Is Halal meat Halal?
by Muhammad Ridha Payne
The title of this article is a bit misleading. I do eat halal meat but only that which I have either slaughtered myself or from someone I know, trust and am confident can slaughter an animal properly. This may come across as a rather elitist viewpoint but it is only that - my viewpoint which I admit is more personal that strictly religious.
In my early years of Islam meat was just that, meat. I, like everyone else, simply looked for the halal logo on a packet of meat, the shop window or restaurant. I consumed a reasonable amount of meat per week. However things started to change. On one hand I started to realise that the phrase "you are what you eat" is literally true. I noticed a huge difference in my health, outlook and religious state after periods of being vegetarian. On the other hand I started to question whether halal meat was actually halal. I wondered whether we could actually trust the butchers, the producers or even the slaughter man in the abattoir. I also questioned whether the intensive exploitation of animals rested comfortably with my understanding of Islam. I concluded that there was too much doubt involved and decided to follow the advice of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his noble family) to leave that over which I had doubt.
At one point my family had pretty much turned vegetarian. Meat rarely entered our house and the only time we ate meat was at friends' houses. Although vegetarianism is to be applauded and even encouraged, I do believe that some meat is healthy. All the Prophets ate meat with the grandfather of them all Ibrahim (peace be upon him) offering the sacrifice we still commemorate every year at the end of Hajj.
Upon moving to the countryside our ambition to produce, slaughter and eat our own meat finally came true. We used to buy lambs from farmers, I would slaughter them and have someone butcher it ready for the freezer. We even started to breed our own chickens. The meat was fantastic; not only did it taste different but it looked and felt different. The texture and colour of real meat!
One of the benefits of living in the countryside is that you meet people that work in agriculture; these are the people that bring us our vegetables and meat. Through speaking to them I started to find out some things about both animal farming and supposed halal meat.
Animals are exploited. If one sees the conditions they are born, bred and die in it would horrify anyone with a good heart. Chickens lead miserable lives in huge sheds, sharing their space and air with thousands of others. They do nothing but feed and get fat as fast as possible ready to make their way to supermarkets selling them as "Value" meat or to a Chicken Cottage on the high street. Larger animals face similar problems. Lambs are pumped full of steroids to make sure they don't die, ewes with hormones so they give birth out of season and both feed on grass treated with insecticides. Cattle are sometimes born and bred in sheds; they never see daylight or eat a blade of grass.
Muslims need to ask whether this is something they are truly happy eating. Is it good to eat meat that is full of rubbish, that led a miserable life and a stressful end? Is it not possible that all this transfers into the meat? One also needs to ask if this method of farming sits with the ethos and spirit of Islam. Does Islam not teach compassion, kindness and does it not fight exploitation? To me both these elements make most of the meat in the UK inedible. I do not want to subject my body to such produce and I definitely do not want to contribute towards an industry that exploits a community that praises Allah (Quran 13:15, 17:44 and 22:18).
Through an increasing interest in the whole area of meat, animal welfare and organic food I wanted to see whether local abattoirs would be open to me coming in and slaughtering animals. My talks and visits to some local abattoirs confirmed all my previous suspicions about halal meat in the UK. The first abattoir I ever called told me that there was no problem in coming and doing halal meat as they already had someone who did that. Upon questioning the abattoir it turned out that he man who did that was Muslim but did not slaughter them himself but processed them normally, meaning they were killed by non-Muslims. "He reads a prayer on them or something then gives them to us," were the exact words. Another local abattoir informed me that "all we do is halal meat". Again after some probing I found out that none of the slaughter men were Muslim. The abattoir had actually entered into a deal with a Muslim who was processing them in this tucked away abattoir and selling the meat as halal. As you can imagine I was shocked.
So as you can see, there are some people out there that do not seem to have a conscience. They are pumping out thousands of carcasses of haram meat to butchers and restaurants and you are eating it. However, my problems with halal meat do not stop there. I also question the hygiene standards of a lot of Muslim owned abattoirs. The vet at my abattoir once said to me that he has seen places in Birmingham that were "covered in shit". "How can you call that halal?" he asked me. My other issue is with the slaughter men. As someone who visits an abattoir every week and does between 10-30 lambs I know your mind drifts. It makes me question whether those that work as slaughter men full -time really remember to say "Bismillah - Allahu Akbar" or even pay attention to what they are doing. This is not their fault but a consequence of the high demand for meat and the need to process so many animals per day.
As a result of all this thinking, research and experience I have made an oath not to eat halal meat ever again unless I know exactly where it has come from. I am not advocating that everyone does this as I appreciate this is not always possible, but to anyone who has taken the time to read this I would ask you to really question your relationship to meat. The Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) are known to have made themselves sick upon discovering that the source of some food was doubtful.
A lot of my conclusions are purely personal. I wish modern day Sheikhs and scholars would address the issues of intensive farming, animal rights and what we eat. This whole area is sadly lacking and needs to be examined in order to give us some guidelines. At the end of the day those that simply want meat can put their trust in a logo. It is those that want something better, for themselves, their children and animals, that need to start thinking about the meat they eat and taking some tough decisions.
Allah knows best