IN THE NEWS: On AUG 11, 2019
This Sunday, Muslims around the world will offer the sacrifice of an animal to celebrate Eid al-Adha. Although meat is central to this holiday, some Muslims who have chosen a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle are questioning whether a sacrifice is even necessary.
Eid al-Adha is a Muslim holiday that commemorates Prophet Abaraham's willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. Because his son was replaced with a lamb when the sacrifice took place, Muslims to this day sacrifice a lamb or goat and sometimes even a cow.
The meat is then split up in three parts: One is donated to a poor family who cannot afford their own animal, one is given to friends and extended family, and the last is kept for themselves and immediate family.
Zain Syed Ahmed, a lab technician at University of Calgary has been a vegetarian since October 2015. Although his personal reasons revolve around the environment and ethics and he is a vegetarian through and through, Ahmed does not believe he is at a point where he can let go of paying for a sacrifice altogether.
He makes an exception for Eid al-Adha and his way around it is through charity.
"The idea is if I'm going to be participating in this ritual and I am going to be giving somebody meat, I would rather give it to somebody who really needs it and doesn't usually get it," he said.
Ahmed gives money to the International Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) — an Islamic non-profit that links Canadians with Muslim communities overseas to provide emergency and long-term aid.
Through the organization, Ahmed finances a sacrifice for a family in need.
Kirat Saif, a convert Muslim living in Calgary, is in the same boat. Because she was raised vegetarian, her stomach cannot handle meat. Although her in-laws respect her choices — and provide vegetarian options during the holiday feast — she still has to commit to a sacrifice.
"I do the sacrifice ... and what I do is, I just donate the meat," she said.
Both Saif and Ahmed are comfortable with their choices and the exceptions they make, a growing movement in North America The Vegan Muslim Initiative believes they shouldn't have to.
Started in 2016 by Sammar Hakim, an Australian living in Texas and Canadian Elysia Ward, the initiative aims at educating Muslims on the benefits of going vegan. They also strongly believe that Muslims who choose to become vegetarian or vegan do not need to kill an animal, even during Eid al-Adha.
Hakim said he believes the point of Eid al-Adha is to sacrifice what you value most as long as it helps those in need.
"To show your sincerity on how much you want to help the poor, there are many other ways; you can give them plant-based foods, you can give them money," he said. "I think this practice (sacrificing an animal) has to be re-examined."
According to Ali Jomha, Imam at Al-Rashid Mosque, the sacrifice is part of the Sunnah, customs and traditions based on the teachings and sayings of the Prophet Mohammad, but not mandatory.
"Anyone who is financially able, they should do the sacrifice of a cow or sheep or any cattle that is Islamically allowed," he said. "It is encouraged to do it, the Prophet did it and taught us to do it."
For their views, both Ahmed and Hakim have received mixed reactions from the Muslim community.
Because Ahmed still performs the sacrifice — albeit indirectly — many people from the Muslim community find his decision to give up meat strange, but acceptable.
"They say, 'Oh, you are doing some feminine, new age movement.' They ask, 'Why do you have to do this to yourself?' " he said. "But that's a very small percentage of people. Most people take it at face value."
Hakim, who has sworn off the sacrifice completely, says he mostly gets comments like, "I'm an apostate, (I'm) trying to change Islam, (I'm) misguided."
"Because you are dealing with a lot of deep rooted traditions cultures and dogma in some cases, there has been strong opposition," he said.
He added that he does have a lot of support from the community as well. The Vegan Muslim Initiative started with 12 members in 2016 and has now grown to a following of close to 10,000 globally.
He believes the community of Muslims going completely vegan or vegetarian is fast growing and for those opposed to it, "it's just a matter of engaging and educating."