Researcher Network member, Ellie Atayee-Bennett, explores the practices of vegan Muslims during Eid-al-Adha
Every year on the Islamic festival of Eid-al-Adha (literally ‘Festival of Sacrifice’), livestock animals are sacrificed, and their meat shared with members of the community, particularly the poor. This festival begins on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, the final month in the Islamic calendar, which this year coincides with 28th June 2023, and marks the culmination of Hajj (pilgrimage), when Muslim pilgrims from across the world travel to Makkah, Saudi Arabia. The practice of sacrifice is not only performed by the pilgrims though; it is also performed by Muslims across the world, with those in the West opting to donate money abroad where the sacrifice will take place.
While the practice of animal sacrifice on Eid-al-Adha is considered obligatory among the general Muslim community, this is not, in fact, in accordance with the position of the majority of Islamic schools of thought, who only consider it to be mustahab (strongly recommended)[i]. This position finds a basis in numerous ahadith (singular: hadith - narrations of the sayings and practices of the Prophet peace be upon him) as well. Quoting from Abu Is’haq al Shatibi’s (1320-1388 A.D.) book Al-I’itisam, Ghilan[ii] shares:
“And Hudhayfa ibn Usayd said: I lived during the time of Abu Bakr and Umar (may God be pleased with them), and they did not sacrifice out of fear that people would believe it was obligatory.
The same has been related about Abu Masoud (may God be pleased with him), who said: Verily, I leave sacrificing, even though I am one of the most financially fortunate amongst you, out of fear that my neighbors may assume it was obligatory.
And there is much like this related about the righteous predecessors.”
Animal sacrifice was, thus, not considered obligatory in the early days of Islam, particularly by the nearest and dearest of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Despite the position of the Islamic schools, examples from the Hadith corpus, and best efforts to prevent it from happening, the popular opinion formed among contemporary Muslims is that this practice is obligatory. So, let us turn our attention towards contemporary scholars and explore their position on the matter. Al-Hafiz Basheer Ahmad Masri, Islamic scholar, Imam, and animal welfare writer, emphasised animal sacrifice as a “means to serve a social need”[iii], and, thus, proposed gifting money instead of meat. He also highlighted verse 2:196 from the Qur’an, which offers alternatives itself, namely fasting and charity[iv]. Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, Senior Lecturer and an Islamic Scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Canada, meanwhile explains:
“Offering sacrifice is not an obligatory ritual; it is only a recommended one. So, we are not obligated to observe the ritual year after year. That is the lesson both the pious Caliphs, Abu Bakr, and Umar wanted to impart. […] Since sacrifice is not obligatory, a person can choose not to do it and give charity money.”[v]
Further, Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl, Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and founder of the Institute of Advanced Usuli Studies, explains:
“While the zakat due in the udhiyah remains obligatory, the consumption and providing of meat is not. In other words, one may slaughter and donate meat; one may pay for the slaughter and donation of meat; or one may simply donate the amount of money due directly to needy families for the recipients to spend it as they deem fit.”
“The point of Eid al-Adha is not the sheep or the meat; the point is sharing and community and, above all, brotherhood and sisterhood in the true sense of the word. To my knowledge, among the classical jurists, it is well-established that money can be dispensed directly to the needy so that they may feed themselves in the way that they see most fit, and one does not need to be limited to the distribution of meat.”[vi]
Thus, we see a clear discrepancy between Islamic law and popular perceptions among the Muslim community.
Additionally, the Eid sacrifice, in the way that it is carried out across the world, is an act which can be incredibly wasteful[vii], unhygienic[viii], and, in the words of Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl, involves “many instances of cruelty and undue suffering caused to animals”.[ix] Therefore, there is a valid argument for a moral or sunnah imperative to refrain from animal sacrifice; Shaikh has referred to veganism as a “moral imperative”,[x] whilst Ghilan has argued that there is a “sunnah imperative to go vegan”.[xi] Upon recognising that a Muslim is not obligated to sacrifice an animal, or indeed contribute financially towards the sacrifice of an animal, therefore, what alternatives can a vegan Muslim engage in?
During my PhD research, I interviewed twelve vegan Muslims in the UK to gain greater insight into how veganism and religiosity intersect. Where the Eid sacrifice is concerned, two of the interviewees said that they do not do anything as they still live at home with their parents, so there is no obligation or expectation on them to partake yet. While two other participants said that they send money abroad to pay for sacrifice, as they believe it to be an obligatory act. They stated this was their only break from veganism, and one they were uncomfortable with but, ultimately, religion came first. One Sunni Muslim stated, “my religion comes first […] I don't like [sacrifice], but for religious reasons you have to accept that”. There is, thus, a need for the knowledge shared herein to be imparted to the Muslim community so they can make truly informed decisions relating to sacrifice.
The remaining eight participants engage in alternative practices; the two that do not partake yet said they intend on doing alternative practices in the future, too. Through their alternative practices, these individuals emphasise and reapply the underlying values and intentions of the Eid sacrifice. A female Sunni participant explained, “The idea behind [sacrifice] is that you're sharing food with people who have less money so they can celebrate the day, too”, whilst a male Shia participant said, “Sacrifice is giving something away that's important to you. OK. Not the animal that you pull off the street that you've killed. That’s not what sacrifice is.” These vegan Muslims recognised the obligation to give charitably on Eid-al-Adha, but they rejected the idea that the charity had to be through animal sacrifice or the distribution of meat. The requirements of sharing food with the needy and giving away something of value were, thus, re-interpreted and applied in a vegan way: partaking in the Eid sacrifice without the needless spilling of animal blood. This re-engagement with the original purpose and spirit of Eid-al-Adha is further demonstrated by Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl in his fatwa.[xii]
The participants that opted for a vegan alternative tended to either donate money to a charity that distributed plant-based food to poor people, particularly in Muslim countries, or distribute vegan food to the poor and homeless themselves:
“We'll set up, like, a food tent on Eid-al-Kabir and we'll just give food to the homeless, so I will make sure that I've paid for, like, a vegan meal.” (Female, Sunni)
“Other foods that we can distribute, you know, like flour, oil, rice, you know, anything else but meat.” (Female, no specific sect)
“Sticking with feeding communities [...] using charities that work on the ground in different developing countries to feed them through non-animal means.” (Male, Sunni)
Instead of imitating tradition or popular practices without reflection, these vegan Muslims sought to re-engage ethically with their religion and behave in a way that they felt best reflected the ethical spirit of Islam. In so doing, they interrogated the values that underpin the sacrifice, demonstrating reflexive religiosity, as theorised by sociologist, Ulrich Beck[xiii]. In Western countries especially, there is a culture of critical thinking and evaluation, which Muslims, and other people of faith, are drawing upon to effectively respond to modern ethical crises, such as the maltreatment of animals, climate change, and environmental degradation, in a religious way. These individuals turn to religious ethics, values, and principles and reapply them to the modern context. In the process, they uncover forgotten religious teachings and alternative practices that are more in line with the spirit of Islam than contemporary practices. Thus, they find a way to observe and comply with Islamic teachings, albeit in a vegan way.
To conclude, yes, vegan Muslims can indeed observe Eid-al-Adha. They can do so by sacrificing in other ways, such as by donating money to those in need and by bringing communities together. This, as we have seen, is not only approved by the scholars of Islam, but also coincides perfectly with the wisdom from the Hadith literature. By raising awareness regarding these neglected but crucial teachings, we can establish common ground with, and better communicate veganism to, the broader Muslim community, as well as empower vegan Muslims to be an impactful voice within their communities.
The views expressed by our Research News contributors are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.
[i] Shaikh, Z. (2022) ‘Heresy or Moral Imperative? Islamic Perspectives on Veganism’, in Leaman, O. (Ed.) Routledge Handbook of Islamic Ritual and Practice. London: Routledge, p.445. doi: 10.4324/9781003044659-37
[ii] Ghilan, M. (2016) ‘The Dilemma of Being a Muslim Vegetarian on Eid al Adha’, Mohamed Ghilan’s blog. 11 September. Available at: The Dilemma of Being a Muslim Vegetarian on Eid al-Ad’ha | Mohamed Ghilan (wordpress.com) (Accessed: 22 June 2023).
[iii] Masri, B. A. (2022) Animals in Islam. Woodstock, NY: Lantern Books, p.211.
[iv] Masri, B. A. (2022) Animals in Islam. Woodstock, NY: Lantern Books, p.212.
[vi] El Fadl, K. A. (2016) ‘FATWA: On the Sacrifice of Eid al-Adha’, The Search for Beauty: on beauty and reason in Islam. 15 June. Available at: FATWA: On the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha - Khaled Abou El Fadl on The Search For Beauty in Islam (Accessed: 22 June 2023).
[vii] Shaikh, Z. (2022) ‘Heresy or Moral Imperative? Islamic Perspectives on Veganism’, in Leaman, O. (Ed.) Routledge Handbook of Islamic Ritual and Practice. London: Routledge, p.446. doi: 10.4324/9781003044659-37
[ix] El Fadl, K. A. (2016) ‘FATWA: On the Sacrifice of Eid al-Adha’, The Search for Beauty: on beauty and reason in Islam. 15 June. Available at: FATWA: On the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha - Khaled Abou El Fadl on The Search For Beauty in Islam (Accessed: 22 June 2023).
[x] Shaikh, Z. (2022) ‘Heresy or Moral Imperative? Islamic Perspectives on Veganism’, in Leaman, O. (Ed.) Routledge Handbook of Islamic Ritual and Practice. London: Routledge, p.445. doi: 10.4324/9781003044659-37
[xi] Ghilan, M. (2016) ‘The Halal Bubble and the Sunnah Imperative to Go Vegan’, Al Madina Institute, 26 July. Available at: The Halal Bubble and the Sunnah Imperative to Go Vegan – Studio (almadina.org) (Accessed: 22 June 2023).
[xii] El Fadl, K. A. (2016) ‘FATWA: On the Sacrifice of Eid al-Adha’, The Search for Beauty: on beauty and reason in Islam. 15 June. Available at: FATWA: On the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha - Khaled Abou El Fadl on The Search For Beauty in Islam (Accessed: 22 June 2023).
[xiii] Beck, U. (2010) A God of One’s Own. Cambridge: Polity Press.