March 2018 Awal Fuseini
There is extensive Islamic scriptures and peer-reviewed publications to support the fact that Islam teaches its followers to protect the welfare of both farm and companion animals. In pre-Islamic Arabia, there were appalling treatment and abuse of animals, however, the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is reported to have abolished most of these inhumane cultural practices. The Prophet is also reported to have abolished the cutting of parts of live animals which was considered a delicacy at the time, and he entreated his followers to sharpen their knives before slaughter in order to sever the major blood vessels in the neck to quicken death and spare animals avoidable pain. Islam has an unambiguous stance on recognising non-human animals as sentient beings by commanding Muslims not to kill animals (no matter the size) for no justifiable reason because they are communities like us.
Despite the clarity from the Islamic perspective on the need to protect animal welfare, there is increasing pressure from animal welfare groups and far right organisations within the EU for Halal slaughter to be banned due to the perceived animal welfare issues surrounding the practice. It is worth noting however that the majority of Halal slaughter within the EU is carried out the same way non-Halal slaughter is done; that is, the animals go through the same ante-mortem inspections, they are stunned and bled-out the same way as conventional (non-Halal) slaughter, the only difference is that during Halal slaughter, there is a short prayer.
So if the majority of Halal meat is slaughtered the same way as non-Halal meat, why are some groups still calling for Halal slaughter to be banned? Whilst animal welfare organisations may have genuine welfare argument around slaughter without stunning due to the pain of the neck-cut, some political organisations do not generally understand the difference between the slaughter methods and their messaging are sometimes anti-Islamic and not for the protection of animal welfare. For instance, one of the far right groups in the UK is currently being sued by a UK Halal certifier for defamation and wrongful accusation; the group historically claimed that Halal slaughter is cruel and barbaric and that proceeds from Halal certification is used to fund terrorism. As someone who previously worked in Halal certification, I do not agree with the claim that ‘the proceeds of Halal certification fund terrorism’.
Despite the economic significance of the Halal market, it is clear that the concept of Halal slaughter is misunderstood within the general population, some elements of the population are therefore using false messaging around Halal slaughter as justification to progress their anti-Islamic political movements.
Islam holds animal welfare in high regard and Muslims are enjoined to protect the welfare of animals during slaughter. It is therefore imperative for the Muslim community to encourage research into ways of improving the welfare of animals in order to improve public perception about Halal slaughter. Modern systems of slaughter (that fully comply with the Halal rules) must be adopted in order to protect the welfare of animals in line with the teachings of Islam.
(Animal welfare researcher)