Two Muslim women who are now vegan share with us how they celebrate the holiday
How vegans in the UAE celebrate Eid Al Adha
Also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, Eid Al Adha typically sees an animal offering take place to commemorate Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismael, at God’s request.
However, not all Muslims follow this tradition, especially those who are vegan. Vegans abstain from animal products of all kinds, especially when it comes to their diets. So what does this mean for them when the holiday comes?
Abu Dhabi-based Nada Khalid, 27, runs the blog One Arab Vegan. When she was 12, she suddenly “developed a distaste for meat and become a pescatarian” (only eating fish), and by 20 was a full-fledged vegan.
However, growing up in a Muslim household, every Eid she and her brother would watch a butcher read a blessing over a sheep before it would get its throat slit. Back then, Khalid didn’t think much about it. Seeing it happen every year when she was growing up, she became desensitised to the event.
“Like many people, although I've been an animal lover from a very young age, I wasn't able to make the connection that the animal being slaughtered for our food was just as worthy and as deserving of my compassion and love as my cats, dogs, rabbits and turtles,” she says. “I'd pin it down to being too young and also being raised in a typical Arab household, where eating meat is something that's never questioned.”
These days her family have become quite accepting of her lifestyle choice. “Aside from the occasional joke, they are respectful and don’t pressure me to try any of the non-vegan food like they used to many moons ago. Some are even mindful to make sure the meat-based dishes aren’t placed on my side of the table,” she says.
The Egyptian is now able to celebrate Eid in her own way, by eating vegan dishes and helping those in need. “I chose to celebrate Eid Al Adha by giving to the less fortunate in ways that don’t involve animal sacrifice,” she says.
When Khalid gets the chance to come together with her family, she also informs them about the joys of vegan dishes. “When I do join in family celebrations, I always cook and bring my own food, making sure to bring extra, to show people around the table how delicious and flavourful plant-based food can be.”
Slava Noor, 31, originally from Almaty, Kazakhstan, but now living in Dubai, converted to Islam in 2011 and is also a newly transitioned vegan, so she’s still learning to adjust. “[If we are in] Dubai, my husband and I celebrate by having a home-made plant-based dinner. We love our grilled veggies and colourful salads,” she says.
Noor enjoys the Eid holiday because it gives her time to attend family gatherings back in Almaty. However, she finds that she still faces resistance from some family and friends because they can get defensive about their own lifestyle choices. But in the end, she tries to find the middle ground.
“My mother does her best to accommodate me and make dishes that everyone can enjoy,” she says. “We openly talk about the menu for the day and always reach a compromise. I am very grateful for that and hope [my family] will slowly transition to a healthier diet, too.”
To those who criticise her for being a vegan and a Muslim, she responds: "Can I be a Muslim and an aspiring vegan? Why not? After all, one of the most important concepts in Islam is compassion. So no, I do not have to slaughter a sheep to share with the family and the needy. There are many beautiful ways to celebrate this day and they do not have to involve animal cruelty.
When it comes to sacrifice, her husband and she choose to donate money instead. "We support a project in my home town that gives free meals to pensioners and disabled people. I donated more than the amount of one sheep for both myself and my husband, and that is worth 100 meals,” she says.
“It is very logical as they have enough meat from others and money is always better so they can decide where it goes. We have been supporting this project since we got married two years ago, and I believe it is a good alternative to the traditional sacrifice.”