By Nadeem Badshah
A GROWING number of Muslims are choosing to be vegan for the month of Ramadan, according to experts.
Some are set to follow a plant-based diet for breakfast and breaking their fast in the evening, citing health reasons and concerns about whether the meat they buy is halal.
The hashtag #VeganRamadan has been popular in recent years during the holy month when Muslims abstain from food and drink for up to 18 hours each day for around four weeks.
Recipes for vegan dishes have been posted on Twitter by chefs and animal campaign group PETA for Ramadan, which is set to start later this week.
And the current lockdown due to coronavirus, which has resulted in thousands of restaurants being shut, is expected to lead to some families preparing meals without animal foods from meat, fish, shellfish, insects, dairy, milk and honey.
Kamran Uddin, a writer and mosque volunteer, told Eastern Eye: “The term ‘halal’ has been used and abused by the food and restaurant industry for decades now.
“Many young Muslims are becoming much savvier in their quest for genuine halal food. I think it’s great they are starting to question many restaurants and takeaways about their ‘halal’ claim.
“As Muslims, we believe eating haram (forbidden) food has a detrimental spiritual affect. On the other hand, there are a growing number of Muslims, some of whom are in my own social circles, who are turning towards plant-based diets or the vegan diet to avoid the unnecessary headache of searching for genuine halal food.
“The rise and popularity of vegan-friendly foods and restaurants are making it easier for young Muslims who are conscious about where their food comes from, to enjoy themselves when eating out.”
There were an estimated 600,000 vegans in the UK in 2019, up from around 150,000 in 2006.
There are no official figures on Muslims following a plant-based diet, according to The Vegan Society, but anecdotally more are choosing not to eat animal-derived food.
Muslims make up around 4.6 per cent of the population, but consume more than a fifth of all the lamb and mutton produced in the UK, according to a report by AHDB Beef & Lamb.
But more are expected to choose vegan dishes for their breakfast and iftar evening meal, with popular choices including hummus, bean curry, vegetable biriyani and eggplant with tahini and olive oil.
Chef Manju Malhi said with people limiting the times they go shopping during the lockdown, more people will use basic vegan ingredients to make simpler and healthier meals.
On diet tips while fasting, she told Eastern Eye: “Incorporating nuts such as almonds and walnuts and seeds like sunflower and pumpkin into oat-based breakfasts boosts energy levels.
“Beans and lentil-based dishes are essential when you have stopped eating meat and poultry.
“It’s also important to eat for your immune system by preparing dishes with turmeric, ginger, garlic and spinach such as a saag preparation.
“Vitamin C-packed fruits like oranges and lemons, along with fresh chillies and red peppers, are key to combating infections.
“Lightly cooking your food helps retain the nutrients and steaming or stir-frying are good options.”
Among the Muslim campaigners for meat-free cuisine is Mara Whyte, who went vegan in 2017 after watching What the Health, a Netflix documentary on food production.
She has distributed leaflets about a plant-based diet, along with vegan cakes, in Birmingham city centre. Her work led to her teenage brother going vegan.
Meanwhile, the Vegan Muslim Initiative was founded by two vegan Muslims from Canada and Australia.
Sayful Ahmed, an imam in Lincolnshire, said choosing a plant-based diet does not compromise Islamic beliefs.
He said: “If the question is, is a Muslim doing something wrong and against their religion if they choose to only eat a plant-based diet?
“The answer is simply, not at all.
“The requirement in Islam is that what you eat must be halal and tayyub (Arabic for wholesome and pure). A vegan diet is both of those things.”
Another reason cited by people going vegan is the treatment of animals in some farms and the impact meat consumption has on the environment.
Last year, researchers from Imperial College London suggested that people needed to eat less meat and dairy to help fight climate change.
Nadia Javed, a singer and guitarist, has been vegan since 2014.
Javed, from London, said: “If people saw the horrendous conditions animals were kept in, I think most people would stop eating meat.
“But I’m not gonna sit here and pretend I don’t miss KFC.”