What’s the Deal with Climate Change, Sunnah, and Eating Less Meat?
Everyone you talk to in the Muslim community is concerned about climate change, and rightfully so.
Climate change has been identified by many as the biggest challenge facing our world right now, and the biggest danger to the survival of humanity. Islam teaches abundantly about the importance of valuing the natural world. At least 750 verses in the Quran are about nature; about one-eighth of the total verses, encouraging believers to see nature as another book which God uses to reveal the Divine nature, and Eternal Truth. And in case you are one of those people (who I personally consider somewhat confused about eschatology), who believe the end times are upon us, and therefore, why worry about the environment, consider the following hadith: “If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.” So we have plenty of time to busy ourselves with deforestation, and environmental destruction, and saving the planet regardless.
But what can we do about it? Of course, another well-known Hadith from the 40 Hadith of Imam Nawawi on the topic of resisting evil reads, “Whoever among you sees an evil action, let them change it with their hand [by taking action]; if they cannot, then with their tongue [by speaking out]; and if they cannot, then with their heart [by at least hating it and believing that it is wrong], and that is the weakest of faith.”
The concept that we are going to keep expanding, so called optimal visions of “growth” economies, pushes consumption on all levels and justifies it as positive, normal, and healthy. Never mind the unprecedented pressure that modus operandi is exerting on our environment.
Most of us detest the rampant destruction of the environment perpetrated by corporations. Most of us hate the rampant disregard of our natural resources that is so prevalent in the world today. So the part where we hate the evil of the desecration of the natural world is already present for most of us. And most of us do speak about our desire to see the natural world treated with less greed. If you think about it, the main reason we are destroying the environment is, in fact, greed. The concept that we are going to keep expanding, so called optimal visions of “growth” economies, pushes consumption on all levels and justifies it as positive, normal, and healthy. Never mind the unprecedented pressure that modus operandi is exerting on our environment.
But there’s a simple way we can resist climate change and environmental destruction with our own hands: we can eat less meat. I have been a vegetarian on and off for 30 years and have always, on some level, abhorred the thought of the destruction of life involved in eating meat. Even when I was eating some meat, I mostly ate a vegetable-heavy diet. When I converted to Islam, I was fully vegetarian and I’ve heard similar stories from other converts as well. We were vegetarian when we converted, and when we learned that meat was “halal” in Islam, we abandoned our guilt and conscience and started eating meat again. But recently, I’ve really begun to question this decision.
Wasting water is unanimously agreed upon as a sin, and yet the simple facts of the enormously wasteful consumption of water to produce beef for consumption (660 gallons of water for one hamburger according to some sources) have gone unremarked…
Firstly, meat is an immense waste of water, due to the amount of water required to raise livestock. Individual greed has led to lifestyle choices such as the excessive consumption of beef, and factory farming, which has greatly contributed to the climate crisis. Muslims as a community, unfortunately, have not yet rallied around the facts of the importance of dietary changes, in spite of the multiple Sunnahs that a diet heavy in meat contradicts. One important hadith that relates specifically to the wastage of water, something so intricately linked to beef consumption, is the hadith where the Prophet, peace be upon him, directs a person making wudhu in a river not to waste water. Wasting water is unanimously agreed upon as a sin, and yet the simple facts of the enormously wasteful consumption of water to produce beef for consumption (660 gallons of water for one hamburger according to some sources) have gone unremarked by an unconcerned Muslim community, normally highly attuned to issues of the Sunnah. Additionally, it is a known fact that we would meet our emissions goals for the Paris Climate Accord if everyone ate beans instead of beef.
Now, I’m not saying all Muslims have to give up meat entirely. I’m not saying it is a sin to kill an animal for food if it was humanely raised and slaughtered. But the visions of all the masjids around the country serving meat every single day of Ramadan, and Muslim families eating meat two to three times a day, is disturbing. We, as a community, need to take seriously that we need to reduce our meat consumption if we want to continue to claim that we care about the environment.
Islam is the only religion I know of where animals, soil, air, and water have legal rights. Just like the ongoing, so-called revolution of feminism that was predated by our Prophet (PBUH) 1400 years ago, the idea that the environment is sacred, and needs to be protected and given its due legal rights is something that Muslims have embedded in our religion. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we took the most simple step of limiting our meat consumption, and put this into practice? Basically, the only thing that stands in the way is greed, and the decision to fill our stomachs with whatever we want, regardless of the cost. It’s profoundly un-Islamic, and I honestly think our Prophet (PBUH) would condemn us strongly for it.