Just What Is Halal Meat?

14th May 2014

There has been a lot of talk in the British media and in Government about halal meat. One particular pizza chain has confirmed that the chicken it puts on its pizzas is “halal”. It turns out that many supermarket chains in the UK are selling meat, most notably lamb from New Zealand, which is prepared in such a way that it could be labelled “halal”. But they don’t label it as such, and nor are they required to by law. Some of the trashier newspapers have latched onto this and called this a “scandal”. There has even been a motion in Parliament and a somewhat short debate on the need for legislation, but the overwhelming feeling in the Houses of Parliament is that this is something to steer clear of.

I’m sure there will be people in the UK who are outraged by the selling of unlabelled halal meat in this country. However I suspect that these people will be a vociferous minority and I’m sure you can guess who these people are likely to be. The BBC went on the streets to ask random people about their attitudes to eating halal meat. They failed to find anyone who would be put off by knowing that the meat they were eating was “halal”.

So what exactly is halal meat?

The “traditional” view, and certainly the view that has been presented to me, is that it is meat which has been slaughtered in a certain way. The process involves cutting the throat of the animal while saying a short prayer and immediately draining the blood from the animal. There seems to be an insistence that the animal is fully conscious during this process and stunning the animal to render it unconscious prior to slaughter is not allowed. There is some debate on this last point and it seem that most “halal meat” in the UK comes from pre-stunned animals.

So that is what halal meat is, right? Well, in my research I came across three articles written by learned Muslims on the subject of halal meat which cause me to question what I thought I knew about halal meat. I’ve included links to them at the bottom of this article and they are certainly worth reading, particularly if your are Muslim. I’ll try and summarise the key points of these articles in simple bullet points.

  • There is no requirement in the Quran to say a prayer at the time of slaughter, except during pilgrimage.
  • There is no requirement in the Quran for the immediate draining of blood.
  • The widespread notion of what makes meat “halal” has no basis in the Quran.
  • There is a requirement in the Quran to thank God for all food before eating it, much like the Christian “Grace”.
  • Halal meat is a billion dollar industry.

Now you may or may not agree with the opinions expressed above – that is for you to decide. Some people will point to the Hadith – the reputed sayings of the Prophet Mohammad – to justify the traditional view of “halal” meat, but like the writer of the first article I have issues with the Hadith as a religious text for precisely the reasons he states.

What I have learned these last few days has been like an earthquake in my own thinking. I’ve been buying my meat in bulk from a halal butcher in Birmingham about 4 times a year. Each trip involves a 120 mile round journey and occupies most of a day. In conforming with the traditional view of what constitutes halal meat am I denying myself what God has made lawful to me anyway? Am I simply fuelling an industry based on the propagation of ignorance and confusion? As a fairly recent convert to Islam I am not encumbered by traditions and that gives me a lot of freedom to question and to think. These three articles have certainly given me food for thought (pun intended).

Finally, don’t shoot the messenger as she may well shoot back. Have a blessed week.


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