By Ruby Hamad
Posted 4 hours 37 minutes ago
It is impossible to reconcile the abhorrent images of exported livestock being abused in Gaza with the concept of halal slaughter as proscribed in the Qur’an, writes Ruby Hamad.
It resembled nothing so much as the Running of the Bulls. Large, terrified animals bucking as excited youths shouted in a showdown between “man” and “beast”. But this time the tradition was taking place not in the name of sport, but of religion, as yet another egregious example of animal abuse in the live export trade was uncovered by Animals Australia (AA).
This time it was Gaza during Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), where heartbreaking images included steers shot in the kneecaps, kicked, stabbed in the eye, and having their throats repeatedly hacked with blunt knives.
But before cultural superiority has us crowing about “those” countries abusing “our” cattle, Australians must acknowledge that those animals suffered immensely long before they arrived in Gaza.
AA, for all the good work they do, is often guilty of glossing over the abuses suffered by animals on the cargo ships in favour of the graphic images of their slaughter upon destination. As Australians, we need to examine our own relationship to animals and the role we play in exporting cruelty to the world.
But as someone who was raised to believe in a compassionate Islam, I am also dismayed at the unwillingness of Muslims to reconsider their religious obligations towards animals. That the people of Gaza are also subject to daily trauma in what the UN has described as a “humanitarian crisis” probably has much to reveal about the cyclical nature of violence.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to reconcile the images coming out of Gaza – and indeed, all the live export destinations – with the concept of halal slaughter as proscribed in the Qur’an.
While the Qur’an is neutral on the subject of meat eating, in that it neither encourages nor forbids it, it is anything but silent on how animals are to be treated.
Most people would be aware that Islam mandates animals be conscious at slaughter. Less known is that it also sets a detailed and rigid set of rules regarding animal handling, the violations of which renders the meat haram, or forbidden.
These include: not tying or bounding the animal as it is slaughtered, not killing an animal within sight of another animal, not kicking or beating the animal, and using a sharp knife to minimise suffering.
Anyone who saw AA’s “Gaza Files” would see that all these conditions were flagrantly ignored, meaning that Muslims have an obligation not to eat meat from those animals. Al-Hafiz BA Masri, a leading Muslim scholar on animal welfare writes:
If animals have been subjected to cruelties in their breeding, transport, slaughter, or in their general welfare, meat from them is considered impure and unlawful to eat (Haram)…Even if these animals have been slaughtered in the strictest Islamic manner, if cruelties were inflicted on them otherwise, their flesh is still forbidden (Haram) food.
Some scholars, such as Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, have gone further, arguing that the rules of ritual slaughter were so designed to encourage a gradual shift towards vegetarianism. A slaughterman is required to “look into the animal’s eyes, he has to watch the tears of the animal, and he has to watch (its) eyes until it dies,” he wrote. “Hopefully, his heart will change.”
While most Muslims would disagree with this interpretation, there is no doubt that the condition of conscious slaughter continues at the expense of those rules designed to minimise animal distress.
Mohammed himself, who ate a mostly (but not completely) vegetarian diet, is known to have abhorred cruelty to animals. “Fear God in regards to these animals who cannot speak their will,” he warned his early followers.
One tradition or hadith has it that upon seeing a slaughterman sharpening his knife before a sheep, Mohammed admonished him, “Do you intend to inflict death on this animal twice? Once by sharpening your tools in front of it and once by slitting its throat?”
In another, the prophet, getting ready for his prayers, found a cat sleeping on his robe. Rather than disturb the animal, he cut the sleeve off the garment.
Regardless of whether you believe these stories to be true, that they (and many others) exist indicates that early Islam was greatly concerned with animals, holding them in far higher esteem than Muslims do today. The Qur’an even promises a reward for those who treat animals kindly: “He who takes pity even on a sparrow and spares its life, God will be merciful to him on the Day of Judgement.”
Here’s something many people might find surprising; there are more Qur’anic suras or verses advocating kindness to animals than there are calling for female “modesty”.
As someone who firmly believes there is a co-relation between how humans treat animals and how we treat each other, I often fantasise about what modern Islam would look like if Muslims were half as concerned about animals as they are about what women wear.
And as science reveals more facts about the “hidden” lives of animals, surely it is time for Muslims to reclaim that part of our heritage that recognised the inherent value of all life. We now know that dolphins and whales suffer terribly in captivity, that elephants mourn their dead, and that wild parrots name their young. Science has taught us that chickens feel empathy, that cows form maternal and social bonds, and rats – for no reward – will free each other from a trap.
Animals in their emotions and their will do not differ from us as much as we’d like to think. On this matter too, the Qur’an was a revelation:
There is not a creature that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings but forms part of communities like you.
Ruby Hamad is a writer and film maker. View her full profile here.
Comments from a NQ cattle breeder:
Like the extortionists of Animals Aust, you have depicted an isolated case of on-board cattle cruelty. This is not the norm. However most of us cattle producers take the view that positive animal welfare up to the ship departing Australian waters is an integral facet of commercial reality and practice. What happens after the ship berths at its destination is out of our control. And so it should be. I must also correct your assumptions that 40,000 processing sector jobs are lost to the Aust industry. This assertion seems like a normal trade union myth, something we would expect from the mouth of an intellectual pigmy like Paul Howes. Northern Australia, which produces the greater majority of brahman cross export cattle cannot produce cattle in sufficient condition and numbers suitable for processing. That is why northern store cattle are largely exported, essentially to Indonesia and other Asian destinations. Unless the huge areas of northern Australia have another five Ord River type water storages built, and sufficient arable irrigation land to grow enough forage crops to graze some 50,000 ha per dam from Kimberley to the the Lower Gulf, then we cannot produce slaughter cattle. Feedlotting situations are out of the question due to numerous factors , one being the wet season and another the high cost of labour thanks to industry anarchists such as Mr Howes. Taking the cattle out of the north will result in its depopulation. Indonesia or China will be only too willing to move into the void, without paying us one cent and whether we like it or not. These are the realities, and really man has dominion over animals!