by Sonia Azalia
Michelle Bowler is a Scottish-Indonesian revert with a huge love for this planet and every living being inhabiting it. At 17, Islam answered her desperate call for peace throughout her warlike teenage years after dealing with puberty, her parents divorcing, bullying. Another thing she battled with was understanding why humans were causing such destruction on the planet, especially in relation to eating, skinning and exploiting animals.
“I converted to Islam because of how the Qur’an is adamant that animals should not be looked at as mere resources, and that they can form communities and groups just like human beings. Islamic teachings paint animals as our equals, and constantly highlight their rights to have a peaceful life.”
We are also taught that utilizing animals for food, clothing, medicine, security, and other uses is how they live alongside us. We are dependent on them as we are on every natural resource on this Earth. Vegans, on the other hand, restrain themselves from using any animal-deprived resources and products. This is why veganism is commonly seen to be incompatible with Islamic values, especially with the different perspectives about meat consumption. Despite that, she has chosen to celebrate Eid Al-Adha by acknowledging the meaning behind the sacrifice ritual without slaughtering an animal, she claims that her concern is less about the conflicting dichotomy between ‘meat is halal’ and ‘meat is murder’, but more about how animals are exploited and mistreated savagely (trapped in small cages, shot by numerous drugs to quicken their growth, taking away or killing their calves and chicks, skinning them alive without painkillers, etc.) in the process of meat-producing in this profit-driven industrial era.
“One must keep in mind that there’s such a thing as context. Living circumstances in the Arab world (and elsewhere) have dramatically changed since the pre-Islamic times. Back then, everyday life was heavily reliant on animals. Camels and horses were used for transport across harsh deserts, and many recordings indicate that food was generally scarce. So eating animal products may actually have been, at one point, necessary for survival. I have a very hard time believing that the Prophet who so vehemently preached that animals be treated with utmost compassion and kindness, would approve of what goes on behind the walls of modern-day slaughterhouses. Frankly nothing is more un-Islamic to me than the complete disregard for animals’ lives and the fact that they’re essentially treated like machines.”
Even though most of the discussion about cruelty towards animals happens in relation to slaughterhouses, shifting our meat, milk or egg producers to ‘halal’ or ‘farm-raised’ ones is still not enough to avoid the damage. Objectively, animal agriculture is the number one cause of environmental damage.
“I would never want to push anyone into a vegan lifestyle. However, everyone should know animal agriculture is a significant driver of global warming and causes 15% of all emissions, half of which are from livestock. Furthermore, the huge amounts of grain and water needed to raise cattle is a concern to experts worried about feeding an extra 2 billion people by 2050. But previous calls for people to eat less meat in order to help the environment, or preserve grain stocks, have been highly controversial. Therefore meat production in this era in any form, including self sufficient farming is still damaging to our planet.”
When land is used to raise animals instead of crops, precious water and soil are lost, trees are cut down to make land for grazing or factory-farm sheds, and untreated animal waste pollutes rivers and streams. In fact, it has such a devastating effect on all aspects of our environment that the Union of Concerned Scientists lists meat-eating as the second-biggest environmental hazard facing the Earth, with number one being fossil-fuel vehicles. And according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute, a staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture.
“I think a huge thing missing in today’s society when it comes to meat is that we don’t have to see the process of slaughtering. The food just magically appears in packages for us. We don’t have to feel the impact, the cost of life that our appetite is taking. Our Muslim ancestors, felt that impact deeply. They cared about animals. They cared so much, they would pray for the animals they slaughtered, and used every single part, wasting nothing. They felt in their heart the impact that their lives had upon the earth and the animals. They still ate meat, but they ate it with reverence. The important thing is that we are not cruel in the process, and not wasteful. And it’s especially too easy to be wasteful and irreverent when we don’t have to see the cost of life paid because of our appetites, which is happening in our era right now. We have become greedy, violent, and eating more than we should, causing mass destruction to mother earth.”
To the popular argument used against vegans that ‘God created animals for us to eat’, Michelle highlights the fact that it is a matter of choice, not a obligation.
“The Qur’an tells us what can’t and can be eaten (meats included) if we so wish. Nowhere does it say that Muslims are required to eat meat (although the way some people do you’d think it was a sixth pillar or something). Meat consumption is mentioned, yes, but it is not in any way encouraged or recommended. There are also numerous verses within the Qur’an that emphasize the benefits of fruits and vegetables to sustain animals and humans alike, and to promote better health and living environments, but apparently those don’t get a mention when a debate like mine breaks during a conversation.”
Although this may seem like such a huge, intimidating and complex issue to solve, through her lifestyle blogging and her current project @savebees.co, she’s here to prove that a single voice can impact each of us to care for this planet by acknowledging our power as consumers and by simply shifting our lifestyle choices in fun, inspiring and practicable ways.
“Being a vegan is not a diet. It is not a religion, political party, elite group, club or cult. It is a conscious, responsible ethical decision to make every reasonable effort to live and enjoy life without harming, enslaving, exploiting, depleting, contaminating or killing.
I believe that being vegan is being a better Muslim, and to collect more deeds is to really take care of this earth that’s created by God. This is how I see it. We are living in a different era, it’s a generation that needs help. I hope that Muslims would open up their mind more to it, that this world was made from the God that you love, and we need to be able to love this planet as much as we love him.”