Organised in response to the 'intolerance' controversy, beef festivals stand on the assumption that cow meat is an integral part of a Muslim's diet. This is a specious argument that has been repeatedly debunked by several leading Islamic scholars and clergymen
An imminent clash between two groups of students over the organisation of a beef festival and a counter pork festival at Osmania University, Hyderabad, was averted thanks to timely action by the police. Such events across the country are being projected as a reaction to some Hindu groups insisting on a blanket ban on cow slaughter with the Dadri killing as a turning point. Some intellectuals also blame vigilante groups for taking the law into their own hands while dealing with truckers allegedly smuggling cows for slaughter. Such protests subsequently became a continuum of the award-wapsi campaign and the intolerance debate, thereby, acquiring political overtones apparently meant to vilify the ruling dispensation.
What is debatable is the specious argument that beef eating is an integral part of Islamic lifestyle and, therefore, protests against cow slaughter is prejudicial to their freedom of religion and the right to choice of food. A close perusal of Islamic texts, and views of noted Islamic scholars and clergy worldwide, reveal that, forget any prescription for eating beef, Islam does not even prohibit vegetarianism. In fact, there are well known devout Muslims who practice vegetarianism. Hazrat Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, the fourth Khalifa as per Sunni belief, has been quoted in Sharh Nahjul Balagha, as saying: "Do not make your stomach a graveyard of animals".
According to internationally acclaimed Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf, "Meat is not a necessity in shari'ah, and in the old days most Muslims used to eat meat, if they were wealthy, like middle class — once a week on Friday. If they were poor — on the Eids." The late Shia scholar Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah had, in an online question and answer session in 2001, categorically stated that, "Vegetarianism ishalal. Meat is not compulsory. Any food is permissible, provided it is not harmful. Muslims are free to eat whatever they want provided it is halal."
In the words of Mohammad Al-Shirazi, noted Islamic author and scholar, "Being vegetarian is okay and halal,and in fact we have the Hadith in Islam that encourages us to eat less meat." Islamic scholars from time to time have discouraged Muslims from eating too much of meat. Responding to a query from a vegetarian convert to Islam about whether it is is halal to be vegetarian, Ayatullah Sayyid Khamanei says in his fatwa that, "According to Islamic law (shari'ah) there is no objection to it. However, eating meat is permissible in Islamic law although eating too much is reprehensible (makruh)."
In the context of the current debate, not led by Islamic scholars but mostly Left-liberals who seem to have little comprehension of Islam or theology, it is pertinent to understand that Islam has not mandated eating of meat per se though due to climatic and topographical reasons and the easy availability of meat in the Muslim-dominated regions of West Asia, it became an integral part of the food habits of the inhabitants. In contrast, in India, with its abundant agricultural output, meat did not acquire the status of a staple diet among Muslims.
Coming back to the question of beef, which is sought to be projected as part of Islamic identity by sections of Indian intelligentsia, it is significant to mention that in his entire lifetime, the Prophet himself is not known to have partaken cow meat. According to well known Islamic scholars, there is no Hadith available which confirms that the Prophet in fact ate beef. However, we do have a number of authenticated statements of the Prophet, which does confirm that beef, ie cow's meat (also called bovine meat), contains illness, while the cow's milk and fat contain cure and healing.