Eid-ul-Azha is perhaps the one time of the year when we get to witness the animals whose meat we love to devour being slaughtered in broad daylight.
It is the one time of the year we are forced to ponder the humaneness of halal slaughter -- be it in response to sensationalist news articles written by Western media outlets or from witnessing the bloodshed ourselves.
Aside from this, halal slaughter is seldom the subject of any meaningful discussion in our country, which inadvertently breeds a lack of awareness about the particularities of the Islamic laws meant to regulate Eid-ul-Azha.
Almost everyone knows halal slaughter involves slitting the throat of the animal in the name of Allah by a Muslim butcher.
But the rules pertaining to halal slaughter go much deeper than just prescribing the manner in which the animal must be sacrificed and are imposed from the moment the animal in question is born. This is because Islam sets standards pertaining to how well the animal must be raised, treated, and fed throughout its entire life.
While I am not remotely qualified to exhaustively list the requirements of halal slaughter, the following are a few pre-slaughter requirements listed in the book Animal Welfare in Islam
by Basheer Ahmed Masri.
First, the animal must be sacrificed in isolation.
Ali Ibn Abu Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who went on to become the fourth caliph, is reported to have commanded: “Do not slaughter sheep in the presence of other sheep, or any animal in the presence of other animals,” (Maxims of Ali, translated by Al-Halal from Nahj-ul-Balagha, Sheikh Muhammad Ashraf, p 436).
Second, the animal should not see the knife before or during the slaughtering process. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said to a man who was sharpening his knife in the presence of an animal about to be slaughtered: “Do you intend on inflicting death on the animal twice -- once by sharpening the knife within its sight, and once by cutting its throat?” (Al-Furu Min-al-Kafi Lil-Kulini; 6:230).
Third, the animal must be offered to drink sufficient amounts of water before the sacrifice. Umar, the esteemed companion of the Prophet (pbuh) and second caliph, once saw a man denying a sheep he was going to slaughter a satiating measure of water to drink. He told him: “Go, water it properly at the time of its death!” (Badae al-Sande; 6:2811).
Fourth, and perhaps most forgotten of all, the Prophet(s) forbade that any beast be killed after it has been tied, (Sahih Muslim, Hadith Number 1959). Furthermore, as Basheer Ahmed details in his book, the Prophet (pbuh) forbade animals from being subjected to not only physical harm but also from any form of mental abuse.
As such, it would seem that an animal can only be slaughtered once it is in complete and utter submission, preferably with its eyes shut and situated away from rest of the herd.
Animals that become panic-stricken are unfit for slaughter and, hence, should be sent back to the herd for it to regain composure.
Our being the most superior of creations does not give us unbridled authority to do as we like with those underneath us in the hierarchy or the food chain
Yet, it is common practice to slaughter animals in front of others on the streets of Dhaka, and no effort is made to keep the slaughter weapon discreet. Tying up animals with ropes and beating those that put up the slightest degree of resistance with sticks is just as commonplace and completely at odds with the rules.
Once, I stood in the balcony of my village home, overlooking the open field in which all animals were gathered for slaughter, and I noticed that the butchers were finding it particularly difficult to subdue a large cow. The animal was in a frantic state and resistant, probably because it had witnessed the others being slaughtered.
The men finally managed to restrain it for long enough to commence the slaughter, but just as the butcher swung the blade across its throat, the animal somehow broke free of its captivity and dashed forward. I then saw, in a state of shock, the animal’s semi-headless body charging ahead as blood and organs gushed out of the newly formed opening.
Islam considers the lives of all creatures to be sacred and the reason for proclaiming Allah’s name during slaughter is to acknowledge this fact and attest that it is Allah alone who can ordain the sacred life of any being to be taken.
With superiority comes responsibility
Our being the most superior of creations does not give us unbridled authority to do as we like with those underneath us in the hierarchy or the food chain. Rather we have a heightened responsibility in how we exercise this “superiority.”
As such, the Prophet said: “Allah has commanded us to have excellence in all things. Thus, when you must kill, you should kill well and if you slaughter, you should slaughter well. Let each one sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters” (Sahih Muslim, Hadith Number 1955A).
Yet, the procedure that was sent down as a mercy to all animals is today a glaring example of the exact opposite, either because we are ignorant of the detailed rules that seek to ensure animal welfare, or we willfully choose to ignore them as proper adherence would make us incur extra costs.
Whether rules regulating the slaughter of animals by the meat industry should be incorporated in the recently enacted Animal Welfare Act 2016 is something that deserves contemplation.
If the animals are killed in a manner that is so far removed from that religiously prescribed, in broad daylight in front of our homes on the day of Eid, how wrongly are they killed during the rest of the year, behind closed doors of far way slaughterhouses, when none of us are watching?
Taqbir Huda is currently working as a research officer at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs and volunteers at Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights.