Does being kind to animals mean not eating them?

Hunting animals for meat has a long tradition in human history. In many cultures, however, hunting has become a story from the past as modern farming removes families from the processing of meat, and people become less accustomed to killing and butchering animals. Consequently, hunters have developed a split image as both nostalgic historical figures and as tormentors of animals.

The Baha’i teachings ask us to be kind to animals:

Burden not an animal with more than it can bear. We, truly, have prohibited such treatment through a most binding interdiction in the Book. Be ye the embodiments of justice and fairness amidst all creation. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 87.

This creates a serious dilemma–can we be kind to animals, and still eat them? In various letters, Abdu’l-Baha indicated that if we consider our physical makeup, we have the body parts of plant eaters (we have no claws, for example), and that meat will one day disappear from our diets:

What will be the food of the future? Fruit and grains. The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 453.

Does this imply that Baha’is should abandon the practice of hunting? Should all Baha’is become vegetarians? Perhaps not—Baha’u’llah also provided guidance for Baha’is on hunting:

If ye should hunt with beasts or birds of prey, invoke ye the Name of God when ye send them to pursue their quarry; for then whatever they catch shall be lawful unto you, even should ye find it to have died. He, verily, is the Omniscient, the All-Informed. Take heed, however, that ye hunt not to excess. Tread ye the path of justice and equity in all things. – The Most Holy Book, p. 40.

In response to a question about “the eating of innocent animals,” Abdu’l-Baha wrote:

Be thou not surprised at this. Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. For every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance, nor any slackening whatever. In the physical realm of creation, all things are eaters and eaten: the plant drinketh in the mineral, the animal doth crop and swallow down the plant, man doth feed upon the animal, and the mineral devoureth the body of man. Physical bodies are transferred past one barrier after another, from one life to another, and all things are subject to transformation and change, save only the essence of existence itself—since it is constant and immutable, and upon it is founded the life of every species and kind, of every contingent reality throughout the whole of creation. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 157.

Does this mean that Baha’is should hunt, or that Baha’is should happily eat meat? (This is a case in which the Baha’i teachings, at first glance, may appear contradictory.) But in a word, no. These teachings are not contradictory from the perspective of the spiritual principles at work. The primary principle being: people should be healthy! We need a varied diet to supply us with all the components a human body needs, including vitamins and minerals, protein, fiber and fats.

People in materially prosperous countries may have access to a wide variety of non-meat foods that can comprise a well-rounded diet, but those who live in other countries may not. The Baha’i teachings, intended for the entire human race, leave enough latitude for everyone.

So yes, we should practice kindness to all things, including animals. As we learn more about nutrition and efficient farming, humans won’t need to use animals for food in the quantities we do today. Additionally, it will be less expensive to produce large amounts of vegetables and grains; a critical factor to consider if we are to keep the world’s rapidly-growing population from going hungry.

This illustrates the critical power of spiritual thinking when considering two perspectives of an issue that may appear to contradict one another. This key understanding of the Baha’i teachings can help us navigate today’s world of divisiveness, and avoid the destructive conflagrations that arise over issues in which two sides see no common ground–the eating of meat included. However, with an elevated spiritual understanding, a global perspective that includes all cultures and a focus on human health, we can resolve the conflict.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

11 Comments

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  • Sem19 Yen
    1 day ago
    Vegetarian since 13th of Jun 2016 and getting stronger each day. Started as vegan but could not give up cakes and chocolate yet and sometimes yogurt but don't buy milk or egg anymore. The teaching made me assured and firm that I do not need to eat meat as I have access to variety of alternate non-meat food which made it easy. Also lots of education out there on youtube about the harm of animal meat to our health. ''Medical science is only in its infancy...'' Abdu’l-Baha said so why wait to start now if we have access to ...full nutritional plant based diet.
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  • One World
    Sep 04, 2017
    Its better not to eat meat. Better for the animal. Better for you. Be sure your protein source is adequate though.
  • Hilton McConnell
    Sep 02, 2017
    I love all animals and respect them. How ever I do eat met and feel that hunting is a better than raising animals in small yards and cages. If I were a animal and had a to choose from living in a cage or living in the wild then been killed for food I would choose living in the wild. How ever most countries restrict this, to the point of having to raise animals in cages and small corals.
    I feel that it would be much better to use animals that are natural to the area you live, ...so they can live a natural live until time of harvest.
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  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Sep 02, 2017
    I have decided to stop the cruelty in my life to a huge step. Not been all that easy being the only one. However I am sticking to being vegetarian for now, but my eggs are home grown from hens with names and pass away of old age, and buried with a prayer.
    I do still have some milk this has been my downfall. Even though it is organic I am having a tough time letting go of it just yet. I don't do any other dairy. I will keep striving daily and with Baha'u'llah's help I will transition to ...vegan in time. Like Baha'u'llah I feel if an animal is killed it needs to be prayed for. Quarry should eaten, no waste, as that animal gave it's life for us by the grace of God. Murdering for the 'fun' of hunting, trophies or profit to me is sinful.
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  • Anne B
    Sep 01, 2017
    I really liked this well balanced article. Humans live in all sorts of conditions, with varying access to resources for many reasons including climate, culture, economics, politics,etc... What works in one location may not, currently, work elsewhere. I would encourage people to try a meatless diet, often the barriers are not difficult. It is not necessary to cook elaborate meals, buy expensive specialty items, or have a PhD in nutrition to eat meatless. Trying it one day a week, or for breakfast and lunch, or by crowding out meat on a plate by increasing vegetables are some ways to try ...a meatless diet. Yes, in some areas it may be difficult or even at this time impossible, but we can still see if we can incorporate this into our own life.
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    • Mark David Vinzens
      Sep 02, 2017
      The question is: why do we call some animals „pets“ and others „dinner“?
  • Mark David Vinzens
    Sep 01, 2017
    When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another, even the lowliest creature. The writer Franz Kafka said it very well: “ Now I can look at you in peace,” he said to fishes. “I don't eat you anymore.”
  • Steve Eaton
    Sep 01, 2017
    I am happy to see this talked about
    in a balanced. I am a vegetarian, but
    maybe folks of a different blood type
    than my A+ would have a harder
    time. Somewhere Baha'u'llah or
    Abdu'l-Baha said hunting was
    "somewhat contrary to compassion"
    or similar words, though.
  • Dale Spenner
    Aug 31, 2017
    This is a very timely article for the Baha'is of Honolulu. The Local Spiritual Assembly agreed to participate in the annual Honolulu VegeFest with a booth that will explain the vision of the Faith toward a diet of grains, fruits and non-meat products. At the same time express the principle of moderation and tolerance for those who do prefer a diet which includes meat. Thank you for posting this article. We will use it this weekend as we me an expect 5,000 visitors to this festival.
    • Juanita Bongartz-Perry
      Aug 31, 2017
      I am so happy to see someone taking the stage in the animal eating department as a Baha'i...I am not so worried about the hunters out there,,,, what is horrifying is the cheap meat that shows up on the plates of fast food and BBQ's and super markets filled with cellophaned animal parts disguised as "food" instead of animal flesh from the countless slaughter of sentient tortured living beings in such horrific and monstrous environments and conditions ...we are all guilty of something beyond evil as we cling to our veils of blood lust while refusing to see how ...we thus contribute directly to the current problems affecting this planet.
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  • Jan 01, 1970
    This is the first time this topic has been explored so fully where I had the opportunity to read it. It is very interesting and is really making me think. Thank you