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Tricky PETA’s “Muslim” Website

November 1, 2009 by  


By Adil James, MMNS

Editor’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, “Sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” at the bottom of the page, a little hard to read but it is there.  The second major concern was the “empty ritual” language referred to below.  Actually PETA has been quite sensitive and responsive in addressing TMO’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, “aren’t they the people who protect animals?”

IslamicConcerns I would not have gone into the issue of their calling fish “sea kittens,” 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 wasn’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 “about” page saying “PETA proudly produced this website.” No acknowledgment that the website islamicconcerns.com was commissioned by non-Muslims with a non-Muslim agenda (as per editor’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 “an empty ritual.”  (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 “scholar” 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 “fatwas” 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 don’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 PETA’s designated spokesperson on the issue, Kathy Nizzari, and in answer to my first question, “Did any Muslims contribute” to the site, Ms. Nizzari proclaimed that the “very devout Muslim” Hanif Akhtar had been involved. Nizzari, the primary spokesperson for PETA’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 “devout,” 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 “Ashabul Kahf” (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 “took exception with the website” in calling the slaughter of animals after hajj “an empty ritual.”   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 “about” page. Again, he seems sincere to me, even if perhaps not religious, and certainly not “devout.”

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–”just minor spelling mistakes,” 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 “in Iran,” therefore I assume he is Shi’a which is I guess a starting point although there is no attempt to clarify that perhaps the Islamic Concern website is built on Shi’a law.  There are different schools of thought, Ja’fari, Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi’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.  Shi’a are never going to accept this website when their religious authorities are marja’iyya.  Practising Sunnis are not going to take Islamic advice from shadowy online “Islamic” 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, it’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)

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Comments

6 Responses to “Tricky PETA’s “Muslim” Website”

  1. Ingrid Newkirk on November 3rd, 2009 9:28 am

    Adil James’ biased attack on PETA’s Islamicconcerns website does a disservice to all. Considering that PETA announced publicly and to the press that we are able to provide this small website, his claim that we do not proclaim ownership: defies understanding! The name of the person who began the site was given to him. It is Irfan Ali, who used to be my assistant but, having converted to Islam, became a student and then teacher of Islamic studies in the U.S., and went on to study in Iran. We are grateful to him for his research and to other Muslims who have commented, as well as to Mr. Akhtar. Yes, of course, as with all websites unless they are a site like the Library of Congress, the site selects teachings and edicts that seem appropriate to examine in light of what we, Muslims and non-Muslims, who believe in kindness to animals, wish to draw attention to in support of our case . What else? But the bigger question is why not embrace others who are seeking a more compassionate world rather than throw stones at them? Some of the other parts of our organization use humor, but to my knowledge Islam is not against a smiling. PETA is a diverse organization, but it would appear that Mr. Adil is determined to turn people away from discussion, which is what this site is about. Kind regards, Ingrid Newkirk, founder PETA

  2. TMO on November 3rd, 2009 9:52 am

    We would never have written this article if it were clear from the website’s face that it had been sponsored by PETA, and we would be happy to amend the article if you would make it clear from your website who is behind it. Having checked just now, however, we see that the website still does not acknowledge its PETA sponsorship.

    And with all respect to Mr. Irfan Ali, given that your website endorses fatwas and even propagates its own, we would like to inspect his credentials. It seems unlikely that he has done so much rigorous study in the years since his conversion that he can act as an authority in the five main recognized schools of Islamic jurisprudence. From the website it is unclear exactly to what extent there is any legitimate Islamic authority behind the site.

  3. Muslim Vegan on December 28th, 2009 6:48 pm

    Salaam Alaikum,
    I’m a vegan of 3 months, there is nothing in our deen which mandates us to eat meat, so why do you have a problem with Muslims going vegan or vegetarian? The suffering of animals in factory farms is completely unnacceptable and unIslamic, I will not support factory farms and feed my body with contaminated flesh. Today, we are far too greedy with our meat and animal product consumption, it is far healthier to adopt a plant based diet. I have not even touched on the impact it has on the environment, how it contributes to poverty and how it is damaging our health. Please do not be so closed minded, do your research on ALL of the effects on eating meat and animal products. We have abused and exploited Allah’s gift to us and we are already seeing the effects of this.

  4. TMO on December 29th, 2009 1:50 pm

    It’s not about being open minded or closed minded. Our problem was with the way PETA wasn’t up front about what they were doing. Currently we have no problem with PETA, or with vegan Muslims or vegetarian Muslims.

    3 months is not much. Adil James was a vegetarian for 10 years, until after he converted to Islam.

    If someone wants to be a vegan that is his business–it’s not sunnah but that’s his business.

    And what exactly do factory farms have to do with small family farms?

    Prophet (s) ate meat, which is not really arguable and which for most Muslims who want to follow his sunnah that fact is the end of the discussion.

  5. Nadya on July 13th, 2011 9:45 am

    Salaam!
    I actually contributed to that sight with an article on the Prophet (s) and hadith against bear-baiting (http://islamconcern.com/feat-bear_baiting.asp). I am a young muslim woman and I find it slightly offensive that this line appeared in this article: “Maybe some young impressionable Muslims will be swayed by the site” . Must it be that I am a young and impressionable muslim in order to appreciate the message of the sight? Can I not simply be a person who has a heart when it comes to animals and their welfare? Just because this sight was made by non muslims does not mean that we should feel as though they have some sort of agenda–PETA has nothing to gain from convincing muslims that they should not eat meat except the satisfaction that maybe another animal can be saved from the torture that sacrifices sometimes come out to being. Proper treatment of animals in Islam is rooted in hadith and tradition, but nowadays, we do not practice the proper ways of taking a life. Sacrifices are put on television screens for goodness sake! And animals are killed in front of one another! Animals are not stupid creatures–they can sense fear and pain and all that. And we know that the Prophet (s) ate meat only on special occasions, and very rarely. Though the PETA sight does try to get us all to go vegan instead of lowering out meat consumption, I commend them for reaching out to different communities to spread a message about the other beings that we share this planet with, that we so often disregard and mistreat. I think instead of being offended that PETA made this sight without muslim contributers, we should offer to contribute more articles and commentaries. This can make the sight more authentic and real for those muslims who are contemplating vegetarianism, veganism, or even just about lowering their meat consumption.

  6. TMO on July 13th, 2011 1:14 pm

    Well as we explained in the article we don’t really have any issue with PETA or IslamicConcern anymore, and your comment assumes that we do.

    Good luck at Barnard.

    When you are old and cynical like us, come back and post more comments on our site. :)

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