How halal is halal (2) – getting close and personal


Putting a non-religious handle on halal slaughter (2)

Originally posted on The Old Brewer's Blog:

In the first part of my series, “How halal is halal …” I introduced the matter of a prayer offered at the moment of slaughter. The prayer gives non-Muslims (and non-Jews) grief but frankly it’s not especially religious. I drew an analogy with the grace offered before meals in Christian families and typically before formal black tie dinners.

How many people who are not religious would attend a formal dinner and not take their seats before the guest of honour enters the room? Very few.

I suggest that the purpose of the prayer is to express thanks to our maker for his bounty and request forgiveness for the wilful taking of a life. Is that really primitive and something belonging to a long since bygone era? I am sorry but even humanists and secularists have to concede that.

If you go to YouTube and search on Mercy halal slaughter you…

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How halal is halal (1) – my lay introduction to dhabiha


Putting a non-religious handle on halal slaughter (1)

Originally posted on The Old Brewer's Blog:

My background briefly is that I am a sort of Christian, not a Muslim, and I have had no explicit religious training. I have a farming background and a life science degree, pharmacy.

My interest in halal was stimulated by after reading up kosher rules and recognising that they were based on a solid foundation that will withstand any comparison with modern food hygiene and animal welfare standards. From hereon I’ll just refer to “halal” rather than “kosher”. The two terms are not fully interchangeable but for this article they can be so considered. Both originate from the times in which the Old Testament books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus are set – the Bronze Age. That’s a long time ago.

Detractors assume that because our religious ancestors did not possess microscopes they cannot possibly have had any idea of the causes of infection. Detractors refer to a sky pixie and…

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My letter to the OED suggesting a need to review its definition of the word “halal”

I have published my letter to the OED by way of inviting others to make a similar and hopefully more scholarly contribution that I can provide.

Good Morning All

I am researching the etymology of the English word “holy”. Linguistically its Germanic roots link to the Hebrew “halachah” but that’s not why I write.

I respectfully suggest that the OED reviews its entry for the word “halal”

My research took me to the OED entry “halal”, first in the local library’s 1989 print edition, where it come after “halacha” and its derivates. Odd, I thought, but not necessarily unreasonable for the time. Many people then very likely did not understand Islam well enough to know that “halal” has a seriously wider meaning. It’s more than:

“To kill (an animal) in the manner prescribed by Muslim law”

The 1989 OED entry was probably written much earlier than the publishing date. It may well have reflected the general understanding of what Islam was at the time that it was written. But we are now in 2014 and our awareness should have changed yet the current online entries have barely changed.

“Halal” and “halachah” has the same linguistic origin – appertaining to “the way”, “the way to go” thereby pointing to a “way of life”. Within that concept, the humane slaughter of animals called “dhabiha” or “zhabiha” (different transliterations of one word) and hygienic processing of the meat from the animal is just one element of a whole code of moral and social conduct. The corresponding Jewish/Hebrew code is now commonly referred to as “kosher”.

In Biblical times, a halal, especially dietary, lifestyle would have been important to public health. Bad food  processing, especially of meat, would have been associated with gastro-intestinal diseases such as dysentery. In the Prophet Mohammed’s time in the seventh century CE most people were illiterate and access to written documenation would have been limited. Good practice was taught by “rote”, by word of mouth, and was practised as a form of habit or “ritual”. Much was codified or written down in the Prophet’s time or era – hence the concept of a new religion. Today we mistakenly think of halal codes as having a theological basis. Such is our understanding of our ancient history.

The reality is that many of these good practices were applied by different peoples, communities or sects. These practices existed outside religions as we tend to think of them today.

Referring to linguistic associations, written Hebrew and Arabic use different visual alphabets but it is clear that when spoken there was great similarity between these and similar languages. This evidenced by the shortened Jewish and Muslim greeting transliterated respectively as “shalom” or “salaam”.

The full terms are “shalom aleichem” or “salaamu alaykum”.

I cite these connections because they help demonstrate the true or correct relationship between the Jewish “halachah” and Muslim “halal” that is not reflected in any way shape or form in the OED.

My authority is limited. My researches are not that well advanced and my liguinstic skills are limited but I recommend that the OED apply a scholarly review of the current dictionary entries.

EDL planning to protest against Dudley mosque

Originally posted on Doing or Not Doing God: religion, policy & politics:

The far-right protest group intends to hold a demonstration in the town on February 7 according to one of its Facebook pages.

West Midlands MEP and Dudley councillor Bill Etheridge has asked the group to cancel its plans and leave the mosque issue to be settled democratically.

The UKIP MEP said: “The mosque is a controversial matter and a lot of people have their opinions on it.

“It is being opposed on planning grounds.

More here.

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Gadhimai – help needed with the sums

Readers of my blogs will see that I have empathy with the practice of shechita and dhabiha. It may not stand out in my blogs to date but I do not see the prescribed Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughter as “ritual” or especially “religious”. These attributes have only been acquired since first Jews codified the practice after the destruction of the Second Temple and later with the establishment of Islam. In my view the practice had existed for a very long time before it was codified. It’s how meat was slaughtered. But Gadhimai?

I spend enough time in the Twittersphere to know that the Nepalese Gadhimai festival raises a few very serious questions. The Twittersphere says that some 500,000 animals are to be slaughtered in order seemingly to please a goddess. To be frank I have not researched this to any extent do cannot pass any value judgements.

One picture on Twitter shows a skinny bovine whose physical condition would surely warrant an RSPCA intervention and prosecution here in the UK. It’s certainly not an animal that Josh Archer would want to take to show. It’s standing among hundreds of already dead animals. The smell must be terrible. I have to assume the picture is real. Why would people want to photoshop such a gruesome image? A number of pictures capture the moment before beheading. If it’s not real why are the Nepalese government or embassy people not trying to set the record straight?

But I am not writing explicitly to condemn the practice. I don’t have enough information. If what I see is right the practice is horrendous.

Jews and Muslims kill to eat. As they cut the throat they offer a prayer that is meant to thank Our Creator for his bounty and ask forgiveness for taking/sacrificing a precious life. They kill what they need to eat.

If the Twittersphere’s number of 500,000 animals to be slaughtered is correct what do they do with the meat?

The population of Nepal is just shy of 30,000,000. So one animal is to be killed for every 60 people – that’s not 60 (extended) families but 60 individuals – some with small appetites. What facilities have they got for distributing, cooking and eating the meat within a reasonable period of a few days before the meat becomes unsuitable for human consumption?

Now we don’t that 500,000 animals will have been killed this year. Seemingly India has blocked cross border traffic of live animals. The figure has not been loudly contested. Five years ago it is claimed that 250,000 animals were killed.

I do not have all the facts but if this festival is intended to produce meat to eat the figures do not feel right. If the animals are merely wasted that is a considerable waste of a precious resource.

One day I might research this ritual more. For now I can only see pictures of a shockingly inhumane practice that should never be compared and conflated with shechita or dhabiha.

Sharia Wills – What I don’t know

I am intrigued by the recent debating around sharia wills and The Law Society’s first issuing guidance to solicitors early in 2014 and then removing its practice note from its website in November 2014.

Seemingly among the loudest of critics of the guidance were Muslims or people with Muslim backgrounds. They appear to have been applauded by a wide range of groups.

Sara Khan (@sarakhaninspire) and We Will Inspire posted this:

Southall Black Sisters posted:

Both bodies have been cited by many tweeters. Many firms have posted news of the removal of the practice note from The Law Society website. Why?

Why has there been so much jubilation? Why have the news media trumpeted the news?

For that matter why did everyone talk about “creeping sharia” when The Law Society published the practice note in the first instance? Why did Government, through Chris Grayling, jump up and down?

I am not a Muslim. I have read little of the Qur’an yet my little knowledge of Islam and Islamic values teaches me that in the strictest interpretation of sharia codes women are legal equals to men. They may be perceived to have different roles but they are legal equals. So where do we get the idea that women are suppressed and downtrodden according to sharia law?

Women may be treated badly in some cultures or societies that embrace Islam but where in sharia law is the justification for ill-treatment?

Coming back to sharia wills, when The Law Society first issued its guidance nothing changed in the secular law of England and Wales (or within the UK as a whole). Nothing changed. In secular law a man need not treat his wife equally in his will. He can leave her out altogether. In secular law if a man is married to a women who had a child out of wedlock he is not required to bequeath anything to that child. In secular law if a man “disowns” a sibling because he has in some way dishonoured the family, perhaps he has become a jihadi extremist, he is not obliged to leave him anything in his will.

In the media debate on sharia wills – that’s the debate that informs and educates secular UK – there is an error of omission. OK, it was an oversight. However, the media are always right and ignorance is not a legal defence. I wouldn’t have known from my reading of this story in any of the tabloid “gospels ” that sharia actually leaves women with a good financial settlement.

In Islam a woman’s financial assets are hers and hers alone. In respect of succession there are no sharia financial obligations to her children. Sharia finance obligations remain with the menfolk. Thus when a father bequests to his sons they at some point in the fiuture will have obligations to their children.

Illegitimate children are the sharia responsibility of their natural fathers. Our secular expectations are similar. Our society expects fathers to take financial responsibility for children left with estranged partners.

Other issues with sharia succession rules may be less easy to fathom but clearly the succession rules are based on reason which is not alien to the secular world.

I am not a legal expert but I know enough to know what I don’t know. That means I know when I need to start asking questions. Sadly our secular prophets appear not to possess that knowledge. What’s worse when challenged, these prophets tend to respond with hostility.

I can see the problem. People who are possibly suspicious of Islam may genuinely be unware of what underpins Islamic codes. It is quite clear in this sharia wills debate that many Muslims are themselves not best informed and consequently struggle to debate meaningfully.

There is a paradox in this debate. Religions exist because in the very distant past good practice was taught and passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth. There was no writing and possibly few ways to pass on understanding. In any event only a few people could read so they were dependent on what was said to them. Practices were learnt by rote and followed as a matter of habit. Much the same is true today.

If I had to level one complaint at The Law Society it may be that it tried to provide too much information without explaining the sharia context for the information it was providing.

Lastly the irony lost on feminist movements who believe that they have won a moral victory is that nothing changed when the practice note was first published by The Law Society and significantly nothing changed with it’s subsequent withdrawal. Seemingly people were in the dark when they first complained to The Law Society and nothing has changed. The same people are still in the dark.

Of course I may have this all wrong.

Temperance Hotels now forgotten

Seemingly not many papers have covered the change of ownership of the Bermondsey Square Hotel in Southwark. The Daily Mail did so and its doing so was picked up by Sky News where it was discussed on at 2330hrs on 14th November.

There is now doubt that what bothered Sky News was the new “Muslim” ownership. Throw the word “sharia” into the conversation and negative stereotyping is assured.

The original article appears here:

Actually the story behind the report is of interest for a number of reasons, none of which was seemingly picked up well – focus was on the word “sharia” in the headline.

Firstly, I do not recall that the UK’s temperance hotels ever received this sort of attention. Yes, some Christians, possibly Methodists, ran alcohol free hotels at least into the nineteen seventies. Methodists were strong on temperance. Even today alcohol is forbidden at social events run in Methodist properties. The now closed village shop behind my house has an alcohol licence in its latter years but was forbidden for a long time because it was a former Wesleyan Chapel and the property deeds included a restraint.

The new village community shop is accommodated in what was the vestry of the current Methodist Church – no alcohol licence allowed.

Lest we forget temperance or abstinence are/were Christian values as well as Islamic. As Britain is a “Christian country” – as we are reminded not infrequently – the requirement for at least moderate alcohol consumption is not necessarily an alien concept. Why all the fuss now that the Bermondsey Square Hotel has gone alcohol free?

Well Sky News struggled with the idea. One of the hotel’s dishes was beer-battered fish. Sky was concerned that “fish and chips” would no longer be available. Excuse me but beer is not an essential component of batter – yet it bothered Sky News.

A more critical issue that could have been given the greater attention was that the switch to sharia compliant cuisine happened very quickly. The website’s menus had not been replaced at the time that the Daily Mail published its report. It would seem that people are arriving expecting one experience but getting another. It is reported that waiting staff were required to explain the change. That presumably has trading standards’ implications. Surely the new owners should have given notice of their intent to rebrand.

Lastly as this appears to have happened quickly I’d like to know if the hotel’s kitchens and food stores were deep cleaned to ensure removal of all or most traces of pig meat. If they did not do so then arguably their kitchens cannot be sharia compliant for Muslim customers and that is surely another trading standards issue.

The Bermondsey is a five star hotel with a fine reputation for it’s dining experience.The Daily Mail points out

  • Bar and grill at hotel previously run by Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace.
  • Previously voted the UK’s trendiest place to stay and where Gordon Ramsay once filmed a show

Going alcohol free alone must have the potential to make a huge difference for the hotel for a clientele used to imbibing with their food. Indeed there is an association between fine dining and alcohol as possibly implied in this Tweet:

  • BBC Radio 4 Sunday Nov 2
  • Is it possible to combine religious dietary laws with fine dining? #halal
Quite clearly The BBC will have know that good quality meat complying with halal and kosher dietary codes is doable and the question arising is can you do it without alcohol? If it’s not possible to have fine dining without alcohol it would appear that the Bermondsey Square Hotel must rebrand accordingly. And that poses another question; Was this fully thought through by the new owners at the time of purchase?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the hotel’s new owners and the manner with which the impact of the changes have been reported, there is an undercurrent. The Brits it seems like their alcohol. The country now has a substantial nighttime economy and its consequences puts pressure on the NHS, especially at weekends.

There was a time when Methodism was a strong Christian force in parts of Britain. Methodism is or used to be associated with temperance. If a new explicitly Christian voice resurrected the concept of moderation, if not abstinance, what questions would UK media informed by “Christian values” ask?


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