Along an industrial strip on the city’s eastern edge, a block north of the Victory Temple and a drive-through Good Times Liquor, a halal slaughterhouse opened a meat market this summer.
Fresh meat open to the public, says a sign outside Musa Slaughterhouse at 6211 N 56th St.
Drivers passing see large pictures of bucolic goats, chicks, sheep and cows that trim the top of the large warehouse.
Inside, behind glass, beef shoulder sells for $3.99 a pound and boneless chicken is $1.69. There’s geese and a whole goat, skinned and gutted, still with its head, complete with eyeballs. Metal trays hold lamb brain.
Bags of rice sit next to packages of olives.
Musa Sumreen says most of his customers are Muslims who, for religious reasons, can’t eat meat from most stores. Others come because they just want to eat really fresh, or want to know exactly where their meat comes from.
Sumreen slaughters daily, under the watch of a USDA inspector charged to oversee each carcass for safe human consumption and to enforce the Humane Slaughter Act.
On a recent day, the tally on a whiteboard was 50 goats, six beef and 10 lambs.
“Sometimes we do 1,000 chickens a day,” Sumreen said.
From the meat market, customers can enter two rooms Sumreen calls the custom area. Baby rabbits and guinea pigs share a cage just inside. They are pets for children who visit, Sumreen said. Across from them are peacocks, geese and ducks. Customers can choose from about a dozen sheep or goats from a small room with a glass window.
Then they can watch the slaughter and leave with their meat.
• • •
Sumreen bought the Tampa warehouse and registered his business with the state in the spring of 2011. The building is more than 10,000 square feet. He plans to one day fill the space with chickens and to send his halal meat out from here across the country.
He buys the larger animals from Texas and Illinois, where greener pastures make animals grow plumper. He owns a farm about a mile from the slaughterhouse where he keeps them.
Sumreen runs another slaughterhouse in Queens, N.Y. In 2009, a black Angus escaped from that slaughterhouse. After police caught the cow, Sumreen donated it to a farm sanctuary.
• • •
Halal simply means permitted for Muslims, says Imam Arjan Ahmesula, at the mosque on Sligh Avenue, about a mile from the slaughterhouse.
“The Koran tells us to eat what is halal and wholesome,” he said.
Applied to meat, it forbids pork, and carnivorous animals like eagles or lions, Ahmesula said.
Ahmesula explained the process according to halal. The animal must be slaughtered fully conscious, with a sharp blade that cuts with its edge and not its weight. Just before cutting, the butcher says Bismillah, which means with the name of God. Just after the slaughter, the person says, Allahu Akbar, meaning God is great.
Ahmesula says the method is more merciful than other techniques. The jugular veins are severed but the spinal cord is not and the animal bleeds out in about six seconds, Ahmesula said.
Musa Slaughterhouse is an important business for the area’s growing Muslim population, said Ahmesula. Without ensuring these steps were taken during the slaughter, meat is forbidden, or haram, to Muslims, he said.
He estimates there are between 15,000 to 25,000 Muslims in the community.
There are other stores that sell halal meat here, but this is the only halal slaughterhouse, which allows Muslims to get fresh meat. Another advantage, he said, is that Muslims can do the slaughter themselves, especially popular during the holiday of the Eid.
• • •
Through doors marked for employees only, Sumreen invites a reporter to look around.
“As long as you write only what you see,” he said. “I have nothing to hide.”
Far from shaved deli meat, it’s stark and real.
Water pools on the floors mixed with a few spots of blood. The air is moist and smells of farm animals and a cleaning detergent.
Freshly killed goats and sheep hang from hooks while workers cut and pull at parts. In a chilled room with a floor painted red, more meat hangs skinned and gutted.
There are no cattle on this day. When there are, Sumreen explains how a metal barred chute he made works. A cow is guided in with its head positioned through an opening where the slaughter takes place.
On another day, a worker blasted goat heads with a propane torch, scorching hair and flesh. Then another worker pressure washed the blackened heads and hung a dozen on a rack for a special order.
Through more doors and into the back of an attached warehouse, a long pen opens to the sky high up along the back wall. Sun spilled in on about 200 sheep and goats.
A tiny yellow kitten mewed in the aisle.
Sumreen reached over a fence to rub the back of an older goat and said she is a pet.
He won’t kill her, he said.