Article Op-Ed

In Defense of Halal Guys: Islamic Food Rituals Are Worthy of Praise, Not Scorn

In Defense of Halal Guys: Islamic Food Rituals Are Worthy of Praise, Not Scorn

Author Edward Ahmed Mitchell by

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In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. All praise and thanks belong to God, the Lord of the Worlds. May peace and prayers be upon Prophet Muhammad.

Killing animals for food is never a pleasant process. Whether you're shooting a deer with an arrow, boiling a lobster alive, drowning a fish on land, firing a bolt gun into a cow's skull, or severing a lamb's jugular vein, the animal probably doesn't enjoy the experience.

Yet "investigative reporter" Chris Alto's Sep. 6th article in The Tennessee Star, “Eat Allah’s Food and Follow Islamic Sharia Law at Nashville’s New ‘Halal Guys’ Restaurant,” singled out the Islamic method of animal slaughter for criticism. Mr. Alto expressed particular alarm about the opening of a new Halal Guys restaurant in Nashville. So did many of Mr. Alto's readers, who reacted to his article by leveling anti-Muslim remarks at the popular restaurant.

This despite the fact that the halal method of slaughtering animals—which is nearly identical to the kosher method used by the Jewish community—is arguably healthier, and more humane, than other common methods of slaughter.

For example, the Islamic faith requires butchers to say a prayer over an animal before killing it: "In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful." The butcher then severs the animal's jugular vein and esophagus with one stroke of a sharp knife, which ideally ensures that the animal loses consciousness in a matter of seconds.

This method also allows the animal's heart to naturally pump most of the blood from its body, thus reducing the risk of illness, and satisfying the Quranic (and Biblical) prohibition on consuming blood.

Muslims follow many other rules designed to protect animal welfare. Animals cannot be killed for sport. Animals cannot be beaten. Animals cannot be killed by a blow to the head, strangling, a fall, or other unnecessarily painful methods. Animals cannot be killed if they are too young, too old, sickly, or injured. Animals cannot see each other being slaughtered. Animals cannot even see a butcher sharpening his knife. The halal farm, Mercy Slaughter, provides a good example of these rules in action.

Point being, the Islamic faith laid down animal welfare rules 1400 years ago that are far stricter than the laws governing modern slaughterhouses. PETA, which Mr. Alto cites to justify criticism of halal and kosher slaughter, has extensively documented the inhumane conditions at modern, secular animal factories.

So why does Mr. Alto have a problem with Halal Guys? Why doesn't Mr. Alto condemn meat factories that abuse animals, or hunters who shoot deer with arrows for sport, or seafood restaurants that boil lobsters alive, or grocery stores which sell eggs that aren't cage-free?

Perhaps because Mr. Alto's objection has less to do with concern for animals, and more to do with animus towards Muslims.

After all, Mr. Alto has published other articles critical of American Muslims. His latest piece also quotes an anti-Islam extremist who claims that a Minnesota public school system and an Ohio prison banned pork because “kosher for Jews means they don’t eat pork; halal for Muslims means that nobody eats pork.”

This would be funny if weren’t so false. In various Muslim nations—including countries as varied as EgyptBahrain and Malaysia—Christians and others are free to eat food that isn't halal.

Furthermore, Islamic teachings specifically encourage Christians (and Jews, for that matter) to follow their own religious rules, hence why some ancient and modern Muslim nations even permitted Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and other citizens to operate their own court systems to resolve issues internal to their communities.

In the United States today, American Muslims eat halal food every day without imposing our dietary preferences on others, which we have no right or desire to do.

As for American schools and prisons that decline to serve pork altogether, they don't do so at the insistence of Muslims (who—at most—sometimes request access to halal food on an equal footing with other faith groups). Some prisons and schools decline to serve pork in order to save money, make room for healthier food, and avoid subjecting Jews, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, and others to the risk of cross-contamination.

There's nothing wrong with the government being considerate of a wide swathe of people, especially when doing so saves money and improves health outcomes.

When Halal Guys opens, Mr. Alto should pay a visit. He might make new friends, learn more about his neighbors, and clear up some of his misconceptions. At the very least, he can enjoy a good, healthy, and guilt-free meal.

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