Religion and Law

A friend invited me for dinner, and proudly announced they had used our ‘local’ butcher. Usually a great thing. Support your local shops. She then went on to explain that it was a ‘Halal’ butcher, so today’s steak was going to hear a prayer as it was being slaughtered.

It made me stop and think about how I feel about that and to read about what it is that makes meat ‘Halal’.

Most things I have read are summed up by the entry in Wikipedia:

Halāl (Arabic: حلال‎ ḥalāl, ‘permissible’) or hallal is any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law.

Specifically, the slaughter must be performed by a Muslim, who must precede the slaughter by invoking the name of Allah, most commonly by saying “Bismillah” (“In the name of God”) and then three times “Allahu akbar” (God is the greatest). Then, the animal must be slaughtered with a sharp knife by cutting the throat, windpipe and the blood vessels in the neck, causing the animal’s death without cutting the spinal cord. Lastly, the blood from the veins must be drained.

I should firstly state my position on eating meat – obviously the question would not have occurred had I not been eating steak, so definitely not a vegetarian. However I do believe in eating good meat far less often. If everyone ate less meat products then the world would be a much better place, both for the environment and the animals.

But if I am going to have steak occasionally, is it OK that the religious beliefs of others should allow that cow to be killed without being stunned? I don’t think so. Although it is not essential that Halal meat is not stunned, so long as it’s still alive for the rest of the procedure, it can be the case.

The RSPCA say that not stunning an animal before slaughter causes unnecessary suffering. Stunning of livestock has been mandatory in the EU since 1979, but member states can grant exemptions for religious slaughter. If stunning is mandatory, then it should mandatory.  A dictionary definition of mandatory is “Something that is mandatory must be done, or is demanded by law” It seems this is true until someone has a religious belief that implies they shouldn’t follow that law. And that’s fine it seems.

If this means that my steak was butchered without stunning, against the mandatory law that I believed was being enforced, then my rights are being outweighed by someone’s belief – not science, not fact, not because it’s better for the animal (it’s not).

This is just another small example of why I believe that religion has no place in law….. Don’t even get me started on bishops in the House of Lords!

-Lizzy Jones

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