Meat and Islam: How Vegetarians in Egypt Navigate Faith and Contemporary Food Ethics
CitationAdams, Jacqueline. 2018. Meat and Islam: How Vegetarians in Egypt Navigate Faith and Contemporary Food Ethics. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractMeat is an important feature of culinary traditions across Muslim communities globally. As the central focus of Islamic dietary laws, halal meat consumption functions as a marker of Islamic communal identity, and is a distinct demonstration of faith. Explicit and divinely-decreed teachings found in the Qur’an underpin the imperative for a Muslim to consume licit meat. This study investigates how vegetarian and vegan Muslims living in Cairo, Egypt situate and justify their dietary practices within their own belief systems. It was hypothesized that Muslim vegetarians must navigate their foodways within both spiritual identities and cultural context, and reconcile abstention from meat with the traditions, beliefs, and expectations of families, immediate social circles, and the wider, global, Islamic community, as well as a meat-positive culinary tradition, ritual Islamic sacrifice, and the divinely-permitted consumption of meat in Islam.
Using a qualitative approach grounded in lived religion theorization, fifteen in-depth interviews were conducted with vegan or vegetarian Muslims in Cairo, delving into the micro-level of personal belief and practice, and the macro-level of cultural and social context and “official” religion. Concurring with scholarship, consumption of halal meat indeed emerged as a significant praxis of Islamic identity. Responses indicate, however, that regardless of one’s interior beliefs, a vegetarian living in a Muslim culture is compelled to engage with Islam, both as an argument to legitimize a vegetarian foodway, and to maintain an outward Islamic identity. Participant conceptions of what actually renders meat halal, as well as the essence or purpose of ritual sacrifice, point to a reconfiguration of Islamic cultural norms. Crucially, this study indicates how lay Muslims are engaging with a re-interpretation of traditional Islamic discourse, where what one eats is contextualized in the modern food production system, with particular attention to ethical issues tied to industrial animal agriculture including animal welfare, the environment, and social justice.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42004032