There are certain claims and calls circulating on social media that vegetarianism is a very part of the sunnah of the infallible Imāms, and that they despised meat. The most oft-repeated narration that is used to back up their claims is the one attributed to Imām ʿAlī (as): Do not make of your stomachs a graveyard of animals.
We investigate this narration and see what the view of the infallibles really was in regards to meat.

The aforementioned narration is actually found in Biḥār al-Anwār, however the context does not even suggest that Imām ʿAlī (as) was a vegetarian, but rather ate meat only a little. Here is the relevant part in arabic and its translation with some more context:

ولا يأكل اللحم إلاقليلا ويقول : لا تجعلوا قلوبكم ( في المصدر : بطونكم ) مقابر الحيوان ، وكان مع ذلك أشد الناس قوة وأعظمهم أيدا ، لم ينقص الجوع قوته
And he (ʿAlī) did not eat meat except a little, and would say: ‘Do not make of your hearts (in original source: stomachs) a graveyard of animals‘, Despite this, he was the most strongest of people, and mightiest in arm. Hunger did not decrease his strength… (narration continues).

Reference: Biḥār al-Anwār, Volume 41, Page 148; Originally taken from Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha of ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, Volume 1, Page 26.

Three important points:

  1. The origins of this narration is found in the commentary of Nahj al-Balāgha by ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd al-Muʿtazali, a non-Shīʿi. Thus, this does not originate from a Shīʿa book and is mentioned within the words and descriptions of ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd.
  2. The narration does not have a chain.
  3. Before the narration attributed to Imām ʿAlī, ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd states that he did eat some meat, but only a little.

This narration seems to be the most commonly quoted narration.

There are another few narrations which suggest that eating meat is not recommended – found in Mustadrak Wasā’il al-Shīʿa, such as:

زيد الزراد في أصله قال : قال أبو عبد الله ( عليه السلام ) في حديث : ” وكلوا اللحم  في كل أسبوع ، ولا تعودوه أنفسكم وأولادكم ، فإن له ضراوة كضراوة الخمر
Abū ʿAbd Allāh (as) said in a narration: Eat meat every week; but do not allow yourselves or your children to become accustomed to it, for it is harmful similar to that of intoxicants (lit. wine).

and:

المستغفري في طب النبي ( صلى الله عليه وآله ) : قال : قال : إن إبليس يخطب شياطينه فيقول : عليكم باللحم والمسكر والنساء ، فإني لاأجد جماع الشر إلا فيها
The Prophet (sawa) said: Indeed Iblīs preaches to his devils, and says: Depend upon meat, intoxicants, and women – for I do not find the collection of evil except in them.

Aside from these two narrations having extremely dubious contents, they are also weak in chain. More importantly, they go against the plethora of narrations which clearly oppose these few narrations. For example:

الطبرسي في المكارم : من كتاب الأئمة ( عليهم السلام ) ،عن زرارة قال : تغديت مع أبي جعفر ( عليه السلام ) ، أربعة عشر يوما بلحم ، في شعبان .
Zurāra said: I had dinner with Abī Jaʿfar (as) for forty sequential days with meat during [the month of] Shaʿbān.

In fact, in al-Wasā’il, there is a whole chapter titled: ‘The chapter of negating the disliking of a man loving meat and eating an abundance of it’ – proving that loving meat is not a problem. From this chapter we will quote the first five along with gradings of the chains from some scholars.

Narration #1:

عن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام قال : كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله لحما يحب اللحم
From Abī ʿAbd Allāh (as), who said: The Messenger of Allāh (sawa) was a meat-lover, who loved meat.

Reference: Wasā’il al-Shīʿa, Volume 25, Page 36, Chapter 11, Narration #1; Al-Kāfi, Volume 6, Page 309, Narration #7.

Chain: Moḥammed bin Yaḥya, from Aḥmed bin Moḥammed, from ʿAlī bin al-Ḥakam, from al-Ḥussain bin Abī al-ʿAlā.

Grading: Al-Majlisi said it has a good (ḥassan) chain [Mir’āt al-ʿUqūl, Volume 22, Page 129]; al-Hādi al-Najafi said it is authentic (ṣaḥiḥ) [Mawsūʿat Aḥādīth Ahl al-Bayt, Volume 6, Page 290, Narration #7511]; al-Bahbūdi said it is authentic (ṣaḥiḥ) [Ṣaḥiḥ al-Kāfi, Volume 3, Page 189].

Narration #2:

عن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام قال : ترك أبو جعفر عليه السلام ثلاثين درهما للحم يوم توفي وكان رجلا لحما
From Abī ʿAbd Allāh (as), who said: Abū Jaʿfar (as) left behind thirty dirhims for [the purchase] of meat on the day he passed away, and was a man who loved meat.

Reference: Wasā’il al-Shīʿa, Volume 25, Page 36, Chapter 11, Narration #2; Al-Kāfi, Volume 6, Page 309, Narration #8.

Chain: Aḥmed bin Moḥammed, from ʿAlī bin al-Ḥakam, from Sayf bin ʿUmayra, from al-Ḥassan bin Hārūn.

Grading: Despite al-Ḥassan bin Hārūn being Majhūl (unknown), according to the standards of Moḥammed Taqi al-Majlisi (the first), the narration is strong like authentic (qawi kalṣaḥiḥ) [Rawdhat al-Muttaqīn, Volume 7, Page 503].

Narration #3:

عن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام أن رجلا قال له : إن من قبلنا يروون أن الله عز وجل يبغض البيت اللحم ، فقال : صدقوا وليس حيث ذهبوا إن الله يبغض البيت الذي يؤكل فيه لحوم الناس
From Abī ʿAbd Allāh (as), whereupon a man said to him: Some people from before us would narrate that Allāh, Mighty and Majestic, hates the house of meat (i.e. a household that eats a lot of meat).
He replied: They have spoken the truth, although it is not the meaning which they have taken. Verily, Allāh hates the house that within it eats the meat of the people (i.e. backbiting).

Reference: Wasā’il al-Shīʿa, Volume 25, Page 36, Chapter 11, Narration #3; Al-Kāfi, Volume 6, Page 309, Narration #6.

Chain: From ʿAlī bin Moḥammed bin Bandār and others, from Aḥmed bin Abī ʿAbd Allāh, from ʿUthmān bin ʿĪsa, from Musammaḥ Abī Sayyār.

Grading: Al-Majlisi said it has a reliable (muwathaq) chain [Mir’āt al-ʿUqūl, Volume 22, Page 128]; al-Hādi al-Najafi said it has a reliable (muʿtabar) chain [Mawsūʿat Aḥādīth Ahl al-Bayt, Volume 6, Page 290, Narration #7512]; Moḥammed Taqi al-Majlisi (the first) says it is reliable like an authentic chain (muwathaq kalṣaḥiḥ) [Rawdhat al-Muttaqīn, Volume 7, Page 502].

Narration #4:

عن عبد الأعلى مولى آل سامقال : قلت لأبي عبد الله عليه السلام : إنا نروي عندنا عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله أنه قال : إن الله يبغض البيت اللحم فقال :كذبوا إنما قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله : البيت الذي يغتابون فيه الناس ويأكلون لحومهم ، وقد كان أبي لحما ، وقد مات يوم مات وفي كم أم ولده ثلاثون درهما للحم
From ʿAbd al-Aʿla the servant of the family of Sāmqāl: I said to Abī ʿAbd Allāh (as): We narrate amongst us that the Messenger of Allāh (sawa) said: Verily, Allāh hates the house of meat.
He replied: They lied, for the Messenger of Allāh (sawa) only said: The house [that is mentioned is] that [house which] is used for backbiting the people and eating their flesh. Indeed, my father was a meat-lover, and in fact the day he died in the sleeve of the mother of his child was thirty dirhims for [the purchase] of meat.

Reference: Wasā’il al-Shīʿa, Volume 25, Page 36, Chapter 11, Narration #4; Al-Kāfi, Volume 6, Page 308, Narration #5.

Chain: From them, from Aḥmed, from Moḥammed bin ʿAlī, from al-Ḥassan bin ʿAlī bin Yūsuf, from Zakariyya bin Moḥammed al-Azdi, from ʿAbd al-Aʿla the servant of the family of Sāmqāl.

Grading: Despite a weak chain by the popular opinion, according to the standards of Moḥammed Taqi al-Majlisi (the first), the narration is strong (qawi) [Rawdhat al-Muttaqīn, Volume 7, Page 501-502].

Narration #5:

عن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام قال :قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله : إنا معاشر قريش قوم لحمون
From Abī ʿAbd Allāh (as), who said: The Messenger of Allāh (sawa) said: Indeed we, the people of Quraysh, are a people who love meat.

Reference: Wasā’il al-Shīʿa, Volume 25, Page 37, Chapter 11, Narration #5; Al-Kāfi, Volume 6, Page 309, Narration #9.

Chain: From several of our companions, from Sahl bin Ziyād, from Jaʿfar bin Moḥammed al-ʿAsh’ari, from ibn al-Qaddāḥ.

Grading: Despite weaknesses based upon the popular opinion (such as Sahl bin Ziyād), according to the standards of Moḥammed Taqi al-Majlisi (the first), the narration is strong (qawi) [Rawdhat al-Muttaqīn, Volume 7, Page 503].

There are many more narrations within this chapter.

One in particular that is interesting is the following:

وعن ابن فضال عن حماد اللحام ، قال : سألت أبا عبد الله عليه السلام عن بيت اللحم يكرهونه قال : ولم ؟ قلت : بلغني عنكم وإنا مع قوم في الدار من الاخوان أمرنا واحد ، فقال : لا بأس بإدمانه
From ibn Fadhāl, from Ḥammād al-Laḥḥām, who said: I asked Abā ʿAbd Allāh (as) about the house of meat being disliked.
He replied: What for?
He said: It was reported to me from you, and I am with people in a place where we are brothers of the same one cause.
He replied: There is no problem in being addicted to it.

Reference: Wasā’il al-Shīʿa, Volume 25, Page 39, Chapter 11, Narration #12; al-Maḥāsin, Volume 2, Page 460, Narration #408.

Chain: ibn Fadhāl, from Ḥammād al-Laḥḥām.

Grading: The chain is weak due to Ḥammād [bin Wāqid] al-Laḥḥām being majhūl (unknown).

As we can see, we have some reliable narrations – supported by other weaker ones – that the infallibles used to eat meat, nay, they loved meat.

Of course, there are etiquettes and some meats preferred over others etc. But the point stands that one cannot, and should not, depend on those narrations which suggest eating meat in abundance is disliked.

In fact, when researching the narrations regarding meat, and the sunnah which can be derived from them, al-Māmqāni stated in his great encyclopedia of the sunnah of the infallibles:

It is recommended to favour meat over all other foods, for it is the master of the food of this world and the next world. It is the master of the foods of Paradise…And there is no problems in having increased love for meat, for the Prophet (sawa) and the Ahl al-Bayt (as) used to love it, and would eat it in abundance.
What has been reported in the hatred of the Prophet (sawa) [for meat] has an interpretation via the words of the Ahl al-Bayt (as) in meaning the meat of people, as an alternative name for backbiting. And there is no problem in being addicted to meat every day and every night due to the addiction of the Imāms (as) for it. What has been reported in its prohibition in it except for once every three days is based upon righteous dissimulation (taqiyyah). It has been narrated that whoever neglects meat for days, his intellect will corrupt – and whoever neglects it for forty days, his akhlāq will deteriorate – and whose akhlāq deteriorates, then say the call to prayers in his ear. It is recommended to eat it even if you attain it by means of a loan.

Reference: Mir’āt al-Kamāl, Volume 1, Pages 201-202.

This statement, which is based upon the narrations, makes a clear stand against vegetarianism.

Disclosure: The author of this post loves meat <3