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 should easily find three videos explaining non-stun slaughter. The critical element is the need for the slaughterman to form a relationship with the animal to be slaughtered.
The animal has to made to feel at ease and unstressed for the practical reason that the carcass will produce better meat. In the videos the animals can be seen not to be ill at ease. This is very difficult to achieve in industrial settings. I guess they must be aware of the smell of death – hence burning incense in the tabernacle of Old Testament days to help put animals at ease.
Industrial slaughterhouses haven’t always been organised to optimise good welfare. Beating and the use of electric prods to make animals go where are required seriously increases stress. Shutting the animal in a box that restricts its movement for stunning purposes increases stress. Stunning will fail if the animal moves at the critical moment. Importantly the industrial process is impersonal.
The halal slaughter is personal and this is the key point – the slaughterman effectively has to look the animal is the eye when he does the deed. It’s not unlike a soldier confronting his enemy face-to-face. This contrasts with use of aircraft that attack from a distance possibly without seeing the enemy. The uses of drones is considered to be a very detached way of engaging with enemies.
Halal slaughter is clearly close and personal while the second could be seen as cowardly.
As I have been researching this I have become increasingly aware that secular people are detached from their food. Meat is bought from supermarkets in plastic packs. Consumers have little or no idea what happens between those pretty pastoral scenes of cuddly animals grazing in luscious meadows and the supermarket chiller cabinets. Even farmers disconnect from the process when their livestock pass through the farm gate – at one time they may have slaughtered their own animals.
Structly speaking Jews and Muslims are required to think about the entire process from farm to fork. Christians have no such commitment.
This article has the subtitle “getting up close and personal”. I have described a one-to-one personal relationship in a slaughter facility. Industrial settings make this difficult. I’ll probably return to the issues surrounding stunning in a follow up paper. For now I need to relay a brief chat with my Subway franchise owning neighbour and second cousin. In picturesque Devon there hasn’t been a need for a halal Subway outlet but I discussed an experience in Blackburn. I was told that the chicken were slaughtered en mass with a recorded prayer playing in the background.
Two issues arise. The first is that the slaughter is not close up and personal. Is this halal? Some halal certification authorities think so but is it really?
That’s a discussion for another day.
Many people who have worked in slaughterhouses or even merely visited report how they have changed their meat eating. If more of us recognised that all slaughter was cruel would we eat less meat? Would that be good for our health and possibly for the environment.