One of the biggest blessings that God bestowed upon the people is that of livestock.
[20:53] He is the One who made the earth habitable for you, and paved in it roads for you. And He sends down from the sky water with which we produce many different kinds of plants. [20:54] Eat and raise your livestock. These are sufficient proofs for those who possess intelligence.
(٥٣) الَّذِي جَعَلَ لَكُمُ الْأَرْضَ مَهْدًا وَسَلَكَ لَكُمْ فِيهَا سُبُلًا وَأَنْزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجْنَا بِهِ أَزْوَاجًا مِنْ نَبَاتٍ شَتَّىٰ
(٥٤) كُلُوا وَارْعَوْا أَنْعَامَكُمْ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِأُولِي النُّهَىٰ
This blessing is so critical that the Quran states that part of our rites in the religion is to commemorate God for providing us with livestock.
[22:28] They may seek commercial benefits, and they shall commemorate GOD’s name during the specified days for providing them with livestock. “Eat therefrom and feed the despondent and the poor.”
لِيَشْهَدُوا مَنَافِعَ لَهُمْ وَيَذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ فِي أَيَّامٍ مَعْلُومَاتٍ عَلَىٰ مَا رَزَقَهُمْ مِنْ بَهِيمَةِ الْأَنْعَامِ فَكُلُوا مِنْهَا وَأَطْعِمُوا الْبَائِسَ الْفَقِيرَ
[22:34] For each congregation we have decreed rites whereby they commemorate the name of GOD for providing them with the livestock. Your god is one and the same god; you shall all submit to Him. Give good news to the obedient.
وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ جَعَلْنَا مَنْسَكًا لِيَذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَىٰ مَا رَزَقَهُمْ مِنْ بَهِيمَةِ الْأَنْعَامِ فَإِلَٰهُكُمْ إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ فَلَهُ أَسْلِمُوا وَبَشِّرِ الْمُخْبِتِينَ
Even the Arabic word for livestock l-anʿāmi ( الْأَنْعَامِ ) comes from the same root ( ن ع م )as the word for blessing or favor or grace; niʿ’mata ( نِعْمَةَ ).
There is strong evidence that the domestication of livestock was a strong trigger that transformed humans from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian society. Cattle, goats, sheep, horses, and pigs all have their origins as farmed animals in the region known as the Fertile Crescent, This region covers eastern Turkey, Iraq, and southwestern Iran. Even the donkey and the camel originated just south of the Fertile Crescent along the Arabian peninsula some 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic Revolution.
Out of all the quadruped livestock, the only one that did not originate in or around the Fertile Crescent was the llama and alpaca, which are believed to have come from modern-day South America. It was because of this blessing that the Fertile Crescent and its neighboring lands were able to advance as societies at a much faster pace than any other region in the world. Just consider all the blessings we get from livestock.
The most obvious benefit of livestock is that of meat. Meat is the most protein-rich food that we have access to. Also, it is believed that because of meat, humans started using fire to cook their food. This allowed us to extract more nutrients from our food when we consume it. An interesting observation is that early humans had these massive jaws. The belief was that the reason for this was because the foods we were eating required a lot more chewing. The advent of cooking softens the food prior to consumption, making it easier to chew and allowing our digestive system to extract more of the nutrients from food. This means that we can spend less time eating and more time focusing on advancing other aspects of society.
If we compare humans to apes, we see that, on average, apes spend half their day just eating. This is because their diet consists of food that has lower nutritional content, so they have to spend substantially more time eating to survive. If this was the case for humans not discovering meat, cooking, and farming, humans might never have been able to advance past being nomadic societies.
Livestock provides humans with the ability to be able to travel long distances. Today, we drive cars and fly in planes, but to get to this level of societal advancement, humans were first dependent on utilizing livestock to carry them and their belongings across the land.
Additionally, livestock can amplify our strengths. This has a direct benefit on the ability of humans to be able to plow the land and carry loads. With the aid of livestock power, a small subset of people in a society can produce enough calories for the rest of society so that those individuals can focus on other tasks e.g., blacksmith, carpenters, doctors, scientists, writers, etc. This division in labor allows for the overall advancement of society.
[16:5] And He created the livestock for you, to provide you with warmth, and many other benefits, as well as food.
[16:6] They also provide you with luxury during your leisure, and when you travel.
[16:7] And they carry your loads to lands that you could not reach without a great hardship. Surely, your Lord is Compassionate, Most Merciful.
[16:8] And (He created) the horses, the mules, and the donkeys for you to ride, and for luxury. Additionally, He creates what you do not know.
(١٦:٥) وَالْأَنْعَامَ خَلَقَهَا لَكُمْ فِيهَا دِفْءٌ وَمَنَافِعُ وَمِنْهَا تَأْكُلُونَ
(١٦:٦) وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا جَمَالٌ حِينَ تُرِيحُونَ وَحِينَ تَسْرَحُونَ
(١٦:٧) وَتَحْمِلُ أَثْقَالَكُمْ إِلَىٰ بَلَدٍ لَمْ تَكُونُوا بَالِغِيهِ إِلَّا بِشِقِّ الْأَنْفُسِ إِنَّ رَبَّكُمْ لَرَءُوفٌ رَحِيمٌ
(١٦:٨) وَالْخَيْلَ وَالْبِغَالَ وَالْحَمِيرَ لِتَرْكَبُوهَا وَزِينَةً وَيَخْلُقُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
Fur and Hides
Another obvious benefit of livestock is that from their fur and hides the earliest humans could make clothes, bedding, and shelter. It is believed that if it wasn’t for this blessing that livestock provides, it is very likely that humans would have gone extinct a long time ago.
[16:80] And GOD provided for you stationary homes where you can live. And He provided for you portable homes made of the hides of livestock, so you can use them when you travel, and when you settle down. And from their wools, furs, and hair, you make furnishings and luxuries for awhile.
وَاللَّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُمْ مِنْ بُيُوتِكُمْ سَكَنًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمْ مِنْ جُلُودِ الْأَنْعَامِ بُيُوتًا تَسْتَخِفُّونَهَا يَوْمَ ظَعْنِكُمْ وَيَوْمَ إِقَامَتِكُمْ وَمِنْ أَصْوَافِهَا وَأَوْبَارِهَا وَأَشْعَارِهَا أَثَاثًا وَمَتَاعًا إِلَىٰ حِينٍ
Another key aspect that livestock provide is milk. Milk is the most efficiently produced, naturally occurring, nutrient-rich food that we have. Consider that the regions that had access to milk could use it as a supplement for meat, and babies could use it as a supplement for breast milk, also since it can be obtained on demand which is essential at a time when refrigeration of food was not available. Additionally, from milk, we can get cream, butter, cheese, curds, and yogurt.
The absolute benefit that milk has provided humans has been stamped in our DNA. Before the arrival of domestic cattle in Europe, prehistoric populations couldn’t stomach raw cow milk. This is because cow’s milk has lactose, which humans could not originally break down. But at some point during the spread of farming into southeastern Europe, a mutation occurred for lactose tolerance that increased in frequency through natural selection thanks to the nourishing benefits of milk. Judging from the prevalence of the milk-drinking gene in Europeans today—as high as 90 percent in populations of northern countries such as Sweden—the vast majority are descended from cow herders.
[23:21] And the livestock should provide you with a lesson. We let you drink (milk) from their bellies, you derive other benefits from them, and some of them you use for food.
(٢١) وَإِنَّ لَكُمْ فِي الْأَنْعَامِ لَعِبْرَةً نُسْقِيكُمْ مِمَّا فِي بُطُونِهَا وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَنَافِعُ كَثِيرَةٌ وَمِنْهَا تَأْكُلُونَ
[16:66] And in the livestock there is a lesson for you: we provide you with a drink from their bellies. From the midst of digested food and blood, you get pure milk, delicious for the drinkers.
(٦٦) وَإِنَّ لَكُمْ فِي الْأَنْعَامِ لَعِبْرَةً نُسْقِيكُمْ مِمَّا فِي بُطُونِهِ مِنْ بَيْنِ فَرْثٍ وَدَمٍ لَبَنًا خَالِصًا سَائِغًا لِلشَّارِبِينَ
But even consider the miracle of milk. That the cow eats grass, and from the midst of the digested food, blood, and guts, this miraculous machine can extract the nutrients needed and synthesize the chemical processes to formulate this delicious pure white substance known as milk.
Will scientists ever be able to create a machine that can do a similar process? At best, we get almond milk, which, aside from clever marketing, is a gross substitute for real milk.
Livestock and Human Immune System
There is another hidden benefit that livestock has provided the human population that had access to these marvelous creations. Humans who were around livestock built a super advanced immune system in response to this interaction. This idea was popularized in Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel, where he argued that close contact with livestock differentially improved human immunity to zoonotic diseases, in turn providing advantages to some cultural groups.
This immune response starts in childhood and carries on for the rest of a person’s life. When the human population became more centralized this increased the chances of the spread of disease. Additionally, the co-living between livestock and humans allowed new viruses to be formed in which humans also built additional tolerances to viruses. When European settlers came to the Americas, it is estimated that some 90% of the native population was wiped out because of the diseases the Europeans brought since the native population did not have livestock or densely populated societies their immune system were not equipped for the onslaught of diseases that the Europeans brought with them.
Nature of Livestock
There are a number of intrinsic qualities of livestock that we take for granted. That if God designed them in another way without these qualities they could never fulfill these crucial blessings that they provide.
We take it for granted but imagine if livestock were as anxious as a zebra or as aggressive as a lion. If it wasn’t that God designed them to be docile creatures we would never have been able to domesticate them and reap all these benefits.
The production of animals and their byproducts is heavily dependent on their efficiency. This is the amount of work, money, food, water, etc. that needs to be provided to the animal before it can provide a return for the humans for consumption.
The gestation period for a cow is ~9 months. This is the time period from pregnancy to delivery. A newborn calf’s size can vary among breeds, but a typical calf typically weighs 25 to 45 kg (55 to 99 lb). In about seven months, a calf will way ~500 pounds. In a feedlot, they will gain about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds a day. Then after 24 months, they will weigh 1300 to 1400 pounds and be ready for slaughter.
A dairy cow, on the other hand, can produce milk after ~24 months and will continue doing so for about four years before it is slaughtered for meat. The average dairy cow produces about 19,825 pounds of milk each year. That’s 2,305 gallons of milk a year or about 8 gallons of milk every day during her milking period. This comes out to about 9,220 gallons of milk over the life of a dairy cow.
These are incredibly productive animals. If it wasn’t for this level of productivity livestock would not be economical for mass consumption. This is a big reason it does not make sense to attempt to farm elephants, rhinos, giraffes, or most other animals. Elephants have a gestation period of almost two years while rhinos and giraffes have a gestation period of ~450 days. Additionally, the amount of meat that these animals produce is nowhere on the level of what we have been provided for in the category of livestock.
That is true for nearly every animal except one, the pig. The pig has a gestation period of only ~114 days. Additionally, a well-fed sow will produce at least 10 piglets in a litter from each pregnancy and may have two litters each year. Additionally, pigs will eat nearly anything and transform those calories into meat. This makes the raising and consuming of meat incredibly tempting for a population. Not to mention that the pork-eating population can’t stop raving about how delicious bacon is, which makes it that much more tempting for societies to mass produce and consume.
I believe this is a big reason that God explicitly prohibits this meat in the Quran. If the pig did not possess these qualities then people would not be tempted to eat these animals. For instance, God did not need to create a commandment not to eat rocks. This is because any sensible person would have zero desire to eat rocks, but God specifically warns of to stay away from things that may seem pleasurable from the outside, but are going to be destructive for us if we don’t heed God’s recommendations.
[6:145] Say, “I do not find in the revelations given to me any food that is prohibited for any eater except: (1) carrion, (2) running blood, (3) the meat of pigs, for it is contaminated, and (4) the meat of animals blasphemously dedicated to other than GOD.” If one is forced (to eat these), without being deliberate or malicious, then your Lord is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
قُلْ لَا أَجِدُ فِي مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ مُحَرَّمًا عَلَىٰ طَاعِمٍ يَطْعَمُهُ إِلَّا أَنْ يَكُونَ مَيْتَةً أَوْ دَمًا مَسْفُوحًا أَوْ لَحْمَ خِنْزِيرٍ فَإِنَّهُ رِجْسٌ أَوْ فِسْقًا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ غَيْرَ بَاغٍ وَلَا عَادٍ فَإِنَّ رَبَّكَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
Part of the appeal of pigs is also part of the reason that they are considered contaminated. As mentioned above pigs eat virtually anything. This includes not only their feces but even their own selves. Back in July 2022, a video got leaked of a pig farm in China where due to a feed shortage the pigs started resorting to cannibalism. This would never be the case for other livestock. A cow would starve to death before it would consume another cow.
There is also another benefit that cows have that does not exist in pigs. A cow has a ruminant digestive tract. This four-part stomach allows it to acquire nutrients from the cellulose of plant-based food which cannot be done by mono-gastric animals like pigs. So when a cow chews its food it will swallow it into one part of its stomach and then bring it back up for further processing, which is known as chewing the cud. Common ruminant animals in addition to cows are goats, bison, sheep, deer, elk, and antelope. This is why ruminant animals can obtain all the nutrients they need from an exclusively plant-based diet reducing the possibility of them eating foods that can cause disease or parasites.
Trichinosis is a parasitic food-borne disease that is caused by eating raw or undercooked meats, particularly pork products infested with the larvae of a type of roundworm called Trichinella. When we eat food, our stomach acid and enzymes digest what we eat. In the case of infected meat, the acid and enzymes break down the hard outside shell (cyst) of the larvae, freeing the adult worms. The worms then produce larvae which take up residence in body tissues, especially muscle.
Additionally, for some reason, the physiology of a pig and human are strikingly similar, so much so that recently they did the first pig-to-human heart transplant. But because of this similarity in physiology, humans and pigs can pass diseases back and forth between species. If pigs were not bred so abundantly, this wouldn’t be as big of a deal, but because pigs and humans are in such frequent close proximity to one another, this allows the continual spread of swine flu.
The biggest pandemic in modern times attributed to swine flu was the 2009 swine flu pandemic. It is estimated that 11–21% of the then global population of that time, about 6.8 billion people, contracted the illness. The means equivalent to around 700 million to 1.4 billion people were infected. At the onset, it was believed that there were only 18,449 confirmed fatalities. However, in a 2012 study, the CDC estimated that, in actuality, this number was more likely between 150,000 to 575,000 deaths.
Additionally, while it is not definitive, there is strong evidence that the Spanish Inluenza’s origins could have come from pigs as well. This pandemic caused the estimated death of some 50 million people when the total world population was only ~1 billion, which equates to about 5% of the population being wiped out from this virus.
God willing, let’s always be appreciative of the wisdom that is inherent in the Quran and take heed of the commandments. When God informs the people to not consume the meat of pigs that there is a valuable lesson in that. And when God tells us to be appreciative of the livestock, we take the time to be conscientious of such a blessing.
[14:7] Your Lord has decreed: “The more you thank Me, the more I give you.” But if you turn unappreciative, then My retribution is severe.
(٧) وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِنْ شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ وَلَئِنْ كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ