Between Consumerism and Purification

Disclaimer: I am aware that I do not have the qualifications to quote from the Hadith on a public platform and so I will refrain from doing this too much. Upon request, I can link you to the sources I have relied upon however please read so at your own risk.

There are times in which I, too, forget that I am ordained to eat and drink in moderation. And so I hope to remind myself of the teachings of our Beloved (upon him be eternal peace) every time that I do.

***

وَالسَّمَاءَ رَفَعَهَا وَوَضَعَ الْمِيزَانَ

And the heaven, He raised it high, and He made the balance

أَلَّا تَطْغَوْا فِي الْمِيزَانِ

That you may not be inordinate in respect of the balance. [55:7-8]

***

We are now entering the last 10 nights of Ramadan, and I cannot help but think about what our eating habits tell us about the state of mankind in the 21st century. Perhaps using the words ‘veganism’ and ‘vegetarianism’ will invoke a sense of morality that is only familiar in the Western  parts of the world, which is why I would refrain from referring to this blog post as one that endorses these ideologies. What I would like however, is for Muslims to begin contemplating how closely veganism or conscious eating aligns with the teachings of the Beloved messenger, upon whom be eternal peace. The situation I am addressing here is the gross consumption of animal products aiding and abetting the expansion of the neoliberal agenda. What I am talking about, is a situation that was addressed by the Beloved 1400 years ago, by the learned members of his household and by scholars who have delved into the inner dimensions of fasting. 

Muslims living in the West have the tendency to appeal to the West’s fragmented understanding of the fasting, of spirituality and of our dietary requirements. We have indeed sold our beliefs and our moral reasoning to become mere puppets of a system designed to dismantle the fabric of our society. 

Using Sunnah to justify Gluttony 

My disillusionment with the modern world and the way Muslims have positioned themselves within it have played a pivotal role in my decision to become more conscious with the foods I feed my body. What I have noticed within our community, is the ease in which we rely on a few narrations about the Prophet’s most desired meals. How much easier is it to follow the teachings and practices of our Beloved, if it involves food and drink? How convenient is it, to disregard the questions that even the Prophet posed to the learned of his companions? Have we as a community become so detached that we have reduced the Beloved’s teachings to a few oft-quoted traditions about satiating ones desires yet forgetting the ones about controlling them?

One does not have to be a scholar to realise that Muslims in the Modern Era refer to excerpts from Hadith to justify their gross consumption of meat, dairy and products that are simply impermissible for use (think animal testing). ‘The lamb shoulder was his favourite, let us feast. May Allah reward you, brother!’. This is just an example of isolating prophetic traditions to align with one’s own interests. 

Gluttony represents the root of all evil, it convinces man that food is the source of happiness and contentment. And so, it creates a wedge between the Self and knowledge with or ultimate unity with the Lord. I wish to remind myself that the Messenger and the People of the Household condemned gluttony, excessive food, drink and enjoyment as a means of drifting further away from the path that is straight.

What we so tend to brush over, are the elements of Islam that challenge our ego, question our identity and urge us to critique the system we are have become submerged in. We feast in Ramadan, we feast outside of Ramadan and we use this food to place a veil around our thought processes. I feel more inclined to cut out meat and reduce my dairy intake when I think about the fact that our Beloved would only eat meat once every few months, or on the occasion that it was gifted to him, or on the blessed days of Eid. The reality is that when we starve our bodies, we are training our nafs by depriving it of what it desires so that it is left at nothing but the mercy of God. Why then, do we continue to fall victim to the evils of gluttony?

Commodification of Allah’s Bounty

One of the oft-forgotten traditions of not only the Last Messenger, but his predecessors, was environmental sustainability. We have allowed the delusions of this worldly life, vis-a-vis late capitalism, to veil our duties towards God’s Earth. In this said era of capitalism, Man has commodified blessings that were granted on the basis that we were to remain on the true, middle path – one of moderation. 

The overconsumption of meat is contributing to the detriment of the Earth. Below are some facts that I urge us all to ponder on to question whether we truly need to consume the amount of meat and dairy that some of us do and how our actions run the risk of straying away from Islamic traditions. (1)

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation 
  • Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32 million tons of carbon dioxide per year
  • Cows produce 150 billion gallons of Methane per day and Methane has a global warming potential 86 times more than CO2
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of water consumption
  • Livestock covers 45% of the Earth’s total land
  • Excessive meat consumption and overfishing has had an impact on water use and quality caused by pollution and various contaminants found in the oceans and on land

These statistics prove how damaging animal agriculture can be to our precious ecosystem. However, the following statistics iterate how damaging the commodification of foods and products can be:

  • More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans every year
  • 1 in 3 species of marine mammals have been found entangled in marine litter
  • Over 90% of all seabirds have plastic in their stomach
  • 14% of litter comes from beverage containers 
  • Every year, humans extract 55 billion tons of fossil energy, minerals and bio mass from the Earth
  • 27% of our coral reefs have been destroyd

It is no joke, that our Planet Earth and the creatures that dwell on her are being mistreated and abused to satiate man’s desires, to fill tables with lavish dishes and desserts fit to feed an entire village. We feed our stomachs but forget to feed our mind, our heart or our soul and for this reason we have become blind, deaf and dumb to the injustices of the world. 

I find it difficult then, to make the connection between the halal guidelines in their original form, and the modern interpretation of ‘halal’. It is not enough to continue consuming mass amounts of food and drink when we are faced with the harsh reality that the guidelines are not being met adequately. There is ample documented evidence available online and in books depicting the cruel and unacceptable way that both meat and poultry are produced for human consumption. I remember being horrified at the way in which chickens were thrown into dark cages, their beaks ripped off, bones broken by being thrown into small crates and thrown into boiling water whilst still alive; being injected with growth hormones that caused significant damage to their organs and being slaughtered in a gruesome manner. I remember the hairs on my skin raise up when I swore I would think twice, thrice before I decided to become complacent with this wicked regime. 

‘Goodness is not a matter of compulsion; it is the self’s free surrender to the moral ideal and arises out of a willing co-operation of free egos…freedom is thus a condition of goodness. But to permit the emergence of a finite ego who has the power to choose good involves also the freedom to choose what is opposite of good. That God has taken this risk shows His immense faith in man it is for man now to justify his faith’. (2)

We have the power and freedom to choose goodness, to choose humanity and to choose asceticism. I fear that by dismissing the importance of living in moderation, we are choosing the path that leads to self-destruction. Part of Man’s first act of disobedience (re: Adam and the forbidden fruit) was also his first act of free will. We must be using this free will to ask ourselves whether our food and lifestyle choices align with the tenets of Islam. 

Islam and Anti-Capitalism 

As I have mentioned in my previous post, the ultimate goal for Man is to kill parts of the Self that are associated with evil, greed, dishonesty and corruption. In other words, it is to reject the demands of the modern world. It is to reject classist behaviour, elitism and subservience to a system that feeds on the rights of the minority and impoverished. It is to reject Man’s Will over God’s Will and to dismantle the hegemonic discourse that has amputated the ethics-based approach emphasised in Islamic traditions.

We have become so blinded by consumerism, that we do not hear the cries of the oppressed and the vulnerable. Be it human, be it animal. The treatment of animals in the Modern Era, and the Believers deafening silence on this issue makes me bow my head down in shame before the Messenger, who emphasised the importance of seeking the Truth, even if it be against ones own self and maintaining justice for all. Why are Muslims still surprised if they are told that animals are tortured, abused and being injected with foreign chemicals for the purposes of human consumption? Why are they still surprised if they are questioned about whether the meat/poultry they are consuming is actually permissible? 

The root word for Ramadan is ‘ramad’ – which literally means to burn. (3) We ought to use this month to reflect on ways that we can control our ego, where we can extinguish the fire that is fuelled by the growing obsession with consumerism. Alas, the modern era is one that beckons us to rekindle the fire of excessiveness. It tells us that we are shackled to the restraints of Islam, and asks us to release ourselves from the concept of submissiveness – only to surrender to the will of man. This is where we begin to lose sight of how our behaviour as consumers ultimately aids and abets the neoliberal agenda. 

I also note how difficult and expensive it can be, to incorporate a more ethics-based approach to our food, drink and choice of clothing. This reiterates the deadly impact of late capitalism and how assimilation into the capitalist hegemony is causing us to drift astray from the ultimate goal of asceticism. Where are we to go, when mainstream food comes from commodified, cruel abattoirs, our clothes from underpaid and exploited civilians in developing countries and our finances contributing to wars we should not be a part of? 

Where To From Here? 

One thing I know for sure is that I alone cannot change the world if I reduce my meat and dairy consumption or cut down on plastic usage, and I alone cannot reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions if I  reduce my own carbon footprint. It is no doubt that nothing threatens our survival more than global warming however it is the climate movement that will be the one that galvanises all others. (4)

This fight is part of the greater struggle for justice, it is about political reform and a deep critique of the systemic injustices that have blinded the community.  This can only be done by sending a loud message to our lawmakers that we demand God’s Earth to be treated as just that. Or at the very least, research how damaging our products and decisions can be to the precious living organisms that roam this Earth. 

This is a plea to anyone reading this post to consider how our actions might be aiding and abetting the rise and dominance of capitalism. Every aspect of our religion beckons us to fight for justice and for peace. The solution here is to detach ourselves from the temptation of falling into the web of consumerism. It is an undeniable reality that the global leaders of the Modern Era have waged a war on the environment and on humanity. 

We must do all in our power to restore the balance that has been made incumbent upon mankind if we wish for peace to be our ultimate destination. 

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References

(1) Cowspiracy, ‘Facts and Sources’, <http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts&gt;.

(2) Allama Iqbal, ‘The Conception of God and the Meaning of Prayer’ in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought In Islam, p. 68.

(3) Abdul Mannan Omar, Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an – Classical Arabic Dictionaries Combined, Noor Foundation International.

(4) Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism and Climate.

I had always wanted to write about this topic and my rationale and so came across these articles when they were first published. They encapsulated my thoughts to the proverbial ’t’ (also much better than this blogpost), so I will link them here: 

https://almadinainstitute.org/blog/vegan-sunnah/

https://traversingtradition.com/2018/06/04/ramadan-month-of-anti-imperialism/

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