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Islamic Vegetarians Fight the System

The conflict between factory farming practices and Islamic law
is leading many Muslims to eat more vegetables
by Maura R. O'Connor

For the vast majority of Muslims, eating meat has always been an unquestionable God-given right. The Qur'an states, “Eat of that which Allah hath bestowed on you as food lawful and good, and keep your duty to Allah in Whom ye are believers.” Indeed, some Muslim leaders and scholars have argued that because Allah allows animals to be consumed by humans, it is actually prohibited to make an ethical decision not to eat them. “You cannot make what is halal ('lawful') into haram ('unlawful'),” they say. But interestingly, the spread of factory farming across the globe in recent years has caused many Muslims to make the unorthodox decision to become vegetarians and inflamed debates about Islamic dietary laws among scholars and religious leaders.

Islamic law says that in order for meat to be considered halal, very specific procedures must be followed. Muhammad forbade “the beating or the branding of animals” and also forbade “cutting off animals' tails and other mutilations.” A person must recite the name of Allah over the animal before it is killed, and the animal's throat must be cut in order to ensure a quick and relatively painless death. Factory farms, which employ all varieties of inhumane methods for raising and slaughtering animals, do not comply with these standards. Furthermore, Muslims are not permitted to eat carnivorous animals, yet many factory farms feed animal remains to livestock.

Websites addressing this conflict between factory farming and Islam are numerous, and some go into rather gruesome detail in order to determine what is or is not lawful. “Is it permissible to give animals an electric shock before slaughter, and is it permissible to eat them?” one concerned Muslim asked on A mufti, or interpreter of Islamic law, responded, “Indeed, giving an animal a high-voltage electric shock is a severe torture for it. However, if the electric charge is low so that it does not torment the animal, then it is all right to use it. In addition, if the animal is still alive after the electric shock, it can be slaughtered and eaten. But if it dies from the shock and then has the throat slit, it is impermissible to eat it.”

Pro-vegetarian Muslim websites include, which provides free “vegetarian starter kits” and lists pro-vegetarian fatwas (Islamic legal pronouncements). PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has also created a website that deals with religious faith and vegetarianism and includes a lengthy section devoted to Islam ( These websites argue that beyond the technical violations of Islamic dietary laws, factory farms, with their intense cruelty to animals, contradict fundamental Islamic principles. “The beautiful religion of Islam has always viewed animals as a special part of God's creation,” says. “The Qur'an, the Hadith, and the history of Islamic civilization offer many examples of kindness, mercy, and compassion for animals.” Perhaps the current surge in Muslim vegetarianism is the next chapter in that history. And of course eating veggies is not without its benefits in the afterlife—even Muhammad supposedly said, “For [charity shown to] each creature which has a wet heart [i.e., is alive], there is a reward.”


1. It is haram (unlawful) to beat, mutilate, or brand animals.

2. An animal must be killed by slitting its throat with a knife, severing the windpipe, gullet, and the two jugular veins without actually severing the head. The Prophet said, “Allah has prescribed goodness (ihsan) in everything. When you sacrifice, sacrifice well. Let you sharpen your knife and make it easy for the animal to be slaughtered.”

3. Muslims are strictly forbidden to eat the flesh of carnivorous animals.

4. The name of Allah must be invoked over each animal before it is killed.


1. Animals in factory farms are extremely overcrowded and therefore prone to stress related behaviors, including cannibalism and fighting. Preventive measures such as debeaking young chickens, dehorning cows and castrating them without the use of anesthetics, and lopping off turkey's toes are industry standards. Incidents of cruel beatings and torture of animals by factory farm employees are also widespread.

2. Cows and other animals in factory farms are killed using electric shocks to cause grand mal seizures and paralysis so that their throats can be easily cut. A second method is called “captive bolt stunning,” in which a “gun” is set against the animal's head and a metal rod is shot into the brain. Reports indicate that ineffective slaughter methods in factory farms often lead to conscious animals being dismembered in the production lines.

3. In factory farms, animals that are natural herbivores are fed slaughterhouse waste, including fat, blood, meat, and bone meal. Sheep are fed chicken byproducts, and dairy cows are given feed with ground pork bones in it. “Animal cannibalism” is also common, with cows being fed the blood and meat of other cattle as protein supplements (this practice can result in the spread of mad cow disease if brain tissue is consumed).

4. Unless they are Muslim-operated, this law is never observed in factory farms. However, even those Muslim factory farms that claim to produce lawful meat recently came under scrutiny when it became known that some of them recite the name of Allah only once at the beginning of the day to serve as a single blessing for the thousands of animals to be killed.


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