Monday, December 27, 2010

The Halal Meat Industry - a useless and illogical fad

For some time now I have been pondering over an issue that has gained increasing prominence in the news. The issue is that of 'Halal' meat and the alleged obligation that a Muslim should only eat such meat and none other, mean ing that your Waitrose, Sainsbury's or Harrod's butcher is completely off the menu and you should only buy meat that has been certified by one of the several Halal Food authorities that have appeared over the past few years. The rise in demand for this meet is such that even the Tesco's chain of supermarkets is now selling Halal meats in select stores. In fact, Halal is now becoming quite big business across Europe as its population of Muslims increases. There is also something else which is often overlooked in commentary on the subject, and that is that this whole "Halal" business is completely new, even to many Muslims. From a personal point of view I had never heard it be as big an issue as I did when I first came to the United Kingdom. Rather, it was always more of a concern for Muslims I met from South Asia than it was amongst Muslims I knew in the Arab community, even those who prayed regularly and fasted. This made me curious to find the actual basis of this strongly held belief.

On deciding to focus more on my spirituality, I had initially decided to avoid non-Halal meat out of precaution but in recent months I have had more time to contemplate and think over what this whole issue means. To my surprise, I found that it is mostly nonsense-on-stilts, and in my investigations I could find no compelling reason why I should eat meat from livestock slaughtered according to these 'Halal' guidelines and not others that have been killed just as hygienically and with a regard to animal welfare and standards of health.

I was particularly concerned with what the Qur'an and the Hadith had to say concerning this matter and took care to see how the most prominent Halal Food authorities in the United Kingdom justified their concern for Halal slaughtered meat. The first was the Halal Food Authority, based in the UK. I downloaded their Brief Guidelines in a PDF file to see what the origins of Halal are. In it, I found the justifications for their arguments not only weak but, in almost all cases, completely unrelated to the issue of animal slaughter. To start with, the HFA says that:

Muslims are commanded by Allah (SWT) in the Qur'an to eat only pure, wholesome and permissible food that is fit for human consumption.

That is straightforward but completely generic, so I took this just as an introduction to the topic they were beginning. Next we are given six examples from the Qur'an itself which allegedly outline this requirement. Let us look at each of these first before looking at the reasons given from the hadith. On a side note I absolutely detest reading the Qur'an in English, simply because it sounds ridiculous and competely misses the nuance and clarity of the Arabic text. The examples are as follows.

Firstly, the Qur'an says "O, ye men! Eat of what is in the earth lawful and wholesome and follow not the footsteps of Satan; for verily he is an open enemy to you." al Baqara verse 168.

Well, fair enough. There is no argument here but we can understand that we should only eat that which is lawful and wholesome. We'll talk about the lawful bit in a moment.

Secondly, "O, ye who believe! Eat of good things. We have provided with and render thanks to Allah. If Him it is ye worship." al Baqara verse 172.

So again, here we have a direction to "eat of good things", and earlier in al Baqara we are told to eat what is "lawful and wholesome". So presumably, eating junk food, poison, or yellow snow is something a Muslim isn't allowed to do. It seems quite sensible but this doesn't tell us that as a Muslim I'm forbidden from buying a Waitrose steak slaughtered to the highest food hygiene standards. So let us look at the next point.

Thirdly, "And eat of what Allah hath given you (for food) that which is lawful and wholesome, and fear Allah in whome ye believe." al-Maida verse 88.

Again, we have the lawful and wholesome imperative but no mention of the content of this imperative.

Fourthly, the HFA quotes the Qur'an as follows, "So eat of that (meat) upon which Allah's name has been mentioned, if you are believers in His verses" Al-Anam, verse 118.

Now here the HFA has been a bit naughty because in Arabic that verse does not imply meat or otherwise. It is well known to all Muslims that they say "In the Name of God" before eating their meals whether that involves fruit, vegetables or fish. However, to imply meat in brackets on their websites is a little bit dishonest and frankly I am concerned that such an assocation should resort to subtle plays on words, especially to people who might not understand Arabic and will be unable to read the original text. A less generous description of what they have done would say they were lying.

Fifthly, "And do not eat that upon which the name of Allah has not been mentioned, for indeed it is a grave disobedience". Al-Anam, verse 121

In this verse again it is not implied that the subject is meat, but that still doesn't tell us that animals slaughtered must be with somebody saying something when they do the slaughter. It is just saying that you shouldn't eat that which hasn't had the name of Allah mentioned upon it, but as a Muslim you should say Bismillah before eating or drinking anyway. So I am not sure why this is given as a verse concerned with slaughter.

Sixthly, "O Messengers, eat from the pure foods and work righteousness". al-Muminun verse 51.

Again, there is a constant theme of purity, or goodness in foods which are lawful. I think it is quite obvious here that by that they mean foods which are of good quality and suitable for healthy consumption. But what is starkingly obvious is that there is no mention of slaughter.

It is clear that for a better understanding of of Islamic rules on slaughter we must find the meaning of the word "lawful". I wanted to find out what is 'lawful'. In al Ma'ida, verse 3, the Qur'an states:

حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ وَالْدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنْزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ وَالْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَالْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَالْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَالنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَا أَكَلَ السَّبُعُ إِلاَّ مَا ذَكَّيْتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى النُّصُبِ

You are forbidden dead [animals], blood, the flesh of pigs and what has been slaughtered to other than Allah and [forbidden] the suffocated, the bludgeoned, what has fallen from a great height, that which has been knocked to death by another animal, and that which has been killed by any predator...

Fine, so that is clear and in fact all of it seems like common sense. Elsewhere in the Qur'an we are told that if you are forced to then of course you can. So again, common sense is a theme here. In regular slaughterhouses throughout the world, at least those not governed by religious laws, we find that carbon monoxide, bolts and electricity are used to stun the animal before its throat is cut to let out the blood. So there is no fear of it being contrary to any of the methods forbidden in verse 3 of al Ma'ida. The animals have also had no name mentioned when they were slaughtered, so they were not slain in the name of Jupiter or Thor, let alone in the name of Allah. If the animal was already dead, diseased, bludgeoned to death before the blood was let out, then it is in fact contravening the health and safety regulations of most if not all developed societies with proper laws and concern for food safety. To assume that this verse implies a prohibition on animals slaughtered with no name uttered is completely subjective.

So the big question is where does it say that the slaughter has to be in the name of Allah at the time the animal is slain and not after? The examples from the HFA website taken from the Qur'an do not show this requirement and it is unreasonable to assume that they do. Let us look at the Hadiths that the HFA give as further justification for requiring this Halal requirement.

Firstly, Abu Baker narrated that the Prophet Muhamad said, "That body will not enter Paradise which has been nourished with Haram" al Baihaqi

Well, I don't want to assume anything, but firstly we have not determined that meat from regular slaughter houses is haram and secondly the meaning of this hadith goes far beyond food and also (far more likely) appears to be concerned with those who make money or wealth by illegitimate means. So this hadith does not appear to say what the HFA want it to say, and that is a big difference.

Secondly, Ibn Ujrah relates that the Prophet said, "A body nourished with Haram will not enter Jannah" by Tirmidhi.

Again, as with the first hadith, we are not debating the issue of haram or the hadith's authenticity. We are trying to determine what exactly is haram first, in order to avoid it best. This hadith is concerned with us avoiding haram, it is not telling us what the haram is and it is assumed we have already obtained this knowledge before we try to understand the hadith.

Thirdly, Jabir reported that the Prophet said, "That flesh will not enter Paradise which has grown from Haram, and all that flesh which has grown from Haram, the fire (of hell) is more worthy of it" by Ahmed, Darimi and Baihaqi.

This is another example of the HFA selectively choosing a text to suit the point being made. The haram in this hadith is not related to meat, but with money or wealth obtained illegitimately through dishonest means. The flesh which will grow from it is from food brought with this dirty money. Whether the person eats meat slaughtered according to the HFA's or the 'Halal' industry's specifications is irrelevant and besides the point.

Finally, Abu Huraryah reports that the Prophet said, "A time will come upon the people wherein a man will not bother what he intakes; whether from a Halal source or Haram" taken from Sahih al Bukhari.

Again, this does not tell us what is haram and the hadith does not speak about anything to do with meat. It is about any source of wealth which may have been obtained illegitimately and dishonestly. Why should I assume that this is an argument for me to eat meat that has been certified by the HFA? In fact, why should I choose meat certified by any of these 'Halal' specification authorities and not, for example, a premium cut of meat from a reputed vendor that has taken every reasonable precaution that the meat was slaughtered hygienically and that the animal was well treated and killed with as little pain as possible. I cannot find a convincing answer to these questions from any of the proponents of this Halal industry.

I am not a religous authority but I've taken the time and effort to reach an informed decision based on an understanding of the Qur'an from verses which are clear and unambiguous to anybody who understands Arabic. I am happy to hear readers thoughts or suggestions on this topic. So far, I see this whole Halal industry as a fad and a load of nonsense with no basis in the Qur'an or the Hadith. It seems to me everybody has taken it for granted that there is such a basis and that they have done so mistakenly and out of a certain naivety. It seems there is no evidence that the Halal meat industry is anything but a self perpetuating con.


Anonymous said...

How bizarre! I was thinking of this issue just this week with extra seriousness. You have certainly gone to alot of trouble and it is certainly an interesting and dare I say even a necessary post.

Now, as far as I am concerned your average (non-muslim) butcher in the UK does not sell meat which is forbidden, it is not haraam. It is not only killed by blood letting it is also killed under the regulations set out by a Christian country, and as far as Islam is concerned either or is fine by us (again I'm not a scholar!). The halal 'authorities' in the UK like to over-complicate and over-regulate things. I dont understand it! Even though Islam clear on what is forbidden! And as long as the cow was not beaten to death nor died of natural causes nor killed in a non-people of the book religious ritual, then what is the problem?

There is also a hadith where Aysha-Radiya Allah 3anha- says to the Prophet that the aaraabs (who were moshrikeen) had brought them some meat and that they did not know where this meat came from, he told her to say bismillah and eat it. (p.s. please dont quote me but check this hadith for yourself!)

I have emailed a couple of scholars and am awaiting a reply as well. Mainly because I am sick of the strict becoming the norm!

Maysaloon said...

Thanks for your comment, I'm so glad because I thought was going crazy in not seeing where the heck this whole fad has come up from. Please do let me know if you hear back from the scholars and what they tell you. Great blog you have btw :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks :) Unfortunatley, it has been a few weeks and have yet to hear anything! I will share though if I ever hear from them.