Yes, you read that right – the term “halal meat” is a scam, which is why I’m a semi-vegetarian. By semi-vegetarian, I mean that I only eat meat on certain occasions, under specific circumstances, and following very strict guidelines. I would say in a given month, I eat meat twice, maybe three times (if that). “But whyyy?” you might ask? Simple. I’m following the commands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) in the Qur’an, and the sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

What’s the Problem?

Let me just say, this post has been in my drafts for over a week. Then yesterday, I saw this post from Hijabman, in which he quoted the following, which was my sign to finish and publish this piece already:

“75 percent of Halal meat in America produced in the year 2000 came from pork fed cows, according to Dr. Stephen Emanuel, from Agway Feed Company.” – SoundVision

In the Muslim world (and the Arab world, in general), meat has become a staple at the dinner table…and the lunch table…and the breakfast table. From kebabs (meat cubes) and koftas (ground beef kabob), to shawarma (minced meat) sandwiches and sujouk (beef sausage), our community has built an unhealthy obsession around meat. It’s everywhere; weddings, funerals, birthday parties, aqeeqas, Eid feasts…if there is a gathering of Muslims for any reason, you better believe, there will be meat!

Because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) made meat lawful for us in the Qur’an, and because Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) ate meat, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s our God-given right to consume as much meat as we possibly can on any given day. Ahh, the Qur’an and the Sunnah – the pinnacles of all Islamic law and jurisprudence…let’s take a look at what these two sources have to say about the consumption of meat, and compare that to what’s taking place in Muslim homes across the globe.

Halal in the Qur’an

The Qur’an contains verse after verse telling us to eat only that which is lawful and good. Here are just a few of those verses:

O ye people! Eat of what is on earth, lawful and good; and do not follow the footsteps of the Evil One, for he is to you an avowed enemy. (Al-Baqarah:168)

O you who believe (in the Oneness of Allah)! Eat of the good things that We have provided you, and be grateful to Allah if it is (indeed) He Whom you worship. (Al-Baqarah:172)

Eat of that which Allah hath provided for you lawful and good; but fear Allah, in Whom ye believe. (Al Maidah:88)

As we see from these verses, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) tells us to eat that which is lawful AND good – not lawful OR good. In Arabic, these terms are halal and tayyib. But what does that really mean?

Islamic law states that in order for meat to be considered halal, very specific conditions must be met:

  1. An animal must not be beaten, mutilated, or branded.
  2. An animal must be killed in accordance to very specific guidelines, which ensure the quickest slaughter, and the least amount of pain.
  3. Muslims are strictly forbidden from eating the flesh of carnivorous animals.
  4. The name of Allah must be invoked over each animal before it is killed.

What is Tayyib?

Most Muslims are familiar with the term halal (lawful, permissable), but sadly, our community is much less familiar (if at all) with the term tayyib (pure, wholesome, nutritious, good). How can this be, when the two terms are mentioned together in the Qur’an numerous times? How can we ignore such an important aspect of what Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) has allowed us to eat?
The term tayyib is just as important as halal and should be treated as such! To me, tayyib is today’s equivalent of ‘organic’, meaning locally grown food, free from hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, artificial anything, and in the case of livestock, free-range, grass-fed (beef), and well-treated. Yes, well-treated! Lest we forget what Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qur’an about the treatment of animals:

“There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth nor a being that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you. Nothing have We omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Rabb (Lord) in the end.” (Al-An’am:38)

“Halal” Factory Farms are NOT Halal

Isn’t that beautiful? Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) likens the animals on this earth to us humans, with communities and an ultimate return to their Lord! If Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) has elevated these creatures to such a high status, why then, are Muslims not outraged by the inhumane and downright evil treatment to which animals are subjected on today’s factory farms? I won’t go into every detail (you can read more at this article), but here are just a few of those heinous treatments:

  • Factory farms are over-crowded, putting the animals under a great deal of stress, leading to behaviors like cannibalism and fighting. These behaviors are prevented by debeaking chickens, and dehorning and castrating cows, without the use of anesthetics. [Mutilation]
  • Cows are killed using electric shock so that their throats are easier to cut. There have been reports that some animals are still alive by the time they make it down the line to be dismembered. [Slow and Painful Death]
  • Natural herbivores are fed slaughterhouse waste, including fat, blood, meat, and bone meal. Dairy cows are given feed with ground pork bones in it. “Animal cannibalism” is also common, with cows being fed the blood and meat of other cattle as protein supplements. [Carnivorous]

Even Muslim farms have been known to undermine the law that Allah’s name be invoked over each animal before it is killed. Some of them just recite it once at the beginning of the day, others have it playing on a tape recorder over and over, as they slaughter each animal. Others, more, practice the use of “blessed blades“, wherein they either inscribe Bismillah Allahu Akbar on the blades or someone says the phrase and blows on the blades, thereby “blessing” the blades for the slaughter…nevermind the fact that machine-slaughter is against Islamic law in the first place! They’ve turned into a simple, ritualistic behavior…as if this is all that’s necessary in order for it to be considered halal

What is the real Halal?

Saying Bismillah Allahu Akbar before slaughtering an animal is not simply a ritual, as these farms have reduced it; when we invoke Allah’s name on an animal that will be slaughtered, we are speaking directly to Him, thanking Him for His bounty and asking Him to accept the animal’s sacrifice. We are acknowledging that the animal is His divine creation, that we have done our best to provide it with a healthy, happy life, and that we will sacrifice it in order to feed and nourish our family.

How many of us remember all of these things before we dig into the lamb kebab or that chicken biryani? My guess is very few. But that’s only because we have been conditioned and desensitized to the sacred meaning of eating meat. With the growth of factory farming in the past few decades, meat has become an expendable resource, like sugar or flour. It’s just always there, it’s not going anywhere, so we don’t really think too much of it.

This is where we’ve failed – failed the animals, failed ourselves, failed our communities. We are supposed to be ‘ahlus sunnah wal jama’ah’, but when we look at the sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we immediately see that factory farming is not something he would have approved of:

It behooves you to treat the animals gently. (Muslim 4:2593)

Allah has ordained kindness (and excellence) in everything. If the killing (of animals) is to be done, do it in the best manner, and when you slaughter, do it in the best manner by first sharpening the knife, and putting the animal at ease.” (Muslim 2:156)

There is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive.” (Bukhari 3:322; Muslim 4:2244)

Animals raised tortured on factory farms are NOT treated gently, are NOT put at ease, and are NOT provided with acts of charity from their handlers. Instead, they are subjected to awful, cruel conditions just for the mere fact that they are animals, and somehow subhuman and unworthy of love, affection, and respect.

So, now what?

I’ve decided I’ve had enough. I cannot continue to support this atrocity any longer. Basem and I have been living a simpler, more eco-friendly lifestyle for the past couple years, and along with eating more organic, whole foods, we’ve also cut our meat consumption by a lot! Like I said, we only eat meat a couple times a month now. And with all the highly accessible halal options here in Toronto, there’s no lack of choice when deciding what we’re having on those two nights of the month.

But we’ve got to be real here, the “Halal Meat” label doesn’t mean anything anymore. I don’t care if it was certified by ISNA or whoever; it seems that all they are concerned with is how the animals are slaughtered, without any concern for how the animals were treated during their short life. If an animal lived its entire life in misery, stress, and depression, I don’t care if it was slaughtered properly or not. How can these farmers/butchers say Bismillah before slaughtering an animal which was subjected to such unethical treatment under their watch? Oh yeah, they don’t…they just use a tape recorder or “bless the blade”.

Do you see how feeble our understanding and implementation of halal has become? Just because something is halal, that doesn’t give us the right to do it all the time, by any means necessary. Moderation is key. Conscience is integral. Education is necessary.

Is there a solution?

We need more halal meat companies that use organic farming practices. That means no antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. That means allowing cattle to graze in open fields of grass (instead of grains, which are difficult to digest). That means letting chickens bask in the sun, while munching on weeds and insects.

Here in Toronto, we are blessed, alhamdulillah, to have the wonderful company, Blossom Pure - a truly halal, organic foods company. They work with the Amish and Mennonite farmers just outside the city, who raise all the meat on their organic farms. The slaughterer goes out to the farms, transports the animals to a federally-approved slaughterhouse (within 2-3 miles) where they are then slaughtered one by one (kindly, gently, separated, not witnessing others) and then transported back to the store to be packaged. From the very beginning, these animals are treated with respect; by slaughtering them at a site close to the farms (as opposed to driving them back to the store), the burden and stress of travel is completely removed from the animal, and placed on the slaughterer.

The Prophet was a semi-vegetarian

Yes, organic meat is much more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be! Here’s a simple tip: don’t eat so much of it! Of course it will be expensive if you eat meat 4, 5, 6 nights a week. But here’s a radical idea: cut it down to just once a week! Then once a month. Then just on special occasions. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) didn’t eat meat everyday, or every week, or barely every month! It was saved for special occasions; something to celebrate and enjoy.

If your meat is not organic, it’s NOT HALAL – simple as that! If I have to choose between “halal” and organic, I choose organic. This, of course, is only if I trust the source of the meat (ie: small, local farmers, and NOT chain supermarkets!), and if I’m 100% sure that it wasn’t sacrificed in the name of anyone other than Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) (or in anyone’s name at all, which is usually the case today). Furthermore, if the farmer is a Christian or a Jew (People of the Book), then I feel comfortable eating it. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an:

This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time― when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues. If anyone rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good). (Ma’ida:5)

He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of Allah. But if one is forced by necessity without wilful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits―then is he guiltless. For Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful. (Al-Baqarah:173)

If I don’t feel comfortable making that decision and cannot find meat that is both organic AND halal, guess what? I just don’t eat meat. You know what we can eat freely, and is in utter abundance? All the creatures of the sea! Fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, etc. All of these are healthy alternatives (if caught using sustainable fishing methods). Again, moderation is key, so let’s not aim to replace all the beef in our diet with salmon, for example. ;)

And if we are going to strive to follow the sunnah of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we MUST include his sunnah for eating (in general), and consuming meat (in particular). Even Umar ibn al Khattab [ra], during his khilafa, prohibited eating meat everyday. He said:

Beware of meat, because it has an addiction like the addiction of wine. (Malik)

The video below is from last year’s Reviving the Islamic Sprit conference, which took place here in Toronto (I highly encourage you to attend this year, if you can). In it, Hamza Yusuf discusses the importance of knowing where our food comes from, the fair-trade movement, and around 35 minutes in, he discusses organic farming and animal rights.

Let’s Make A Change!

Let us take the lessons from the Qur’an and the Sunnah and really, truly apply them to our lives. Let us stand up for what is right and just, and denounce that which is wrong and unjust. Let us enjoin the good and forbid the evil, as Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) states in surat Ali ‘Imran (3:110).

We all know the current practices of the “halal meat” industry are wrong, and we all can do something about it. Take that first step, however small it may be. Just renew your intentions, take that first step, and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) will take care of the rest. I’m not here to tell you what to do; only you know what you need to do. But I can say that making a change is possible, however difficult or inconvenient it may be. Say a little prayer, ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) for guidance and strength, and just do it!

References:
http://halal-hub.org/guideline.php
http://www.care2.com/greenliving/factory-farming-vs-islamic-law-2.html
http://www.islamicconcern.com/bismillah.asp
http://halalmedia.my/eating-less-meat-is-more-islamic

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