Myth-Conceptions Pt. I: Halal
In light of the EDL demo at a KFC in Blackburn recently I thought I’d bring forward a post I was going to publish a bit further down the line.
As part of their humanitarian effort the EDL have become animal rights activists by voicing their disapproval of the availability of Halal meat in the UK. They claim that the method of slaughter is inhumane and barbaric. The real reason for their opposition is the perception that it’s another sign of what they see as the Islamization of Britain, or to use the correct buzzwords, Stealth Jihad or Creeping Sharia (boo hiss). They are particularly disgusted that Halal food is being served in some schools, and that children have been consuming it unwittingly. Or ‘force fed’ if you want to get all tabloid about it.
Apart from the EDL opposition, ‘normal’ parents have also voiced concerns. Some share the worry that the ritual causes unnecessary suffering to the animal, and others feel the problem lies with the alleged absence of knowledge or choice on the matter. There are those also that take umbrage with it on religious grounds. Whether it is because they are of a different faith, or feel that religious slaughter shouldn’t have a place in our society.
On the face of it I’d have to concede they are largely natural and legitimate points to raise. Let’s put aside the fact that the EDL masquerading as an animal welfare organisation is quite absurd considering they have no qualms about leaving severed pigs heads outside mosques, and are strangely silent on, well, literally ALL other animal welfare issues. I have yet to see the EDL Vegan Division or a flash demo at a fox hunt.
Is the claim that Halal slaughter is inhumane and causes unnecessary suffering to the animal accurate? When considering this, it’s important to bear in mind the alternative, non-religious method, as any conclusion must be relative to this.
Dhabihah is the Arabic name for the method of slaughter. This method of slaughtering animals consists of a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck, cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides but leaving the spinal cord intact. The objective of this technique is to more effectively drain the body of the animal’s blood, resulting in more hygienic meat.
There are other prerequisites which need to be adhered to, to ensure the meat is Halal.
• The animal must not be a forbidden substance as per the Quran.
• The slaughter itself must be done by a sane (mentally competent) adult Muslim. Some Muslims also consider it acceptable to eat the meat slaughtered by “People of the Book” (Arabic: Ahl al-Kitāb, i.e,Jews and Christians(not St. Paulists) ) as stated in Surah Al-Maa’idah, Ayat 5.
• Some Muslims believe the name/praise of God Almighty must be read before sacrificing the animal (as opposed to the name of anything other than God). This is a major split amongst Muslims. Those believing the former do not eat food killed by Christians (as the name of God is not read during the killing), even though it is in direct conflict with Surah Al-Maa’idah, Ayat 5.
Several other conditions are also stated: the knife’s blade should be extremely sharp yet not be sharpened in front of the animal, the animal must not be slaughtered in front of other animals, and the animal’s eyes and ears must be checked to ensure its health and suitability for slaughter. If it is deemed to be healthy, it is given water to drink (to quench its thirst). The animal should then be stood to face the Qibla, and the actual slaughter can begin.
According to Islamic tradition, the animal is brought to the place of slaughter and laid down gently so as to not injure it. The blade must be kept hidden until the very last moment while the jugular of the animal is felt. The conventional method used to slaughter the animal involves cutting the large arteries in the neck along with the esophagus and vertebrate trachea with one swipe of a non-serrated blade. Care must be taken that the nervous system is not damaged, as this may cause the animal to die before exsanguination has taken place. While blood is draining, the animal is not handled until it has died. If any other method is used its meat will not be halal.
This method adheres to Islamic law (it ensures the animal does not die by any of the Haraam methods) and helps to effectively drain blood from the animal. This may be important because the consumption of blood itself is forbidden in Islam.
The conditions of slaughter are stated in the Qur’an:
Forbidden for you are carrion, and blood, and flesh of swine, and that which has been slaughtered while proclaiming the name of any other than God, and one killed by strangling, and one killed with blunt weapons, and one which died by falling, and that which was gored by the horns of some animal, and one eaten by a wild beast, except those whom you slaughter; and that which is slaughtered at the altar and that which is distributed by the throwing of arrows [for an omen]; this is an act of sin. — Al-Maa’idah 5:3
Non-Halal meat uses the following methods:
Stunning is the process of rendering animals immobile or unconscious, without killing the animal, prior to their being slaughtered for food.
Electrical stunning is done by sending an electrical current through the brain and/or heart of the animal before slaughter. Current passing through the brain induces an immediate but non-fatal general convulsion that produces unconsciousness. Current passing through the heart produces an immediate cardiac arrest that also leads shortly to unconsciousness and death. It is a controversial subject however.
With percussive stunning, a device which hits the animal on the head, with or without penetration, is employed. Such devices, such as the captive bolt pistol, can be either pneumatic, or powder-actuated. Percussive stunning produces immediate unconsciousness through brain trauma.
It must be stressed that Animal Welfare is an increasingly important issue for the EU. The Law of slaughter is seen as an integral part of the Animal Welfare Legislation. The issue of ritual slaughter isn’t a new one though and it’s very interesting to see where and by whom the practice has been particularly opposed.
Religious slaughter without stunning was prohibited in several countries in Europe from 1936 to 1944 under the occupation of Nazi Germany (Germany in 1936, Italy in 1938, then in the majority of the other European countries according to the Nazi Germany occupation progress between 1940 and 1944)
The far-right National Front (NF) party, via offering support to the animal welfare groups in their opposition to the ritual slaughter of animals, was able to target Jews and Muslims. An official NF publication at the time announced:
“All the Jews have to do is stop this barbaric and torturous murder of defenceless animals. When they cease the slaughter the NF will cease its campaign. Until then the NF campaign for animal welfare will continue.”
BNP journal, British Countryman, contained an article entitled ‘Stop the Real Cruelty,’ which stated: ‘Hundreds of thousands of animals die in terror and agony by having their throats slashed open without humane stunning. Halal and kosher ritual slaughter of fully conscious animals is a barbaric affront to the British tradition of livestock […] Ritual slaughter is a deliberate torture!'”
It’s no surprise then, that there have been numerous scientific studies on this subject in order to comply with animal welfare legislation.
Experiments for the objectification of pain and consciousness during conventional (captive bolt stunning) and religiously mandated (“ritual cutting”) slaughter procedures for sheep and calves.
By W. Schulze, H. Schultze-Petzold, A.S. Hazem, and R. Gross
The Animal Welfare Act of 24 July 1972 (TierSchG) assumes the basic concept of an ethically orientated animal welfare legislation.
Professor Schulze and Dr. Hazem of the University of Hanover undertook a comparative study of various methods of slaughter: religious slaughter by direct bleeding and slaughter with stunning using a gun (“captive bolt”) followed by bleeding. To measure in an objective way the pain, the authors took care to obtain an electroencephalogram (EEG) and an electrocardiogram (ECG) for each animal.
The experiments show that recordings of the EEG done on the animals slaughtered by direct bleeding did not show any change between the moments before the bleeding and after the bleeding, thus clarifying the fact that the animal does not feel pain during and after the incision (measurements were taken on 17 sheep and 10 calves). The state of unconsciousness (major sleep) is detected between 4 and 6 seconds for sheep and around 10 seconds for the calves. The flat EEG (brain death) is reached after 13 seconds for the sheep and 23 seconds for the calves. The ECG showed an increase in the heart rate to 240 beats per minute in the 40 seconds after the bleeding of the sheep and 280 beats per minute in the 40 seconds after the bleeding of the bovines, which correlated with the phenomena of convulsion of the body as is generally observed.
Concerning the measurements taken on the stunned animals (6 sheep and 5 calves), serious disturbances were observed in the EEG after the application of the gun. The flat EEG is reached after 28 seconds for 4 calves. They also noted the following phenomenon for two sheep: whereas the activity of a half of the brain is stopped, the other part presents intense activity until the bleeding stops. The bleeding that occurred after stunning resulted in a stopping of cerebral activity. Recordings of the ECG showed values higher than 300 beats per minutes after stunning. More over, differences were observed during measurements of pain by thermal stimulation carried out on some animals: nothing was detected after the direct bleeding, while an increase in the pain was observed for a sheep after the stunning.
The authors concluded that if the direct bleeding is done well (adequate equipment, and a cut that is deep and rapid), it is more effective than the stunning by gun (i.e., the flat EEG was reached more quickly); and that methods of direct bleeding, following these studies should be reconsidered by European authorities so that religious slaughter is not an “exception” within the framework of religious freedom but is in fact a more humane form of slaughter.
“When the instrument is well sharpened and the slaughter is fast, the incision does not cause in the animal a defensive movement and there is no immediate reaction (…). On the contrary, voluntary defensive movements were observed in stunned animals at the moment when the knife is inserted in the animal to slice the chinstraps and the carotids”
The slaughter in the form of ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to the EEG recordings and the missing defensive actions.
During the experiments with captive bolt stunning no indications could be found for proscribing this method for calves.
For sheep, however, there were in parts severe reactions both to the bloodletting cut and the pain stimuli. A proof of the reliable effectiveness of captive bolt stunning could not be provided using the methods applied.
This report quotes in particular the Ph.D work of Dr Pouillaude which concludes by: “religious slaughter would thus be a less stressing mode of slaughter. Conclusions of all the scientific experiments converge towards a firmly supported certainty: properly carried out, religious slaughter is the most humane way because it leads to less trauma to animals to be killed to be consumed for its meat”.
“In addition, we hear the reflections of professionals daily confronted with slaughter who take refuge initially behind the lawful requirements. Then they expose their perplexity: one can cause suffering while stunning, one can be compassionate while bleeding directly. Essentially, concludes one (prudently or sincerely?) that when it “is well done” direct bleeding gives a very fast death, but requires a very qualified slaughter man; stunning, in terms of the current situation, requires less expertise, but if the stun is unsuccessful, it is very likely more painful than direct bleeding” religious slaughter without prior stunning is the least painful method for the animal and for humans; it does not neglect the interests of the animal nor does it pose a medical risk for the consumer “in any case, associations of animal welfare estimate in a unanimous way that the stunning of the animals before the bleeding ensures unconsciousness and anaesthesia; In that case, there is no reaction by the animal during the incision.” It seems that the animal is not conscious that its throat is cut”.
From the same report:
Does the processes of stunning remove suffering itself, OR the possibility to manifest it?
She puts forward an evaluation of certain methods classically used to evaluate pain, and, in particular, the exploration of the reflexes of the eyelid, cornea and the legs. Suppression of these reflexes at the time of stunning can come from a driving paralysis directly induced by these methods (e.g., electro narcosis) without modifying cerebral functions.
• The calm cattle collapse quickly (often after 10 to 20 seconds, average 17 seconds) and they have a faster onset of insensibility.
• The simultaneous cutting of the two carotid arteries and the two jugular veins (as required by the religious rule) reduces, significantly, the time to loss of sensibility. By carrying out a fast cut, 95% of the calves collapse almost immediately.
For the sociologist Noélie Vialles, the stunning is appreciated much more by the public as it is less spectacular and consequently appears to be less painful, but without assuring the public that it is actually an efficient process:
“Generally, the analyses of people who are supposed to know conclude that it is not certain concerning the stunning prior to bleeding; but that the spectacle of the direct bleeding appears to be more violent and painful to the human observer, thus humans should watching it, whatever the results are for the animal. What stunning eliminates, most surely, is therefore human discomfort.
Nobody can dispute that any slaughter of animals is an aesthetically loaded process. Thus the wide-spread emotional resistance to kill an animal, which has not been stunned, by cutting the throat, is understandable.
So there we have two major studies, one of which forms the basis of the Animal Welfare Act in force in Germany, using scientific evidence to prove that ritual slaughter without stunning is not more inhumane and painful. In fact, the opposite.
In a strange twist, there are statistics that say stunning actually DOES take place prior to slaughter in up to 90% of Halal slaughter in the UK anyway. Where this leaves the EDL is anyone’s guess. In a state of confusion more than likely.
Something that really seems to be riling the Islamophobes is not just the issue of Halal meat, but other foodstuffs that are Halal approved. They appear to be under the illusion that if a chocolate bar or other confectionaries are Halal approved, some form of barbaric slaughter has taken place. The thought of unknowingly eating a Haribo sweet that is Halal fills them with the kind of disgust I could only feel on finding out I was being served the family pet for tea.
Attn EDL: A label stating that a Cadbury’s Cream Egg is Halal doesn’t mean that the Easter Bunny has been sacrificed in the name of Allah by a bloodthirsty jihadist.
“Halal” is an Arabic word meaning “lawful” or “permissible”, and the term not only covers food and drink, but also to all matters of daily life. When it comes to halal food, most people think of meat foods only. However, Muslims must ensure that all foods, particularly processed foods, pharmaceuticals, and non-food items like cosmetics, are also halal. Frequently, these products contain animal by-products or other ingredients that are not permissible for Muslims to eat or use on their bodies.
• The abundance of pork and non-dhabiḥa meats at restaurants presents a rather-difficult problem to overcome. While a Muslim will not order a non-dhabiḥa halal dish, there is a concern about cross-contamination. This is likely to occur when the dhabiḥa halal dish is prepared with the same cooking tools and in the same kitchen as other non-dhabiḥa halal dishes. Food particles and juices from the two dishes are likely to be exchanged, technically rendering the dhabiḥa halal dish as haraam.
• Many apparently meat-free dishes, and even some desserts, contain pork, such as most kinds of gelatin, or other non-conforming substances. There is some disagreement about food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) that may use enzymes derived from pig fat in the production process. It is difficult to avoid such additives when eating out since they are usually not listed on restaurant menus. Some Muslim organizations compile tables of such additives.
• Alcoholic beverages, including wine and whiskey, are used in many sauces and cakes, and alcohol is used as ingredient (a solvent and a preservative) for the production and storage of food flavorings such as vanilla and other extracts.
‘kay? If you want to treat yourself to a Ferrero Rocher, and it’s Halal, fear not. It only means that all of the ingredients used are ‘permissible’ for Muslims. You will not need your stomach pumped or a bleach enema.
What of the other issues? I’m not aware of any Christian texts that forbid the consumption of meat slaughtered in accordance to any other faiths law. Jews have Kosher food if they adhere to halakha, Hindus and Sikhs may require Jhatka meat, may abstain from meat completely or not restrict themselves in any way. If a person has dietary restrictions through adhering to religious requirements, they should be respected. But if someone refuses or objects to eating food simply because it complies with a particular faith, but their own religion places no restrictions on it, I have no sympathy. The same for atheists, or secularists. If they only object to Halal food because there are religious stipulations, then they have the right not to eat it, but to make an issue of it would be pointless and unnecessary in my view. I have no time for religious bigotry.
As far as the right to choose, or the right to know is concerned, I think transparency is important. I also think a person should have the right to decide for themselves. A school, for example, should provide a Halal option if it’s required, but also a non-Halal option. Crucially though, people should be able to make an informed decision. Deciding because of a misconception or prejudice is not helpful. It maybe trivial in the grand scheme of things, but if it’s more economical and practical to only provide Halal meat in certain schools, non-Muslim pupils and parents should be in possession of the facts. Ignorance can be cured, but bigotry can be very stubborn. If you still object in the face of scientific evidence, then you deserve to spend your evenings making bland sandwiches.
The rabid ferocity from the EDL that has seen flash demo’s at fast food outlets and schools that offer Halal options is due to what they see as ‘Stealth Jihad’. This phrase is the title of a book by Robert Spencer, a bogus ‘scholar’ who peddles inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda. It is used to describe what he and his like see as the Islamisation of the Western world. The paranoid belief that Muslims are migrating, breeding and enforcing Sharia law, in order to establish a global caliphate. ‘Creeping Sharia’ is another of the favoured terms (as well as being an excellent name for am Islamic heavy metal band).
Whereas I and most liberals would see providing a Halal option as being part of an inclusive and integrated society, the Islamophobes see it as the first step on a slippery slope that leads to infidels being hung in local town centres. Asserting that brutally oppressive practices by corrupt rulers, is a result of Islamic law is bound to cause panic among the naïve, and manifests itself in the guise of misguided protests by ‘patriots’ defending ‘our way of life’. Are they right to be afraid of Sharia law? Is it a threat to our society? In my opinion, no. Muslims make up 4% of the UK population. Not all British Muslims are practicing and therefore don’t live according to the Qur’an, Sunnah, hadith, Sharia etc. The EDL would have us believe that in the next 20-40 years, this 4% will rise to such an extent that we will all be living under Islamic law. The logic and statistics they use to prove this have been debunked comprehensively on numerous occasions. It’s just paranoid fantasy.
As for whether Sharia actually IS oppressive and barbaric? That’s a whole other question that needs specific attention, and I have no doubt will be addressed in the future.
A few interesting Halal related websites and articles below.