Are Muslims compromising on purity by opting for permissibility?
“The issue of animal welfare is an important one, but it is equally important that concern for these issues extends beyond just the method of slaughter. One of the things that should come out the ‘halal hysteria’ is a better understanding of the wider religious context of halal slaughter, which is connected to ‘tayyib’ in the Quran.” Alicia Miller
The focus of some non-Muslims, individuals and organisations is the cruelty invoked on the animal for both stunned and non-stunned halal slaughter. The last few minutes or last rights of an animal’s life seems to be the focal point of their concern, and not entire life cycle and quality of life.
Yet some of the same people do not make similar media ‘noise’ about kosher, which does not recognise stunning, why?
The focus by Muslims is ‘halalness’ of the slaughter: Was the Creator’s name invoked (by live voice or recording)? Was the knife sharp? Was the animal given some water? Was the ‘butcher’ a Muslim? Were other animals able to witness the slaughter? Obviously, all are important considerations, but its only part of the ‘halal chain’ for authenticity.
Life over death
In both cases, the exclusive focus on the ‘death’ of the animal misses the important point of its life on Earth. As we, humans, are deemed to be (allegedly) intelligent stewards with a responsibility (whether we like it or not) for the Earth and its creatures. We must show dignity and respect for Creator’s bounty and blessings. This is about balance, and, today, it appears that we have lost focus as lobbyist for the voiceless animals we consume for sustenance.
To these non-Muslims who believe halal and kosher (which does not accept stunning) are prime facie example of cruelty to animals, they are encouraged to visit some of the large scale industrial animal farming. I can make a ‘halal bet’ that such people, especially those with cats and dogs as pets, will re-set their thinking on animal cruelty and re-focus on the life-cycle. It may also just turn some of them into vegetarians.
Open the closed
But, it’s rather difficult to open closed minds, be it Muslims only focus on halal slaughter and non-Muslims exclusive focus on cruelty of the slaughter. So, let’s attempt to gradually move the conversation for both to some of the following touch points: Where was the animal born? What was it fed? How it was raised? How it was transported to the abattoir?[For Muslims, cross contamination issue is as important as the ‘halal slaughter.’ There needs to an aggressive spotlight shown on tracking and tracing, as what was permissible from the abattoir may become impermissible when it gets to the store or dinner table.]
Has the time arrived for closer examination or inspection of halal pre-slaughter chain, hence, placing it under the same scrutiny as the slaughter? I would go as far as to say halal certification bodies need to expand, some may already be expanding, their reach to the farms and transportation (pre slaughter) to look at the life cycle treatment of the animal.
We can still assume with a higher degree of confidence that the supply chain (pre-slaughter) is halal, hence, this type of study becomes a confirmation. The farms upstream for beef, chicken, and other fast moving consumer goods in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, US, etc, are major sources of export to the GCC, and they are generally transparent as under scrutiny of organisations and appropriate regulators.
Now, if the investigation, with evidences, confirms humane treatment of animals for halal slaughter, it will be an opportunity to show proof of superior treatment of animals over industrial farms, hence, aligning halal to ethical (if not organic) consumption.
Shariah-based and tayyib
Now, let’s take an important example from Islamic finance, the concept of Shariah-compliance. The Shariah scholars allow a ‘minor’ amount of impermissibility, a tolerance parameter, and transaction or investment is allowed as long as cleansing or purification takes place. In other cases, scholars allow the law of necessity to be invoked due to hardship and very limited options. The scholars are now raising the issue of Shariah based, which more evokes more authenticity.
So, today we are ‘halal’ or permissible stage, but, as more questions are answered, as more information is known and shared, and as more knowledge is gained, the emphasis will move towards ‘tayyib’ or wholesome.
Thus, Shariah based and tayyib are road-mapped final destinations, and we have started the journey.
The writer is a board member of Dinarstandard and Advisory Board for Falah Capital and Crescentrating. Views expressed by him are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.