Debates on Islamism: Halal Meat

Illustrative picture. (Photo: naturalbornstupid/Creative Commons)
Illustrative picture. (Photo: naturalbornstupid/Creative Commons)

Clarion Project runs a Facebook dialogue discussion group called Lets Talk About Islamism. That group has a little over 5,000 members from around the world who engage in lively and spirited debate on issues relating to Islamism. The demography of the group is continually in flux as people come and go. Some very specific issues keep on returning.

These recurring arguments illustrate sticking points in the conversation about Islamism. There are very sharp divides in opinion and seemingly little willingness to see the other side and move forward. This is not because the people on either side are irrational or do not want resolution. It is because they have deeply held beliefs about the issue in question and see their position as the correct one.

I want to summarize those debates we keep getting stuck on. (Of course, this is just how I perceive the conversation based on moderating many online discussions on this topic over several years. We welcome your comments.)

Broadening the conversation in this way may get us one step closer to resolving them. This is part of a series, with each article covering one such debate. This debate will be on the topic of halal meat.

Note: To keep the conversation lively, I have used as protagonists in the debate historical figures as fictional frames for the discussion. The following “conversation” on halal food is between Arthur Girault (1865-1931), a French jurist and supporter of colonialism and Sheikh Amadou Bamba (1850-1927), who led a peaceful cultural struggle against French assimilationist colonialism.

Arthur Girault, a French jurist, heavily influenced the development of the French colonial ideology of assimilationism. He supported the idea that anyone under French rule could ultimately gain French citizenship and full rights, provided they adopted French culture and customs at the expense of their traditional identity. His 1895 book arguing for these positions, Principles of Colonisation and Colonial Legislation, was a huge success. It saw five editions by 1927 and influenced state policy. Girault was dean of the Faculty of Law at Poitiers University from 1923 until 1931.

Sheikh Amadou Bamba, a mystic and religious leader, founded the Moudiya Sufi brotherhood in Touba, Senegal, in 1883. He preached pacifism, hard work and good manners. He understood jihad to be an internal struggle to overcome personal limitations and encouraged that in his followers. Fearful of his growing power, the French colonial authorities exiled him, first to Gabon (1895-1902) and then to Mauritania (1903-1907). He was eventually allowed to return and run his movement. His followers today number around four million in Senegal.  

Halal Meat

Arthur Girault: Halal food is not a religious issue. It’s an animal rights issue. There is no reason to permit religious practices which violate animal rights. It has been proven by top-level scientists that unstunned slaughter causes significantly greater harm to animals than stunned slaughter. Why should a religious sect receive a license to perpetrate animal abuse just because they have done so for a long time? Society needs to move forward. That means everyone has to move forward. We have no intention of giving Islam a free pass.

Sheikh Amadou Bamba: Have you seen a normal slaughterhouse? It’s horrible. In addition, you are wrong about unstunned slaughter. There is no scientific basis to say that halal methods of slaughter are significantly more harmful than commonly used methods. Most halal slaughter involves pre-stunning anyway, just not with the use of a bolt. There is evidence that a prestunning bolt is just as harmful, if not more so, than slicing the neck as in zabiha (humane slaughtering according to the Quran). When you’re supporting factory-farmed meat, any objection you have to halal slaughter cannot truly be about animal welfare. The animal is still crammed into some horrible warehouse with thousands of other animals, amongst many other issues that constitute cruelty to animals. If you were so concerned with animal rights you’d be taking on factory farming or even go full vegetarian.

Arthur Girault: Don’t distract from the issue at hand by bringing up factory farming. There are a lot of problems in the world and right now we are talking about this one. Factory farming is certainly an issue. But that doesn’t make halal slaughter OK. And don’t try and argue that your stance is really about animal rights. If you are right and halal slaughter methods really are more humane, why do non-Muslim veterinary professionals not lobby for their adoption across the board? If you are wrong, and halal methods were proven to be less humane, would you abandon them? Or would you keep up with the practice since you regard Islamic rules as more important than animal rights?

Sheikh Amadou Bamba: It’s not fair for you to move the goalposts in that manner. Right now there are plenty of scientists who say pre-stunning makes little to no difference. If that changes, another conversation can be had. Nevertheless I find it very suspect that you are so fixated on the last few seconds of an animal’s life, where there is little evidence that changes in slaughtering methods would bring anything more than an incremental improvement at best. It is clear that religion plays a huge part in the lives of millions of people. Why target this just to save an animal from a marginal amount of pain while you kill it? You are willing to destroy Islam in the West for this?

Arthur Girault: No one is asking Muslims to leave. We are just asking Muslims to bring their practices in line with the current scientific consensus over animal rights. In refusing, you admit that religious preference takes precedence over animal welfare, regardless of the logical facts of the matter. This is unacceptable.

Sheikh Amadou Bamba: If animals mattered so much to people, we wouldn’t be killing them for meat, leather and fur when there are perfectly adequate substitutes. People have eaten meat for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years. To turn around and invent pointless quibbles that target one minority group in particular is ridiculous.

Which side did you agree with? Did we miss out part of the argument? Join the conversation on Facebook at Lets Talk About Islamism or write to us by clicking here.

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Elliot Friedland
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.