DUBAI - Slaughtering animals for Eid Al Adha and consuming halal meat are permissible in Islam but there’s a rising trend of Muslims demanding a more halal-holistic meat-free practice.
For Eid al Adha last month, Muslim countries offered millions of livestock for the festival of sacrifice. Nearly 8,000 animals were prepared for slaughter in the UAE capital this year, according to the Abu Dhabi Municipality. In Indonesia, the government alone prepared 1.3 million local livestock for slaughter, and in Bangladesh, about 11.18 million animals were earmarked, according to the country’s Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock.
But a growing number of Muslim activists are calling for an end to this mass slaughter, encouraging the faithful to enjoy a meat-free holiday.
One group that hopes to inspire more Muslims to re-examine this practice is “The Vegan Muslim Initiative”, which has roots in Australia and Canada. Founded in 2016, the initiative aims to help educate Muslims about veganism and the impact it can have on their lives.
The group’s co-founder Sammer Hakim claims that raising and killing billions of animals annually is the leading cause of almost every environmental disaster we face today, including human starvation.
“We have not faced anything like this before as a species. We are claiming to do something as 'sunnah' when it will actually contribute to more harm,” Sammer told Salaam Gateway.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation says the livestock sector is a “significant contributor” to global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, but it also points out that direct emissions from transport (road, air, rail and maritime), about 14 per cent of all emissions from human activities, is higher at 6.9 gigatons per year compared to the 2.3 gigatons from the livestock sector.
Still, Sammer argues that Muslims can feed more people with plant-based foods as well as help save the planet.
The slaughter of animals such as cows, sheep and camels during Eid Al Adha is to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s trial of facing Allah’s command to kill his son Ismail. It is a voluntary practice encouraged as a way also to distribute food to the needy.
Many vegan and vegetarian Muslims suggest other impactful ways to channel charity to the poor to celebrate Eid Al Adha.
“I strongly believe that Eid Al Adha is about giving something beneficial for the needy, such as sponsoring a child's tuition fees, buying them winter clothes, or paying a family’s house rent - something that can be of a use rather than slaughtering animals and giving a family one kilo of meat that will hardly make a meal,” said Nagham Turk, a 35-year old Lebanese expat in Dubai who has been vegetarian since the age of 18.
Leena Abbas, founder of the Organic Glow Beauty Lounge, the UAE’s only organic and vegan beauty salon, also believes that Eid Al Adha need not involve the slaughter of animals.
“Unfortunately, Eid Al Adha is not a happy time for me as I think of the millions of animals that will be slaughtered. There are many other ways to offer a sacrifice which do not include killing an animal. Giving money to the needy, building a school, or sponsoring a child’s education are all alternative ways to ‘sacrifice’,” Leena, ,who has been vegan since 2008, told Salaam Gateway.
HALAL INDUSTRY UNAFFECTED
While there are no official statistics on the number of vegans and vegetarians in Muslim-majority Middle East, there are many indicators that they are growing in number.
Vegans Take Dubai Facebook group has seen members increase from 3,000 to more than 4,000 in the last seven months, while Abu Dhabi Vegans group has 1,940 members.
Across the Middle East, vegan Facebook groups continue to attract members. The Vegetarian/Vegan Society of Egypt has 16,587 members, Vegans & Vegetarians in Saudi has 411, Lebanese Vegans has 932, and Vegans of Amman has 1,094.
Despite the rising number of vegan Facebook groups in Muslim countries, and the increase of vegan offerings in these markets, experts believe this hasn’t significantly affected the halal industry.
Dr Hassan Bayrakdar, halal industry expert and managing director of Dubai-based Raqam Consultancy, which provides regulatory compliance support to FMCG companies, believes the trend of Muslims turning to veganism or vegetarianism is driven by a sense of healthy, balanced and responsible consumption, and by controversies around animal welfare and slaughter practices that have been “manipulatively portrayed to Muslims in non-Muslim countries”.
“Notwithstanding this, demand has not seemed to reduce, and meat production remains at an increase in the halal industry,” said Dr Hassan.
The World Health Organisation has projected that annual meat production will increase from 218 million tonnes in 1997-1999 to 376 million tonnes by 2030, driven by a combination of population growth, rising incomes and urbanisation.
The situation appears to be similar in Southeast Asia, the other regional Islamic Economy stronghold, as in the Middle East.
“From my personal view, the trend is putting no impact on the halal industry at the moment,” Dhaliff Anuar, manager of halal industry strategic development at PwC Malaysia, told Salaam Gateway.
“The industry continues to thrive with regular challenges such as trade barriers and misunderstanding of halal products by certain communities,” said Dhaliff.
“The demand for animal sacrifices during Eid Al-Adha seems steady despite minor arguments that it should be done locally or at less fortunate locations or countries,” he added.
Dhaliff added that the growing trend of animal rights advocacy and the movement of refusing the use of animal products has influenced some Muslims to participate.
However, considering that the trend is new to Muslim societies, there are no studies yet on Muslim participation in the meat-free movement and its impact on the halal industry.
While halal products are being preferred by some non-Muslims as they are commonly made of plant-based ingredients such as soy lecithin and vegetable shortening due to the lack of halal commercial ingredients, Muslims are opting for vegan products whenever halal options are absent, according to PwC’s Dhaliff.
With that in mind, halal food businesses could tap into the vegan market by offering meat-free and dairy-free versions of traditional recipes and old favourites.
Research by MarketsandMarkets shows that the vegan meat market is currently estimated at $12.1 billion and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 15 percent in the next six years - reaching $27.9 billion by 2025.
Sofia Jamil, a researcher on Islamic environmentalism who currently resides in Germany, gives the example of the success that Turkish chain Cigkoftem is seeing in the European country. Specialising in Turkish kofte, including vegan kofte served in a burger or wrap, the fast food chain has received many positive reviews online.
“It’s something that has traditional roots and is eaten in southeast Turkey. They even have festivals just for Cigkoftem in that region. The restaurant has popularised it and made it an easy, grab-and-go food. It’s popular among Turkish people but other nationalities are also buying it,” said the Adjunct Research Associate at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
In the Middle East, businesses are already capitalising on this lucrative market, with new brands coming to the region and restaurants opening to cater to this population.
In August, vegan meal-prep service Veganity opened the world’s largest vegan restaurant in Dubai, just after Eid Al Adha, serving more than 200 dishes from around the globe.
Tapping into the demand for vegan food is largely about rebranding, re-inventing and recreating something from traditional recipes that will be marketable and trendy for those wider Muslim audiences, said Sofia.
“With the growing middle classes in Muslim countries, there’s a tendency to want to have more and be up-to-date with the latest trends. In this mindset, you want to be affluent, and signs of affluence are more consumption.
“But if we can change this mindset to show that affluence also means better quality food and health, and not just the monetary things, that would be a better way of trying to encourage a diet with less meat. In my opinion, promoting the idea of veganism and vegetarianism has to be more holistic.”
(Reporting by Heba Hashem; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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