By Adil James, MMNS
Editorâ€™s Note: PETA has addressed all of the most pressing concerns that TMO had about its website, and that is a credit to its founder, Ingrid Newkirk, and also to Kathy Nizzari and Hanif Akhtar, who all took the time to respectfully address our concerns. The main concern was that the site should say it is sponsored by PETA, which it now does, â€œSponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animalsâ€ at the bottom of the page, a little hard to read but it is there. The second major concern was the â€œempty ritualâ€ language referred to below. Actually PETA has been quite sensitive and responsive in addressing TMOâ€™s major concerns, compared to which all our other concerns are minimal. We may disagree about the substantive issues relating to animal treatment, but we no longer have ethical concerns about their website.
Farmington–October 28–If you had asked me October 19th about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) I might have said, â€œarenâ€™t they the people who protect animals?â€
I would not have gone into the issue of their calling fish â€œsea kittens,â€ or their spraying fake blood to ruin the furs that people wear, or their doing demonstrations around the world wearing minimal clothing. These things I found out about in the course of my writing this article. PETA after all wasnâ€™t really on my plate–not really on an agenda related to Islam.
But now things have changed. PETA launched a website called Islamic Concerns (www.islamicconcerns.com) early last week, and we at TMO received a press release rather proudly proclaiming that fact. I immediately went to the website and searched in vain for the notice that PETA is behind the website. No â€œaboutâ€ page saying â€œPETA proudly produced this website.â€ No acknowledgment that the website islamicconcerns.com was commissioned by non-Muslims with a non-Muslim agenda (as per editorâ€™s note above this has now changed).
At a glance the website appears fine. In large letters it says Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim. The website is very attractive, at least until you start reading it or trying to see who is behind it.
At a closer look the website is problematic. It stated until last Thursday that the slaughter of animals after hajj is â€œan empty ritual.â€ (After TMO raised this issue with PETA they removed that language from their site although the site still argues against sacrificing animals in a more oblique way). The site quotes a â€œscholarâ€ who argues that all of the ahadith relating to dogs are incorrect. The site fails to advertise that the entire website is commissioned by non-Muslims with a secular agenda. It argues that the prescribed method for slaughtering animals in Islamic and Jewish law is too painful and should be amended to include stunning prior to slaughter. The â€œfatwasâ€ on the website are a smorgasbord of bizarre material, whatever fatwas suited the fancies of the non-Muslims who built the site. The Muslims involved in the site care deeply about animals but do not appear to care very deeply about practicing Islam. The website states conclusory fatwas unsupported by Islamic scholars, for instance that eating meat from animals who have themselves eaten pork is haram–this may or may not be true, but if it is it should come from a real scholar.
The website advocates extreme and unnecessary solutions to legitimate problems. Admittedly factory farms likely feed chemicals and reprocessed animals to their livestock, and engage in other unsavory practices, and perhaps there is unnecessary mistreatment of such animals precedent to slaughter. But if you sincerely want to help Muslims eat halal and wholesome meat, then the response to this problem is to support small farms, not to go vegan.
Also granted, animal testing is sometimes cruel. But the solution to this is not to throw blood on people or to protest or yell and scream. The solution is to live a simple lifestyle in which as much as possible we use the materials that donâ€™t need animal testing–the same materials we use in following the sunnah of Prophet (s).
Immediately after learning of the site and seeing it I called PETAâ€™s designated spokesperson on the issue, Kathy Nizzari, and in answer to my first question, â€œDid any Muslims contributeâ€ to the site, Ms. Nizzari proclaimed that the â€œvery devout Muslimâ€ Hanif Akhtar had been involved. Nizzari, the primary spokesperson for PETAâ€™s Islamic Concerns website, asked that I speak with Akhtar rather than her about the site.
I interviewed Mr. Akhtar three days later, last Thursday, and I say with sincerity that I respect Mr. Akhtar for his honesty and his taking the time to talk with me.
Mr. Akhtar is not â€œdevout,â€ any more than I am devout. He does not pray more than other Muslims, nor does he have a great deal of knowledge of Islam. He is a practicing vegan (no meat no dairy) (originally from Pakistan), as are his entire family–he does not eat meat and will state with conviction that there is a branch of Muslims who believe that ahadith should not be followed. In speaking about dogs he quoted from the surah called â€œAshabul Kahfâ€ (actually al-Kahf), speaking of the dog who was mentioned in that surah.
Still, he respects Prophet (s) and will not go as far as to state that he puts his vegan beliefs above the teachings of Prophet (s). Confronted with the problematic issues on the website listed above, he sounded legitimately surprised and promised to speak with other PETA people about what is on the site, for example he said he â€œtook exception with the websiteâ€ in calling the slaughter of animals after hajj â€œan empty ritual.â€ He promised to address this issue with others at PETA, and in fact a week later we no longer see that language on the site. He said he did not know about the (still) missing â€œaboutâ€ page. Again, he seems sincere to me, even if perhaps not religious, and certainly not â€œdevout.â€
While he admits he uses leather he says no one else in his family does. An apparently sincere and honest man, but this is not a person who can be relied on as an expert in Islam or Islamic law. Likely PETA has never employed any such person.
Mr. Akhtar works on a purely voluntary basis for PETA, and provided some guidance in a review capacity on the website–if he saw a problem, he explained, he mentioned it to the PETA staff which corrected it–â€just minor spelling mistakes,â€ he said. But in a cursory review of the website I was able to find the several significant problems listed above that he said he was unfamiliar with.
The Muslims who worked on the site always appear to be at the periphery. When i mentioned Muslims to Nizzari, she pointed at Akhtar. When I mentioned Muslims to Akhtar, he pointed at Nizzari. One does not appear to be Muslim at all, and the other, for all his sincerity, is by his own admission not religious.
Although the website supposedly provides Islamic law on subjects related to Islamic diet, there is no consistent school of thought referred to. Mr. Akhtar mentioned a person named Ali–whose last name he would not share with me–who contributed to the website but was currently â€œin Iran,â€ therefore I assume he is Shiâ€™a which is I guess a starting point although there is no attempt to clarify that perhaps the Islamic Concern website is built on Shiâ€™a law. There are different schools of thought, Jaâ€™fari, Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafiâ€™i, Maliki.
Non-Muslims may believe that a handful of fatwas plucked from around the Muslim world form a convincing argument, any Muslim knows there is discipline involved.
So far we addressed the ethical issues of the website. On a practical level, this website is a rather large block of uncertainty cast apparently by an extreme minority secular organization–so this is not likely to work.
Moderate Muslims will be incensed that PETA is trying to trick them. Shiâ€™a are never going to accept this website when their religious authorities are marjaâ€™iyya. Practising Sunnis are not going to take Islamic advice from shadowy online â€œIslamicâ€ sites, especially insofar as they contravene the Sunnah of the Prophet (s). Maybe some young impressionable Muslims will be swayed by the site, but the backlash against the site will likely outweigh any gains PETA might make.
How can it be Islamic to become a vegan animal worshipper who calls fish kittens, when the sunnah of the Holy Prophet (s) is to eat meat, and to wear leather–just the leather socks alone that Prophet (s) wore are proof of this. What about other sunnahs involving leather? Muslims care about animal welfare, but it is not Islam to unbalance the world to the extent that the central concern of life is that no animal be harmed in any way.
So my advice to PETA, make a website, itâ€™s okay. But admit who you are and do not try to trick us. And do not expect to change the world too much with this latest attempt to subvert Islam in the interests of promoting a secular and crafty agenda. One piece of advice from Qur`an–enter houses by their front doors.
It is no virtue if ye enter your houses from the back: It is virtue if ye fear Allah. Enter houses through the proper doors: And fear Allah. That ye may prosper.
Baqara:189 (Y. Ali)