Tuesday, February 28, 2006

To Halal & Back

I have made a conscious effort to not use this blog as a soapbox for my beliefs - although I know that a few have snuck in from time to time. This posting is yet another exception. If you want something "lighthearted", check out the posting below about the fellow caught rogering his goat. Consider yourself warned.

I received some criticism after I posted my
Eid El Kebir e-mail several weeks ago, in which I recounted the "sacrifice" of a sheep beneath my bedroom window. There were those who were quick to defend the halal ("permissible") slaughtering of animals as being humane, quick, and a far cry better than what transpires in Western slaughterhouses. I regret that I have a pretty vivid image of what happens in Western abattoirs and poultry factories & hatcheries, so I am not about to defend their brutal practices - far from it. But because any discussion that involves the word "halal" (in terms of food, its Jewish counterpart - oh that alone should insure that I receive a fatwa - is "kosher") is connected with Islam, and because (contrary to some of my comments in this blog) I really don't want to cast aspersions on anyone's faith (least of all to their faces), I have said little in this regard. Until now.

Islam requires that slaughter be carried out with a single cut to the throat, rather than the more widespread method of stunning with a bolt into the head before slaughter, because “God calls for mercy in everything, so be merciful when you kill and when you slaughter, sharpen your blade to relieve it’s pain”.
Electrocution is forbidden since halal slaughter requires the animal to be conscious and not contaminated by anaesthetics or intoxicating materials. Mild stunning for the subduement of larger, uncontrollable animals is being debated by Muslim jurists. In New Zealand
, a non-penetrating concussion stunning prior to slaughter received approval from some Muslim authorities. Break open the champagne.

There are 2 issues with religious slaughtering which animal welfare auditors have addressed: one is the method of dispatching (cutting the throat) and the other is the positioning of the animal to provide a quick and easy access to the throat. Even under the best of circumstances (i.e. a clean, speedy cut with no additional duress), it takes up to 2 minutes for an animal to bleed out. Muslims contend that the animal feels nothing because of the sudden loss of blood from the head, but to suggest that an animal doesn't suffer while bleeding to death (especially in the pandemonium of a slaughterhouse) is, in my mind, a little ingenuous. As an aside, I would note that it is forbidden for Sikhs to eat halal meat, because they believe the methods used to kill the animal are cruel, inefficiently slow, and unnecessarily painful. Having said that, "experiments" (which seem more tortuorus than the actual slaughtering - shades of Dr. Mengele?) were conducted by a pair of German doctors whose results support the claim that halal killing is less distressing than Western means of dispatching livestock.

In regards to the second concern, so-called religious slaughterhouses have been reproached for using shackles & hoists (to suspend a leg or legs), trip floor boxes (
a slanted floor or another device) which
cause the animal to fall down, as well as leg clamping rotating boxes (use your imagination) - in an effort to control the animal. Control? .... hmmmm, I wonder if the animal is plain scared shitless.

Nonetheless, let us turn to one of the cradles of civilisation -
Egypt. In ancient times, the cow was so revered that it became associated iconographically with not one goddess but several, including Hathor, Mehet-Weret (the goddess of creation) and Isis. But things have changed in the Black Land over the past 5,000 years. The Australian production of 60 Minutes recently aired a segment on the widespread animal welfare abuses practiced in Egyptian slaughterhouses, as charged by Animals Australia & PETA. Australia has been exporting live animals to E
gypt for decades (the industry is valued at half a billion dollars annually) & has received repeated assurances from the Egyptian government that the livestock is treated and killed humanely. Instead, the conditions, as filmed by 60 Minutes (with concealed cameras), were found to be "medieval", "gut-wrenching" and "barbaric". How barbaric? – well, it is not uncommon for knives to be plunged into the eye sockets of cattle (pre-throat cut) so that the submerged knife handle can be used as a lever to manipulate the animal. Restraint boxes for the animals (a drum-like apparatus in which an animal is tilted on its side to render a quick cutting) are either absent or not used.

Watch the
video if you have the stomach. I tried, but within moments, I could only listen to the voice-over.

"We found appalling abusesworkers stabbed animals in the eyes, slashed their tendons, and cut under their tails—all without any painkillers—before finally slitting their throats while they were still conscious."

It would seem that these Egyptian slaughterhouse owners & workers have placed greed before compassion, have forgotten that they should " fear Allah in these beasts who cannot speak."

I would like to point out that this documentary has had the happy result of bringing about the suspension of live exports of Australian cattle & sheep to Egypt - a pyrrhic victory since the Australian government knew of these abuses 3 years ago.Because halal killing & Islam are intrinsically tied at the hip, perhaps the onus should be on Muslim meat-eaters to do something about this - why did it take Australians to blow the whistle? According to the Qur'an, there is no difference between the human world and the animal world in the eyes of Allah. If a Believer can be sent to hell for starving a cat, perhaps s/he can raise a hand to stop the torture of cattle and sheep in slaughterhouses which operates under the aegis of a merciful religion.

Islam purports to be compassionate to all living things and abhors the infliction of cruel and unnecessary pain on any animal, and that such brutality
is answerable to Allah on Judgement Day. Judgement Day has arrived in Cairo.

Don't misunderstand me - I don't live in a glass house. Do the same practices exist here in Morocco? probably. What about the flagrant animal rights abuses in North America - do they exist? Yup. What options do you & I have? – stop giving your money to agribusiness abattoirs, educate yourself on the subject of animal rights issues (look at the practices in North American hen factories and I bet you won’t eat eggs again - at the very least, boycott KFC), be informed, or better yet, stop eating meat. But like everything else in life, this is a matter of conscience for the individual. We can use our buying dollar as a tool to effect change; many of us have recourse to our elected members of government to legislate humanely. And if you do prescribe to the belief that "an act of cruelty to a beast is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being", then for god's sake, practice what you preach.

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