A Discussion Regarding Non-Vegetarianism
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
In Tafsīr al-Mizan under the exegesis of the 3rd verse of Surah al-Mā’ida is a Three-part discussion which we present below.
1. Different beliefs regarding Non-vegetarianism
Man also possesses a digestive system like other animals therefore theoretically he can eat anything that he is capable of digesting and whatever can be absorbed into his body. It is possible for man to eat anything that he could chew and swallow. But he is selective and would never consume anything that he feels would harm him or that which is poisonous. Similarly he also avoids eating things that he considers harmful for his soul. That is food prohibited according to the religion that he follows.
Detestable things – If a person considers something Najis he refrains from consuming it, e.g. a person doesn’t eat his own excreta because he considers it as dirty and filthy and sometimes he considers it Najis due to his religious belief. For example Muslims consider Pork Najis but Christians consider it permissible. Non-Muslims eat frogs, crabs and mice while Muslims consider them dirty.
Thus it becomes clear that different people have different views regarding the consumption of meat. Buddhism considers all types of meat prohibited. This rule was promulgated to put a stop to the practice of all types of meat eating. The African people and other wild tribes used to eat every kind of meat even going as far as Cannibalism. The Arabs used to consume the meat of all kinds of quadrupeds and even animals like rats and lizards, whether they died of their own or were suffocated to death. They used to say that you people kill the animal by your hands but we eat those who are killed by Allah (S.w.T.) (that is the animals who die a natural death and have not been purified by the prescribed method of slaughter).
As mentioned in authentic writings the idol worshipping Chinese eat every type of animals like dogs, cats, insects, snakes, frogs, oysters etc. But Islam has prescribed the middle path. That is, it has permitted only that meat which man considers naturally beneficial. The details of this will be presented below.
Islam has designated as Halāl the quadrupeds like sheep, goat, cow, camel etc. Some of the quadrupeds like horse, donkey etc is makrūh (Detestable) according to Islam. Birds, excluding the birds of prey are permitted if they possess a gizzard, flap their wings during flight and do not possess claws like that of pigeons. Islam has also permitted some marine animals. The details of all such animals are given in the books of jurisprudence. Also prohibited are the blood of animals, carrion and all those animals that are slaughtered, without reciting upon them the name of Allah (S.w.T.). The aim of promulgating such rules was to enlighten man regarding the regulations of meat eating and to permit only that meat which is considered naturally healthy and beneficial for man and refrain him from all that could prone harmful for him or that which is distasteful and dirty.
2. Is Killing a living thing against Mercy?
One could claim that animals also possess soul and like humans find death painful. Then how is it possible that we deprive them of the sweetness of life and force upon them the bitter taste of death? While Allah (S.w.T.) Almighty is Beneficent and Merciful. How is it possible for such a God to order the slaughter of animals so that men can enjoy their meat? While the soul and feelings of both human and animals are same. The reply to this question is that whatever has been said against meat eating is because of sentiments and feelings overpowering reality. (Remember) Shari’a and legislation is subservient to wisdom and not prone to sentimentality and emotions.
This could be explained by saying that the material world is a world of changes. The rule prevalent in the world of matter is that of “the eater and the eaten one”. The dwellers of the earth feed on the earth and shape themselves with it. (Like the human beings, animals and birds etc.). After this the earth eats them up a second time. Earth changes into vegetation and vegetation is transformed into earth in a continuous cycle. Moreover, the living things derive benefit from plants and water and some animals feed on other animals. For example animals of prey hunt other animals and consume their flesh. Their natural system is such that they cannot eat anything else. Like the clawed birds that catch birds like pigeons and other birds and devour them. The smaller birds feed on grains, grainy substances and insects like flies, fleas and mosquitoes etc.
Blood sucking insects benefit from the blood of humans and animals and finally the earth devours all of them. On the basis of this it is proved that the natural food cycle that is existing on the earth is based on natural laws without any hindrance. Everything is subservient to this natural law. The creator of nature has permitted consumption of flesh by some creatures and has designed their organs to accomplish the task. He has created man in such a way that he could consume vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian food. He is not like a sheep who can neither cut with its teeth nor pick up something with them. Neither does man resemble carnivorous animals that can neither chew or soften their food. In addition to these abilities man is equipped with the capacity to taste. He enjoys the taste of meat. And apart from this the natural make up of man throws light on the types of foods that his organs could digest and those that are beneficial for him. Since Islam is the religion of nature it has permitted all such things that are compatible with the natural makeup of man.
Also, it has prescribed some other rules formed by the creator of Nature. That is, all that flesh that could prove harmful to the body or spirit, all those things that one finds detestable and dirty are to be compulsorily avoided. In brief all those things that prove harmful to the body or soul or against the well being of human society like gambling and distributing of meat through drawing of lots. All such things are prohibited by Islam. Also banned are filthy things that normally people find to be disgusting.
Other objections against animal slaughter that are apparently based on mercy can be answered as follows: Indeed, mercy is a natural and created feeling that is found in the psychology of human beings and in a large number of animals. But it does not mean that this mercy has to be absolute. If it had been such, there wouldn’t have been any kind of diseases, sorrows and difficulties. Apart from this, mercy and kindness are not like human justice which is from an accomplished moral quality encompassing every aspect of life. (That is one must be merciful under every circumstance). If it had been it would not be correct to arrest the unjust people and punish the criminals, or to hate the enemies. If we act upon such type of absolute mercy, the earth and its inhabitants would be destroyed by corruption and transgression.
Therefore, commonly it is commanded that mercy and kindness be practiced. That is, animals must not be slaughtered in a cruel and painful manner. And we must not sever any part of the slaughtered animal, before its completely dead nor skin it.
Animal that is choked to death or that which is beaten to death is not allowed. Islamic law also prohibits the slaughtering of an animal before another beast. The same chapter prescribes watering the animal before it is led to slaughter. As far as possible we must be kind to the animal that is about to be slaughtered. Detailed laws regarding slaughter are present in the books of jurisprudence.
As far as the divine mercy and beneficence is concerned. Divine mercy does not imply the satisfaction of heart and the perceived effect. It denotes bestowing benefits to a deserving one to the extent that he deserves. Therefore, sometimes we consider something harmful and punishing whereas it is a divine mercy and goodness for one, and similarly the other way around. Then it is not appropriate for the divine wisdom that at the time of framing laws our false feelings belie a divine command and give a decision against established reality. From the above discussion it is established that Islam has allowed meat and the rules that make it permissible for us are promulgated in keeping with the law of nature.
“The nature made by Allah in which he has made men; there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion…”
(Surah ar-Rūm 30: 30)