We had the pleasure and privilege of representing Beyond Halal at the Fifth Annual Islamic Studies Conference at Harvard in April, this year titled Communities Like You: Animals and Islam.
One of the most moving parts of the conference was the keynote lecture, delivered by Princess Alia al-Hussein of Jordan, founder of the Princess Alia Foundation. The PAF works on a variety of animal rights projects, from rescuing animals from zoos to addressing slaughter conditions in the Middle East.
Below is a portion of her talk: “Respect for All of God’s Creation: Human, Animals and the Environment”
One of the maxims we hear frequently is that “People who have no empathy towards God’s four-legged creatures are likely to have none for each other.” This has been proven to me often within the field of slaughter. The number of times I would remonstrate over some “unhalal” practice with someone in the field, and say, “But would you feed your family this?” the outrageous and immediate reply was, “Oh no my family doesn’t eat this meat.” Is that not among the worst and most indicative aspects of the whole tragedy? We don’t even care about each other!
We face a lot of problems in today’s world not just of misapplication and carelessness towards our own teachings (whatever system of belief we follow, most if not all are severely tested, not to say compromised in these times) but also from misperception. Some of the misapplication, and I will refer here to the more glaring examples related to halal slaughter as they underline the points clearly, are largely due to logistics. Populations have grown immensely: it is no longer a matter of a skilled practitioner who knows exactly what to do, and has his own correct equipment such as a blade of sufficient size and sharpness to work with, as well as the confidence to perform fast and precisely without fear of the creature itself. Nor is it a question of performing the slaughter mainly on local, docile animals which are accustomed to being handled and are thus much easier to deal with. With the demand for meat and the wonders (often resulting in disasters) of technology, animals are transported great distances in relatively short periods, often causing great stress − not to say suffering − and often arriving at their end destinations to be “processed” in alien surroundings and atmospheres. They are faced with people speaking totally foreign languages and with even more foreign manners and certainly no idea how to handle obstreperous, confused, and totally stressed-out animals from halfway across the globe. Most of the creatures are then dispersed to facilities, which however often the “trade” tells us are “halal”-equipped, are probably not. Small facilities − if facilities we can call them − often just have a hole for the blood. Bovines are cast and often trussed up like turkeys to effectively drown in their own blood by laying on their backs while hacked at with inadequate blades; sheep are thrown on top of each other to be cut on top of their dying predecessors. They usually die quicker than the cattle due to their specific morphology, but they are no more gently handled. And in their case there is no excuse of fear of being hurt by them − just the modern “who cares and let’s get it done fast” attitude.
There is no possibility of “leading beautifully”, as the Prophet instructed, in the world of huge numbers with untrained staff and/or inadequate equipment. That renders it impossible for anyone to perform efficiently and well. All these evils around the actual slaughter time itself can be avoided by proper equipment. (Temple Grandin is the leading world authority on animal behavior − herself autistic − has designed amazing slaughterhouses avoiding stress for the animals, providing halal standards, safety for the workers, and eventually (the modern world likes this part) far more cost effectiveness and less wastage!
I would like to underline that the perception of Islamic slaughter as a bloodthirsty practice is largely due to the insistence on severing arteries and bleeding; but in fact before precise stunning was perfected, and able to be guaranteed by precise mechanisms, loss of blood was the fastest way to ascertain loss of consciousness. Hence lack of pain for the creature, and the specific directives of what must be severed and what not in each case are scientifically the fastest ways to ensure the speed of bleeding and prevention of clotting, thus ensuring not only the fastest possible loss of consciousness, onset of death, and minimum blood in the meat.
I apologize for dwelling so long on this one topic but it is the one which is most commonly recognized as an aspect of Islam’s approach to animals and which sadly attracts the most misunderstanding of real Islam. I myself was obliged to research much more deeply specific directives, whether actual Qur’an or Ahadith, in order to try to address the various issues we were asked to deal with, and I confess with some shame at my ignorance but great pride in what I discovered that I was truly astounded by the reality. The depth and detail of the specified directives are truly more strict and humane than most animal welfare societies would have the nerve to request…
Read the entire speech here.