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Dhabīḥah (or zabiha, Arabic: ذَبِيْحَة dhabīḥah IPA: [ðæˈbiːħɐ], 'slaughter'(noun)) is, in Islamic law, the prescribed method of ritual slaughter of all lawful halal animals (goats, sheep, cows, chicken) excluding locusts, fish, and most sea-life. Unlawful animals like pigs, dogs, lions, bears, etc. are not allowed to be slaughtered or zabihah. This method of slaughtering lawful animals has several conditions to be fulfilled. The butcher must be Muslim, the name of God or "In the name of God" (Bismillah) must be called by the butcher upon slaughter of each halal animal separately, and it should consist of a swift, deep incision with a very sharp knife on the throat, cutting the wind pipe, jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides but leaving the spinal cord intact.
Forbidden for you are carrion, and blood, and flesh of swine, and that which has been slaughtered while proclaiming the name of any other than God, and one killed by strangling, and one killed with blunt weapons, and one which died by falling, and that which was gored by the horns of some animal, and one eaten by a wild beast, except those whom you slaughter; and that which is slaughtered at the altar and that which is distributed by the throwing of arrows [for an omen]; this is an act of sin.
The slaughtering process referred to as dhabīḥah is regulated by a set of rules intended to ensure the health of the animal to be slaughtered and conformance to Islamic religious law, which is derived from the Quran and hadiths.
Relevant verses of the Quran
"He has only forbidden you what dies of itself, and blood, and flesh of swine, and that over which any other (name) than (that of) Allah has been invoked; but whoever is driven to necessity, not desiring, nor exceeding the limit, no sin shall be upon him; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."— Qurʼan, Surah 2 (al-Baqarah), ayah 173
"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; that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety. This day have those who reject faith given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. But if any is forced by hunger, with no inclination to transgression, Allah is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."— Qurʼan, Surah 5 (al-Maʼidah), ayah 3
"This day (all) the good things are allowed to you; and the food of those who have been given the Book is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them; and the chaste from among the believing women and the chaste from among those who have been given the Book before you (are lawful for you); when you have given them their dowries, taking (them) in marriage, not fornicating nor taking them for paramours in secret; and whoever denies faith, his work indeed is of no account, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers. "— Qurʼan, Surah 5 (al-Maʼidah), ayah 5
"Therefore eat of that on which Allah's name has been mentioned if you are believers in His communications."— Qurʼan, Surah 6 (al-Anʻam), ayah 118
Say: I do not find in that which has been revealed to me anything forbidden for an eater to eat of except that it be what has died of itself, or blood poured forth, or flesh of swine-- for that surely is unclean-- or that which is a transgression, other than (the name of) Allah having been invoked on it; but whoever is driven to necessity, not desiring nor exceeding the limit, then surely your Lord is Forgiving, Merciful."— Qurʼan , Surah 6 (al-Anʻam), ayah 145
"He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit] - then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful."— Qurʼan, Surah 16 (an-Nahl), ayah 115
According to the laws of dhabīḥah ḥalāl, certain prerequisites must be met before an animal is slaughtered:
- The animal must not be a forbidden substance as per the Quran.
- The slaughter itself must be done by a sane (mentally competent) adult Muslim, Jew, or Christian as they are considered "People of the Book" (Arabic: Ahl al-Kitāb); this is a point of consensus amongst Muslim scholars. They differ, however, concerning whether Sabians and Zoroastrians are also included under People of the Book as stated in Surat al-Maʼidah, ayah 5. Modern authors have proposed that Christians who follow the Pauline doctrine of the Trinity are not included in this dispensation.
- All Muslim scholars hold that mentioning God's name at the time of slaughter is a must; they differ as to whether or not forgetting to do so or leaving it off intentionally at the time of slaughter renders the sacrifice void and the meat thus forbidden for consumption. They also agree that if other than God's name is mentioned then this would be forbidden, due to the verse
5:3 "Forbidden for you are carrion, and blood, and flesh of swine, and that which has been slaughtered while proclaiming the name of any other than God, and one killed by strangling, and one killed with blunt weapons, and one which died by falling, and that which was gored by the horns of some animal, and one eaten by a wild beast, except those whom you slaughter; and that which is slaughtered at the altar and that which is distributed by the throwing of arrows [for an omen]; this is an act of sin." —– al-Maʼidah 5:3 "Eat not of that (meat) on which Allah's name has not been pronounced." [al-Anʻam 6:121] Thus an animal slaughtered by a Christian who did not mention anything at the time of slaughter would be permissible to some, while other scholars would hold it impermissible.
- In order for these traditions to take part in the United States, certain governmental regulations, enforced by acts, such as the Humane Slaughter Act require various prerequisites to be in place before any ritual or slaughter of any kind be permitted. This includes faiths such as Muslim, for Halal processing, and Jewish, for Kosher processing. Regulations include that the animal be completely insensitive to pain before killing it, typically by a technique like electronarcosis.
The act of slaughtering itself is preceded by mentioning the name of God. Invoking the name of God at the moment of slaughtering is sometimes interpreted as acknowledgment of God's right over all things and thanking God for the sustenance he provides: it is a sign the food is taken not in sin or in gluttony, but to survive and praise Allah, as the most common blessing is, "Bismillah," or "In the name of God".
Thus the slaughter itself is preceded by the words "In the name of Allah (Bismillah)". It is not regarded appropriate to use the phrase "Bismillah al Raḥmān Al Raḥīm" (In the name of God the Beneficent the Merciful) in this situation, because slaughtering is an act of subdual rather than mercy.
According to Islamic tradition, the animal is brought to the place of slaughter and laid down gently so as to not injure it. It is Sunnah but not Fard that the head of the animal be facing the Qiblah. The blade must be kept hidden until the very last moment while the jugular of the animal is felt. The conventional method used to slaughter the animal involves cutting the large arteries in the neck along with the esophagus and vertebrate trachea with one swipe of a non-serrated blade. Care must be taken that the nervous system is not damaged, as this may cause the animal to die before exsanguination has taken place. During the swipe of the blade, the head must not be decapitated. While blood is draining, the animal is not handled until it has died. While this is an acceptable method, the Egyptian Fatwaa Committee has agreed that an animal can be rendered insensible to pain via electronarcosis and still be halal. It's also important to note that these guidelines also respect the laws in place by the United States government to allow the practice to be permissible in the United States.
This method adheres to Islamic law (it ensures the animal does not die by any of the Haraam methods) and helps to effectively drain blood from the animal. This may be important because the consumption of blood itself is forbidden in Islam;[Quran 2:173] however, it is not clear that bleeding the animal removes all traces of blood from the carcass, so the meat may remain unclean. In fact it is stated by Islamic authorities that it is only necessary to drain "most" of the blood from the animal.
Stunning the animal with a bolt-gun, as is the standard practice in USDA FSIS inspected slaughtering houses, may cause instant death. Muslims regard meat from such a slaughter to be haraam, considering such meat as carrion.
It is for these reasons that there are ongoing questions and conversations within the North American Muslim community as to whether meat processed in these slaughter houses meets the standard of "halal" (as opposed to dhabīḥah). At center of this debate is the doubt as to whether this meat could qualify under the allowed category of the food of the People of the Book (Jewish and Christians). The first consideration being that standard slaughtering methods could cause the animal to die in a way other than slaughter (death through exsanguination).
Debate continues among Muslim jurists and the general Muslim population about whether or not stunning, anesthetics, or other forms of inducing unconsciousness in the animal prior to slaughter are permissible per Islam. Several halal food authorities have more recently permitted the use of a recently developed fail-safe system of head-only stunning where the shock is less painful and non-fatal and where it is possible to reverse the procedure and revive the animal after the shock.
According to the British Halal Food Authority, stunning is permissible. However, there are different forms of stunning; some of which are prohibited, and some are permitted. According to the HFA, the following are prohibited:
There are two types of stunning that the Halal Food Authority approves:
- Water-bath Stun – for poultry only - where birds are dragged through water with an electric stunner within. Stated that sometimes they are not rendered fully paralyzed after the water bath because they lift their bodies up while struggling and do not make full contact with the stunner. Furthermore, the birds come out of the electrified bath paralyzed, but not stunned. Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns.
- Electric-Tong Stun – for larger animals, e.g. sheep, cow, camel, goat, etc. The tong would have to stay attached to the head when the bovine falls. The neck to neck position must never be used because the current may fail to go through the brain. A headholder that holds the animal's head up when the body falls is strongly recommended.
- Electronarcosis is also often used for larger animals, dulling the animal's senses before the slaughtering and has been agreed upon as licit by the Egyptian Fawtwa Committee, which is a committee that has the authority to declare what is permissible and not in the ritual slaughter techniques of halal.
Controversies on animal welfare
Opponents of dhabīḥah ḥalāl, most notably some animal welfare groups, contend that some methods of slaughter "cause severe suffering to animals" compared to when the animal is stunned before slaughter, which is why the Egyptian Fatwaa Committee has agreed to the electronarcosis. In the United Kingdom, the government funded an independent advisory body Farm Animal Welfare Council but recommended that conventional dhabīḥah (along with kosher slaughter (sheḥitah)) without prior stunning be abolished. The FAWC chairwoman of the time, Dr Judy MacArthur Clark, said, "This is a major incision into the animal and to say that it doesn't suffer is quite ridiculous." According to Dr Peter Jinman, president of the British Veterinary Association, vets are "looking at what is acceptable in the moral and ethical society we live." Muslims counter this by referring to the problems connected with stunning and the benefits of slaughter without stunning.
It is argued that this method of slaughter without prior stunning leaves the spinal cord, and thus the capacity to feel pain until death, intact.
The UK Farm Animal Welfare Council says that the method by which kosher and halal meat is produced causes severe suffering to animals and it should be banned immediately. According to FAWC it can take up to two minutes for cattle to bleed to death, thus amounting to animal abuse. Compassion in World Farming also supported the recommendation saying "We believe that the law must be changed to require all animals to be stunned before slaughter." The UK government rejected its recommendations.
Various research papers on cattle slaughter collected by Compassion In World Farming mention that "after the throat is cut, large clots can form at the severed ends of the carotid arteries, leading to occlusion of the wound (or "ballooning" as it is known in the slaughtering trade). Nick Cohen wrote in the New Statesman, "Occlusions slow blood loss from the carotids and delay the decline in blood pressure that prevents the suffering brain from blacking out. In one group of calves, 62.5 per cent suffered from ballooning. Even if the cut to the neck is clean, blood is carried to the brain by vertebral arteries and it keeps cattle conscious of their pain. "Experiments carried out by the principal of the Swedish Veterinary Institute (Veterinärhögskolan) by order of the Swedish government in 1925 and published in 1928 determined that the blood carried to the brain by the vertebral arteries in bovines is reduced after slaughter by the Jewish method shehitah from 1/30 to 1/40, and on the basis of this and one other experiment Professor Axel Sahlstedt declared the method humane and not cruel. However, on the basis of other experiments that had showed different results, Sahlstedt recommended post-stunning as standard.
However, in a study between 1974 and 1978 Wilhelm Schulze and his colleagues carried out a study at the School of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover University in Germany: "Attempts to Objectify Pain and Consciousness in Conventional (captive bolt pistol stunning) and Ritual (knife) Methods of Slaughtering Sheep and Calves" is reported on Islamic websites to have concluded that "the Islamic way of slaughtering is the most humane method of slaughter and that captive bolt stunning, practiced in the West, causes severe pain to the animal." However, recent studies have countered the Schulze study, which is dated and relied on older EEG measurement techniques. Dr. Schulze himself also warned in his report that the stunning technique may not have functioned properly.
Halal and kosher butchers deny that their method of killing animals is cruel and expressed anger over the FAWC recommendation,. Majid Katme of the Muslim Council of Britain also disagreed, stating that "it's a sudden and quick haemorrhage. A quick loss of blood pressure and the brain is instantaneously starved of blood and there is no time to start feeling any pain."
In April 2008, the Food and Farming minister in the UK, Lord Rooker, stated that halal and kosher meat should be labeled when it is put on sale, so that members of the public can decide whether or not they want to buy food from animals that have been bled to death. He was quoted as saying, "I object to the method of slaughter ... my choice as a customer is that I would want to buy meat that has been looked after, and slaughtered in the most humane way possible." The RSPCA supported Lord Rooker's views.
For the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Humane Society International, "the animals that are slaughtered according to kosher and halal should be securely restrained, particularly the head and neck, before cutting the throat" as "movements (during slaughter) results in a poor cut, bad bleeding, slow loss of consciousness, if at all, and pain."
In Europe, the DIALREL project addressed religious slaughter issues by gathering and disseminating information and by encouraging dialogue between the spiritual and scientific communities. Funding for DIALREL was provided by The European Commission, and it began functioning in November 2006. DIALREL produced many fact sheets and ultimately published a final report in 2010, "Report on good and adverse practices - Animal welfare concerns in relation to slaughter practices from the viewpoint of veterinary sciences."
Research undertaken in 2010 by Meat & Livestock Australia on animal pain and distress concluded, "technologies available to alleviate such suffering overwhelmingly supports the use of pre-slaughter stunning".
Ritual slaughter in other religions
Followers of some religions are prohibited from consuming meat slaughtered in the fashion described above. The Rehat Maryada of Sikhism states that in Sikhism, "consumption of any meat killed in a ritualistic manner" is strictly prohibited, therefore prohibiting both halal and kosher meat.
There are many similarities between the rules concerning dhabihah and shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter. The word dhabihah is linguistically similar to the Hebrew term זבח zevaḥ (sacrifice).
Muslims are divided as to whether or not Jewish slaughter suffices as a replacement for Islamic dhabihah halal. Some claim that Jewish slaughter leaves out the takbīr (saying "God is great") and changes the method of slaughter; thus, their meat is haraam. Others claim that the slaughtering processes are similar enough in practice and in theory to render animals slaughtered by Jewish laws as halal.
Jeremiah J Berman wrote in 1941: "At the present day in most of the Islamic world Muslims purchase Jewish meat, though they will not buy Christian meat. This is true in Istanbul, Beirut, Jerusalem and Mogador. Contemporary Muslims in these cities consider Jewish slaughtering as fulfilling all the requirements of their law, while they regard the slaughtering performed by Christians as done in contravention thereof. In Yemen ... Jewish meat is not acceptable." Berman also reports that Jewish meat slaughtered in Salonica (Thessaloniki) was not acceptable to Muslims.
To be kosher, fit for consumption by those of the Jewish faith, meat must be slaughtered by a Jewish shohet who holds a licence from a rabbi and has been examined on the laws of shechitah. This alone means that halal meat is forbidden to those of the Jewish faith. The requirements for the shape of the knife are more severe, the knife must be free from a single nick and the method of cutting is exactly defined. In addition there is an inspection of the lungs (bedikah) that mammals must pass, which Muslims do not have.
- Shechita, Jewish method of ritual slaughter
- Legal aspects of ritual slaughter
- Islamic dietary laws
- Christian dietary laws
- Comparison of Islamic and Jewish dietary laws
- Ike jime
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- Is conventional meat Halal?-Green Zabiha
- Learn More: Halal Knowledge Centre