Muslims are permitted to slaughter animals for food, and the manner of doing so is carefully prescribed in the Qur’an and Sunna. To depart from that prescribed manner is to render the meat of the animal unlawful, that is, to make it haram. It is also, as we shall explain, to make the meat dangerous for consumption, to make it a health hazard. The general point is also an interesting one, that what is haram should also be harmful, with the implication that what is halal is also what is safe and indeed beneficial.
It is an aspect of the Divine Mercy that everyone of those actions which a practising Muslim is required to do in a particular way and with a particular intention combines a moral-spiritual value with a utilitarian value. For example, it has been objectively demonstrated that, if done properly and regularly, wudu contributes to having clean, healthy skin (see Fountain, 1, pp.33-6). Of course, that is not the point of doing wudu. The point of doing wudu is to get oneself in a state of readiness for worship–for the explicit occasions such as doing the prayer or reading the Qur’an, or, more generally, for initiating any action which the Muslim hopes may be acceptable as worship. The practical benefit of doing the prescribed acts in the prescribed manner is not what makes them acceptable or worthy as acts of worship. If a non-Muslim does the same actions, copying every detail with exact care, or if a Muslim does them but without the proper intention, only the practical benefits are to be hoped for: it is the intention that earns the moral reward. The practical benefit can then be understood as the additional (and not the essential) merit of the prescribed actions–a part of the rationality, the universality, the sheer ease of Islam.
It is in this general perspective that we can best grasp the benefits of slaughtering animals according to the manner prescribed to Muslims. The four conditions of it, after the condition that the animal be one lawful for Muslims to eat, are: 1) that the person doing the slaughtering is a Muslim of sound mind (not mad, not drunk, not legally a minor); 2) that the name of Allah is pronounced before any incision is made; 3) that the instrument used is extremely sharp; 4) that the incision is made in the neck just below the glottis, cutting the throat and oesophagus, the jugular vein and the carotid artery, but (and this is most important) without cutting the spinal cord or severing the head from the body. We should add that it is improper to interfere with the carcass (for example, to begin skinning or dismembering the animal) before convulsions have ceased and its life fully departed.
Plainly, the first and second conditions have to do with the intention, the state of mind, of the person doing the slaughtering. The subsequent conditions have to do with the practical details of carrying out the intention. Studied objectively (that is, without the prejudice of anti-Muslim sentiment), the practical details are found to be the most reliable way of producing wholesome meat without causing undue distress or pain to the animal.
The sharpness of the instrument guarantees the speed of the incision. The speed ensures that, just as when a man cuts himself shaving with a razor, the incision itself is painless (even if, much later, the wound may not be). The particular incision, the cutting of the major blood vessels in the neck, produces an immediate stunning effect: it causes the most massive possible haemorrhaging of blood which, by straightaway cutting the supply of blood to the brain, renders the animal unconscious. However, because the spinal cord is not (must not) be cut, the brain continues to send its electrical impulses to the heart, urgent messages demanding the supply of blood: that is why the animal convulses violently, pumping blood ever more vigorously and so speeding up the haemorrhaging process, until life leaves the body. Certainly, these violent convulsions (the result of rapid muscle contraction) look distressing, but in fact they are painless to the animal which, as we have noted, is unconscious during this process. The body’s own mechanism is thus used to rapidly drain the carcass of blood. Not until the draining of blood is finished is it permissible to proceed with skinning or dismembering the carcass. Why?Blood carries nutrients round the body to feed its tissue cells and carries away the waste product left after the nutrients have been extracted; after processing in the kidneys the blood is purified of these wastes and again circulated. The same blood also carries organisms which are responsible for disease but which in a healthy living body do not present as clinical symptoms. Separated from the body, these disease-carrying organisms are indeed harmful and it is for that reason (among others) that the consumption of blood is forbidden. Moreover, blood in a carcass is the principal breeding- ground for all kinds of bacteria. The failure to drain a carcass adequately renders it liable to rapid putrefaction, making the meat unfit for consumption. The convulsions of the slaughtered animal are the most efficient and (despite appearances) the most painless method of pumping the carcass free of blood.
It is obvious that the methods used for animal slaughter in the industrialized countries are designed for maximum ‘productivity’. That is why various mechanical techniques are used to ‘stun’ the animals in order to speed up the mechanical handling of them. The argument that these techniques are more humane is, frankly, dishonest propaganda put about by the meat trade. There is a great difference between paralysis and unconsciousness: the stunning techniques used, unless very precisely calculated and very accurately administered to each individual animal, may cause paralysis rather than unconsciousness. This means that the animal is motionless (paralysed) and so easy to harness and hoist up, and it looks as if it is not suffering; in fact, it may be quite conscious and in terrible pain. Further, because it is paralysed, the animal’s nervous system is largely disabled so that drainage of blood has to be achieved by rapid, total dismemberment of the carcass by machines–blood is lost by gravity, not by the natural pumping action described above. However, drainage is not as thorough by this method which severely affects the wholesomeness, colour and taste of the meat. Readers of the Qur’an (5.4) will know that (as well as blood and carrion) the meat of animals harassed or strangled or clubbed to death is haram the reason (among others) is that, in a condition of terror, hormones and chemicals are released into the body and bloodstream which distress the tissues and render them unfit for consumption. The Western techniques of stunning before slaughter, because they do not guarantee unconsciousness and do not minimize the terror suffered by the animal, are not acceptable under Islamic rules of slaughter. (Details of the legislation in a number of Western countries–following controlled experiments and government surveys of stunning and slaughtering techniques with different animals–may be consulted in Karodia, 1988.)Let us turn to the two first conditions for lawful slaughtering–namely, that the person be a Muslim of sound mind, that the name of Allah be pronounced. The person must be conscious of what he or she is doing and do it, as it were, in the full awareness that Allah has permitted it and witnessed it. It does not take much imagination to work out that the act of slaughtering an animal is, by this means, individualized: the mechanized, assembly-line taking of life is not acceptable. It may well be that the further preparation of the meat for sale and consumption can (perhaps should) be mechanized so as to increase efficiency and reduce waste. But the act of taking of sentient life, allowed for the purposes of food, must be done mindfully, and may not be handed over to a machine. The moral purpose of these conditions is that human beings do not become arrogant in the dominion they are granted over the animals they farm or hunt for food. That purpose becomes clearer when we recall that there are further stipulations in the Sunna the knife must not be sharpened in front of the animal; one animal should not be slaughtered in sight of another; the animal should be (as a vet does when examining an animal) lain on its side, soothed, and held still before the knife is applied.
All these conditions taken together mean an individual and collective mindfulness, a taking of responsibility. Because the laws of Islam are moral laws, they are not required to be applied where they cannot be applied: something that is impossible to do cannot be commanded to be done–except by mad tyrants. Thus it is that, under the direst necessity, without desiring the unlawful, the unlawful is also permitted. How then is it that Muslims will not understand the mercy, the ease, of that which is prescribed for them to do, but will instead –alas too often–fall under the sway of alien persuasions and do what they must only half-heartedly, sometimes even becoming so impudent as to complain of what benefits them? How should such ingratitude be rewarded except by the reward of all moral stupidity–that, in practice, Muslims come to accept that what is good is bad, and what is bad good? The occasion of ‘Id al-Adha, the ‘Id of sacrifice, is an occasion of mercy remembered and celebrated with thanksgiving and repentance. Let it be, also, an occasion to remember our indebtedness to Islam, for the wisdom, the sanity and spirituality, of what by Allah (through the example and teaching of His Messenger, upon him be peace) is prescribed to us to do.
KARODI,. A.M. (1988) ‘The Muslim methods of animal slaughter and its scientific and social relevance in non-Muslim societies’, Journal of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, 9 (l),pp.173-85.