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How do Muslims view food? How did Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!) interact and reflect upon food?

 
 

Is generally available meat halal (permissible)? Or are animals fed and slaughtered in a way that would relegate them haram (impermissible)?
 
 

How are we taught to view animals? What some of the issues with modern day factory farming? What might be the spiritual implications?
 
 
 

‘He who observes our prayer, faces our Qibla and eats the animal slaughtered by us is a Muslim…’
(Bukhari)

Is generally available meat halal/zabiha? Are animals fed and slaughtered in modern Factory Farms in a way that would be problematic from an Islamic perspective? What are some of the reasons that would make it halal, and what are some the reasons that would make it haram?

Our goal, inshaAllah, is to provide relevant information regarding the meat industry that doesn’t seem to be considered by scholars when issuing their fatwas (religious rulings) on the permissibility of generally available meat. Following is the outline:

Overview
                  Halal vs. Zabiha
                  Important Fiqh Principle Regarding Meat
Requirements for meat to be halal
                 The Animal
                               Lawful Animals
                               Industrial Feed
                               Conclusion
                 The Person
                             Ahl Kitabi or Muslim
                             Some statistics of Religion in the USA
                 The Method
                             Zabiha requirements
                                             Alive at slaughter
                                             Proper Cut
                                             Sharp Implement
                                             Name of God Pronouned upon it (tasmia)
                              Modern Factory Farm Slaughter
Why do some say the meat is halal?
                Ahl Kitab meat is halal
                If you don't know just say 'Bismillah'
                Ease
Final Thoughts
                Assumptions
                Make sure you say Bismillah

Overview
Halal means 'permissible' in Islamic jurisprudence, while haram means 'impermissible'. In reality, meat is either halal or haram, 'zabiha' simply refers to how the slaughter was carried out. So why is the term zabiha used in the US so commonly? The reason is to create a distinction between conventional meat (which some Muslims do consider halal), and meat that has been slaughtered in an Islamically acceptable way (for those who consider conventional meat haram).

The majority of scholarly opinions I have come across have deemed generally available meat in the US as haram (not permissible), though some scholars do consider it halal (permissible).  For the latter group, I am not certain if they are aware of US factory farming practices, specifically what the animals are fed and the slaughter techniques. Perhaps if they were, they might revisit their fatwas, in fact I spoke with a prominent and knowledgeable Imam who had been of the opinion that generally available meat was halal, however he changed his opinion because he was not aware of some the industry practices highlighted below.

We personally believe very strongly that when scholars determine if meat in the US is halal or not, they should look at modern Factory Farming holistically in all its desacralized insanity. In this section however, we limit ourselves to the narrow discussion as to whether the meat is halal or not from a slaughter perspective. We don't delve into the treatment, chemicals, antibiotics, pollution etc which should be a part of any fiqh review (and we highlight these in another section). I have yet to come across a qualified scholar that has addressed this, if someone else has, please let me know.

Final note, I am not a faqih, or a scholar, or even a true student of knowledge (though I do have great interest in this area). The rulings or arguments are not mine, but have been taken from and/or verified by scholars. Our goal isn't to convince everyone; if you still want to eat McDonalds meat go for it, you will probably find a fatwa that this meat is ok, but you should be fully aware of the 'story' behind your meat. We do welcome feedback and most importantly any corrections. This is a work in progress and I look forward to updating. [1]

Important Fiqh Principle Regarding Meat
There is a very important fiqh principle regarding meat that all scholars are in agreement with. In most matters of fiqh, things are halal until proven haram.  Meat, however, is the opposite; it is haram unless proven halal. One incident that illustrates this principle is the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!) did not allow eating of game when the cause of death was unclear.  He stated:

“If you find it [hunted game] drowned in the water, do not eat it because you do not know whether the water or your arrow killed it.” (Sahih Muslim).

If the arrow killed it, it would be halal (in a hunting scenario), but drowning would make it haram. He did not tell them to just say bismillah and eat since there was doubt which caused the death of the animal. Simply put, he directed them that if there was doubt in the meat, the default fiqh opinion is haram, not halal. In most other matters the default is halal, not haram (such as if you doubt if you lost your wudu or not, you are not required to renew it).

This is an established principle of fiqh, yet one that often is not mentioned. [2]

Requirement for meat to be halal
There are three essential requirements that all have to be met concurrently for meat to be halal to eat. They are:

  1. The animal.
  2. The person doing the slaughter, and
  3. The method of slaughter

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Let us now examine each of these individually.
               
The Animal:
Lawful Animals:
Obviously, the animal being slaughtered must be permissible to eat in Islam. These include cows, goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits, buffalo and deer to name a few.  As we all know, pigs are clearly haram based upon the clear Quranic injunction.

There exists some difference of opinion regarding the permissibility of other animals, but those are beyond our scope, because for our purposes it’s sufficient to establish what we generally eat in the US (chicken, cow, goat and sheep) is halal, and pork is haram.

“He hath forbidden you only mayta [dead], and blood, and swine, and that which hath been immolated to (the name of) any other than Allah. But he who is driven by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (2:173).

Industrial Feed:
Now, from among the animals that are permissible to eat (cows, chickens etc), there are factors that can render them haram, or makruh (disliked). Chief among this is the feed of the animal; let’s first take a look at what is allowed to constitute the feed of animals in US (we will focus on cows and chickens).  I received this information first hand from one of the head Feed Controlling Officers (inspectors) in the government via a phone interview. These can be found in the industry standard Feed Additive Compendium (http://www.feedcompendium.com/), which is referred to for state and federal regulations.  We will not lay too much emphasis on the hormones and chemicals that go into feed, since from fiqh perspective it has less of an impact (if someone has heard a scholar address this please email us), but we will shed light on those additives in another section.

Keep in mind, Factory farming is big business, and the whole goal is to make as much meat, as quickly and cheaply as possible. So you might be shocked to read what can be fed to animals that we eat, but it’s all about keeping costs down. Its certainly not about health; yours or the animals.

Cows:    Cows are fed grass, right? You would be correct in thinking that, after all they were created to eat mainly grass, but in modern factory farming that is not a viable (read: profitable) option. So no grass, instead they are fed grain, which their body has a difficult time digesting, so much so that many are in a perpetual state of disease which is why we need to pump antibiotics into them to keep them alive. If that was all it’d be bad enough, but that is just the beginning.

Grain isn’t exactly cheap, and in an effort to find ways to feed animals more calories cheaply, Factory farms turned to protein rendering. Rendering takes meat scraps and waste products (carcasses, bones, fat, entrails, organs etc.) and through a process ‘renders’ it into liquefied edible protein.

So, back to our cows. The government allows cow feed to include

  1. pork(!)
  2. cow fat (!)
  3. blood (!)
  4. poultry and
  5. horse to name a few things

You might notice that cow meat is not listed, and if there is any good news it is this: prior to the Mad Cow Disease scare (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy," or BSE) cow feed included meat from cows. The issue was that BSE is an infectious agent called a prion which is not killed through rendering, thus cows could acquire it through eating meat of other infected cows. So in an attempt to try and prevent the cycle of infection through cannibalism, the government outlawed feeding cows cow protein. However cow fat is allowed, though the inspector tried to comfort me by saying that a new regulation slated to start in 2009 limits the amount of ‘insoluble impurities’ (i.e. proteins) in the beef fat fed to cows, theoretically further minimizing the chances of BSE.

So cow feed is allowed to include cow fat, as well as a healthy cocktail of ground up pork, poultry and blood. Someone then had a great idea to use something even cheaper than waste products at a slaughter house to feed cows.

Believe it or not, chicken litter can also legally be included in cow feed. Chicken litter is the bedding used in chicken factory farming. It primarily contains poultry feces, along with the material used for bedding (wood shavings, saw dust, sand etc.), as well as feathers, spilled (often spoiled) grain. One article I read on this mentioned that chicken litter is typcially replaced once a year. At which point it can be processed and fed to cows. Now, one justification says that ‘cow will eat a certain amount of feces in nature as well’. While it may be true that a cow living on a pasture might eat some fecal matter, but feeding them purposefully (especially when the rest of the diet is unnatural) is not mimicking what they eat in nature, any fecal matter they eat is by chance, they don't seek it out. Additionally, some point to the balanced nutritional composition of the mix, however this is just another case of reductionist scientism used to justify a industrial practice. Even proponents of this method suggest cattle be withdrawn from chicken litter diet at least 15 days prior to slaughter, which of course there is no real way of knowing.

On this point, I should mention that the Controlling Officer mentioned to me that ‘there was some discussion about arsenic in the chicken litter fed to cows, because it’s in chicken feed’. What?...Arsenic? We’ll get to that in a moment.

Chicken: When I asked the Controlling Officer what the restrictions were on chicken feed, he chuckled and said 'I don’t know of any real restrictions for poultry feed’.  You can feed them ground up chicken, pork, beef, whatever. He mentioned in his State ‘we have large poultry processor and their chicken waste goes to rendering plant and most goes back to the processer for feeding the chickens’.  So in the case of cows, we’ve turned a ruminate (grass feeder) into a meat eater, and the chicken into a cannibal (though the cow does get to eat cow fat). He did mentioned there were ‘only’ 9 or 10 drugs that can be given to poultry used for meat, and 3 for egg producing hens. And there is supposed to be a drug ‘withdrawal’ period, the poultry should be off the drugs for a time before going to slaughter. Who knows if that happens, probably hard to even detect or enforce.

As mentioned earlier, chicken feed includes an arsenic-based additive called Roxarsone, which is used to ‘to promote growth, kill parasites and improve pigmentation of chicken meat.’. What is interesting is that studies have found that the bacteria found in chicken litter (which is fed to cows) makes the arsenic more toxic, and if the chicken litter is used as fertilizer, it has even shown up in streams and areas with large chicken factories have shown higher levels of rare cancers. Now you might say, but they must know the amounts of arsenic in the chicken are low enough to not cause any issues, and that'd make sense, except that:

"Complicating the issue is the fact that no one knows the exact amount of arsenic found in chicken meat or ingested by consumers who frequently eat chicken. "Neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the Department of Agriculture has actually measured the level of arsenic in the poultry meat that most people consumes."[3]

The reality with chicken is that regulations on their feed is almost non-existant, so who knows what are they eating.

Some notes on feed:

  1. Regulatory: The government regulations exist, but as with any regulations they are only as good as they are enforced. And the reality for this (and almost all government regulations) is that there are not enough Controlling Officers to check on a regular basis (which is how government and industry like it). As the Controlling Officer I spoke with mentioned, they are able to inspect animal feed/rendering facilities maybe once a year. And if there are violations there are ways of appealing, or worst case scenario they may get a slap in the hand. Its more profitable to continue with business as usual and risk a violation rather than really clean up their act to comply (even though as we saw the feed regulations are bad enough in what they allow). By the way, the pork in the chicken feed is so entrenched that only recently did Pakistan realize and formally ban the practice of importing US feed with pork by products in 2008. [4]
  2. Cross Contamination: A major safety issue that has been raised by many critics of the present animal feed system is the possibility of cross contamination which could cause another Mad Cow Disease epidemic. Ground up cow meat is not allowed to be fed to cows (fat is), but it is allowed to be fed to poultry and pigs. And ground up pigs and poultry are allowed to be fed to cows. So if the BSE prion happened to be in cow meat which was fed to a chicken or pig, what happens if the ground up chicken or pig is fed back to cows? No one really knows for sure, many have speculated that this could be a catastrophe waiting to happen. [5]

Conclusion-Animal:
All scholars agree cow, chicken, goat and sheep are halal, and pig is haram. However, in the US, cow and chicken feed includes animal products, including pork and from their own kind. From a fiqh perspective, some scholars state that:

  1. If a cow (or any 4 legged halal animal termed ‘zawat al-arba’ah’) eats meat products it renders them haram. Regardless of what animal the meat comes from.
  2. If a chicken (or any animal) eats pork products then it is haram.

This does raise a question. What about zabiha slaughtered animals, what are they fed? Animals that are slaughtered according to zabiha principles in most cases are sourced from the same factory farms, and thus fed and raised the same way as store bought meat. The only way to know is to do research to find out what the origin of the zabiha meat is and how it is raised and what it is fed. Does this mean that zabiha meat might itself be haram? It is certainly an important issue, and one of the reasons we want to raise awareness on this matter so that the Muslim community can demand that their meat is not just zabiha, but that they are also fed in a way that would not render them haram.

The Person
Ahl Kitabi or Muslim:
By consensus, if a permissible animal is slaughtered by a Muslim, or a member of the Ahl Kitab (People of the Book: Jew or Christian) it is halal. This is based on the ayah:

“This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them.” (5:5).

Some statistics:
Of course there is no way to know who the slaughterer was when you buy conventional store meat.
It might be worthwhile to note a few interesting data points here:

  1. While the majority of the US is either Christian or Jewish (76% and 1.3% respectively [6], of these 44% of Christians claim to attend church weekly, but many religious scholars dispute this as being too high because people tend to exaggerate their observance in such surveys. They put the number at closer to 20%. [7]
  2. In another study, the second largest ‘religious group’ in the US is those who identify themselves as secular or non-religious (13%) [6].
  3. Furthermore, a full 25% of 18-22 year olds  describe themselves as having no faith (the number was only 6% in people over 60 years of age). [8]

Conclusion-The Person
Net, while the majority of people in the US are Ahl Kitabi by religious identification, you cannot be assured that those who performed the slaughter were.  And if they were, how did they perform the slaughter? That brings us to the next requirement for meat to be halal.

The method
By consensus, for meat to be considered halal, it must:

  1. Not be dead prior to slaughter: An animal that has died before the slaughter is considered mayta (dead) and expressly forbidden in the Quran. It is not important how it died (drowning, strangulation, suffocation, bludgeoned, killed by predator, gored fallen to death etc.), but if it is dead then it is haram.
  2. “Forbidden unto you (for food) are carrion and blood and swine, and that which hath been dedicated unto any other than Allah, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which hath been killed by (the goring of) horns, and the devoured of wild beasts, saving that which ye make lawful (by the death-stroke), and that which hath been immolated unto idols.” (5:3)

  3. The slaughter should have cut at least 3 out of 4 of the following: 2 jugular veins, windpipe and esophagus. All scholars agree that this is the method clearly directed in the sunnah based on numerous hadiths, and allows for the blood to flow which produces healthier meat, as well a more humane (more on that later) slaughter.
  4. In an incident narrated by Rafi' bin Khadij, the Prophet told Muslims who wanted to slaughter some animals using reeds, “Use whatever causes blood to flow, and eat the animals if the Name of Allah has been mentioned on slaughtering them...” (Bukhari)

  5. A sharp implement is used for the slaughter: The cutting tool should cut through the skin because of it is sharp, not because of the weight or require a saw like or hacking effort. This ensures a quick cut that ideally accomplishes the above requirement in one stroke.
  6. On the authority of Abu Ya'la Shahddad ibn Aus, the Messenger of Allah said: ‘Verily Allah has prescribed proficiency in all things. Thus…if you slaughter, slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters’ (Muslim).

  7. Name of God pronounced upon it: The majority of scholars agree that when a slaughter is performed, the name of Allah must be pronounced (‘Bimillah Allahu Akbar’, ‘In the name of God, God is most great’). This is reflected in numerous hadiths and verses of the Quran. If the pronouncement is forgotten by mistake, some say it is still halal, while other contend it is not, all agree if it is intentionally not stated it is haram (this is concerning when a Muslim is slaughtering). There is some difference of opinion as to whether the name of God must be mentioned if an Ahl-Kitabi is performing the slaughter, the majority say they should, however there is the opinion that they are not required to. All are in agreement that if the meat is slaughtered and a name of an idol is mentioned it is haram.

    And eat not of that whereon Allah's name hath not been mentioned, for lo! it is abomination. Lo! the devils do inspire their minions to dispute with you. But if ye obey them, ye will be in truth idolaters (6:121).

    “They ask thee (O Muhammad) what is made lawful for them. Say: (all) good things are made lawful for you. And those beasts and birds of prey which ye have trained as hounds are trained, ye teach them that which Allah taught you; so eat of that which they catch for you and mention Allah's name upon it, and observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is swift to take account” (5:4)

    And why do you not eat of [meats] over which God's name has been pronounced? Seeing that He has so clearly spelled out to you what He has forbidden you [to eat] unless you are compelled [to do so]? But, behold, many people lead others astray by their own desires, without knowledge. Verily, thy Sustainer is fully aware of those who transgress the bounds of what is right! 6:119

I recently spoke to a USDA Muslim veterinarian who mentioned that many of the slaughterhouses that process zabiha meat turn on a tape-recorder which repeats the ‘bismillah’, while others just say 'bismillah' when they first turn on the machine. Some scholars have said these approaches are allowed, because its not 'efficient' enough to say the name over each animal, the processing lines would slow down. But others state: why compromise such an fundamental requirement just for efficiency? The point of the tasmiya isnt to simply state the name of Allah/God at the time of slaughter anymore than praying isnt' just parroting some words while we go up and down. There are deep spiritual reasons Allah has required this of us, and for those who are not comfortable you may want to find out if the zabiha meat provider does this.

These are considered the main criteria for halal slaughter. There exists additional requirements, but from scholars I have spoken they consider them recommended instead of requirements. Some examples include: not letting another animal see another get slaughtered, allowing the animal to eat and drink before the slaughter (not starving them), not even letting the animal see the knife being sharpened (The Prophet Muhammad (saws) saw a person preparing a lamb, laying it down while he was still sharpening his knife. Prophet Muhammad then commented, “Do you want to kill it twice? Sharpen your knife before you lay it down.” ( Bukhari and Muslim).).

Modern Factory Farm Slaughter
So how are animals slaughtered in factory farms in the US? Well, like everything else, the goal is to do it quickly and cheaply. The animals are brought to the slaughterhouse, stunned, slaughtered (‘bled’) then ‘processed’. Keep in mind that they are processing thousands of animals in a day, and the key is to keep the line moving, even if there are mistakes. The stunning is supposed to make them unable to feel the slaughter, as well as make them more manageable.

For cows, they are stunned generally via a metal bolt, it might look like a bullet, or a pneumatic device with the bolt in it. There are other variations of stunning, but his is the most common in the US, and the metal bolt generally enters the skull. There are two issues with beef slaughtering (I’m not including many other issues, only those that are related to the slaughter itself):

  1. They die from the stunning: As described by Temple Grandin who audits slaughter for McDonalds, and is perhaps the world renowned designer of livestock handling facilities and a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University:
  2. “The stunner has a pneumatic-powered ‘gun’ that fires a steel bolt about seven inches long and the diameter of a fat pencil. He leans over and puts it smack in the middle of the forehead. When it’s done correctly it will kill the animal on the first shot.” So, one of the head auditors states that by default the animal is killed by the stunning, this meat is mayta, dead from an Islamic perspective. [9][10][11]

  3. They die piece by piece: Another major issue, and perhaps even worse from an Islamic perspective is the fate of the cow that doesn’t die from the stun or the cut. These poor creatures face what a Washington Post article investigative report termed ‘They Die Piece by Piece’. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), cursed those who dismembered animals alive: Narrated Ibn Umar: The Prophet cursed the one who did Muthla to an animal (i.e. cut its limbs or some other part of its body while it is still alive (Bukhari). As stated in the article:

    “It takes 25 minutes to turn a live steer into steak at the modern slaughterhouse where Ramon Moreno works. For 20 years, his post was "second-legger," a job that entails cutting hocks off carcasses as they whirl past at a rate of 309 an hour.
    The cattle were supposed to be dead before they got to Moreno. But too often they weren't.
    "They blink. They make noises," he said softly. "The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around.”
    Still Moreno would cut. On bad days, he says, dozens of animals reached his station clearly alive and conscious. Some would survive as far as the tail cutter, the belly ripper, the hide puller. "They die," said Moreno, "piece by piece."…
    "I've seen thousands and thousands of cows go through the slaughter process alive," IBP veteran Fuentes, the worker who was injured while working on live cattle, said in an affidavit. "The cows can get seven minutes down the line and still be alive. I've been in the side-puller where they're still alive. All the hide is stripped out down the neck there."[12]

On one hand, the stunning if done correctly will kill the cows (rendering it mayta-dead from an Islamic perspective), or because of the fast pace of the ‘disassembly line’ the cows potentially never get the chance to fully ‘die’ before being pulled apart. How often does this happen no one knows for sure (inspection of facilities for such violations is not regular, the US government inspection corps is woefully understaffed, which is by design).  Incidentally, this article was mentioned in congress in 2002 when the Farm Bill that year confirmed that the Humane Slaughter Act should be enforced. But it didn’t make any real impact.

For chickens, the method for their processing isn’t much better.  When they arrive to the slaughter house they are snapped onto conveyor belt upside down by their legs. The first step for them is to go through an electric water bath which is designed to stun them, then there is a stationary rotating blade that is positioned to spin and cut their throats, after which they are dunked into very hot water (not enough to cook) in order to defeather them. Thereafter they go through the ‘disassembly’. So the main issues here are similar to the cow slaughter

  1. Chickens may die from the initial water bath, either from the water or from the stunning, if this happens it is considered mayta-dead.
  2. Although the chickens are exhausted (in some cases barely alive), they may flap their wings or move their bodies so as to avoid letting the blade make the cut on their necks. Their wing might get cut, or the cut might be very shallow, or miss it entirely. This means that they remain alive for the dunking in hot water, at which point they may drown to death, again making them mayta, dead meat (at least they are mostly ensured death from the hot water, ensuring that they not be dismemberment alive as the cows mentioned above).

We should note here that there is a general belief that the Islamic slaughter (and Kosher) is inhumane, while the modern method of stunning before the bleeding is less painful for the animals, in fact there are movements to ban zabiha/kosher slaughter [13]. However, there have been studies that have shown that the Islamic method is measurably less painful for the animal[14]. When the cut is made, the animal looses consciousness instantaneously and their EEG recorded no additional activity. Since the spinal cord is left intact, the heart continues to beat (as well as some muscle reflexes) providing the most effective means of blood drainage (which in turn produces healthier meat).  Conversely, the EEG recordings appeared to show that the animal felt intense pain from the stunning; additionally this method also causes the heart to cease beating sooner, which in turn makes the blood drain slower leaving more blood in the meat, making it less healthy.

Temple Grandin, the world renowned expert in animal slaughter makes an interesting observation; she had designed a restraining system for halal/kosher slaughter and to keep cattle "in a comfortable upright position", what she was most surprised about was that when done properly, even without stunning "I was amazed to observe that the animal did not appear to feel the cut." [15]

Why do some say the meat halal?
Let us now turn our attention to the question, so is this meat halal? Can we eat what is now termed non-zabiha meat (meat that we do not know how it was slaughtered in the US)?

For those who say we can, there are usually three main arguments that are made:

  1. Meat of Ahl Kitab is halal: All scholars agree that meat of the Ahl Kitab is halal. However in the context of the US:
    • How do you know it was an ahl kitabi who did the slaughter? There is no way, and this in itself is enough by many scholars to consider the meat unlawful. Secondly, the dominate opinion is that Ahl Kitab must mention the name of God when slaughtering (using whichever name they use for God), not doing so makes the meat unlawful, and we know for sure this does not occur at a slaughterhouse. But for the sake of discussion let’s assume that all meat slaughtered in the US is slaughtered by someone who is of Ahl Kitab, and lets go with the lenient opinion that they need not say God’s name. Even so:
    • We know that pig, mayta (animal that did not die from slaughter i.e. strangled, bludgeoned, drowned) and blood is haram. The Quran explicitly states this, but the Quran also states the food of the Ahl Kitab is halal. So which takes precedence? Is an animal that is strangled by an Ahl Kitbi halal? Is the mayta of a modern day slaughterhouse halal? If an Ahl Kitabi brings you blood to drink is it halal?
    • Scholars who argue the meat is not halal say that the explicit verse of the Quran banning pig, mayta etc. takes precedence over whether an Ahl Kitabi does the slaughter. If the opposite were true it would have very strange consequences: if an Ahl Kitabi and a Muslim each have a chicken, and both use a hammer to bludgeon it to death, the Ahl Kitabi’s would be halal, while the Muslim’s would be haram (not to mention that pig, blood and mayta from Ahl Kitabi should all be halal). As we already noted, there is no guarantee that the chickens and cows are alive at the time of the slaughter, in case of cows they are almost always dead as per the aforementioned quote, and chickens may die before the slaughter stage or after without a proper slaughter. I should note that I have even seen a fatwa that states stunning animals prior to slaughter itself is haram. [16]
      A similar example of this principle is that while it is allowed for a Muslim man to marry a woman from the Ahl Kitab, it is only if the marriage is in conformity with the rest of Islamic guidelines. For example he cannot marry a sister, or aunt who is Ahl Kitabi. So yes Ahl Kitabi can be married, but only if all the other stipulations of a Muslim marriage are adhered to. So Ahl Kitab meat is allowed, but only if it conforms with Quranic guidelines on allowable meat.
      We all know that Jews have maintained the tradition of Kosher slaughter (which is even more strict than zabiha), and at the time of Muhammad (pbuh) Christians also had ritual slaughter (in the New Testament), however it is no longer a living tradition in Western Christianity.
  2. If you don’t know, just say bismillah: Another hadith that is referred to quite often for legitimizing the eating of generally available meat in the US is the following:

    Aisha relates the following: “A group of people once said to the Prophet, ‘Some people have come to us with meat and we do not know whether the name of Allah has been mentioned over it or not.’ He replied, ‘You yourselves mentioned the name of Allah over it and eat’.

    So seems clear cut, it shows first of all that the Muslims were very concerned about meat, and the permissibility of it. It is also used by some to establish a principle: if you don’t know the meat source then just say bimillah yourself and eat. But the interesting thing about this hadith is that the last line is often is not included:

    She then remarks, “they [the ones who offered the meat] had just recently entered into Islam” (Sahih Bukhari)

    So, these were Muslims who brought the meat. The picture changes significantly, we see that sahaba were very concerned about their meat being halal, to the extent they were even concerned about meat from those who had recently become Muslim. So the principle this does establish is that if a Muslim brings you meat, you can say bismillah and eat. This is not to be used for generally available meat in the US where you have no idea who slaughtered it.

  3. Ease: People sometimes quote the Quranic verse: ‘Allah wants ease for you not, He does not desire for you difficulty’ (2:185), and use this as a reason to eat non-zabiha meat. This is a beautiful verse that some say is being used improperly. Allah does want ease for us, but that does not mean there will be no hardship, and there are plenty of verses where Allah lets the believers know that they will have hardships, (Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, "We believe", and that they will not be tested? 29:1).  Additionally, 'necessity is the mother of invention', so if we said it was ok to eat non-zabiha meat, then the Muslim community would never have come up with alternatives.

Final Thoughts
There are many websites , Q&As, articles and books that handle this subject, our goal was to shed a bit more light on what is occurring in the industry behind the smoke and mirrors, and their implications from a strictly fiqh perspective.  We truly believe the profound negative spiritual implications of eating factory meat in the US is an even stronger reason to avoid conventional meat than the mechanics of the fiqh (I cannot believe the mercy to the worlds Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!) would be comfortable eating this meat). And inshaAllah by shining a light on this collectively, we will encourage scholars to approach the issue of halal and haram meat (and food in general) in a more holistic way, one that is not just limited to checkboxes, but incorporates Islamic ideals of Rahma (mercy), barka (blessing) and other important perspectives.

In summary, from a fiqh perspective, realize that if you do consider generally available meat halal, you are making several assumptions:

Requirement

The Assumption

The fiqh

The Probability of an issue

The animal

Was not fed any pork products

Some scholars are of the opinion that this makes the meat haram

High-Pork is allowed for both chicken and cow feed

 

Was not fed any animal  products

Some scholars are of the opinion that feeding meat to the cow renders it haram, though chickens as foragers do not have to have a vegitarian diet

High-Animal products are allowed (including blood) in both chicken and cow feed

The person

Was from Ahl Kitab or Muslim

All scholars agree it must be from one, additionally many scholars only accept slaughtered meat from an Ahl Kitabi who observes their religion

Low-About 77% of the US is Ahl Kitabi, however growing number (25% 18-22) do not consider themselves of any religion

The method

The name of God was pronounced on it

Most scholars believe that name of God must be pronounced on the meat at slaughter, even if Ahl Kitabi does the slaughter

High-No one says name of God on any slaughtered meat in factory farm

 

The cow did not die from the stunning before the knife incision

All scholars agree that if the animal dies before slaughter, it is mayta

High-As the quote mentioned above, ‘if done right’ most animals die from the stun

 

The knife incision was done properly, and there was sufficient time for the cow to die, before going into the processing phase

Scholars consider meat that has been killed piece by piece as haram

Moderate-it is not regular practice, however it is not uncommon

 

The chicken did not  die/drown from the initial stunning or drown in the initial water bath or de-feathering bath

Scholars consider meat that has been drowned as mayta and haram

Moderate-it is not regular practice, however it is not uncommon for the chicken to flap its wings or move, which would make the blade miss the throat, either causing a slight cut on the neck, cutting some other part of the body, or missing it entirely and then it would die in the subsequent bath

 

The animal did have jugular cut to allow for draining of the blood

Most scholars consider this a requirement, even if Ahl Kitabi slaughters

Moderate-it is regular practice to cut the jugular, however it is not uncommon given the speed at which the line moves to miss

So, in almost every requirement for meat to be halal there could be doubt. Recall that all scholars agree that meat is haram by default if there is doubt. If we take this principle into consideration along with the extreme importance Allah and Prophet Muhammad (s) places on consuming halal food, particularly meat (produce is halal no matter who raises it), there are many reasons to not consider generally available meat as halal.  Any one of the issues mentioned above is reason enough to avoid it; some are almost assured (such as feeding animal pork products), while others have low ‘risk’, however there is a risk that exists, and risk means doubt.

Finally let’s end by recalling that Allah questions the believers in a particularly powerful and strongly worded verse:

And why do you not eat of [meats] over which God's name has been pronounced? Seeing that He has so clearly spelled out to you what He has forbidden you [to eat] unless you are compelled [to do so]. But, behold, many people lead others astray by their own desires, without knowledge. Verily, thy Sustainer is fully aware of those who transgress the bounds of what is right! 6:119

If you decide to feed yourself and your family non-zabiha meat: make sure you never forget to say bismillah.

But is even zabiha meat halal? Can we be assured animals destined for zabiha slaughter are not fed the same and raised in the same horrible conditions as conventional animals? Can we even be assured that the animals are slaughtered in compliance with the Islamic regulations mentioned above (generally it's just matter of trust)? These are very important questions, and as a community we need to research these more deeply and hold those who sell halal meat accountable. In some cases we do not have much more visibility into zabiha meat than we do in conventional meat.


Footnotes:

1. I would highly recommend The Islamic Laws of Animal Slaughter: A Discussion on the Islamic Laws for Slaughtering Animals & a Survey of Modern-Day Slaughtering Methods by Mufti Taqi Usmani (tr. Amir Toft) from White Thread Press. It is a comprehensive treatise on this topic, and the author is familiar with most western practices of meat slaughter.  The translator has done a great job, it’s very readable and he has included some useful appendices. However, I pray in the future the Mufti and other scholars from all traditions and methodologies look at all aspects of the modern meat industry (the feed, the treatment of the animals, the antibiotics/hormones etc.), not just the slaughter, when formulating their fatwas (this point is mentioned in the book itself).

2. This principle is well established, but lets provide two references, one from a traditional source and the second from Sh Bin Baz

  • Al-Mukhtasar al-Quduri, a classical Hanafi Fiqh text by Imam Al-Quduri(b 362 AH):
    “Some people are under the illusion that they can eat any meat unless they know with certainty that it is Haram. This is not correct, because although the default is permissibility in general, this flawed approach ignores the texts of prohibition. Simply stated, since it has been established by clear evidences that meat only becomes permissible upon completion of a very specific slaughter procedure…default for meat is thus prohibition unless it can be established that the required procedure has been performed….In this light, the scholars have stated explicitly that the default in all things is permissibility, with the exception of meat and sexual intercourse….So, in the same way as a man cannot have intercourse with a woman he finds in a tent on a dark night on the pretext that there is a chance she is his wife, similarly one cannot eat meat indiscriminately on the mere basis that there is a chance it was slaughtered correctly.”
  • Mufti Taqi Usmani’s book includes an appendix with a ‘Legal Ruling of the Board of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia’ (which is signed by Shaykh Bin Baz and the top scholars at the time). In it they state that after researching the methods of slaughter used by slaughterhouses who export meat to Saudi Arabia, they deem the ‘halal certified’ meat as unlawful. Furthermore they also reaffirm this principle of fiqh regarding meat: “There is still legitimate doubt as to whether the slaughtering method used in the exporting countries are in accordance with the prescribed Islamic method. And the default ruling is prohibition.”

3. -Geoscientists Follow Arsenic From Chicken Feed To Streambeds:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051012084037.htm 
-Arsenic In Chicken Feed May Pose Health Risks To Humans
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070409115746.htm
-Arsenic:  Chicken Feed Effects Questioned. Researchers study health, environmental impact from use of arsenic:
http://www.mindfully.org/Farm/2004/Arsenic-Chicken-Roxarsone4jan04.htm

4. Only pork-free poultry feed being allowed, SC told (Dawn, Pakistan):
http://www.dawn.com/2008/02/08/nat4.htm

5. Experts Predict U.S. Mad Cow Disease Will Spread:
http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/feb2004/2004-02-06-02.asp

6. Keeping the faith: The US may be one of the most religious countries in the West but is it undergoing a period of doubt.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7053157.stm)

7. How many North Americans attend religious services (and how many lie about going)?
http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm

8. Atheists find strength in numbers:
http://www.pantagraph.com/articles/2008/02/25/values/doc47c300c381587823189006.txt

9. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan
page 303.

10. Temple Grandin also has an article on her website where she states: "There have been some questions about whether or not a captive bolt actually kills an animal. Practical experience in slaughter plants indicates that cattle shot correctly with a penetrating captive bolt have irreversible damage to their brain and they will not revive [my emphasis]. If a non-penetrating captive bolt is used the animal may revive unless it is bled promptly." Recommended Captive Bolt Stunning Techniques for Cattle (Updated February 2008)
http://www.grandin.com/humane/cap.bolt.tips.html

11. One interesting note about Ms. Grandin, she is autistic and is considered by many to be one of the highest profile people with autism in the US. As stated on her website:
"Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is inarguably the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world. She has been featured on major television programs, such as "ABC's Primetime Live", the "Today Show", "Larry King Live", "48 Hours" and "20/20" and written up in national publications, such as Time magazine, People magazine, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and New York Times. Among numerous other recognitions by media, Bravo Cable did a half-hour show on her life, and she was one of the "challenged" people featured in the best-selling book, Anthropologist from Mars."
http://www.templegrandin.com/templehome.html

12.‘They Die Piece by Piece’. In Overtaxed Plants, Humane Treatment of Cattle Is Often a Battle Lost. By Joby Warrick Washington Post Staff Writer
http://www.waitingforthestorm.com/files/pdf/wash_post.pdf

13. I was recently speaking with a lamb farmer who supplies Whole Foods, and he mentioned there was a movement within the company to ban kosher slaughter because they felt it was crueler, it’s interesting to note that zabiha/kosher meat slaughter not only provides for ‘cleaner’ meat, but also appears to be less painful as well. This movement to ban kosher and halal slaughter (without stunning) is not just in the US, but in Europe as well. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2977086.stm. As will be seen, it is intersting to note that when halal/kosher is done properly, the animal is better off.

14. Experiments for the objectification of pain and consciousness during conventional (captive bolt stunning) and religiously mandated (“ritual cutting”) slaughter procedures for sheep and calves.
http://www.mustaqim.co.uk/halalstudy.htm

15. Kosher Meat from Uruguay
http://www.grandin.com/ritual/kosher.meat.uruguay.html

16.Fatwas on permissibility of stunning
http://www.organic-halal-meat.com/article/fatwa-stunning-yemen.htm
http://www.unstunnedhalal.com/articles.shtml#

 
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