If you care about animals, don’t be duped by halal hysteria 7 May 2014

o-THE-SUN-HALAL-570The Sun, known for their cracking investigative journalism, reignited the halal meat debate recently with the big scoop that Pizza Express serve halal chicken. The revelation is listed on the Pizza Express website, next to a clarification as to how their Worcester Sauce is uniquely vegetarian friendly.

There are two dimensions to this storm. The first dimension is about animal rights, and the second dimension is about a media that is intent on maligning and stirring hate against a minority faith group. It’s disappointing to see or hear people I respect for their commitment to animal welfare getting muddled up in what is clearly a media-frenzy.

For those vegans, veggies and animal-lovers who are concerned about halal, and what it might mean, well I’d admit to you, there is a problem in the halal industry, in fact I believe there is a systematic problem with the meat industry in general. Driven as it is by profit, some abattoirs have failed to meet the most basic tenets of animal welfare, let alone issues such as battery farming.  It is the presence of these problems in the halal industry that means there are countless Muslim organisations that try to regulate the halal industry, and often do so on a voluntary rather than commercial basis. Why? Well, because humane slaughter is central to the concept of halal.

A very important teaching of the Prophet Muhammad related to halal states : –

‘Allah Who is Blessed and Exalted, has prescribed benevolence toward everything; so, when you must kill a living being, do it in the best manner, thus when you slaughter an animal, you should sharpen your knife so as to cause the animal as little pain as possible.’ (Riyadus Salihin. Hadith No. 643).

The hadith clearly indicates animals do feel pain (something which is, in some quarters of the modern world, still up for debate) and that slaughter should be as painless as possible. Other teachings related to halal instruct the animal should be given a meal beforehand (so it isn’t agitated), that the animal shouldn’t even see the knife before slaughter, that the act should take place away from where other animals might see it and be distressed.

There is then ample common ground between animal rights campaigners and Muslims concerned with halal meat. The problem within the halal industry is due its profit-driven mechanistic approach. Rather than trying to ban halal and kosher, like Denmark already has, I would hope the two groups, with their shared concern for humane slaughter, would begin a conversation, away from the media frenzy.

But that leads onto the second dimension of the ‘halal hysteria’.  There has been a repeating pattern in print and online media recently of stories that feign to be about a moral issue but are in fact simply reinforcing a narrative of hate, difference, and other-ing against British Muslims. The debate about segregation on campus, supposedly about women’s right, is a good example. It dominated headlines and columns for months. Compare it with how much attention was received by the absolutely jaw dropping statistic that nearly 1/3 students in Cambridge University have been sexually assaulted. The many voices that commented on segregation as the issue of sexism on campus are deeply uninterested in sexual abuse at Cambridge.

Laurie Pennie argued in her column that feminists should not allow Islamophobes to appropriate the language of feminism for their own purposes. I would call on animal rights campaigners, who might be tempted to jump into the halal debate, to ensure they don’t allow Islamophobes to appropriate the language of animal welfare either.

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About Abdul-Azim Ahmed

Dr Abdul-Azim Ahmed is Editor of On Religion magazine. He holds a doctorate in religious studies and an MA in Islam in Contemporary Britain.