A key component of FFAC's work is creating presentations tailored towards different communities and interest groups to bring everyone into the conversation about our food system. In addition to schools, community groups, and businesses, we also speak to faith communities, including Jewish, Buddhist, Quaker, and Unitarian Universalist. In this blog post, FFAC's Toronto Director, Tanzil Islam, discusses her work reaching out to the local Muslim and Islamic community.
Like most people, my love for the natural environment began early. While I was growing up in Toronto, I didn’t have much access to nature besides the handful of ravines, creeks and parks I would visit. This is why I relished my vacations in Bangladesh. It meant I could enjoy lazy canoe trips and train rides when I could gaze at tropical lush greenery for hours on end. So it was no surprise I pursued an undergraduate degree in environmental sciences.
It was during university that I began organizing for environmental causes. As an eco-mentor with Citizens’ Environment Watch, I enjoyed jumping into hipwaders and collecting bugs in the Don and Humber Rivers to determine their water quality. Or collecting and identifying lichens to determine the quality of Toronto’s air. In 2011, I began working with a grassroots environmental NGO called Earthroots. I worked for them in a variety of capacities, but enjoyed most my outreach and education work, through which I had the opportunity to speak to students across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) about the importance of protecting southern Ontario’s Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine and endangered species.
My journey with ethical consumption began in September of 2012. In February 2014, I was blessed with the opportunity to work with the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition (FFAC) and spearheaded the GTA chapter. Since then, we’ve been delivering presentations about industrialized animal agriculture’s multifarious, devastating impacts at community centres, businesses and university conferences throughout the GTA. We’ve garnered a lot of attention from the general public, and we’ve formed alliances with local animal advocacy and social justice organizations such as Toronto Pig Save and Studio.89.
In January of 2016, we shifted some of the focus of our outreach and education efforts to the Muslim community. Since then, our message has been welcomed warmly by dozens of mosques, Muslim students’ groups and Islamic schools. We’ve spoken to Muslims as young as kindergarten-aged and as old as grandparents, and the overwhelming majority of audience members have been very appreciative of FFAC’s efforts and have expressed willingness to change their consumption habits.
The message we’ve been sharing with the Muslim community is that industrialized animal agriculture violates Islamic principles of animal welfare, environmental stewardship and workers’ rights. Even when excessively cruel behaviours aren’t exhibited by workers in factory farms and slaughterhouses, farmed animals suffer tremendously. Their commodification, their confinement to small spaces, and the denial of their right to live the lives many Muslims believe their creator intended all animals to live are all acts of violence.
There are passages in the Quran and Islamic stories that show that animals are not to be viewed as property in Islam. One passage from the chapter in the Quran called Surah Al Anam, or “The Cattle” reads:
There is not an animal that lives on the Earth,
nor a being that flies on its wings,
but forms parts of communities like you.
Nothing have We omitted from the Book,
and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.
While animal product consumption is not forbidden in Islam, there are many restrictions on this consumption. The rules regarding slaughter are thorough and if followed religiously, would lead to the abolition of factory farms and slaughterhouses. The person performing the slaughter must feed the animal water, the animal must not witness, hear or smell the killing of any other animal. The animal must look into the eyes of the person performing the slaughter and the person must look into the eyes of the animal. Many prayers and rituals are involved throughout the process. The purpose of this exhaustive procedure is to minimize slaughter and consumption.
One Islamic story recounts that Allah once told Prophet Muhammad, “With this qurban, the killing will be greatly reduced, for they used to kill 1000 or 2000 in one day, they will now be able to slaughter only ten or fifteen animals.” When the people complained, “We can kill only so few! Our enjoyments and our festivities are being curtailed”, Allah responded, “Each one of you does not need to sacrifice one animal. You do not need to sacrifice one animal for each family. In place of forty fowls, kill one goat. In place of forty goats, kill ten cows. And in place of forty cows, kill ten camels. Sacrifice ten camels and then share the meat among the different animals.”
Many Muslims believe the Quran was revealed between 609 and 632 C.E. in modern-day Mecca, at a time when and in a place where alternatives to animal products were not as readily available as they are to Muslims in North America today. Many Muslims recognize this and there is a rising trend – particularly among Muslim youth – to think beyond halal. They are imploring other Muslims to consider that while halal is about what Muslims are permitted to eat according to scripture, going beyond halal is to consider what Muslims ought to eat and to ask whether halal is good enough in circumstances where folks have access to fresh, healthy, and affordable alternatives to animal products.i
Many of the Muslim youth we’ve spoken to are also incredibly concerned about the Earth’s health, and have been astonished to learn that the animal agriculture industry is among the leading causes of environmental issues such as deforestation, climate change and resource exploitation. They are heartened to learn about Quranic verses and hadith that state that environmental stewardship is a religious imperative in Islam. This is one hadith that has resonated strongly:
The Earth is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it.
The whole earth has been created a place of worship, pure and clean.
Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it
until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded.
If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and humans and beasts and birds eat from it,
all of it is love on his part.
I once watched a conference in India online and one of the panelists used a brilliant term to describe the way in which we are exploiting our resources. The term was “intergenerational colonization”. We’re thieving from our future generations. Many Muslim youth we’ve spoken to feel indignant about the way earlier generations abused their earth and refuse to become intergenerational colonizers themselves.
There’s a chance that the fate of farmed animals and Muslims will intersect in Canada in the near future. There has been a shortage of workers in Canadian slaughterhouses and federal employment minister Maryann Mihychuk announced in January 2016 that they may look to Syrian refugees – many of whom presumably have training and experience in other professional fields and do not consume pork – to fill these positions. The students we’ve spoken to have been infuriated to learn this. The keenness with which younger generations of Muslims are approaching animal, environmental and social justice issues gives us great hope that with time, an alliance can be formed between the animal advocacy and Muslim communities.