Bangladesh is not a very vegetarian country, and most Muslims are avid meat eaters. So when Ataur Rahman Miton founded the Vegetarian Society of Bangladesh, his efforts left his family and friends with mixed feelings. Miton, country director for Hunger Free World, sees how feeding more people in a poor country goes hand in hand with vegetarianism.
Miton spends his time traveling around Bangladesh helping people develop their organic farms. I am grateful he took the time to answer my questions. Here are a few excerpts.
Q. What percentage of Bangladeshis do you think are vegetarian? How many are Hindu and how many are Muslim?
A. About 78% of populations in Bangladesh are Muslim and about 14% are Hindu and 8% others (Christian, Buddhist, etc.). There is no official data available from any sources on what percent of people are vegetarian. I think the total number of vegetarians would be less than 1000 out of 160 million people in the country. It is my guess only.
Q. How is your vegetarianism connected with your work for peace and with Hunger Free World?
A. I personally see my work as interconnected. The mission of our work is to promote safe food security to all, protecting nature and promoting sustainable livelihood. We do the organic farming and we care for animals. If we care for sustainable livelihood and climate change, we must look at our foods. Every bite to the animal meat is causing climate change. Though HFW is officially not promoting vegetarianism, they respect the spirit of this. Our work is entirely focused on peace. Ending hunger and poverty is the first step towards peace. No one denies today that, “A hungry person is an angry person.” Therefore our work for ending hunger, promoting organic farming, and sustainable livelihood is very much connected with the work of peace, non violence and stopping cruelty to animals.
Q. What were the reactions of your family, friends and acquaintances when you decided to become a vegetarian?
A. I belong to a Muslim family. No one was happy with my decision to become a vegetarian, they even thought my decision is anti religion. Because, I was talking to them to stop killing animals in the name of religion. I believe Allah wants you to sacrifice something you love most, not the animal. To me, every one loves money, so not why you donate your money for the welfare of the creations of Allah, which is poor people. Poverty is not a curse, rather it is a condition created by human society. We the human being has failed to establish equality, control our greed and love our neighbors which Allah has asked of every Muslim. Anyway, I respect the opinion of my family members but not necessarily I do agree with them. I follow the path of peace and listen to the guidance of my heart.
Q. What is a typical Muslim outlook on animals’ place in the world and their relationship to people? How do you as a vegetarian interpret this?
A. Muslims believe they are superior among all creations of Allah. Some of the animal Allah has created for their satisfaction and filling their needs of food. So, there is nothing wrong with killing animals and eating them. Well, the teaching of Holy Quran and daily practice of a Muslim is not necessarily the same. To me Holy Quran is a wonderful moderate guide for Muslim and any other human being but one has to understand the Holy Book not only by words but its spirit and context. I think basic teachings of Islam is “becoming merciful to all animals and all creations of Allah.” We do not need to kill others for our greed.
Q. Do Muslims believe animals have souls? What happens to animals in the afterlife?
A. Yes. Muslims believe that every animal has a soul. I do not know exactly what we believe about the souls after life. We know this for human but not for animals.
If you feel moved by the work Miton and his colleagues are doing, you can learn more about donating to Hunger Free World here.