While it may surprise many of you to know that the term halal is something the vast majority of people of the UK are actually unfamiliar with, it’s no wonder that when you use unfamiliar or vague terms the natural human tendency to approach with fear is often realised. It’s always easier to make an alien concept something of a bogeyman. However it should be understood that clothing, money earned as well as the meat Muslims eat should also be Halal. Now before you conjure up an image of being paid your wages in chicken drumsticks or some Gaga-esque visual of a man walking around in a suit made of roast lamb in some ‘Sharon Law’ driven court of insanity – allow me to clarify.
When Muslims say Halal clothing or halal earnings they mean that the way you earn your money should be through lawful means – not by cheating, lying or stealing. Similarly the clothes you wear should, in turn, be from the money earned via Halal ways. Now while this article isn’t about the definition of Halal we’ll stop there and leave you with the understanding that Halal denotes purity and an acceptable method, as per the commands of God Almighty – and as such carries with it innate moral goodness.
So when we look at the ritual purification (Halal) of meat – The process is simple much like the dictates of Kosher in Jewish religious law. The appropriate arteries/veins of the animal be slit with a very sharp instrument such that the haemorrhaging produced via this method results in a form of anaesthesia followed by unconsciousness leading to the death of the animal. With care being taken to ensure the slaughter is done along the correct physiological premises – blood drains more quickly and more fully – resulting in healthier meat (something often overlooked in the debate). There have even been guidelines in ethical Islamic slaughter to ensure the knife is hidden from view of the animal and that the animal is in no way mistreated, beaten or carelessly restrained – all to ensure the animal is only killed in an appropriate manner and with the pronunciation of the name of God. This final yet all important clause has similar connotations in the Judaeo-Christian canon and is of extreme importance – that life; in this case animal, is only taken in accordance with the command of God and explicitly for the nourishment and use of mankind, for whom, God created the world as temporary residence.
Looking across the table we have the method of stunning, which involves sending high voltage shots into the animal which seeks to render it unconscious at which point it too is slaughtered or dies as a result of the electrocution. There have been notable concerns for this method, where death or unconsciousness does not occur – often leaving the animal wreathing in pain, with partial paralysis, brain damage and excruciating pain prior to being given another shock, or more, to render them unconscious or dead. While the stunning method was introduced more fully into law to ensure the safeguarding of the animal from other more brutal forms of slaughter available over the years such as Bludgeoning, Shooting and Gassing (which could pollute the meat); it should be noted that Halal & Kosher slaughter have and still are, under law, considered humane acts of slaughter.
At this point it should also be noted that it is very difficult, if at all, to objectively via scientific means identify the amount of pain an animal may undergo when being slaughtered – it is open to subjective analysis or anecdotal evidence to determine whether stunning is more humane than ritual purification. While the other and often less obvious angle is the laws of supply and demand, economies of scale and the like which drive the research on farming practice in the first place. Is there a vested interest for industry to automate the process? Reducing the need for manpower and associated overheads surely looks promising to any industrial group of fat-cats. On that point, lest we forget - let's also remind everyone that the Halal meat industry is multi-million pound contributor to the British economy for the attention of those who are of a more economic than ethical persuasion. An even more acute angle on the whole debacle is the lifetime of the animal – while very little consideration is given to the way these animals are aggressively farmed from birth, through life and up until the point of slaughter – it makes one wonder, is it about the animals at all?
While the main spectacle was slashed across the page of a famous right-wing tabloid, a somewhat centre-left paper even ran a poll to enquire whether people even minded eating Halal meat – did they conveniently forget Kosher? Did everyone conveniently forget that the majority of Halal certified meat in the country was stunned (to induce unconsciousness) prior to slaughter, a nuanced but important point and something that has long been the cause of rift between the 2 largest halal meat governing bodies in the UK. Was this poll a side footed shot as opposed to a full on volley by the right-wing tabloids – not forgetting that both are kicking the Muslim in any regard. Whatever you make of it – the agenda seems one sided and quite distasteful. It is at this junction that, organisations like the Myriad Foundation, sensed the fly in the ointment or the spanner in the works and set to uncover what many Muslims may have overlooked as mere media sensationalism.
The most important and recurrent cause for concern is this manufacturing of public attitudes, with the hopes that it should translate into some form of legislation down the long road of political machinations. With Britain signing up to the European Convention of Human Rights – Muslims, Christians and Jews along with other religious denominations have a right (under article 9) to practice their faith and as such their religious rights are somewhat protected in part due to this (a reason for Britain to stay with Europe some may say). The key concern for the Muslim is that it isn’t a case of Hijab or Halal or some other red herring created in the mind of the far-right agenda but the overall aim to interfere with religious practice in order to set into motion a legal precedent such that the courts of law or politics would make one seemingly insignificant act of a religious nature, illegal. With the way UK Law works such a precedent regardless of however seemingly insignificant could have huge implications on the way religious life is seen or practiced – If they are able to offend your human rights by banning the Hijab or Halal meat, how long do you think it will be before they remove passages of the Qur'an – issuing draconian 'government approved' copies of religious material? That got your attention!
The Myriad Foundation saw the very real implications of such underhand tactics and set to tackle the matter in a befitting way with the resources they had at hand. They turned the tables and decided to redefine the premises by developing a public opinion poll which sought to look at the perceptions people had on stunning and whether they thought it was Humane? Surprisingly 78% of people who took part in the poll felt that stunning was not humane.
The highlight of their encounter was with a stall that was setup to discuss animal rights - yes; life, death and everything in between. The stall holders themselves were vegans and held personal views as to why they didn’t eat meat; but on being informed about the Halal manner of slaughter they, themselves felt that Halal slaughter would be the more humane than electrocution. What this highlights is that Muslims really do need to start getting their house in order and becoming proactive as per protecting their rights and freedoms. If something affects Islam – it affects all Muslims and therefore it is a duty, in essence, upon each Muslim or at least a representational body of Muslims to respond in due terms.
In case you’re wondering when the storm will pass - the scaremongering, libel and slander won’t be ending anytime soon – in case you forgot there’s a war going on and politicians will always be keen to play up fears here at home if it means securing foreign interests abroad. In a time where Muslims often equate volunteerism with mediocrity – we need to remember that working towards the establishment and protection of Islamic institutions, Islamic practice and Islamic thought is part and parcel of being a Muslim and are acts which draw one closer to God Almighty. There are many Muslims skilled in a variety of disciplines – use that talent to present an alternative case as opposed to continually apologising – thereby tacitly accepting the premise of the barrage of false propaganda. Before you shrug your shoulders in nonchalance at the state of affairs, let’s not forget that you are due a duty towards God Almighty – Don’t forget Him as indeed you do not wish that He should forget you.