Ritual slaughter and Islamic ethics

Firdaus Hasan brings cattle to Surau Kampung Sawah at Pekan, Pahang, for ritual slaughter in conjunction with Hari Raya Aidiladha today. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: As part of the celebration of Hari Raya Aidiladha, or the Eid of Sacrifice, hundreds of mosques and community centres around the nation will carry out the ritual slaughter of animals and distribute the meat to the poor.

The ritual slaughter serves as a symbolic reminder of the epic sacrifice of Abraham and Ishmael.

According to Muslim tradition, Abraham had a vision of God commanding him to slaughter Ishmael, who at that time was his only son. He told Ishmael about it and the son told him not to grieve and to obey the command. When the knife was about to touch Ishmael’s neck, God recognised that the two had passed the test of righteousness and sent a ram to be sacrificed instead.

In Malaysia, mosques and suraus usually invite Muslims in their neighbourhoods to witness or help in the slaughter of cattle, goats or sheep.

Some have criticised the open slaughter as being against Islamic ethics. In fact, in many Muslim countries, particularly in the Gulf region, slaughtering is allowed only in abattoirs.

Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, who heads the Malaysian NGO Islamic Renaissance Front, feels there is a need to change what he regards as misrepresentations about ritual slaughter.

Simply mentioning God’s name during the slaughter, he said, would not be enough to make the meat halal if the process were not tied to the ethical treatment of animals.

“The way the animal is slaughtered is paramount,” he told FMT.

“Some scholars have said that if animals were subjected to cruelties in their breeding, transport, slaughter or in their general welfare, their meat is considered impure and unlawful for eating.”

He noted that it was now common to see animals slaughtered in front of other animals, which he said was something specifically prohibited by the Prophet.

“Islam also teaches us to be merciful and compassionate towards the animal being killed. But I have not seen this in this country. Animals are brutally treated, dragged to the field and slaughtered in the open, without being stunned first.”

Farouk, who teaches medicine at Monash University, said stunning would reduce the pain felt by slaughtered animals.

He also expressed disapproval of the practice of sharing on social media pictures taken during the slaughter or pictures of people posing with the carcasses of the animals.

He said this was disrespectful not only to the animals but also to those who do not consume meat or who consider some animals as sacred.

“Any act to share the photos of animals being slaughtered basically betrays a lack of sensitivity among Muslims,” he added.

Penang mufti Wan Salim Mohd Noor has a slight disagreement with Farouk. He said he knew of no specific prohibition against slaughtering in front of a crowd of human witnesses.

“But it would not be ethical for the slaughtering to be celebrated as if it’s a festival, with people feeling happy to see animals getting killed,” he said.

Farouk called for a paradigm shift in the celebration of Aidiladha. He said the poor had needs that were more urgent than meat.

He said this view was increasingly being adopted by Muslim scholars unhappy with wastage and concerned over ethical questions in the management of mass ritual slaughters.

He quoted Khaled Abou Fadl, one of the world’s leading contemporary authorities on Islamic law and a prominent scholar in the field of human rights, as saying money could be dispensed directly to the needy so that they could feed themselves in the way they think most befitting.