For years I’ve been telling people I chose vegan for ethical and environmental reasons. It’s easier that way. Most people can understand one’s love for animals and the wanting to do good for the environment. But there always has been a hidden reason for me — to discover whether eating plant-based and living ethically can contribute to spiritual ascendance. Islam acknowledges both the material and the mystical. For most of my life, I was taught about the material. But then, concurrent with my vegan journey, the mystical aspect crept into my psyche.
Does Vegetarian/Vegan Diet Help With Spiritual Growth?
Spirituality can mean many things to different people. It could mean a heightened sense of self-awareness or a closeness to God. Whatever the meaning, it is associated with the detachment of the material or physical in order to discover something greater than the human sensory experience. One can argue that the experience of love and the search for meaning or values are spiritual concepts.
Historically, we can find many great thinkers, philosophers, and humanitarians who adhere to the vegetarian diet. While they do not profess it, we can tell that they were spiritually enlightened people. In Buddhism, monks practice the vegetarian diet to be able to focus during hours-long meditations.
There is no conclusive scientific data on whether the vegetarian diet can help one to be more enlightened. I’d argue that this is where science is limiting. The spiritual experience is something that can hardly be quantified. It is felt.
But based on personal experiences, including mine, it seems that eating plant-based and doing the necessary spiritual work like breathwork, prayers and meditation can elevate one’s consciousness and deepen the spiritual connection.
Is “Vegan for Spiritual Reasons” A Misnomer?
According to the UK Vegan Society, the definition of veganism is as follows
“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
Basically, veganism seeks to eliminate the exploitation and use of animals for food and other products. But as to why — each person may derive their own reason and meaning to it.
Considering that veganism is a philosophy that centres on the rights and welfare of animals, spirituality does not seem to fit the agenda. But one may argue that while caring for animals is a physical act, it may elicit a spiritual experience. Being in close proximity to another soul may forge a spiritual connection that makes one feel joy, love, care, sadness, guilt, etc.
If you discover spirituality in the midst of active care for the animals, then perhaps, like health, spiritual growth is a side effect of being vegan.
And like health, one may just eat a vegetarian diet (including dairy or eggs) and still achieve spiritual ascendance, so long as no meat is consumed. To some, meat is considered “dead energy” and consuming it may impact one’s ability to concentrate during meditation and ascend to higher consciousness.
Personally, I wouldn’t say that I’m vegan for spiritual reasons. But I would say that practising a plant-based vegan diet has helped in my spiritual growth.
Being a Muslim, I would not say that eating plant-based is the absolute way towards spiritual ascendance. The prophets (may peace be upon them) ate meat sparingly and yet they were/are revered as enlightened beings.
Considering this era of factory farming and climate crisis, it has become a duty and moral imperative for me to take a stance against corporations and practice the vegan diet as this aligns with my values.
Moving Forward — Islamic Ethics on Animals and Nature
My content in the past 7 years as a vegan has been mainly about food. It’s safe and easy to show or talk about. Good food can hardly be judged harshly (unless you’re an absolute troll).
But as I evolve as a human being and have gotten deeper into the teachings of Islam, I feel called to educate on Islamic ethics, particularly with regard to animals and the environment.
“Islamic ethics (أخلاق إسلامية) is the philosophical reflection upon moral conduct with a view to defining good character and attaining the pleasure of God (raza-e Ilahi).”
I recognise that I’m in a unique position as a devout Muslim and someone who practices the vegan diet/lifestyle. I understand the nuances between the two and how while there are lots of similarities, there are also a few significant differences.
As such, my content moving forward will include discussions on Islamic ethics relating to animals and the environment.
But don’t worry, I will still share my life experience with food and travel — I am not done with those yet!