Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook
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Sufism and Vegetarianism
Detail from Ascent of the Prophet to Heaven, Persian, 1550. Click for complete painting.

Although the majority of Muslims are meat eaters, there is also widespread remembrance of Muhammad's warning, "Do not allow your stomachs to become graveyards!" For this reason, meat is used in moderation in many traditional recipes. Many Sufi tariqats prohibit meat-eating during retreats. The Qadiri shaikh Abdul Karim Jili, commenting on Ibn Arabi's advice to avoid animal fat during retreats, stated that "animal fat strengthens animality, and its principles will dominate the spiritual principles."

The 15th Century poet Kabir, whose Sufism represented a fusion of principles from both the Islamic and Hindu traditions, unequivocally condemned meat eating, characterizing it as the ultimate failure of compassion, deserving of eternal punishment; he stated that even the companionship of meat-eaters was harmful to the soul. In a gentler tone, the 20th century Sri Lankan Qadiri teacher Bawa Muhaiyaddeen also encouraged vegetarianism, stating that arrogance, haste and anger may decrease by elimination of meat from the diet. He taught that consumption of meat promotes the development of animalistic qualities, whereas consumption of plant and dairy products promotes peaceful qualities; and noted that Islamic rules pertaining to animal slaughter have the effect, if properly observed, of reducing the number of animals killed for food. Bawa put these principles into daily action, preparing many impromptu meals for his community and guests, typically in 15-gallon quantities.

Detail from Mughal painting, 16th century. Click for complete painting.

The Chishti Inayat Khan, who introduced Sufi principles to Europe and America in the early part of this century, expressed similar concerns. He observed that vegetarianism promotes compassion and harmlessness to living creatures, and that a vegetarian diet aids in the purification of the body, the opening of the channels of breath and refinement of spiritual faculties. He also taught that meat can be a medicine, and can help some people to withstand the struggle of life in the material world. Therefore, each spiritual seeker should be guided by a teacher in the choice of diet, a decision also inevitably influenced by the regional climate and food supply.