The Danish Kosher-Halal slaughter ban

Twitter grab non-stun

I came across this Tweet after I started this post but it confirms my belief. This Tweet is clear there are people who would ban Jews and Muslims from observing good meat production practice. My post was going top start here.

Please be in no doubt the Danish ban on non-stun slaughter has nothing to do with humane slaughter.

A central and core element of good kosher/halal practice that may not be obvious is transparency of the supply chain. I came across this when reading around the horse meat scandal that broke in 2014. Long opaque international supply chains for processed meat products allowed horse meat to be mixed with beef and to be sold as beef.

Kosher/halal codes start high welfare animal husbandry. In the UK there is a growing Secular demand for locally produced high welfare meat. We are seeing a demand for farmers’ markets. In theory it ought to be possible for consumers to see and observe any stage in the supply chain. In practice an element of trust occurs – that’s trust in the people you know. It is the same with halal meat.

Although I did  not save the reference, at the time of the horse meat scandal I read about halal meat not leaving the sight of a Muslim. The the idea immediately made sense. In brief you should not eat meat whose provenance you did not know and supplied by people you do not know or should not trust.

In Secular Britain we have a range of quality marks that are supposed to assure that products are made to agreed standards.

The RSCPA has recently renamed its “Freedom Foods” mark as “RSPCA Assured“. Then there is the “Red Tractor” quality mark.

What do these quality marks tell us? The Soil Association’s website includes this statement:

While every effort is made to ensure that the information listed is accurate and up to date, it is the sole responsibility of the individual producer to check the organic status of the abattoir and associated services at time of slaughter.

It seems we have to trust what people say. The longer the supply chain the more opaque it must be and the more trust we have to place in more and more people that we can never know.

In February 2015 Animal Aid released covert filming from a non-stun abattoir in the North of England. The images placed in the public domain are distressing to say the least. In a statement that was released with the images was this:

… Yorkshire Lamb is the tenth slaughterhouse in which we have filmed undercover since January 2009. As with the others, we didn’t know what we would find when our cameras were planted, including that it was a halal establishment – the first we have investigated. All the other nine were practising so-called ‘humane slaughter’. Two were Soil Association-approved, and another was accredited by the RSPCA’s Freedom Foods scheme. In eight out of the nine, we found serious welfare breaches, including animals being kicked, punched in the face, given electric shocks, burnt with cigarettes and thrown about prior to having their throats cut …

Animal Aid cameras are in place for very short periods (a matter of a few days) so if the distressing incidents that have been captured are rare then Animal Aid would have had to be very lucky to have been around when they occur.

The Animal Aid images from the non-stun slaughter facility show that even “halal” certified meat may not be produced to a guaranteed standard implied by the label.

Go onto the Internet and you will find reports of breaches of welfare standards even from facilities selling into the Jewish Kosher market – even in Israel itself.

Countries that are banning non-stun are not doing so for humane reasons. Animal Aid filmed mostly in “humane” slaughterhouses. The truth is that even here in the UK we cannot be assured that the meat we consume has come from animals that did not suffer in the last moments of their lives in Secular slaughterhouses. Here in the UK with its high standards we do not know if meat has been humanely processed – that’s within country.

The Danish government will have been aware of these issues when it banned non-stun practice within Denmark. It will have known that it is forcing Jews and Muslims, who very reasonably believe that meat should be locally produced and distributed through short transparent supply chains, to eat from meat from unknown sources. Denmark has in effect knowingly introduced discriminatory legislation.

Why would it do so? To protect its Secular meat trade from criticism?

Have you noticed that when Secularists want to show that their rituals are “humane” they never show you the graphic bleeding out? There is an assumption that stunning is a foolproof procedure – when little is known about the rate of mis-stunning which may be more that 1 in 20 animals. Insiders tell me that production lines slow down when Defra’s official inspectors are snooping around the slaughter halls. Others tell me that increasingly veterinary surgeons are avoiding eating meat – now that would make for an interesting study and would be very informative.

I introduced this post under the guise of the recent Danish ban on non-stun slaughter. The ban requires Jews and Muslims to buy meat from ever increasingly opaque supply chains. I have shown evidence that Secular slaughterhouses have issues and that Secular supply chains are not transparent.

Halal and Kosher dietary laws are derived from knowing where the meat one eats has come from and how it died. Good Secular practices promote the same principles and there may be growing interest in supporting local meat producers and distributors – by using family butchers, farmers’ markets and farm shops. Good Secular practice seems to be in harmony with good halal and kosher practice. This leads to one conclusion – banning non-stun slaughter must be rooted in anti-Semitism.

I have been provocative but as we know proper halal/kosher slaughter practice, applied by people with proper training and in the proper places is a non-inferior practice. In America and here in the UK non-stun facilities catering for the halal or the kosher markets have been found wanting – and so have Secular facilities operating under quality marks that are meant to assure humane stun slaughter.

I guess the bottom line is that if we want cheap meat in quantity we have to reduce our welfare expectations – or give increasing consideration to reducing our meat consumption.

Why do humanists shun the humane principles underpinning Islam?

A few years ago I picked up a pamphlet introducing Islam from a street stall. After reading the first few pages I thought that if you replace the word “God” (or “Allah”) with the word “nature” you could be introducing Humanism.

This week I had a twitter conversation with a Humanist who clearly rejected any notion that religions and their practices were rooted in the same humanitarian principles as his (dare I say, “religion?”).  I tested him. The very concept of God, Our Creator, Our Provider was enough for him or her to erect a very high and impenetrable barrier.

I strongly believe that Humanists should do not this. Towards the end of this post I develop this. With or without a belief in God there is common ground at a spiritual level.

The religious tract was describing how Islam should relate to the natural world and care for it. All religions have at their heart a similar foundation. Some, Jainism, take the respect for life very seriously indeed. Why, I wonder, do Humanists assume that belief in God or a god is incompatible with Humanism?

Many humans kill animals to eat and have done for many a century or indeed millennium. It is clear from what we know of Bible times that the peoples of the Middle East and probably Europe generally must have had a concept of the sanctity of life. The pyramids, the Coliseum in Rome, Greek architecture and other evidence testify to the prophets, the seers, priests and the like were not stupid. We cannot but assume that they also worked out what was a good way and what was a bad way to prepare food and especially the meat they chose to eat.

I think that we can assume that they had no idea of bacteria but for sure they would have worked out when bad practice created public health hazards. Casually discard the inedible remains of a carcass and you invited rat infestations and a whole host of infections – dysentery and so on. They would almost certainly have worked out what was not good meat to eat – that is meat from diseased animals and those whose death they did not understand. A good test of a healthy animal was its being conscious, alive and kicking as it were.

Martin Henig, in his “Religion in Roman Britain” (Routledge; New Ed edition (5 July 1995)), describes how the people of Britain would have had feelings of guilt when killing. At least those associated with cults. Cults, sects and religions would have been led by priests who passed their knowledge on by word of mouth through initiation ceremonies – rote teaching with incomplete understanding. From that we get rituals.

If we look at this from a Muslim perspective and their belief in a Creator God, The Provider of Life, a Supreme Being (a philosophical construct indicating that there is something much bigger than me or oneself and people generally that inspires us to develop a sense of community and common good) these feelings of guilt are manifest in a prayer at the time of killing for meat. The prayer, the Bismillah, is intended to thank Our Maker for His bounty and more importantly perhaps seek forgiveness. The slaughter process briefly connects man, a beast and God in the correct environment.

Of the kill itself the correct procedure will inflict minimal if any pain. This is achieved by using a carefully sharpened knife and a single swift cut that creates a catastrophic drop in blood pressure leading to rapid unconsciousness, which may be preceded by a brief period of wooziness. Everything that can be done to eliminate discomfort is done. No doubt poleaxing was deemed to be a rather hit and miss procedure (and its modern forms may well still be so).

Jews have really mastered the skills to sharpen the knife without nicks and blemishes to avoid tearing tissues and cause pain. One the most acclaimed experts is Dr Temple Grandin, who was interviewed here:

Munchies interview with Dr Grandin

There is a proper way and a proper place for so-called religious slaughter. My own research suggests that it does not scale up well. It’s doable but needs careful design of facilities and properly trained personnel. But let’s not kid ourselves into religiously believing that so-called “humane” slaughter in perfect. It’s a very secretive world. Operators are often desensitised. It’s a grim task. Many may well resort to fun and jollity as a coping mechanism.

For sure the Islamic requirement for the slaughterer  in effect to confront His Maker and the animal whose life is about to be taken simply isn’t possible – certainly not for chicken, which are killed in huge numbers.

As I see it this is very much in line with Humanist principles are actually not far removed from Islamic principles. Both want to see and expect humane rearing and as humane a death as is possible. Reality may be far from expectation for both. Industrial scale halal forces stunning because not to do so would be unconscionable. Humanists assume that their rituals are foolproof when it may be an awful lots worse than the industry wants to admit to. Even RSPCA, yes RSPCA, accredited facilities have been caught out by undercover Animal Aid filming. Two Soil Association approved slaughterhouses have also been exposed. That Animal Aid captured examples bad practice is significant. They film over very short periods and would be unlikely to witness rare incidents.

Where Humanists and Muslims differ is in their belief on a God or Creator. That’s fine but if humans feel guilty for taking life – and if they have a concept of sanctity of live they will do – who or what do they confront to seek forgiveness. If it is a matter between them and the animal or bird they are about to eat they have to confront the animal when it is still alive and is conscious.

Without a process not dissimilar to the proper halal process Humanists effectively treat their meat as a commodity.

My Twitter conversation ground to a halt when I introduced this argument. The barrier was well and truly reinforced. Of course developing this argument of in chunks of 140 characters is impossible.

I post here because there is a need to have an open discussion without barriers and preconceived, fixed ideas. At this point I have to get some matters off my chest. I discovered recently, in part after gatecrashing a Liverpool students union debate on the subject via its twitter feed, that many veterinary students learn from the Daily Mail (or their Christian vicars) that Islam is evil and therefore halal slaughter is wrong. They are not taught how it works and its context. They in turn inform our political leaders. The intellectually blind and leading the intellectually blind, so to speak.

I will close with this thought. Humanists need others to have a God in order to justify their non-belief and they would invent God if there wasn’t one in order to define their spirituality.

Can England tolerate Muslims?

Originally posted on hāroonsidāt:

Can England tolerate Muslims?

Let me be clear at the outset. I am not sharing this out of spite or hatred for anyone. I have been blessed (and continue to do so) to work and socialise with folks from all sorts of weird and wonderful backgrounds. In fact, I would like to think that on my travels I have matured enough to embrace different cultures and faiths. After all, isn’t that what makes our country a great place to live in?

So, after much deliberation and reflection, I wanted to share a very personal experience I had recently. My intention here is to highlight that racism, Islamophobia, extremism, intolerance, ignorance and whatever else you want to call it has reached frightening levels. Gone are the days when people would murmur their hatred privately. In some far away place, restricted to a group of unfortunate souls who just haven’t had the…

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There’s toleration and there’s toleration

This prompted by:  –  Can England Tolerate Muslims? (Since reblogged here)

It seems to me that often “toleration” means little more than a “begrudging” acceptance rather than a “welcoming” acceptance.

An enormous issue is that the British Establishment struggles to understand Islam. You might expect our “established” Church of England to take a lead but, when a vicar in his diocese extended a hand of welcome from his church and was forced to make a public apology, you know that the established Church is at least institutionally Islamophobic.

My definition of “Islamophobia” is the literal meaning of the word “a fear of Islam”. Many if not most of us fear Islam because those responsible for our education – both temporal and spiritual – are themselves poorly informed. It doesn’t have to mean “hate” but hate can and does develop when educators and opinion formers appear mostly to denegrate the religion.

We will only cracking this when our Christian and Secular leaders genuinely extend hands of welcome and make an effort to understand others. Remember Western Secular values and customs are largely informed by the West’s Christian heritage. For its part Christianity and Islam are co-religions with common histories.

Christians say grace at meal times

Here I want to unpick the Christian practice of saying grace or praying at meals. I will explore the nature of God and the primacy of the sanctity of life. I am prompted mostly but not exclusively by my Twitter encounters.

There are times when you have seriously to question how many people using Twitter and the social media actually believe what they post or merely write to goad and infuriate others. One person I engage with from time to time on Twitter does not have a profile but claims to be Christian. Her avatar has a red poppy (twibbon covering a UKIP twibbon) and supports the Israeli national emblem.

This person’s tweets are anti-Islamic for sure but are they genuine feelings or beliefs? I have assume that they are – not least because of the UKIP twibbon and whether it wants the association or not UKIP has rallied many racists under its battle standard.

What I do know is that many Christians struggle with the concept that Muslims follow the same Creator God as Christians. One local evangelical vicar challenged my Islamic sympathies a year or so ago. I work with pentecostal Christians who believe that Muslims follow a satanic God. I have met school religious education teachers who have difficulty accepting that the One Creator God worshipped by Muslims is the same as the One Creator God of Christians and Jews.

Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim a common history down to the time of Abraham. We have to assume that Noah and his successors were monotheists and that Abraham recognised One God. To be frank and very blunt here. Even if you do not believe that the Old Testament record of history as anything other than myth it is a myth common to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

LIkewise whatever your views and beliefs of the Creation there was only One Beginning – unless you believe that we live in parallel universes defined by religious beliefs. It does not matter how we perceive the creation of the universe it only happened once. It follows that if you believe in a Creator God there can only be One. Thus the God of Christians and Muslims is the same God – One Supreme Being, One Grand Conductor in life.

That there can only be One God, if you believe in God, does not mean that we all have one image of God. If two people stand side by side in Trafalgar Square they will see one statue but their actual views will be different. Indeed one person actually sees very slightly different images on each eye but there is still only one statue. Stand on opposite side of the Square and the views will be very different – but it is still the same statue.

Now let’s look at the sanctity of life. We know that most if not all religions pay due regard to the sanctity of life. The Eastern Asia and Indian religions most certainly do. Jainism takes this very seriously indeed but so does Hinduism and the religions that evolved from it. Confirmed or orthodox Sikhs do not eat meat.

In the secular world even atheists and humanists have a regard for the sanctity of life – without a belief in a God. They all argue for humane animal welfare and slaughter that causes least pain and discomfort. There is common agreement that intensive farming may compromise welfare.

My researches have taken me to a book by historian Martin Henig in which he writes about religions or cults in Roman Britain. in just one paragraph he unpicked religious sacrifice. People would have felt guilty for taking the life of an animal to eat. He then describes how “what was sacrificed to the gods” was the inedible remains – the viscera, bones and so on. Why would they do that?

Well, why not? Quite simply the prophets or seers or priests of the day would surely have clocked that short of digging a very deep pit the rotting remains would have presented a hygiene issue and an invitation to rats or scavenging birds or whatever – a Biblical plague.

Clearly in those times they would have no way of understanding germs but they would have recognised the effects of not doing it right. Their only explanation was that their Creator and giver of life was punishing them for their taking a precious life.

Rationally, therefore, they would have prayed at slaughter that their Creator would forgive them the sin of taking life. At the same time no doubt they thanked the Creator for His bounty.

I was brought up a Christian. I was probably brought up with a tradition of saying grace at Sunday lunch in particular when we would have sat down together as a family. The typical grace is “For what we are about to receive may The Lord make us truly grateful.” We may have added “… and ever mindful of the need for others.”

We nominally eat five times during a working day. At the start of the day, at a morning coffee break, midday, afternoon tea and a meal at the end of the day. Monks pray five times a day – presumably at times associated with meals. Muslims pray five times a day. They perform ablutions before prayer indicating that the act of prayer at one time was associated with the need for hygiene when preparing meals.

If we connect praying to eating we can see that Christians and Muslims are actually following a common practice. Muslims have a separate prayer. They recite bismillah “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful“. They do so when the animal is alive – in effect also asking it for its foregiveness.

I will close with a challenge to Christians. Jesus was baptised by John. Why? In those days baptism was a “priestly” cleansing ritual. Priests worked from the Temple. Priests (Cohen) supervised sacrifice (bluntly slaughter). Was Jesus training to be a priest and if so would he not have been learning what we now know as kosher rituals?

In summary I have shown how Christians and Muslims can only have One Creator God. They would have feared their God because if they cared for, slaughtered and cooked their animals in the wrong way God would have delivered unto them a plague.

Why pray five times a day? A work in progress

In my quest to unpick religious ritual I am curious to know or work out why Muslims pray five times a days and not, say, seven. I had not progressed far on this journey until visiting Hereford Cathedral today. There I found a panel explaining how services would have been conducted in a long distant past.

I have a secondary quest and that is to understand the meaning of the word noon, which I assume is a derivative of a word meaning nine  – the ninth hour of the day.

The Cathedral poster describes services a 7am terce, sext and nones. suggesting 7am, 10am, 1pm and 4pm. High mass finished at 11am. The day finished with prayers at 5pm. Matins are at midnight.

I had in my mind that nones (noon) would be 3pm so there is a mismatch here. Something is not computing. I searched “terce, sext and nones” and came across Canonical hours , which you see took me to wikepedia. I opened the bookmark “Development” and the subject is starting to become clearer.

Seemingly we need to go back to the Jewish captivity by the Baylonians when Jews no longer had access to their Temple. As far as I can see after a quick read Christians began a prayer cycle based on the business day in a monastery starting at 6am and finishing at 6pm.

Prayers were conducted at the start of the business day and again at its close. In between these two we have prayers at 9am (terce) Midday (sext) and at 3pm (nones) – making five times in total.

Muslim pray five times a day. Coincidence? Probably not.  Much early Islamic culture would have been based on the earlier practices of the Peoples of the Book. Some of those will have been handed down from many centuries earlier.

There’s more work to do here. Somewhere along the line prayers must associate with sacrificial functions of the old Temple but how.





Daesh or ISIL or Islamic State and the BBC

When the term “Islamic State” entered our everyday conversation a year or so ago I wondered then if it was wise to describe the extremist group as Islamic. “Islamic” it patently is not but using the term confers on the group a sense of legitimacy.

This is my take on why we should not use the phrase “islamic state” – neither on its own or with the prefix “so-called” or suffix “group”.  The word “Islamic” must be offensive to a vast majority of British Muslims. Why do we persist in offending them? Why does the BBC now have an official policy of doing so?

That, however, may not be the real issue. Western governments and media, which have the power if not to form opinion to reinforce it, must recognise that many , if not most, westerners are simply not taught enough about Islam to empower them to understand what the religion stands for.

Studies show that many young people who are destined to become tomorrow’s politicians and community leaders, and who have received the benefit of a multicultural education, mistrust Muslims. Clearly the constant reinforcement of negative views of Islam by today’s community leaders cannot be clever. It must surely be counterproductive. Of course today’s community leaders harbour negative stereotyping because of their own education, which essentially bypasses the subject.

Elsewhere on my blog I talk about our understanding of halal animal welfare and food hygiene rules. As with kosher rules most people presume they arbitrary and divined by an “imaginary friend” or a “false God”. The majority assumptions could not be more wrong on several counts yet community leaders, who really should know better, refuse to challenge the assumptions.

In the west our community leaders either passively allow misconceptions to fester or actively promote them. Take the response of the Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun to Canon Giles Goddard’s allowing Muslims to pray to their shared God in the St John’s Church in Waterloo. It was very public and was designed to create division.

These examples are necessary to frame my concerns.

Muslims in the UK or Britain are expected under our “British values” system to absorb and mop up any criticism of Islam. Any challenge of the “British values” ideology is usually sidelined, typically by ignoring the issue in the hope that it will go away. Of course it won’t and cannot be allowed to.

Enter the social media networks, such as Twitter, and you will encounter frank hostility to Islam and Muslims. Many contributors promote the view that if Muslims do not like it here they should “go back” to a Muslim country – their being British notwithstanding. Interestingly some Muslim families seem to be taking them at their word. On June 15th The Daily Telegraph ran this headline online:

Three British sisters feared to have gone to Syria to join brother

Who in their right minds, we ask, would ignore the reports in the British media of life in Syria under the terrorist group styled as, in English “islamic State”? Have they been groomed?

Why should disaffected Muslims believe what they read and hear in our media, especially when those same media are not exactly welcoming of Muslims?

The problem for me is that western cultures are at least “institutionally” Islamophobic. They allow fear of Islam to fester and doing so leads to hate. While most people probably accept or tolerate Muslims around them a few turn to active hate and some engage in physical hate crime. This is typically targeted at women wearing distinctive headscarves. Little is done to counter anti-Muslim narratives. Secular community leaders do not robustly challenge the use of our national emblems as rallying standards for right-wing people to congregate under. The Church of England does not challenge the use emblem with very obviously Christian origins to be used to attack Islam. On the contrary when a local vicar stepped out of line by accommodating Muslims in his local church the Church of England hierarchy pounced.

With all this institutionalised hostility towards Islam and Muslims it cannot be any surprise to British community leaders, secular and religious, that the overwhelming majority of British Muslims simply cannot want to be identified with what is commonly referred to as “Islamic state”.

Last week 120 MPs, not government as such, invited Lord Hall of Birkenhead, Director General at the BBC, to consider adopting the acronym “Daesh” in place of “Islamic state”. The response was clear. We are neutral {and if this means offending the majority of British Muslims and if it risks disaffection, so be it}.

The unwritten BBC style guide regards the acronym “Daesh” derived from the Arabic name of the terrorist group’s name as a pejorative term.

The Arabic name used by the terrorist group transliterates to Al Dawla Al Islamiyah fi Al Iraq wa Al Sham. I learned recently that while the use of acronyms is common in English this is not so in other languages – even in Europe. Are acronyms used Arabic? If they are not the nearest actual word in Arabic may be “dash” meaning “to tread underfoot, trample down, crush.

If my assumption is near accurate the ideological leaders of Daesh may indeed be offended by the use of a word that is not what, at least in their minds, they intend.  They may well be offended by its use.

The BBC’s reason for not wanting to use “Daesh” is based on its understanding that the term is pejorative and not an acronym.

That the BBC now has an unwritten understanding of this meaning in its style guide was confirmed in its edition of the “Now Show” broadcast on Friday 10th July at 18:30 hrs. There was complete disdain for those Muslims who are desperately trying to disassociate from a terrorist group that is clearly not Islamic.

Frankly it really does not matter which acronym we use, IS, ISIL, ISIS or Daesh, because all derive from “Islamic state”. The key issue is that using an acronym deprives the group of the legitimacy that the words “islamic” and “state” confer on it. The key point is that it does not repeatedly and overtly force our “institutional Islamophobia” down the throats of British Muslims.

The choice for Lord Hall is whether the BBC retains the  unwritten but accepted rationale in its style guide that “daesh” is a pejorative term and at the same consciously sets out to offend its Muslim customers, or incorporates and unequivocal explanation of why Muslims have the right to be offended by the continued use of “Islamic state” so that directors, editors and producers are left in no doubt that they will cause offence when the term is used.

Of course we would not be in this position if our “Establishment” were not as “institutionally Islamophobic” as it is.


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