Monday, 27 October 2008

To the Halal authorities

Halal food authorities; is Halal really ‘Halal?’ From a concerned Muslim

Asalaam aleikum brother or sister (s) in Islaam.
I hope this is the appropriate way to contact you.
I am writing to express my concerns to you regarding the various animal products that are ‘Halal’ according to your regulations.

As I am sure you will (at least in theory) agree, our beautiful Deen enjoins mercy and compassion towards all living creatures placed on this good earth; treatment which is conspicuously absent in the world that we live in.

However, until recently I never even opened my mind up to the possibility that any cruelty could be endorsed by an authority made solely to dictate which foods are lawful and which are not, and this is where my concern regarding yourselves lies.

As a result of the concerns that I shall explain I should tell you that I have stopped consuming all animal products, and have encouraged others do to so with some success. I should also warn you that equipped with knowledge others will soon follow suit. My actions are not those of an overly compassionate martyr; just someone who knows the truth but wishes he was wrong, and has tried to prove himself wrong every day but failed. Most people with a similar knowledge and an ounce of compassion would do exactly the same.

A huge responsibility lies on your shoulders; your words will decide the actions of hundreds of thousands of individuals; the vast majority of Muslims will call something Halal because you say it is so; and will regard something as haraam simply because you tell them without question; this is the trust you hold, and burden you shoulder, please consider this as I share my opinions regarding foods which you have passed off as being lawful unto Allaah.

Chickens, turkeys and ducks
A great concern of mine lies in the industry of chicken flesh (my concern also applies with other poultry but I shall use the chicken as the prime example- particularly as this is the most commonly consumed bird). I am aware that ‘Halal’ chickens may die in a comparatively humane way due to the presence of a veterinary officer (as opposed to other chickens that die in ways as horrific as being boiled alive), and that they are not fed substances with the flesh of other creatures.

However, ‘Halal’ in Islaam is not simply the way the animal dies, but also how it lives! So called ‘Halal’ chickens are factory farmed; which, as I’m sure you’re aware, means that they are cramped into a space that often prevents them turning round or lifting a wing. These birds do not smell fresh air, nor touch a blade of grass.

It is also ironic that we loftily call eating the flesh of a swine ‘Haraam’ on the grounds that they live in mud amongst other reasons, yet will happily fill ourselves with a ‘Halal’ chicken carcass that lived in its own excrement and that of others for its entire life!

It is not a disputed fact that any such imprisonment of animals in a sin according to Islaam (and indeed morality according to most religions and cultures). Many such broiler chickens suffer broken legs under their unnatural bulk and die of heart failure or are trampled to death by other birds- again; clearly such treatment to animals is not compatible with Allaah’s command to show compassion to all his creation.

I am also shocked to discover that virtually no ‘free range’ chickens are ‘Halal’, and that the RSPCA (albeit grudgingly) approves of ‘freedom food’ (non Halal) chickens and has no such approval for Halal chickens!

The fishing industry is one that is often overlooked by Muslims; one of the reasons being that you have not (to my knowledge) placed any rulings on it. However, I cannot stress how much I urge you to do so in light of the terrible cruelty and waste it is responsible for.

The physiology of a fish is similar to that of a mammal in terms of the fact that it has pain receptors and limited emotions. A fish in a fish farm is no happier then any other caged animal. When fish are dragged from the sea by the thousand they are crushed to death beneath one another, or failing that they suffocate, unless they are gutted alive first by the fishermen. None of these deaths is humane enough to be compatible with any of the teachings of Islaam.

There is another sinister aspect of fishing, which is wastage and unnecessary death and suffering. Fishing nets from industrial boats destroy everything in their path, including life on the sea floor. Any unfortunate dolphin, turtle or fish not on the catch list will also die and be thrown back into the sea. It is a tragic fact that a third of fish caught and killed are thrown back into the sea so the fishers can fill their freezers with the ‘desired catch.’ This already staggering statistic rises much higher with sea ‘delicacies’ ; it is not uncommon for ten pounds or greater of fish to be killed and wasted for one pound of prawns to be caught. Wasting food in Islaam is a cardinal sin, yet this could all change given just one statement made by your selves.

While most Muslim brothers and sisters will only consume chickens of ‘Halal’ nature, there is no such limitation on eggs, and as a result, Muslims will happily consume eggs from hens of all types including battery/caged hens (who lay over 60% of eggs in Britain; generally unless otherwise stated any egg purchased will be from a battery hen). Only yesterday I was at the house of a devout Muslim sister who was making an omelette out of caged hens eggs, and I thought how can a self proclaimed servant of Allaah worship him yet cause so much suffering to his creations?

As I previously stated, imprisoning a living thing in such brutal conditions is against everything Islaam stands for (such hens fare even worse then broiler chickens- The Agricultural and Food Research Council states that one third of battery hens suffer from broken bones, due to their brutal confinement) but furthermore when chickens are unable to lay eggs they will be killed in a way that is not by any stretch of the imagination ‘halal’ (gassing to death, electrocuting and even being minced alive and fed to other chickens being amongst the most colourful yet very common ways). I understand that battery cages are to be made illegal by 2012 and replaced with ‘enriched’ cages which are barely better, but even this small step was one that I don’t recall you having any positive involvement in. Would it be too much that you could find the compassion to at least say something?

Like eggs, there is no apparent ‘Halal’ ruling on what varieties of milk a Muslim can or cannot consume. Therefore, according to yourselves, who hold the choices of many in your hands, milk of cows (and less often goats or even sheep) can be drunk without question. However, I would ask you to at least spread some awareness about the dairy industry.

While dairy cows are not always imprisoned in the grotesque manner of so many other animals, cruelties towards them are nonetheless numerous; from the breeding techniques that enlarge their udders which agonisingly weep with blood and pus after the painful process of industrial milking, to the sad reality of the calf being separated from his mother at birth, often killed for veal within the first year of its life. It is also worth recognising that these animals are not killed in any ‘Halal’ fashion either, so by consuming milk a Muslim is still subjecting animals to a ‘non halal’ death amongst other cruelties. Why can the Halal authorities not find the mercy to establish laws on Halal milk; that a cow must be treated well, must not be forced to yield so much milk, that its calf at least lives with his own mother just a few weeks longer, and that the cow lives on a herbivorous diet and so forth? This is also a requirement of Islaam -that animals to be eaten do not live on the flesh of others, and as milk is effectively liquidised beef, this rule should apply here; and so logically the milk of many cows is actually haraam as so many cows are fed with an unnatural, omnivorous diet, sometimes even consisting of pork in their feed.

I know some of these latter ideas regarding diet might be dismissed as pedantic but so many Muslims are willing to ditch medicines for the trace amounts of spirits in them, and will kick up a fuss because walkers’ crisps have an infinitesimally small trace of alcohol within! Surely such people will be more then at home with my ‘so called’ pickiness! The fact that so many Muslims actually waste their time and energy fretting over the micrograms of alcohol that might have touched their food instead of the pain, torment and obscene waste that went into their ‘Halal’ Salens and takeouts is not just ridiculous. It is pathetic.

Do not think these are my only concerns.

I have many more, including treatment towards other animals not mentioned here, health issues with eating the appalling raised animals that most of us so quickly say ‘Allah gave them to us’ without a second thought, and indirect destruction and obscene pollution upon the earth that Allaah has made us his stewards over, caused by intensive farming- to other animals and certainly humans less fortunate then ourselves (is it not absurd that the majority of grain human beings produce is fed to animals destined for slaughter when several children die of starvation for each word that I type?).

However, the above discussed problems are ones that should primarily concern you.

I recognise that radical steps, that I would have you carry out, such as speaking out against the fishing, egg and dairy industry demanding reform for it to be ‘halal’ and abolishing all factory farming, or at least giving ‘battery’ farmed poultry space to roam freely in their sheds along with sunlight and grass to tread on would in the short term, a financial disadvantage to some individuals, in the long term, we will be healthier people; more compassionate people, and closer to Allaah.

At present we are in danger of becoming the materialists and consumerists that so many of us will condemn in public (and claim that only Americans are guilty of it) but imitate in practice.

Your Brother in Islaam

The Prophet(s) was asked if acts of charity even to the animals were rewarded by God. He replied: 'yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive.' (Narrated by Abu Huraira, Bukhari, 3:322. Muslim, Vol. 4; Hadith No. 2244