Is veganism sunnah?
Is eating in moderation sunnah?
Is being concerned with animal welfare sunnah?
Is being concerned with the source of one’s food sunnah?
Is being concerned that one is not contributing to exploitation/oppression sunnah?
Is being concerned with the impact one has on the earth sunnah?
Is being aware of nature and the ayat around us sunnah?
Is veganism sunnah?
We can accept that everything listed here is sunnah, but does it follow from all of that that veganism — the practice of abstaining from consumption and use of animal products — is sunnah? Clearly not.
One thing that I strongly believe: Muslims must be conscientious consumers. What are we spending our money on? What are we supporting through our purchases? There are many companies that I will not support because of the havoc that those companies wreak on the earth. They shed blood, they oppress, they attack Islam and the Prophet ﷺ. So, insofar as these companies are selling something, I am not buying. This, for example, is why I support BDS against Israel or supported boycotting Denmark after the publication of the Danish cartoons against the Prophet ﷺ.
But, is it correct to say that it is sunnah to support BDS? Well, that is not a question for a non-faqih, non-mufti to answer.
Similarly for food production and consumption. The fact of the matter is, it is not only the production of meat that has ethically problematic elements. The production of produce has equal, if not greater, moral ramifications as meat production. Up to 40% of the perfectly edible produce produced in farms ends up in landfills for various reasons, and that is a major contribution to greenhouse gases and climate change. Factory farms and even independent farms are also notorious for their use of harsh chemicals that they introduce into the environment, e.g., pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers. And beyond this, the amount of water that it takes to grow these crops have serious deleterious effects on local communities.
In California for example, a large part of the water crisis in this state is due to how much water is being used by factory farms to grow high end crops like almonds and other nuts that require inordinate amounts of water. Vegan diets, of course, heavily use almonds and nuts as a source of protein, but the ethical question of water use and its impact to local communities seem to be of little or no concern.
And let’s not forget the issue of labor and the exploitation of migrant workers. Much of our produce comes from places that exploit farm laborers. And some of the major agricultural conglomerates have historically resorted to aggression, violence, and fomenting civil war in order to get access to prime farm land and water resources. One prominent example: Have you heard of the Banana Republics of Latin America, where private US companies sent mercenaries to overthrow popular presidents in order to install dictators who would treat the US agro-business favorably at great expense to the local populations? All of this for bananas and many of the other fruits and vegetables we all consume.
Many other examples can be given from history and present day. Point being that it is not only meat production that has ethically problematic elements, but focusing on veganism obscures that fact and only gives people the false impression that by only buying non-animal-related products, they are somehow absolved from the ethical ramifications of being a part of the global industrial complex.
If we really want to unplug from everything tainted with corporate corruption, abuse, exploitation, etc., we can. But that means literally moving to the mountains. Forget about using computers. Forget about using Facebook or Youtube or Google (do you know how much pollution is created from Google’s massive servers?). Forget about driving cars. Mountain life, living off the land is the only option. And maybe a day will come where we, as Muslims, will be ethically required to live such a life, and righteous ulama will be there to tell us so inshaAllah.
And this is not to say that we shouldn’t do the things that we can do to minimize harm given the circumstances. We can and should. It’s not an “all or nothing” situation. Just because we cannot reduce 100% of the harm does not mean we should live heedlessly and not care at all.
The Prophet ﷺ said, “There will come a time when you will not be able to find a single person in the world who will not be consuming riba. And if anyone claims that he is not consuming riba, then surely the dust of riba will reach him.” [Ahmad] This hadith is something to reflect on. We shouldn’t read this hadith and throw up our hands, “Well, since the dust of riba reaches everyone, then it doesn’t matter how much riba I consume!” No. Even if we are in the times that the Prophet ﷺ referred to, that does not absolve us from our duties and our effort.
Given that so much of what we consume is tainted, what specific things ought we to do? Is there any specific act that becomes sunnah? Or wajib? Or haram? Thank God I am not someone who can give an opinion on such an unfathomably weighty question. In the absence of a qualified opinion, the best that we can do is to bring to mind the advice of the Messenger ﷺ. On one occasion, the companion, Wabisa b. Ma’bad came to the Prophet ﷺ to ask about birr (righteousness). The Prophet ﷺ told him, “Take a fatwa from your heart. Moral goodness (birr) is whatever your heart feels ease at doing, and sin (ithm) is whatever brings discomfort to the heart even if people counsel you otherwise.” Notice that he didn’t say that the fatwa taken from the heart thereby becomes sunnah even though it may be (true) righteousness.