The cow is led through the slaughterhouse to its final living space, a close quartered pen where its head and neck are exposed in a pillory-like device. The cow is blessed by a Muslim preacher and then the Muslim butcher slices its throat and windpipe. Many times the cow does not die instantly and many-if not most-times the spinal cord is not severed therefore pain receptors are alive while there is still blood in the head. In these last few moments of life the cow may be convulsing, gasping for air, desperately kicking at the stall encasing him while it is being twisted upside down in order for the blood to drain from its neck hole. After a period of time the blood is drained and the cow’s meat is fit to be processed.
Halal means “permitted” in Arabic, and in a religion whose name means “submission” in the same language, one must take these things seriously. The opposite of halal is haram, meaning “forbidden” and within Islam it is forbidden to process meat without its blood having been drained because…don’t ask questions, just submit.
As a Canadian (or an American, Briton, Frenchman etc) it is hardly my place to tell a Saudi how it should regulate its meat processing industry. The issue becomes my business when Islamic customs are being implemented in my society in contravention to our laws, as a means of mollifying religious sensitivities. The generally accepted practice in North America requires the animal to be stunned, usually with a bolt to the brain, so no pain is felt during slaughter. There are two camps within Islamic theory on this matter, one accepting of stunning, one opposed, with the latter apparently forming a majority, meaning the animal must be fully conscious when its neck is cut. Specifically in Canada, no law exists limiting halal slaughter.
On April 26, 2016, Mohammed Jessa, president of a chain of restaurants called Earl’s announced that it was moving its beef acquisition from Alberta to Creekstone Farms in Nebraska in order to source its meat from a Certified Humane farm. They later claimed that no meat was produced under halal certification, yet Creekstone Farms has stated that ALL their beef is produced under halal conditions. There was a public outcry in Alberta as our beef industry is a central part of our identity, and Earl’s was forced to re-source their meat from local producers. But the episode left a bad taste in many people’s mouths, in part, as it seemed that an Islamic practice was being introduced to us through the back door and was being Certified Humane without the necessary public discussion or contemplation.
To me, this leads to a greater discussion about accepted cultural norms and laws that have been cultivated by us (meaning North America and Western Europe) over the centuries and how those laws interact with religious minorities. Our secular societies have for the most part disregarded religious influence on our laws in favor of a public consensus about how we should interact with each other and the world around us. Halal produced meat is a clear violation of that consensus according to animal rights activists, who have been the vanguard of advancing our societal respect for other living beings. Yet while we may get queasy thinking about it, our collective reaction to halal seems to be a politically correct shrug accompanied by “hey, gotta respect their religious beliefs”.
But do we? Or rather, why should anyone’s religious beliefs be allowed to supersede our hard fought laws and practices which have generally led us to a more equal and peaceful society? As we allow more and more Muslims to immigrate into the West, this confrontation between the temporal and the spiritual will only increase, and our societies which have long ago moved into an atheistic realm as it pertains to legislation, seem too willing to allow exceptions to our rules and laws for Muslims, as a means of accommodating them.
A Muslim might respond that our society guarantees freedom of religion and therefore they should be allowed to practice their religion as they see fit, with Allah’s law. However I believe the more important principle within the phrase freedom of religion is the implicit freedom FROM religion. Being granted the right to choose my religion (or atheism) does me no good if certain religious practices are unknowingly forced upon me, especially in contravention to our societal norms.
Perhaps the central pillar to the success of the West is that we have one rule of law that theoretically applies to everyone. That rule of law is derived from centuries of English Common Law, the Napoleonic Code, constitutional jurisprudence, civil law, legal precedent etc. If we allow Muslims to apply their own Quranic based laws passed down from centuries of the scholarship of superstition, we run the risk of creating a special class with a parallel legal system which would constitute a fatal breach to our societal cohesiveness. Muslims cannot be allowed to employ their own laws separate from ours simply because some guy said God said so. Let the animals be our bellwether: ban halal.