Islam’s Zabiha method of slaughter came in the line of fire this year when Holland banned ritual slaughter. When one hears counter arguments from animal rights activists and even Muslims who live vegetarian lifestyles, the idea of killing another creature can seem unnecessary, cruel and inorganic, especially in a religious context. Yet, the Islamic faith recognises these concerns and answers them. Traditionally, Muslims carry out a meat Qurbaan (sacrifice) every year for the Eid-ul-Adha festival and slaughter animals for food using the zabiha method any other time.
What can Muslims eat? Why is pork prohibited? And what makes meat zabiha? In Islam’s holy scripture, the Quran, God tells people,
“Forbidden to you (for food) are dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which has been invoked the name of other than Allah [God], that which has been killed by strangling or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death, that which has been (partly) eaten by a wild animal, unless you are able to slaughter it (in due form).” (Quran, 5:3)
A Muslim’s Meat Is Always Zabiha
For Muslims, animal slaughter is a straight forward concept. Known in Islamic law as zabiha (ذبيحة), the word literally means ‘slaughter’ and goes hand-in-hand with animal welfare and moral purification.
Does Islam promote Animal rights?
Prophet Muhammad of Islam was a big advocator of animal rights. Popular narrations demonstrate how providing water to a thirsty dog, feeding a stray cat and guarding a bird’s nest of eggs are actions of merit. Like his predecessors, Prophets Moses and Jesus, Prophet Muhammad was a shepherd – of sheep – and thus trained in a preserving awareness to ‘guide’ his flock towards health and conservation.
When being asked about the importance of quenching the dog’s thirst, Prophet Muhammad told people, “every kind act to the animal is rewarded”.
He also told people,
“Do not overload them (animals), do not treat them badly, do not tie them and shoot them (tying with intent to kill)”. *Hadith mentioned in Imam Muslim.
Animal welfare in Islam is extended to the slaughter process. A sharp knife is required for a single, efficient cut and so the animal “does not feel pain”. Muslims believe animals are ‘alive’ like plants but they do not have a soul like humans. Animals are acutely aware of what’s going on around them. Thus, Prophet Muhammad showed a concern for emotional stability saying “do not kill one animal in front of the other, and do not kill the animal twice.” *Hadith mentioned in Imam Muslim, read more on Wikipedia.
How Muslims Slaughter Animals
When an animal is slaughtered following the zabiha method, only the windpipe and 4 blood vessels are cut with a single slice. For one school of thought in Islam, the gullet (oesophagus) must also be cut. The knife must reach the back of the throat and the head must remain intact. No other harm to the animal’s body is allowed, which was an animal concern by Princess Ali of Jordan in the run before Eid.
Animals chosen for Islamic Qurbaan, the Eid-ul-Adha sacrifice ending the Hajj pilgrimage, need extra checks. If an animal is blind, lame, deaf, disfigured through mutilation or unhealthy, it cannot be used for the sacrifice. The idea behind this is to follow the Abrahamic footsteps by giving up the best, strongest and healthiest meat to distribute amongst the poor.
The spinal cord is not cut and should not be damaged, otherwise the nerves leading to the heart may get severed causing the animal to go under cardiac arrest.
As the spinal cord remains intact, the heart is still beating, preventing stagnation and allowing a constant flow of blood from the body until death. Since blood is forbidden for consumption in Islam, it’s important to see that the blood is completely drained.
Ask any medical student and they will tell you blood is the carrier of germs and bacteria. Slitting an animal’s throat precisely and sharply emits most of the bacteria from the flow. This keeps the meat healthier and fresher for longer.
4 Ethical Zabiha Principles You Need To Know
1) Animal freedom and organic living
The animal that is going to be sacrificed should be raised to graze freely, treated well, given food and water on the day of slaughter. When brought forward, the animal needs to be kept calmed. Its eyes are covered and it is laid down on the ground. Typically, no other instruments or pressure is involved, and the event is not shown to other animals. Organic Muslim butchers from America, Mercy Halal, have filmed Islam’s zabiha method quite stunningly on their farm. The second video showing the actual slaughter is graphic.
2) Animals allowed in Islamic law
Muslims only eat animals that are herbivores, leading a vegetarian life. Animals shot, killed by accident, birds of prey, pork and porcine substances and roadkill are not halal. Pork in particular is forbidden for major health reasons; while the animal itself is seen as a creature of God, it will eat practically anything put in front of it including excrement and is a carrier of many diseases. Amongst the animals Islam permits for slaughter are: cattle – cows, buffalo, poultry – chicken, pigeons, duck and others, deer, goats, sheep, rabbits. Fish are halal by default.
3) Sanitised sharp tools
The knife intended for the slaughter needs to be sterile and for no irritation, sharpened, but not in front of the animal. Gloves are recommended, as well as a clean workspace with access to water.
4) A Muslim prayer before slaughter
Before slaughtering the animal, Islam asks for the person performing it to be a mature Muslim, and to read a prayer in God’s name, saying “Bismillah” (in the name of God) and “Allahu akbar” (God is Greater). Without the “bismillah”, the animal is not halal for eating.
Do Animals Feel Pain?
One of the major reasons for vegetarianism from the eco-Rabbi and arguments heard from animal rights campaigners is the view that animals feel pain, and as another species, should not be killed without need. Islam holds the view that while animals do feel pain and need loving treatment, the zabiha method does not tolerate any unecessary pain or fear.
For correct slaughter, it is the blood vessels in the animals’ throat that are cut, along with the nerves responsible for pain. Due to a gush of blood, the animal’s muscles contract and relax. When done properly, there is no pain involved in zabiha slaughter. The animal is not writhing in pain, it is simply dying a painless death.
Zabiha Meat – But It Is Halal?
In a nutshell, ‘zabiha’ is the name given to the method of slaughtering an animal by a believer reading a prayer in God’s name. But halal (حلال) is the description for products that are permissible by God and which include people’s welfare. Therefore, halal products are also healthy, sustainable and good for you.
A table format breaks down the zabiha method on Green Zabiha, organic and halal meat farmers in America.
In many areas of the less developed world where Muslims are the dominant population, one will find animals being injected with an infamous hormone to fatten them up. DES, Diacecerol Beseserol, is used by farmers to quicken the muscle growth and get more sales for the zabiha flesh. This meat is haram.
Additional preservatives and electrical stunning affect the nervous system of the animal, which Halal Monitoring Committee explains, would also not be considered halal. Figures suggest as high as 80% of worldwide meat is injected with hormones and according to European Union’s Scientific Committee, artificial growth hormones in meat pose a potential risk to human’s health and reproductive system, Sustainable Table reports.
All carginogenic hormones injected into animals – even if slaughtered by the zabiha method, make the animal haram.
The animal is zabiha, but it’s not halal.
What a Muslim Vegetarian Looks Like
Islam does not compel its followers to eat meat. A Muslim can be a great believer and remain a pure vegetarian. But God has given Muslims permission to eat non-vegan food (meat, dairy products, fish, poultry). In the Quran it says, “…Lawful for you are the animals of grazing livestock except for that which is recited to you [in this Qur’an]…” (Chapter 5, verse 1). The Quran also says there are “numerous benefits” to eating meat, which is why most Muslims browse the worldwide restaurant guide Zabiha.com to enjoy a good burger, halal hot-dog and lamb kebab.
Indian Muslim scholar and public speaker Dr Zakir Naik, writes in his book, Non-Vegetarian Food, Permitted or Prohibited for Human Beings?, about the health benefits to the Islamic method of slaughter,
“If the Islamic guidelines are followed and slaughter is done through the Islamic method of Zabiha, blood is removed, hormones are not given, the food is cooked well, hygienic conditions are developed and pork is avoided; most of the (carried) diseases can be prevented.” – Dr Zakir Naik.