Meat of the People of the Book

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Part 1 Description:  Two lessons will shed light on the Islamic rules and regulations of slaughtered meats and the prevailing practices in W...

Part 1

Description: Two lessons will shed light on the Islamic rules and regulations of slaughtered meats and the prevailing practices in Western slaughterhouses and provide guidance on where to buy meat from.
Objectives
·       To understand the importance of learning Islamic regulations of food.
·       To understand the elements of Islamic procedure for slaughter and the wisdom behind Islamic rules of slaughtering.
Arabic Terms
·       Qiblah - The direction one faces during the formal prayers.
·       Halal - permissible.

Importance of Learning Islamic Regulations of Food

Meat-of-the-People-of-the-Book-(part-1-.jpgFor a Muslim, a lot of confusion surrounds the question on foods and meats sold in grocery stores and eating them in restaurants in the West.  The matter of slaughtering animals is not a mundane issue in which an individual may act as he desires, rather it is regarded an act of worship.  The Messenger of Allah said:
“Whoever prays our prayer and faces our qiblah and eats our slaughtered animals, is a believer who is under Allah’s and His Messenger’s protection.”[1]
This hadith of the Messenger of Allah is clear: the slaughtering of animals holds a significant position in Islam.  The Prophet counted the slaughtering of animals with prayer and facing the qiblah.

Two Categories of Food

Vegetables and Fruits

Naturally, neither fruits nor vegetables have any special slaughtering regulations.  By the agreement of the scholars, they are halal and permissible, regardless of who cultivated it or owns it as long as it is healthy and safe from impurity.  Therefore, a Muslim may eat them from a member of any other religion.
Animal meat is further divided into two categories: seafood and terrestrial animals.

Seafood

By agreement of scholars, seafood is halal in general regardless of whose farm it was raised in or who caught it since it does not require special slaughtering procedures.  This includes shrimps and prawns according to vast majority of scholars.  A few exceptions are:
·       Crocodiles
·       Frogs
·       Otters and turtles (but halal after slaughtering them)

Prohibited Meats of Domesticated Animals

A wild animal, i.e.  non-domesticated, is allowed to eat it if prerequisites of hunting were met.
Meat of domesticated animals with the condition it has been slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines is permissible.  If it falls into one of the categories mentioned in the following verse, it becomes forbidden:
“Forbidden to you (for food) are the dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and the meat of that which has been slaughtered as a sacrifice for others than Allah...” (Quran 5:3)
Ibn ‘Abbas reported that Allah’s Messenger prohibited the eating of all fanged beasts of prey (like dogs and foxes), and all the birds having talons (like eagles and falcons).[2]

Elements of Islamic Procedure for Slaughter

·       What Must be Cut:
·       two jugular veins (large blood vessels of the neck)
·       throat (channel for breathing; windpipe)
·       esophagus (tube for the passage of food and water; gullet)
·       Any instrument capable of making the animal bleed is permissible, be it made of steel, iron, sharp stone or wood, except bone, tooth, or nail.  The instrument must be sharp, it is discouraged to use a blunt instrument to avoid suffering of the animal.

Wisdom behind Islamic Rules of Slaughtering

The wisdom of the Islamic rules of slaughtering is to take the animal’s life in the quickest and least painful way; the requirements of using a sharp instrument and of cutting the throat relate to this end.  It is forbidden to slit the throat by using teeth or nails since this will cause pain to the animal and is likely to strangle it.  The Prophet recommended sharpening the knife and putting the animal at ease, saying, Allah has ordained kindness in everything, “and when you slaughter, do it in the best manner by first sharpening the knife and putting the animal at ease.”[3]

Is Pronouncing Bismillah a Prerequisite?

First, this practice is in opposition to the practice of the idolaters before Islam, who mentioned the names of their non-existent gods while slaughtering animals.
Second, animals, like human beings, are creatures of Allah, and they are living beings.  How then can a man take control of them and deprive them of life unless one first obtains permission from their common Creator to Whom everything belongs? Mentioning the name of Allah while slaughtering the animal is a declaration of this divine permission, as if the one who is killing the animal were saying, “This act of mine is not an act of aggression against the universe nor of oppression to this creature, but in the name of Allah I slaughter, in the name of Allah I hunt, and in the name of Allah I eat.”
According to the majority of Muslim scholars, pronouncing Bismillah is required otherwise the meat becomes forbidden.  This is based on 6:121, 5:4, 22:34, 22:36, 6:138, 6:119.  The Prophet said, ‘‘So slaughter in the Name of Allah.’[4]

Who Is Qualified to Slaughter?

A Muslim, Jew, or a Christian are qualified to perform the slaughter.  According to the vast majority of the scholars, the meat slaughtered by a Jew or a Christian must meet the same criteria a Muslim must meet.  If he does not meet that criteria, then the meat will be considered of a ‘dead animal’ or something similar.

Common Objection

Some people say that as long as the People of the Scripture consider what they killed (by electric shock, etc) is halal and they deem it to be permissible in their religion, it is halal for Muslims. 
It is incorrect because:
(a)  Allah has forbidden for us an animal that has been strangled or suffocated to death (for instance by tying a rope), or beaten to death by a club as stated in 5:3 and all Muslim scholars agree about their prohibition.  So, an animal killed by a Jew or Christian without proper slaughtering will be considered forbidden and the meat will be forbidden just like the flesh of the swine and there is no difference whether a Muslim strangles it or beats it to death or someone else.  According to Quran 5:3 it is forbidden.
(b)  Pork is eaten by the Christians, yet no single scholar considers it to be permissible.  Similarly, an animal killed by a Jew or Christian by breaking the neck or any other way that does not meet Islamic criteria of slaughtering will be forbidden.  Why? Because all of them, the flesh of swine, carrion, an animal strangled or beaten to death, all have been made impermissible by Allah in the same verse in Quran 5:3.  The verse makes no distinction between the pig, an animal killed by strangling, or stunned/electrocuted, or beaten to death, or whose head is smashed.


Footnotes:
[1] Saheeh Al-Bukhari
[2] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim
[3] Saheeh Muslim
[4] Saheeh Al-Bukhari

Part 2

Description: Two lessons will shed light on the Islamic rules and regulations of slaughtered meats and the prevailing practices in Western slaughterhouses and provide guidance on where to buy meat from.
Objectives
·       To understand the slaughterhouse procedures in the West for poultry and livestock and the Islamic rulings related to them.
·       To understand the ruling on meat about which it’s not known who slaughtered it and how, like meat found in a grocery store of a restaurant.
·       Practical tips on buying your meat.
Arabic Terms
·       Shariah – Islamic Law.
·       Halal - permissible.
·       Haram - Forbidden or prohibited.

Slaughterhouse Procedures in the West

There is much documented evidence of slaughterhouse procedures in the West.

Poultry Procedures

·       Shackling:
At the slaughterhouse, the birds sit in the trucks without food or water for 1 to 9 hours or more waiting to be killed. Inside the plant, in the "live-hang" area, they are jammed into a metal rack that clamps them upside down by their feet.
·       Stunning Tank for Electrical Immobilization:
The birds' heads and upper bodies are then dragged through a splashing water trough called a "stunner." This water is cold and salted to conduct electricity. Its purpose is to immobilize, to keep them from thrashing and to paralyze the muscles of their feathers so they can pop out easily. Sometimes the machine breaks down and the chicken are left hanging in this water for hours.
·       Neck-Cutting:
After being dragged through the "stun" bath, the birds have their necks partially sliced by a rotating machine blade and/or a manual neck cutter. Many times arteries are missed as they are embedded in the bird's neck.
·       Bleed-Out Tunnel and Scalding Tank:
Still alive - the industry intentionally keeps the birds alive during the slaughter process so their hearts will continue to pump blood -- they then hang upside down for 90 seconds in a bleed out tunnel where they're supposed to die from blood loss, but millions of birds do not die, while an unspecified number of birds drown in pools of blood when the conveyer belt dips too close to the floor. Dead or alive, the birds are then dropped into tanks of semi-scalding water. In 1993, of 7 billion birds slaughtered in U.S. facilities, over 3 million birds were plunged into the scald tanks alive.[1]  According to a former slaughterhouse worker, when chickens are scalded alive, they "flop, scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads.  They often come out of the other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts because they've struggled so much in the tank."
·       From the Shariah perspective, this method is problematic due to following reasons:
(a)   Stunning can possibly lead to death. Some estimates state up to 90% of chicken die due to electrocution. If it does, then the chicken will be dead before its neck is cut and considered carrion.
(b)   The blades of neck-cutting machines often miss the neck or cut it partially. The poultry industry has a special name for such chicken, ‘redskins.’ They are later killed in the scalding tank. Such chickens will be considered carrion as well.
(c)   When a machine is slitting throats, it is not possible to pronounce Bismillah for every chicken. At most the person may pronounce it before starting the machine. Pronouncing Bismillah at the time of slaughter is a requirement for the animal’s meat to be halal.

Livestock Procedures

Before being slaughtered, cattle in the West are kept in what is called ‘feedlot’ - or cow city. Instead of grass, they are fed corn, which is cheap, to make them fat in a short period of time. Corn creates health problems, so they are given antibiotics. There are up to 100,000 animals in a couple of hundred acres. Cows have barely enough space to stand, they sleep and rest in manure. The first thing is removing the manure when they arrive to the slaughterhouse from the feedlot. It is a difficult process; some gets mixed with the meat. Manure contains E-Coli and other pathogens. That’s why the meat is irradiated.
In the US, by law, livestock must be stunned by electric shock, gas, a blow on the head with a sledgehammer, or a shot between the eyes from a spring-loaded bolt before being hung upside down and slaughtered by their throats.
Here is a typical procedure: a man holding an object that looks like a power nailing gun, called a stunner injects a metal bolt into the cow’s brain, right between the eyes. It's about the size and length of a thick pencil. This should render the animal brain dead.
Is a stunned animal halal after it is slaughtered by a Muslim, Jew, or Christian? In some cases the animals certainly die before being slaughtered which will render them haram. The scholars who have eye-witnessed some of these procedures doubt if the animal is alive after being shot between the eyes. In some cases electric shock and gasing also cause certain death. This seems to be an area of investigation for Muslim experts. At the very minimum stunning animals in this manner is a doubtful practice and it is worth mentioning that the Jews do not practice it.

Consuming Meat Sold in Western Grocery Stores Cannot be Considered Halal Due to the Following Reasons:

(a)   There is no way to know the religion of the person performing the slaughter, since many people work in the slaughterhouses who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists, or with no religion.
(b)   If majority of people living in the area where a slaughterhouse is located are from People of the Scripture, there is no way to know whether the slaughter-man is just an American with a Christian name as many people in the West today have Christian names, but they are not Christians.
(c)   Even if it is assumed the person is a Christian, most of the methods employed in slaughterhouses would render the animal outright haram or at the very least doubtful (like stunning cows).
Given the above considerations, a Muslim is not permitted to purchase his meat from grocery stores in the West unless there is certainty the meat was slaughtered according toShariah standards.
'Adi ibn Hatim reported: I asked Allah's Messenger about hunting. He said: When you shoot your arrow, recite the name of Allah, and if you find the arrow killed it then eat, except when you find it fallen into water, for in that case you do not know whether it is water that caused its death or your arrow.[2]
This hadith indicates: if there are some indications of meat being halal and some of it being haram, indications of haram will be given preference. Also, meat is taken to be impermissible, until proven to be halal as mentioned by many jurists.

What If We Do Not Know If God’s Name was Pronounced on Meat Slaughtered by a Jew or Christian?

Without any scholarly dispute, it is allowed in such a case.

Meat Slaughtered by Pagans, Hindus, & Atheists

Scholars agree that such slaughtered meat is haram and cannot be eaten.
If a Hindu or any polytheist does not slaughter the meat himself, but purchases halalmeat, then one may eat it.

What If It Is Unknown Who Slaughtered It & How, Like Meat Found in a Grocery Store of a Restaurant?

(i)    If it is found in a Muslim majority country one may buy the meat from the market and eat it without any scholarly dispute even if we do not know the name of the person who slaughtered it or whether if it was done according to the Shariah. This is because what is found in Muslim lands is assumed to meet the criteria set by the Shariah.
‘A people asked the Prophet who were given meat by some people and they did not know if Bismillah was pronounced on it or not. The Prophet instructed them to sayBismillah on it and eat it.’
(ii)   In a country where the majority of people are neither Jews nor Christians, the meat may not be purchased from the markets and cannot be eaten, unless one ascertains or has good reason to believe that it was slaughtered properly by a Muslim or a Jew or Christian.
(iii)  If it is found in a country where halal and haram meat both are found, then it is not permitted because of doubt; because when halal and haram get mixed, preference is given to haram. This is the position of the majority of scholars. It is based on the hadith of ‘Adi who asked, ‘Suppose I send my dog but I find another dog at the game, and I do not know which dog caught it?’ The Prophet replied, ‘Do not eat it, for while you mentioned the name of Allah over your dog, you did not mention it over the other dog.’
(iv)  If it is found in a land where majority of people are Jews and Christians, the original ruling is the same as Muslim lands because their meat is permissible just as the Muslim’s. But, when it is known for certain or there is good reason to believe they do not slaughter according to the criteria set by the Shariah, then it is not allowed to eat their meat unless proper slaughtering has been ascertained. This is the predominant case in Western countries as declared by many scholars who have actually lived here or have investigated this issue during their visits.

Practical Tips

·       Search online for halal Muslim stores in your area or neighboring cities.
·       Contact your local mosque or ask Muslim friends for information on stores that sellhalal meat.
·       You can buy raw meat marked kosher from local grocery stores.



Footnotes:
[1] Freedom of Information Act #94-363, Poultry Slaughtered, Condemned, and Cadavers, 6/30/94
[2] Saheeh Muslim

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