Once again the question of Halal ,and by implication, Kosher meat is on the agenda after an intervention from Britain’s top vet this week. “I don’t think an outright ban is a long way off, there is enough of a view that this practice is inhumane and causes suffering at the time of death,”said Blackwell president-elect of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) last week. He wants to discuss reform with both Muslim and Jewish groups in the UK regarding their practises.
This is an issue which can arouse emotional responses from all sides. We live in a sanitised society and most people are not routinely subjected to images of killing or the slaughter of animals. A visit to any abattoir regardless of slaughter method could be shocking to the average person. When an animal is stunned well and quickly becomes unconscious and is thereafter killed, it looks like a relatively “humane” way to kill the animal. If an animal is dragged forcibly, kicking and bucking, restrained uncomfortably and its neck is cut with a blunt knife several times causing it to struggle until it finally dies, this looks horrific. This is the way that the comparison is presented but it is not correct.
Whatever method of slaughter is used, it can be done well or it can be done badly. Stunning doesn’t always work with animals convulsing for long periods of time after stunning or repeated attempts at stunning being required. The idea of restrained battery chickens being carried along a conveyor belt and dropped into an electrified pool of water to electrocute them to death, some escaping and then being boiled alive doesn’t sound too appealing either.
Cruelty to Animals in the West.
Animal welfare has evolved gradually in Western thinking over the last 300 years. It’s not so long ago that bear baiting and cock fighting were common entertainment in the streets of London. Trade in ivory, rhino horn and tiger skin only really took off when Europeans colonised Africa and India, hunting these animals until they have now become endangered species.
Animals continue to be used to test products before they are consumed by humans in the West, not only by the pharmaceutical industry for drugs, but also for cosmetics. Tests performed on mice, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs include skin and eye irritation tests where chemicals are rubbed on shaved skin or dripped into the eyes without any pain relief; repeated force-feeding studies that last weeks or months to look for signs of general illness or specific health hazards; widely condemned “lethal dose” tests, where animals are forced to swallow large amounts of a test chemical to determine what dose causes death. Animals are tortured and caused to suffer for the simplest products such as a new lip-stick or eye-liner. While there are campaigns against this mistreatment of animals, all of which would likely contravene Shari’ah law, the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries are not ones that the government is keen to take on.
When it comes to meat, animals are intensively farmed, often in crowded and filthy conditions eating the remnants of other animal’s carcasses as feed. They are then transported for slaughter, skinned and end up on the shelves of supermarkets around the country. On the whole, they do not lead pleasant lives and attempts to sanitise their slaughter by claiming that electrocuting them to death is “humane” is disingenuous. In Denmark, a country that has banned halal and kosher slaughtering of animals, it remains legal to open an animal brothel for the purposes of bestiality, providing the customers do not “harm” the animals!
If Western “ban halal and kosher” proponents advocate their view on the basis that it causes suffering to animals, doesn’t it make more sense to ban slaughtering animals altogether? They argue about how many seconds the animal takes to become insensate, for which there is no definite scientific test that can provide the answer, but are quite happy to torture animals to death in their thousands to test soap.
Why do Muslims eat Halal meat?
Allah (swt), the Creator, permitted Muslims to kill and eat meat under specific conditions. It is only with this permission that Muslims would eat meat and it provides for certain standards with which the animals should be treated.
Allah’s (swt) words in the Qur’an translate as follows; “Fobidden to you is carrion (animals that were found dead), and blood, and the meat of swine, and that over which any name other than God’s has been invoked, and the animal that has been strangled or beaten to death, or killed by a fall, or gored to death, or savaged by a beast of prey, save that which you (yourselves) may have slaughtered while it was still alive; and (forbidden to you is) all that has been slaughtered on idolatrous altars.” (Qur’an 5:3)
Ka’b ibn Ujrah (ra) related that the Prophet (saw) said, “A body nourished with haram will not enter Paradise.”(Tirmidhi); and Sa’d related that the Prophet (saw) said “O Sa’d purify your food (and as a result) you will become one whose supplications are accepted. I swear by Him in whose hands the soul of Muhammed lies, verily a servant (of Allah) tosses a haram food morsel into his stomach (due to which) no good deed is accepted from him for 40 days.”(Tabrani)
So it is vital that Muslims do not nourish themselves with food that has not been permitted by Allah (swt) and this is then linked to a legal framework to ensure that animals are treated in a way that Allah (swt) instructed.
Prophet Muhammed (saw) specifically instructed Muslims to avoid any suffering to the animal being slaughtered. On the authority of Abu Ya’la Shahddad ibn Aus, the Messenger of Allah said: “Two are the things which I remember Allah’s Messenger (saw) having said: Verily Allah has enjoined goodness to everything; so when you kill, kill in a good way and when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way. So every one of you should sharpen his knife and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably.” (Muslim).
Prophet (saw) also condemned practises at the time that caused suffering to animals. Narrated Ibn Umar: “The Prophet cursed the one who did Muthla to an animal (i.e. cut its limbs or some other part of its body while it is still alive.” (Bukhari).
Muslims were instructed to ensure that animals that were to be slaughtered were treated kindly and handled in such a manner as to keep them calm. The Prophet (saw) said “If you must slaughter, slaughter in the best possible manner, sharpen your knife every time before you slaughter but not in front of the animal to be slaughtered. Do not slaughter an animal in the presence of other animals, and feed and rest the animal before slaughter.” (Bukhari).
The Prophet (saw) also warned against uncomfortable restraint methods when he was reported by Jabir bin Abdullah to have forbidden that any beast should be killed after it has been tied (Muslim). Following these principles, Islam lay a foundation for the acceptable methodology for using animals for food and this is connected to our belief in Allah (swt) and we will be accountable regarding this on the Last Day.
Where does Islam stand on animal welfare in general?
Our Prophet (saw) spoke about kindness to animals more than a millennia before the RSPCA, or any other animal welfare organisation had been conceived. Hisham bin Zaid bin Anas bin Malik reported: “I visited the house of al-Hakam bin Ayyub along with my grandfather Anas bin Malik, (and there) some people had made a hen a target and were shoorting arrows at her. Thereupon Anas said that Allah’s Messenger (saw) had forbidden tying of the animals (and making them the targets of arrows, etc.)” (Muslim). Ibn ‘Abbas reported Allah’s Messenger (saw) having said “Do not make anything having life as a target.” (Muslim). Ibn ‘Abbas reported that Allah’s Messenger (saw) forbade inciting animals to fight one another (transmitted by Abu Dawud and at-Tirmidhi). Our Prophet (saw) did not allow the suffering of animals for entertainment, sport or food.
Muslims are accountable to Allah (swt) for the way they treat animals.
Prophet Muhammed (saw) praised kindness to animals, to the extent that a person could be forgiven for their sins because of it. It is narrated by Abu Hurairah that he said “A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was thirsty, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So Allah forgave her because of that.” His advice even extended to the emotional well-being of animals It is narrated by Abd al-Rahman ibn Abdallah that his father (Abdullah ibn Mas’ud) said; “We were once on a journey with the Messenger of Allah (saw) and he went off to answer the call of nature. We saw a hummara (a small sparrow like bird) with two chicks and we took the two chicks. Then the hummara came and began to flutter (around us). The Prophet (saw) came back and said; “Who has frightened this bird by (taking) its young? Give them back to her.” (Abu Dawud).
There are many other hadith pertaining to the wellbeing of animals. This concern for the wellbeing of animals was directed by Allah (swt), the Creator of animals, human beings and every other thing. It is related from Yahya ibn Sa’id that the Messenger of Allah (saw), was seen wiping the face of his horse with his shoulder cloth. When he was asked why he was doing that, he said “Last night I was reprimanded (by Allah) about horses.”(Transmitted by Malik in his Muwatta).
Should Muslim slaughter methods be reformed based on scientific advice?
Naturally the Creator knows the best solutions to the manner by which animals should be sacrificed. Therefore the basis of actions should be the Sharia and not the subjective nature of human decisions. However even if we were to look at the scientific studies there is still no definite evidence that the slaughter methods employed by Muslims causes suffering to animals. In fact, when done properly it has been demonstrated repeatedly that animals probably do not even feel the cut and die quickly and peacefully. (Shulze 1974, Grandin 1993, Bager et al. 1992). As Muslims we should not be complacent about the welfare of animals and must push to achieve a high standard in all abattoirs because perhaps these high standards are not always achieved.
On the other hand the Western method of slaughtering animals is not at all kind to animals. It has been demonstrated that brain patterns following stunning can resemble epileptic seizures and animals that have been stunned may appear to be unconscious but in fact are feeling pain. It is also the case that some animals may regain consciousness before they are slaughtered and because only one carotid artery in the UK is cut, this can cause a much slower death. In some cases it has been reported that stunning is painful for the animal and that often animals are skinned within 20 seconds of being cut, therefore they are literally skinned alive. Prophet Muhammed (saw) advised people to wait a short period after death before skinning the animal, presumably to avoid exactly this eventuality. http://www.hizb.org.uk/news-watch/halal-hysteria
The West want to convince Muslims that they should abandon their religion in favour of the Western philosophy of right and wrong, claiming that science proves they are right when it actually does no such thing. They do not have a monopoly on animal welfare when in fact such topics were a normal part of Islamic teachings more than 1000 years ago and if development and education is required the framework exists as part of the Shariah and we do not need to look elsewhere regarding this.
The motivation of Britain’s chief vet in raising this may well be on the basis of his concern for animal welfare and there are probably many other issues that he has tried to and will raise in the future. However, the press picked up on this one (while many other major animal rights issues remain unreported) because there is a trend to attack Muslims and try to convince them that their way of life is barbaric. This then forms part of a wider struggle Muslims face in the West with halal meat the latest attack against the deen of Islam. So whether it is about halal meat, niqabs, the treatment of women or Muslim support for the global Ummah overseas we must struggle against attempts to change Islam articulating it’s intellectual strengths while showing the weaknesses of secularism.
Grandin, T. (1992)
Observations of cattle restraint devices for stunning and slaughtering. Animal Welfare 1 pages 85-91
Onset of insensibility in calves: Effects of electropletic seizure and exsanguination on the spontaneous electrocortical activity and indices of cerebral metabolism. Resource Veterinary Science 52 pages162-173
See also http://www.hizb.org.uk/news-watch/halal-hysteria