us ‘People, eat what is good and lawful from the earth, and do not follow Satan’s footsteps, for he is your sworn enemy’ (2:168). The word for good here is tayyib and this has strong connotations of food that is wholesome, pure and ethical. It is a great shame that for the most part, as Muslims we are often concerned that our 3 for £5 chickens are halal with little consideration of how these chickens were bred and treated even though this is mentioned in the Quran also.
While on holiday in a Muslim country this year, I had passed by a local market. As we waited to purchase some meat from one of the stalls, my attention turned to the stall behind me where a large number of chickens were sat in a cage within the tiny compact stall. The stall holder then proceeded to pick up a chicken he had just slaughtered within the space and de-feathered it using this electric machine in front of the other chickens. Now I am not an expert on animals, but the noise that some of the chickens made upon witnessing their friend being slaughtered and violently de-feathered was something I hope I will never forget. I left the market wondering how permissible is the food I always pride myself on eating actually is?
About a month ago, I visited Willowbrook Organic Farm in Oxfordshire, a family run farm that sells halal AND tayyib meat and was inspired to hear about their journey to embark upon a wholesome and ethical lifestyle.
Alongside owning chickens, geese, ducks, goats, sheep and a pet horse that run freely around the farm and are fed wholesome food, the family were also building their own cob house- that is a house made of clay, sand, straw, water and earth in a bid to live sustainably and not leave a negative impact environmentally.
It was really heartening to hear of their efforts and I left thinking about what role I must play as a citizen of the earth, a trust that has been placed on all human beings to look after the world and its inhabitants.
Who better to take as inspiration then our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is a man who lived ethically to the highest standards on all aspects.
For instance, the Prophet didn’t actually eat much meat. It is said that the wealthy living in that society ate meat once a week, while the poor would eat it on the two Eids. There is great wisdom in this. Animals are creatures from God and the Quran states that “There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you (6:38). By restricting our meat eating to only special occasions or at specified days during the week/ month/ year, we begin to really reflect on the animal that has been sacrificed so that we may be fulfilled through it, and in turn hopefully feel greater gratitude for the plate that we have in front of us.
Further to this, there are no hadiths to suggest that the Prophet ever ate beef. There is a hadith where the Prophet says that while the milk of a cow contains healing properties (shifaa), its meat is a cause for sickness.
The Prophet was also never excessive in use. He would use little water for wudu and bathing and in a beautiful hadith, it has been narrated that ‘Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) happened to pass by a Companion, Sa’d, as he was performing ablution (wudhu) next to a river. At this, the Prophet said, “Sa’d what is this squandering?” Sa’d replied: “Can there be an idea of squandering in ablution?” The Prophet said: “Yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river.” ‘(Ibn Majah). There is a lot that we can do in terms of restricting the amount of water we use, knowing full well that there are people across the world who do not have the benefits of a running tap.
There is much to be said, not only in excessive consumption of food and water, but also of material goods and clothing. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would repair his own shoes and sew his own clothes. This wonderful story is a humbling reminder not only that both men and women should contribute to the household, but also that we should fully utilise what we have already.
With countless accounts of exploited workers across the world labouring to produce garments and goods that we consume cheaply and excessively from the high street, we must question our role in the ill treatment and deaths of workers. There is a hadith whereby the Prophet (peace be upon him) says that he will be against three type of people on the day of judgement, one type is ‘one who employs a labourer and gets the full work done by him but does not pay him his wages’ (Bukhaari). Can we fully deny any responsibility of ill-treated and under paid labourers who risk their lives to produce the dress I wear once or twice in my lifetime before banishing it to the back of my wardrobe? If I continue to demand knowing full well that workers are not being paid enough and working in disgusting conditions, then unethical supply will still continue to meet that demand.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) told us to always look after the environment and its inhabitants, stating that if one is to plant a tree or sow seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is considered a form of charity (Bukhaari).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) truly lived a sustainable and wholesome lifestyle. While I most definitely cannot say I live in the most ethical way, I hope that we will at least begin to consider our negative impacts, and be able to at least make small changes that will benefit nature and the environment.
Let us not forget that it was the spider and dove that protected the Prophet and Abu Bakr by the will of God in the cave when they were migrating to Madinah. Abdul Hakim Murad comments on this that ‘nature only spares those who spare it’ and indeed looking after the earth given to us by God, we will surely be accounted for it.