For reasons of modern meat production, some Muslims believe that the best way to follow the teachings of the Qur’an and hadith(s) is to be vegetarian. Increasingly, the term “halal meat” is in danger of becoming a term for commercial profit when the only criterion is the method of slaughter. We will see that practices range from adherence to the virtues of the full meaning of “halal meat” to convenient liberalized practices.
The most well known requirement for halal meat is the pronouncement of God’s name over the animal at the time of slaughter. The knife must be very sharp in order to ensure instant death without suffering. However, lesser known criteria should also be used in order to have truly halal meat.
With respect for animals, Prophet Muhammad (saw) forbade the injury or killing of an animal after it had been caged or bound (al-masbura), to being used for targeting after being caged or bound (mujaththam), or for amputation of part or whole of a limb whilst still alive (al-muthla) and the beating of animals (Bukhari 65:8 #1922). The Prophet also objected to the use of animals for sport. In fact, the only situations in which humans can “hurt” animals is if they are a threat to human life or they are to provide humans with transport or food.
The act of zabah (animal sacrifice) is only offered every Eid ul Ad’haa in remembrance of Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice in complete trust and submission to Allah (swt). Every family that can afford it (i.e. with an income above normal household expenses) must purchase the animal to be slaughtered. This is to be divided into thirds of equal weight and offered to relatives, the poor and one’s household. If one pays for someone else to carryout zabah then one must be present. In this relationship is the recognition of the sanctity of creation. Occurring once a year, this emphasizes the controlled consumption of meat especially in light of recent findings that link high meat consumption as a health risk. It also emphasizes issues of animal rights and care. For, “A man used to eat much, but when he embraced Islam, he started to eat less. When this was mentioned to the Prophet, he said: “A believer eats in one intestine and a kafir eats in several intestines” (Bukhari 7: 65 #309).
Eating in Islam is viewed as an act of worship. With the existence of halal food markets, Malaysia is viewed by developed countries as a strong market. Adhering to laws that govern animals and meat, Malaysia has procedures to ensure that exporters respect this. A permit must be obtained from the Malaysian Department of Veterinary Services, in addition to a veterinary certificate with each consignment dated within 14 days of importation. It must signed and endorsed by a competent veterinary officer or authority from the exporting country. This certificate must verify that the meat product is free from foot-and-mouth disease, anthrax, BSE and other diseases and pests in the preceding 12 months. It must also ratify approval and registration of factories employed by the exporting country as well as methods of sterilization. The label “containing no pork products must be on every 2.2 pounds of the product. Also there must be a certificate of Islamic Slaughter from a member of an approved Islamic organization recognized by Malaysia. This certificate must accompany the product labeled “halal”, and has been kept separate from non-halal products – from farm to eventual importation. Finally, Malaysian religious authorities must conduct the original inspection and certification of the facility with routine follow-up inspections.
Unfortunately, this rigorous system is not universally applied by all Islamic states. For instance Saudi Arabia and Indonesia allow the importation of processed products without halal certification (Nagase, p. 1-6). In non-Islamic countries such as India, there exists a problem with infested livestock, poor refrigeration facilities and old and unhygienic slaughterhouses. The Indonesian government had planned to import meat from India in 1999 but under the advisement of the Veterinarian Association the Indonesian government changed its mind. India is a big exporter of meat (Pattni, p.1, 2). In Canada, the non-Muslim owned al-Safa Halal used to get its beef and chicken products certified as halal by the Islamic Society of North America and Canada, ISNA. In 1999, ISNA-Canada became concerned that al-Safa and MGI Packers were not meeting their requirements. ISNA certification allows for slaughter by machines whilst al-Safa Halal consumers complained about this to which al-Safa terminated mechanical slaughter and found a hand-slaughtered chicken supplier. This was rejected by ISNA-Canada who also argued that they terminated their services due to the low wages received by the Muslim slaughter-men (SoundVision, p.1, 2). This highlights a need for standardization according to Islamic law.
As exporters, the Muslim consumer is all-important to the Australian meat industry. As leaders in this field, the Australian Horticultural Corporation has developed “Australian Fresh” as a national umbrella brand. It promotes horticultural sales in Asia (Nagase p.9). Australia has a Government Supervised Muslim Slaughter System that sets the standards. This is dependent on licensed Islamic organizations to supervise, inspect and certify all halal meat products by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service. Their processors only employ registered Muslim slaughter-men and ensure that haram (forbidden) meat is kept separate throughout the process. Also to ensure that the equipment utilized is thoroughly cleaned if non-halal meat has been processed beforehand (Beef.com, p.1).
However, perhaps the most attentive halal meat can be found in North Dakota in the USA. Zem Zem farms in North Dakota gets certified zabiha (slaughtered animal) products come from selected farms where there is humane treatment and the natural vegetarian diet of livestock. The diet consists of natural grasses and grains with absolutely no animal by-products or hormones. Also, the livestock are monitored from birth by the Islamic Society of North Dakota (Dakotahalal, p.1, 2). It is then slaughtered according to Islamic regulation.
This is the only way to guarantee that the meat is halal. It ensures the rights of the animal, religious rites and doesn’t compromise human health. From animal husbandry to relieving hunger, justified concerns are alleviated and reduce outbreaks of animal diseases. In the long run exporters and importers would benefit, being able to guarantee that the product is what they say it is, genuinely halal.
By Hwaa Irfan