aaronThis blog was written as a guest column for The Drawing Board by Aaron Wannamaker – the celebrated writer behind www.muslisms.com, community leader, and published authour. In this op-ed, Aaron graciously offers his unique insights on what happens when someone converts to Islam.

 

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. As for the precise number of converts that make up that number, it is still unclear. But with Islam in the media spotlight, many people take it upon themselves to learn about Islam.

For those who decide to take the leap—or who have already taken it—this article is for you.

I help to run a program at one of the local mosques in Edmonton called Convert Connect. I’ve spoken one-to-one with many converts. Having been a Muslim for almost 9 years now, I’ve heard a lot of stories of people coming to Islam. Everyone has their own unique story to tell, and their own thing that drew them towards the religion. For some it was a sense of purpose; for some it came after a long, spiritual quest through many religions; for some, it just made sense.

Yet despite that, there are still many overarching themes that I find with convert stories. These are 11 of the common things you may come across, both in your personal life and in the community, after you’ve become a Muslim.

You’ll be tested. I know this sounds scary, so I might as well get it out of the way now. After you become a Muslim, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll go through some form of difficulty. The first year is often the most difficult one. During this time, a lot of new Muslims face backlash from their friends and family and co-workers. Sometimes, health problems arise or jobs are lost. If you do go through a test or trial, think of it as your entrance exam. God says in the Quran:

“Do people think once they say, “We believe,” that they will be left without being put to the test?” (29:2)

However, He also says:

“So, surely with hardship comes ease. Surely with ˹that˺ hardship comes ˹more˺ ease.” (94:5-6)

This is a promise from God that, no matter what, things will get better. Be patient, and pray for God to help you. Eventually, your hardship will pass.

You’ll try to do everything all at once. Oftentimes, in their zeal for their new faith, a new Muslim will try and do everything: pray not just 5 times a day, but all the extra prayers—and the late-night tahajuud prayer. They’ll make an extensive, pages-long list of duas to recite morning and evening. They’ll throw themselves into studying fiqh and tajweed and hadith, with some memorization to boot. All of these things are great goals in and of themselves. But trying to take it all on at once is unsustainable.

If you try and do all of this at once, you’ll end up crashing and burning out. At which point, you’ll feel like you’re less of a Muslim because you’ve had to cut back on a lot of your ibadah (worship). You may even feel this because you’ve lost your New Muslim Zeal (which should be the name of a cologne). But fret not: this is normal. Sometimes you end up finding yourself on the extremes. A big part of Islam is finding your balance, so use this as a learning experience to help you find that balance.

You’ll become an ambassador of Islam. Like it or not, you’ll end up becoming the de-facto “Muslim” to the people in your life. In fact, you might even be the first (perhaps only) Muslim that your friends and family and co-workers meet. As such, whatever image you project of yourself inadvertently becomes an image people associate with Islam. This is why, personally, I’m against new Muslims changing their names—especially if they’re pressured into it. Your name is part of who you are. So if you’re friends grew up knowing Alex as a jean-wearing, ball-cap sporting soccer player, and now you’re Ammar with a thaub and kufi who no longer wants to deal with “filthy disbelievers” and is always talking about how evil the world is—well, would you blame them for thinking Islam turned you into this?

Islam is meant to be something that facilitates good for others. Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said to make things easy for people, and that “The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.” Who you are as a human being can change people’s hearts about Islam and about Muslims—for better or worse. You’ll be the face of Islam for many people. They will come to you with questions—do Muslims do this? what does Islam say about that? why do these terrorists call themselves Muslim? And you’re not going to have all the answers at first. But keep on learning, and stay upbeat and positive.

You’ll start to see your world differently.  It won’t happen all at once, but gradually you will start to see the world through the lens of Islam. Things you once thought were normal or acceptable will seem strange or even wrong. You’ll notice that a lot of things our society partakes in are things that Islam prohibits—promiscuity, various forms of intoxication, even dealing with interest in a bank. However, this is not an excuse to hate on your own culture and society. Yes, there are problems. But there’s a lot of good in it, too: politeness, fairness in commerce, care for the disabled—all these things and more are things that Islam encourages. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) lived in a society where people worshiped idols naked and where tribal honour took precedence over justice. And yet, as he was leaving Mecca, he turned to it and called it the most beloved place to him.

Everyone won’t see things the way you do. And remember that, for a time, you also saw things the way they do. Be empathetic towards them, and if someone questions you as to why you aren’t drinking anymore or wearing tight, low-cut skinny shorts, use it as an opportunity to tell them that it’s part of your faith.

You’ll become a minority. There’s a good chance that if you’re a Muslim convert, you’re Caucasian. For your average, 20-to-30-year-old white Canadian male or female, life is pretty normal. You may sympathize with minorities, but it’s another thing entirely to identify as one.

Even if you’re already an ethnic minority, when you become a Muslim you become part of the 3% of Muslims in Canada. For someone who grew up in your average Canadian household, it can be a bit of a shock. The words “oppression” and “fairness” take on new, and sometimes personal, meaning to you. You see how painful labelling others can be. You may even recognize prejudices within yourself that you never realized.

Unfortunately, in our heated climate, you’ll probably see or hear of things happening to your co-religion brothers and sisters that will hurt you. Prophet (pbuh) said that the Muslims are like “one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.” No matter what happens, though, don’t let it drive you to hate. We may be few, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make our voices be heard.

Your experience with the community will vary. When you get up in front of the prayer hall and repeat the shahada in Arabic, you’ll hear a lot of cheers and the whole community will come up and congratulate you (be prepared for lots of hugs). It may be a bit overwhelming, but know that everyone’s intentions are good.

The sad truth is, a lot of times Muslim communities, no matter how well intentioned, are not equipped to deal with Muslim converts. While some mosques have dedicated convert programs, many do not. Too often will a convert say their shahada and then be forgotten.

The upside is that you can usually find a way to get involved with the Muslim community. If you are at university, chances are there is a Muslim Students’ Association on campus and they’re always willing to accept new volunteers. If one mosque doesn’t seem particularly hospitable, find another one. Many mosques also function as community centers, so see which programs are going on and try to attend them. Again, at the very least, go to Friday Prayers. All of this can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re introverted. But the small amount of discomfort you’ll feel meeting new people will vastly outweigh the loneliness and confusion you’d feel otherwise. 

You’ll have to develop your filter. The thing about being a new Muslim is that you’re impressionable. And this is understandable. If someone who has been a Muslim all your life tells you you’re going to Hell if you wear your pants below your ankles, who are you to question him? You’ve only been a Muslim for a few days; he’s been a Muslim for a lot longer than you so he, obviously, must be an authority.

But the brutal truth is that just because someone has been a Muslim all their life doesn’t necessarily mean they understand their religion correctly. A lot of people will mix culture and religion, but it’s so subtle that they won’t even notice it. But a good rule of thumb is this: if someone’s advice sounds strange, or they don’t have evidence to back it up, you have every right to question it.

Not only that, but you’ll also be dealing with people whose temperaments and expectations and backgrounds are different than yours. You’ll be exposed to a lot of cultures and a lot of different ways of practicing Islam when you become a Muslim. You may hear different opinions regarding certain issues—such as the aforementioned pants-below-the-ankles. So even if things seem black and white, know that the majority of the time there’s a grey area that can be navigated. It takes time to develop this, and to find where you’re comfortable within that grey area.

You’ll have to find a mentor. You can’t become a Muslim in isolation. Islam is a communal religion, and as a new Muslim it’s imperative that you become part of the community. And even more important than that is that you find a mentor.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a sheikh or imam. It can be an everyday Muslim. This person should be someone you can turn to with questions and advice, and if they can’t answer they should be able to point you to someone who can. But the deciding factor is that they should have a good understanding of the faith. How can you tell this? There are a few indicators:

  • Look at their character; is this person well-mannered and respected?
  • They should practice what they preach; does this person pray regularly, avoid bad habits and vices, ect.?
  • Their advice should be practical; is this person teaching you how to implement your faith in your everyday life? Or did they just give you a laundry list of “don’t do”s?
  • Pay attention to their attitude; are they a positive person, or are they always frowning and complaining about the “evils of society”?
  • Do you like them? A mentor should be your friend.

A mentor should be a positive and encouraging presence in your life. This will help you develop not just as a Muslim, but also as a person.

You’ll be a target. Not to be alarmist, but Muslim converts are easy targets for extremist groups. Because of their impressionable nature, Muslim converts are sought out because their minds are pliable. A seed of hate can be planted in the new Muslim’s head, which can easily be watered by anger and violence, and fertilized with twisted ideologies. Fear can be used as a way to pressgang a Muslim convert into accepting extremist ideas.

If someone comes to you with information that seems strange to you, refer it to your mentor or to an imam or sheikh that you trust. Oftentimes, the strategy of an extremist is to cherry-pick hadith or verses from the Qur’an and ignorantly present them as solitary, hard-and-fast truths, without any consideration for context or other evidences related to this issue.

You’ll have to keep learning.  Never stop learning. This is one of the most important things that every Muslim—not just new Muslims—need to grasp. The moment you think you’ve reached your spiritual plateau, a place where you feel like you know enough, is the moment you begin your downward descend. So keep striving to learn.

Well that’s what the internet is for, right?

No.

No no no no no.

When it comes to religious knowledge, the internet is like a minefield in the dark. There are some safe spots, but there’s a danger of getting blown up. On the internet, everyone’s an expert. A forum is not where you find your fatwas (religious rulings). YouTube is not your sheikh. While there are websites that provide good information (listed at the bottom), these should just be a starting point.

When opportunities for learning or guidance come up, take them. This can be in the form of a seminar, a visiting speaker, a weekly halaqa (gathering), and at the very least, Friday Prayer. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” You need to put your effort in to learn, because the truth won’t come to you if you’re just sitting in one place.

But just as it is important to learn, it’s also important to learn correctly. You can’t just power through the volumes of Sahih Bukhari or a book of fiqh (religious jurisprudence) and call yourself an expert and start dishing out religious verdicts to people. If you want to learn hadith, start with Imam An-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith. If you want to learn Qur’an, start with reading through a reliable English translation, such as Abdel Haleem’s. There are some resources at the bottom of this article to help get you started.

Always stay curious, and never be shy to ask questions. If you have a question, know that you’re not the first person to ask it. There are very few questions in Islam that can’t be answered; those that do relate to matters of the unseen, such as “what do angels look like?” or “how does God decree destiny?”. But questions like “what does this verse mean in the Qur’an?” or “why do I have to do this?” will have an answer. So keep your mind open, and never stop learning.

It’s all worth it.

Many things will bring a person to Islam. Perhaps it’s their own research. Maybe it’s the people they know. It may come after a long and painful spiritual journey. But as time goes on and you deepen your understanding of the faith, you really come to know not only yourself, but God as well. You become more aware and respectful of the world you live in. In your times of need and fear, you’ll find God if you seek Him. You’ll struggle and there may be times when things seem hopeless or like the fear or pain will never end. But they always do. After becoming a Muslim, a better world awaits you—both in this life and in the next.

Islam is a journey, not a destination. Its knowledge is an ocean; you can wade safely along its shore, or dive into its endless depths. It’s your comfort and your armour.

Islam is a way of life, and a way of thinking.

Its message is simple: God is One and Muhammad (pbuh) is His Last Messenger.

Its purpose is clear: to teach us how to live a good life by serving God and honouring His creation.

Islam is simple. So keep it that way.

Aaron’s Recommended Websites

Newmuslimacademy.com

Islamreligion.com

Seekershub.org

40hadithnawawi.com

Islamtoday.net/English

Convertconnect.net

 

 

 

 

 

For the past 5 months, I have been studying the Arabic language at the University of Alberta. This is not my first foray into the Arabic language: I have been enamoured with it for years, even before I converted to Islam. I have taken some online self-study classes, bought books at the local bookstore to teach myself, took a few private tutoring lessons and the like. I even lived in Morocco for three years where I picked up a significant and usable amount of Moroccan Arabic to survive taxi rides and trips to the enchanting Moroccan souk (market). Even though Moroccan Arabic stuck with me and is really the first language I can safely say I speak besides English (my strengths in French are reading and writing), darija as it is called, is quite far from the formal Modern Standard Arabic (fus-ha, as it is known).

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Since I began my Master’s degree in History at the University of Alberta, I have had to focus on learning the Arabic language to further my research in Islamic-Jewish studies, particularly if I want to continue on and do a doctorate degree in a similar study area (which I do). As such, I enrolled in a couple of courses to learn Modern Standard Arabic and it has been an incredible experience, but for reasons that might surprise you, as they most certainly surprised me.

The Camaraderie: The last thing someone would expect when I tell them I am taking an Arabic class is that the class would be full of Arabs. Well, it is. I weaseled my way into the “heritage” class which is full of students who have grown up speaking the dialects of their parents but have little to no knowledge of formal Arabic or how to read and write it. There are three other non-heritage students in my class, each of whom I love dearly for various reasons, most significantly a kind of solidarity in the face of the madness of learning this language. Mainly the class is full of amazing, jovial people who are enjoying learning the language together. The class takes place at night, for two and a half hours, twice a week. Since the class is so long and at a weird time of day, we tend to get a bit delirious together especially when you add the complexities of Arabic grammar concepts to the mix. I have rarely had as much fun in a class as I do in this one, and I have to say that I actually miss the class when there are days between meetings. Part of this has to do with the fact that I am a convert to Islam and I don’t have much of a strong connection to the actual Muslim community even though I do a lot of activist work on behalf of that community. Most of my time, however, is spent with academics or family and both of those groups don’t necessarily overlap with Muslimness at all. The Arabic class, however, is full of Muslims and even though we don’t always mention much about our way of life (deen), just being in close proximity to people who have a similar religio-cultural context as you is more of a relief than I expected it to be. To not have to explain ever micro-action of your behaviour or character is refreshing, even though I normally relish in the opportunity to do so with people who may lack knowledge about Islam.

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Pages of Arabic: I regularly have moments of looking down at my homework or an exam I have just written, or even some extra writing I have done for my professor, and I have to marvel in awe at the fact that the entire page (in fact, pages upon pages) is written in Arabic. How is this even possible? How can I possibly understand what I have just written? And time does not cure the awe either. It just keeps getting more and more pronounced as my writing improves and expands. This used to happen to me when I was studying Greek and I think it is for no other reason than the alphabet is different. I genuinely feel like my brain is being rewired (and it is) because I am introducing an entire new set of meaningful symbols into my linguistic repertoire. And more than that, I can express myself with these symbols in ways that are affective for people who know and understand Arabic. I’m living part of my life in another language; I’m saturated by it. When you choose to express yourself in another language, it is not merely an act of translation. You are adopting and carrying the depths of meaning from that language into your self-expression, and with a rich language such as Arabic, where oceans of meaning are contained in one word or phrase, the expressions are almost limitless – especially when combined with those I have in English and French and Italian as well.

Egyptians are hilarious: This is not news to many people, especially not me. One of my best friends is Egyptian and his wit simply cannot be matched, so this is one cultural stereotype I am happy to uphold. My professor, Mai, is Egyptian and the stereotype holds true and strong for her as well. Her sense of humour is impeccable and she puts up with all sorts of class antics with a smile on her face and a laugh on her tongue. I have come to know a bit more about how Egyptian people view themselves through her (passionate, temperamental, hilarious, lovers of love and beauty, impatient, generous, kind, caring etc) even if I don’t necessarily subscribe to universalizing narratives about cultural systems. I am interested, however, in how individuals within that system talk about themselves and what stories they tell, and especially when this is done in good humour. Frankly, there is a kind of rapport between the heritage students and Mai that you don’t find in other classes and it reminds me of how my students were with me in Morocco – always trying to get away with no homework or leaving early, being trolls in general but respecting their professor to death at the end of the day. Her presence has only fuelled my unnatural obsession with the Arab world in general and the Egyptian world in particular, so I look forward to the day when I can visit the homeland and see these gorgeous stereotypes firsthand. I only hope I can touch a fraction of the language before then to make that experience really come to life.

Using different parts of my brain: It should come as no surprise that learning a new language messes with your head in a good way. You are forced to think about things in a completely different way, especially when the alphabet is something different than what you are accustomed to. Sometimes I find this process painful, especially during vocabulary lessons in class where it feels like every heritage speaker in the class knows everything and I can’t even remember how to spell the first word on the list; however, that kind of hyperventilating suffocation that I feel when learning Arabic is pure bliss. It’s the feeling of being on a precipice, about to tumble over an edge, head-first into the world unknown. It is the feeling of pushing your own boundaries of knowledge and existence, of unlocking worlds within worlds and breaking down our assumptions. I love this kind of ego-slay, especially when it is as humbling as learning Arabic is for me. This is exactly the kind of work that academia should be for people: the kind that makes the boundaries of who you think you are, and what you think your world is, ambiguous and blurry.

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Thinking in Arabic: When I am particularly immersed in my studies, which is a lot these days, I find myself thinking in Arabic. I will pass street signs written in English and imagine how I would spell such a thing in the Arabic alphabet. Or I will try to translate simple conversations or sentences to Arabic in my head. Sometimes, especially because of my visceral understanding of Moroccan Arabic and the fact that I am Muslim, I feel compelled to respond to situations in Arabic, uttering a Yallah or an Alhamdulilah wherever it fits. In Arabic there are just so many key words and phrases that encapsulate so much meaning in a tiny package that sometimes I find I am at a loss for words in English. It just doesn’t sound the same when you see a particularly beautiful sunrise and you say to yourself “All praise, glory and thanks are due to God Alone” when you can just say Subhana Allah instead.

Reading the Qur’an: On that note, my connection to Arabic is not only cultural in the sense that I love Arabic cultures but it is also cultural in the sense of religion. For those who do not know, Arabic is the language in which the holy book of Islam (the Qur’an) was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him for all eternity). One incredible outcome of learning to read and write Arabic fluently is that I can now read the Qur’an in Arabic at a pace that is a lot faster than before (let’s be realistic, I could barely read 6 words every 2 minutes before). Even though Qur’anic Arabic is quite different than Modern Standard Arabic, many principles are the same and the same basic letters and sounds apply, even though there is an entire science behind reading the Qur’an (tajweed). The fact that I can read what I and other Muslims consider to the exact and direct word of Allah (God) in the language it was revealed lessens the temporal and spatial gap between myself and the Prophet Muhammad and brings me closer to my spiritual practice, even if I am slow in learning the meaning(s) of such words in their own context.

My journey with the Arabic language will be life-long and this is only just the beginning. There have been moments of real agony already where I feel like I will never touch the depths of meaning that I want to with the language, where I lose myself in its music, tinged with melancholia and sorrow that it is not my mother tongue as I fail to remember terms or pronunciation again and again. But there are successes along the same path, big successes, things that I could never imagine were possible like those pages full of words I can understand and feelings I can describe. And for now, that will have to be enough until the day when  I will fully memorize the Qur’an while internalizing its meaning and when my own Arabic poetry will roll flawlessly off my tongue, insha Allah.

The Drawing Board is pleased to announce that Nakita Valerio has been invited by the University of Alberta’s Muslim Students’ Association to deliver an engaging talk in celebration of World Hijab Day on February 1st, 2016.

world hijab day poster

Nakita’s talk is entitled Islam, the Veil and Veiled Secularisms and will deal with such issues as the status of women in Islam, the role of the hijab, why it is at the center of discussions about women in Islam in the West, and commentary on Islam and Secularism.

All are welcome to attend with questions!

Details for the event can be found here.

The Drawing Board is pleased to announce that Nakita Valerio will be a panelist at the Women and Hijab event at MAC Islamic School in Edmonton on January 31, 2016.

women and hijab panel discussion

Come and join us for an evening of open dialogue and conversation. We will have 5 panelists ready and willing to speak openly about women in Islam and hijab. They will speak about their experiences, their lives, misconceptions and answer any questions you may have.

**Although the event is FREE, we would like attendees to get a ticket.

Please note childcare will be available for the duration of the event for $5.00. Please purchase that as well when getting your ticket.
Please spread the word! Everyone is welcome!

Sunday, January 31, 2016 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

M A C Islamic School – 11342 127 Street Northwest Edmonton, AB T5M 0T8 CA

macschool map

 

In Arabic class the other night, I was partnered with a fellow Muslim brother and we had to write sentences about things we like and don’t like doing. He opted to craft a sentence about how much he enjoys eating meat. As a vegan by choice, I found this intriguing because when he read it to the class, there seemed to be cheers of approval. It should be noted that our class is predominantly Muslim. This is something I have noticed since I converted to Islam – there seems to be a somewhat surprising connection between being Muslim and being a carnivore. I say surprising because for non-Muslims or new Muslims, it wouldn’t seem to follow that the adoption of a system of metaphysical and ethical philosophy like Islam would have much to do with your eating habits. But this is largely because Islam is improperly named as a “religion” in English when it more accurately can be called a cultural system or way of life (deen). It also doesn’t follow because eating certain ways have very real ethical implications and since Islam has prescriptions for ethical actions, there are naturally things to consider with how we choose to eat – especially in these days of industrial farming.

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My journey as a vegan/vegetarian has been bumpy throughout the years. I have been a full-on vegan (no leather, no honey etc), a raw vegan for periods, a vegetarian, a pescatarian and a full-on omnivore. Before I converted to Islam, I was vegetarian and vegan for periods. When I converted, for a variety of reasons, I started eating meat again but in very limited quantities because I didn’t know anything about where to get proper halal meat. Omitting it or sticking to fish was the easiest option. Many vegans will ask, but why the change? Why even consider starting to eat meat again?

Part of the reason I stopped eating meat is because of the cruelty to animals and its strain on the environment. In theory, halal meat is much more ethical and sustainable than factory farmed meat. Animals cannot be kept in cruel conditions; they have to live happy animal lives, be well-fed and cared for. They cannot be slaughtered in the presence of other animals and a prayer must be said over their bodies in gratitude for the meat you are to receive from their slaughter. Additionally, they are slaughtered by cutting their throat as quickly as possible (dull knives are forbidden because they prolong suffering). And, ultimately you are supposed to limit your intake of meat to be an almost insignificant part of your diet. All of this, when put into actual practice, would ideally lead to the production of free-range, pasture-fed, cruelty-free halal meat. Of course, there are controversies with this in terms of how halal is actually practiced and some interpretations of it vary greatly from others.

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I have often heard from Muslims that eating meat is part of Islamic culture because it means partaking in the bounty with which God has provided us. Others have condoned and encouraged it because of the Qur’anic designation as khalifa which they interpret to mean as having dominion over the Earth, including the animals. Other scholars have interpreted this as a duty-driven position in which we are in responsible for the environment. While I don’t doubt that this is acceptable in Islam, it should be pointed out that the modern commercialization of meat has made the process industrial and harmful not only to the environment, but also to the animals themselves and the consequences of the meat industry itself are not to be overlooked just because eating meat is permissible. I don’t really want to go into all the reasons to be a vegan here but suffice to say that the time has passed for those arguments which claim that the harmful effects on the environment are a myth.

My primary concerns are three-fold: Can Muslims be vegetarian or vegan? Should they be? And if we do become vegetarian or vegan, how can we reconcile the rituals of Eid-ul-Adha (The Festival of the Sacrifice) with our eating habits?

There are numerous fatwas from trusted scholars on the issue of vegetarianism in Islam and though not everyone will agree with me in citing these, I have to say that any fatwa advising the merits of a vegetarian, cruelty-free lifestyle is not necessarily a condemnation of the omni/carnivore way of life or, more aptly, a fatwa against the eating of meat which is something prescribed by Allah.

For the sake of simplicity, I will simply list a few of these sources here:

Hamza Yusuf (from the Science of Shariah): “So traditionally Muslims were semi-vegetarians. The Prophet was, I mean, technically, the Prophet (SAWS) was in that category. He was not a meat-eater. Most of his meals did not have meat in them. And the proof of that is clearly in the Muwatta—when Sayyidina Umar says, ‘Beware of meat, because it has an addiction like the addiction of wine.’ And the other hadith in the Muwatta—there is a chapter called ‘Bab al-Laham,’ the chapter of laham, the chapter of meat. Both are from Sayyidina Umar. And Umar, during his khilafa, prohibited people from eating meat two days in a row. He only allowed them to eat [it] every other day. And the khalifa has that right to do that. He did not let people eat meat every day. He saw one man eating meat every day, and he said to him, ‘Every time you get hungry you go out and buy meat? Right? In other words, every time your nafs wants meat, you go out and buy it?’ He said, ‘Yeah, Amir al-Mumineen, ana qaram,’ which in Arabic, ‘qaram’ means ‘I love meat’—he’s a carnivore, he loves meat. And Sayyidina Umar said, ‘It would be better for you to roll up your tummy a little bit so that other people can eat.’”

Mufti Ebrahim Desai (Grand Mufti of South Africa): “A Muslim may be a vegetarian. However, he should not regard eating meat as prohibited. And Allah Taãla knows best.”

Muzammil Siddiqui (Doctor of Comparative Religion): “You are right that the matter of halal and haram is only the authority of Allah (SWT) as we are not allowed to make any halal haram, we are also not allowed to make any haram halal. Allah has created some animals for our food as Allah says in the Qur’an in surat an-Nahl, “And cattle He has created for you. From them you drive wont and numerous benefits and of their meat, you eat.” (16:5-8)

Muslims do recognize animal rights, and animal rights means that we should not abuse them, torture them, and when we have to use them for meat, we should slaughter them with a sharp knife, mentioning the name of Allah (SWT). The Prophet (SAAWS) said, “Allah has prescribed goodness (ihsan) in everything. When you sacrifice, sacrifice well. Let you sharpen your knife and make it easy for the animal to be slaughtered.”

So, Muslims are not vegetarianists. However, if someone prefers to eat vegetables, then they are allowed to do so. Allah has given us permission to eat meat of slaughtered animals, but He has not made it obligatory upon us.”

Such pragmatism is not shared across the entire Islamic scholarly world, which is to be expected. What I am talking about is not prescriptive for the entire Islamic world anyway. Awareness of the effects of our actions is what I am pointing to as necessary – which answers the question about whether or not I think Muslims should be vegetarian or vegan. As a post-modernist, I abhor any universalizing (which seems counter-intuitive because I subscribe to the teachings of a universalist way of life) so I would never argue that everyone should be vegetarian or vegan. I would argue, however, that Muslims do need to be more conscious about their choices and the repercussions of those choices. Having the intention to reduce our environmental impact and to not participate in the cruelty of the industry is important. We have to be aware of everything we are doing as part of seeking knowledge and engaging in ethical actions, as well as expressing the spirit of Islamic teachings in everything we do, including eating.

So what happens when a Muslim, like me, decides to be vegetarian or vegan? It should be noted that our decisions to eat more consciously and ethically do not outweigh the requirements of our Deen. And nowhere is this point more true than in our participation in Eid-ul-Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice, in which Muslims around the world who are able to, slaughter a ram or sheep in the Name of Allah.

This Eid is a marking of the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca by all Muslims around the world. This is a time when Muslims honour the prophetic history of the faith by marking a story told in the Qur’an about how Prophet Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son because God ordered him to do so. When he was about to sacrifice him, God substituted a ram for the boy instead and accepted Abraham’s incredible act of surrender and worship. For those who have completed their Hajj and all other Muslims around the world, a ram or other animal is slaughtered on this day for meat which is then distributed amongst family and the poor. Special prayers are also attended and Muslims mark the holiday by visiting friends and family. It should remain clear to everyone that the slaughter of the animal is purely symbolic and the blood is not meant as a sacrifice for Allah. Rather it is an act of remembrance of Prophet Abraham and is a method by which the community is strengthened, including through the dispersal of meat to the poor who would otherwise not have any to eat throughout the year.

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So what do I think of Muslims that eat meat? Or Muslims who are sometimes vegetarian and sometimes not? Or Muslims who are always vegetarian except on Eid? Not much, to be honest. Everyone is free to follow their own path according to their knowledge and research. For me, that study has led me to find that the meat and dairy industry are no longer sustainable or in accordance with what I interpret to be Islamic sensibilities in terms of how to treat the Earth and the animals on it. I will still participate in Eid-ul-Adha festivities but am conscious enough to know that that participation might change over time.

And Allah knows best.

October has been an exceptionally busy month for The Drawing Board owner and head writer, Nakita Valerio – especially after being appointed as the Director of Marketing for the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC). Given the highly central role that Muslims are embodying in the current Canadian election campaign, Nakita opted to speak out (along with other academics and other citizens across the country) against the enticement to hate being perpetuated by the current federal administration. The first publication was an Op-ed printed in the Edmonton Journal on October 8, 2015, entitled “Veil That Divides My Canada” (Online version). Nakita was also interviewed for CBC Radio for her opinion on the niqab issue being raised by the Conservative government and, finally, published a Question and Answer article in the Edmonton Sun on October 10, 2015 to answer questions about why women wear Islamic veils and how the country can move forward from this forced division.

As a direct result of these publications, Nakita has had the honour of being asked to deliver the following lectures:

  • to Native Studies students at the University of Alberta regarding the commonalities between Muslim and Indigenous communities, particularly as it regards their treatment by different forms of political and social authority
  • to Edmontonian High School students as part of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research’s Community Outreach initiative, regarding subjects on the Middle East in transition

Finally, Nakita was invited by a downtown Edmonton synagogue to start a womens’ dialogue group in their community for the purposes of starting conversations to learn and dispel Islamophobia.

Keep up to date on all of our activities here!