When I was a little boy living in Sierra Leone, we used to have animals in our compound. I’ve always felt at ease with goats, dogs, chickens, sheep or goats. So I never really questioned the habit of eating animals who grew up around the house. Now I am in my early twenties and I started to develop this feeling of not feeling at ease eating animals. I started to ask myself some questions. Why do I have to eat animals? Is it Sunnah? Is it haraam if I refuse to eat animals? All these questions slowly but surely made their way to my conscious and for the past three years I’ve been in a conversation with myself, my faith, friends, family and God. Trying to figure out where these questions came from and what answers are there for me to find. It is this journey that I would love to share with you. In my journey to become a vegetarian, vegan or just trying to not eat meat that often anymore. I sat down with a few people, who have seemed to found in Islam the key and reason to stop eating meat and embrace the earth as a gift from Allah that we should take care of. The first person I had the honour to speak to was Elysia Ward.
A simple but defining question is, can you be a vegan and veggie and Muslim?
For Elysia it’s a clear cut answer: Yes, absolutely. There is nowhere in the Quran where we are obligated to consume meat or animals. “As a Muslim we should know how our meat is produced; where our food comes from and how it’s treated. You could ask yourself the following: Would the prophet (phub) be a vegetarian if he knew in this day and age how the meat industry operates?”
Elysia has changed her diet in the past few years. As a teen she stopped eating meat. A lot of research, nutrition facts and documentaries such as Cowspiracy and Earthlings helped her in her choice. After researching and educating herself on dairy products and their production she recently decided to become vegan. “It’s not only about the cruel treatment of animals but also about the environment and our health”, she says.
What about your friends and family?
“They weren’t surprised. They saw it coming. When I got married I had to educate my family. I gave my kids age appropriate information, and my husband who is from Algeria comes from a culture where meat is everything.”
She tries to educate her kids by learning them where their food comes from when they see it in the supermarket. “I like being a Muslim she says, you live as an example to people. People see how you live and eat, they want to know more and at times they take you as an example.”
Our conversation continued. Elysia said how she had the feeling that she had to eat meat when she converted to Islam, or else she wasn’t following her religion. “People were pushing me to eat meat. “It’s okay to eat meat, it’s halal”, they said. And as someone who just became a Muslim you don’t want to be told you’re not a good Muslim. People use a more cultural based knowledge to make their point.”
But what about festivities like Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha? What about traditional foods which include meat. How do you deal with this?
“The pressure to consume meat during holidays is huge in some families. But we just make it different, we don’t feel the need to include meat. There is a vegan replacement for everything. For me to show people how to prepare these meals is a joy. Also, it’s not obligatory to slaughter on Eid. It’s a hot topic in Vegan Muslim Communities.”
What has been the hardest thing you had to face in your journey of being a non-meat eater?
“The connection of food to memories and occasions. The feeling of being an outsider. You know that it’s part of your personal belief. I can also almost compare it to when I converted to Islam. You know you’re going to face difficult times, but you know you’re doing the right thing.
How does this benefits you?
“Mentally: you’re clearer, you don’t feel tired all the time. Because your digestive system is not working extra time to digest the meat. Being vegan comes with great health benefits. A lot of health issues are tied with eating meat.”
With her gained knowledge Elysia now has a Facebook group: Vegan Muslim Community, a page where information and experiences are shared. As for those struggling to make the choice of eating less meat or completely cutting meat out of their diet, Elysia advises them to do their research, talk to people who are already vegetarian or vegan.
Talking with Elysia gave me a much deeper understanding about what it means to feel empowered by Islam and the Prophet (pubh) when it comes to taking care of the earth and caring for all of God’s creations.