My interview with Elysia brought me opportunities to meet other Muslim veggies. Latifa (26) an on my way veggie, is one of them. She inspires me due to her blunt honesty.
“The emphasis is being placed too much on rituals and not on spirituality.”
Due to health issues she had to consider eating less meat. Soon she saw that here is no contradiction in being both veggie and Muslima. “my religion enables me to make this choice so I feel empowered in it.”
She first gave up on red meat, then started eating less chicken and now she tries not to eat endangered fish. “Psychically and mentally I feel very well”, she says. During our talk Latifa is very clear about her choice. “I don’t want to tell other Muslims to suddenly stop eating meat” for her it’s all about being aware and people eating less meat. “It encourages you to be creative in the kitchen and saves money as well”.
So how do friends and family react to you being veggie?
“To be honest, I didn’t put it out there at first. When friends invited me I asked about the meal we would be eating. If there was meat included I asked for them to put this separately. After a while they noticed. First they told me that meat was halal and Allah created it for us to eat.” Other than that her friends admire and support her for being so principal in her choice.
Au contrary to her Muslim friends. Most white people Latifa met spoke in terms of “finally a Muslima that doesn’t eat meat and is against the halal ritual”, with a rather furious but determined gaze Latifa tells me “Nope, that’s not my reason. Because me being a veggie, doesn’t fit their image of Muslims so they try to fit me in their “modern” Muslim image”. I truly get where she is coming from, living in Belgium where the whole debate on unstunned slaughter has been a very pitiful debate were white liberals claim higher moral ground so it’s befitting they would try to use her in their crusade in this debate.
But back to Latifa and her story, how did her choice impacted her life?
While in Morocco during Eid she helped out with the whole process of slaughter and cooking but she didn’t eat the meat. “I’ve never tried to convince or reprove others. If they ask for advise or my story I do tell them. I’ve noticed that I do have some impact on my direct surrounding. “
At times it’s can be frustrating not being able to go everywhere with friends, the prices she pays for just casual salads in f.i. halal restaurants are the same friends pays for a whole meal.
The amount of options you have in Belgian supermarkets are very limited. If you compare it with NYC, London or Amsterdam it’s just a shame. It tells a lot about the demand for veggie food and the inability or unwillingness of our government to do more about this.
For those struggling to make this choice, what would you advise to them?
Take it slow! If you’re eating meat every day, cut down a day or two. Meanwhile look for alternatives. Don’t just wake up one day and stop eating meat. As for me I’ve been on my journey for five years now. I did had my setbacks but at those moments I taught from now on I can only do better. In all honesty when people make statements about you being veggie or not fully fitting the label. Tell them you’re not perfect and you’re working to do better for you.
Is there anything you would like to share, something that people and Muslims in general should know about being a vegan/veggie?
Allah did not only create animals for us to consume. Eating meat is not haram, but I just don’t believe nor trust the halal labels to fit the prescribed religious rules. When animals are being tied up, beaten and are afraid, even though am not a theologian I do reflect for myself. Because what does our religion tell us about the way we should treat animals? How we should take care of nature?
At the end our conversation it was funny we could see that many Islamic teachings are set for us to be what we now call ecological. For instance; for the wudu (cleansing ritual) we are asked not to waste too much water. Animals have rights to what we produce, we can’t just spray chemicals on the food we grow, because birds and other animals have the right to enjoy parts of Allah’s creations.
While speaking I could feel Latifa really doesn’t want to be part of that which is destroying parts of Allah’s creation. As she puts it “we humans are trustees of Allah’s creation. Meaning we have a huge responsibility to take care of the earth. You have to think about animals in hard times and in distribution of food. They need to eat and live too.”
We both came to the conclusion that people using “Animal rights” to bash Muslims are generally hypocritical or just didn’t do their research. And Muslims using these hypocrites to say that “it’s a white/liberal thing to be veggie” should really reconsider what halal meat truly means. It’s not just about the final stages but from the belly of a mother until it’s offered on a plate. Animals deserve to be treated well.
As for me; my journey of combining me being veggie and Muslim keeps enabling me to have meaningful conversations about meat, climate, Islam and how they all match. Like when I recently visited London I learned this: If truly honest with ourselves, we know we can’t eat meat at the amounts we’re eating now, and we should question the halal industry.