A Halal Meat Business Thrives in New York

Taken over by founder’s son, the shop now has more non-Muslim customers

Imran Uddin, left, with his father, Riaz Uddin (Yoni Brook)

After working in the advertising business, Imran Uddin, left, joined his father, Riaz Uddin, to learn the halal business.

Special Correspondent

New York — In the days before major Islamic holidays, there is an
unusual sight in Ozone Park, an outlying corner of New York. A long
line of people wait beside a pen holding several hundred goats and
lambs between low buildings.

One after another, customers
choose an animal, which is weighed and then slaughtered according to
Islamic dietary law: A butcher utters a few words in praise of Allah
before cutting the animal’s throat.

This is Madani Halal, a
thriving family business founded in 1996 by an immigrant from
Bangladesh and taken over in 2003 by his American-born son. In part due
to continuing growth in the immigrant population in the United States,
the business is expanding and is about to begin a wholesale poultry
operation after a $2 million investment.

Riaz Uddin, 73, has
been in America since he arrived in Boston in 1956. He worked as a
dishwasher and then a cook in a kosher restaurant. He married a
Catholic woman from Puerto Rico and opened two bars in New York. It was
a classic American success story, but he wasn’t happy.

1992 the need for open-heart surgery led Uddin to reappraise his life.
One day, in emotional despair, he drove to one of New York’s piers. “I
looked out at the water and asked, ‘what I am doing with my life?’”

remembered a Bangladeshi poet who wrote that it is never too late to
change. He stopped his heavy smoking and his habit of gambling at horse
races. His eldest daughter, who teaches Islamic studies at an American
university, suggested he use his experience from the kosher restaurant
to open a halal meat business. (Halal, which means in conformity with
Islamic rules, is similar to the kosher dietary rules of Judaism.)

Halal opened in 1996 in this neighborhood of auto-repair shops and
small factories in the Ozone Park section of the New York borough of
Queens. Over the last decade, the Italian, Irish and Jewish families
who lived in the single-family homes nearby gradually have been
replaced by immigrants from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. A small
Islamic prayer center with a green façade opened around the corner from
Uddin’s business.

Inside the premises of Madani Halal are the
constant clucking and chirping sounds of chickens, ducks, quail,
pigeons, guinea birds, pheasants — in all 25 varieties of caged
poultry to cater to the preferences of immigrants from many different
countries. Most of the fowl come from farms in Pennsylvania run by
members of the Amish community. Goats and lambs come from free-range
farms in Texas.

Imran Uddin with workers (Yoni Brook)

Imran Uddin and workers in the Madani Halal slaughterhouse


A few years ago
Uddin, who then was approaching 70, decided he could not run the
business much longer and considered selling it. His only son, Imran,
was working as a media buyer at the McCann-Erickson advertising agency
but was growing dissatisfied. “It was fun going to the parties, and I
earned lots of money,” he recalled. “But it was a ‘plastic’ business.”

the younger Uddin had not been particularly interested in his father’s
Bangladeshi culture or Muslim religion, he decided to try running the
business. He soon found it deeply satisfying. “Of course it’s a
business,” Imran Uddin, 31, told America.gov.  But the
religious nature of the business brings more to his work.  “I saw how
important the business is for the community; how they rely on it.

“It’s got me more involved in my culture and my faith.”

a recent morning, an immigrant from Dubai came to buy a goat for a
feast at his daughter’s wedding. The man, who declined to give his
name, said he brought his business here because Uddin appeared to be a
good Muslim. “I’ve observed him in the mosque,” the customer said. He
added that the meat here is fresh. “It’s cut in front of my eyes, in an
Islamic way.”

The younger Uddin has modernized the business,
introducing computers for inventory and billing and establishing a Web
site. Even so, he often slaughters the larger animals himself. He said
he first did so because he had to overcome skepticism of established
clients, some of whom questioned his commitment to maintaining a strict
halal approach.

The business has grown to 13 employees.
Surprisingly, two-thirds of sales are to non-Muslims. Many non-Muslim
immigrants from Third World countries are used to butcher shops where
they can see the live animals before they are killed, so they come to
Madani Halal to buy meat.  Occasionally, members of a conservative
Jewish congregation buy meat here. “Jewish and Islamic [dietary] law is
so similar,” said Imran Uddin. “They trust us.”

The halal meat
sector has virtually exploded across American communities recently.
Thirty years ago, there were only one or two part-time halal butchers
in New York, said Muhammad Chaudry, president of the Islamic Food and
Nutrition Council of America, one of a half-dozen organizations that
certify halal food. Today, there are more than 100 full-time halal
businesses in the area, he said.

Since taking over his father’s
business five years ago, Imran Uddin bought a neighboring building for
$1 million and invested another $1 million in shiny new equipment to
slaughter and package halal poultry. He expects to hire eight more
employees to run it.

The elder Uddin said now he can retire happily: “My son will carry on my dream.”