Saturday, May 10, 2014

Taj Hargey in the Mail

This is a guest post by Sarah AB

There has been much discussion of halal slaughter following news stories featuring Subway and Pizza Express.  How far it is possible or legitimate to raise this issue without shading into bigotry, even racism?  While recognizing that outlawing ritual slaughter would have a major impact on many Jews and Muslims, I don’t think bigoted is the right word to describe the tough, consistently secular approach.  If you really don’t think religion should be privileged in any way, then the Danish decision to ban such slaughter is a coherent one. Agriculture Minister Dan Jørgensen asserted that ‘animal rights come before religion’ and I think that’s a legitimate perspective though not one that (at least in practice) I share.

By contrast, there are many people who don’t apparently favour an outright ban, simply clearer labelling, whose approach seems tendentious, if not bigoted.  Although it seems odd to describe an Imam as a bigot, I’d argue that Taj Hargey’s recent article in the Mail might have the effect of stoking prejudice.  His first proposition gets the reader nodding along – who could disagree with it? It’s in the third sentence that problems begin to emerge.
When I walk into a restaurant, I’m usually a hungry customer. It shouldn’t be important to the waiter what my religion is. I could be a Muslim, a Christian or a Jedi warrior. Whatever my beliefs, I have a right to enjoy my meal without any hidden agendas.
‘Hidden agendas’ is a very loaded way of describing what’s been going on here.  Pizza Express hadn’t made it absolutely clear that it uses halal chicken – but neither had it kept it a secret. As it’s pre-stunned anyway, this labelling shortfall doesn’t seem such a big deal.  Perhaps we should demand labels saying things like ‘the chicken in your meal was killed after going through a constant-voltage, multiple-bird, electrical water-bath stun system.’  The idea that halal proliferation is part of some sinister ‘hidden agenda’ feeds bigotry without really being evidenced.  And don’t forget that many Muslims also had no idea Pizza Express used halal chicken.  

Hargey then complains that there is much unlabelled halal meat in supermarkets.  There’s nothing inherently bigoted in asking for more information to be provided, and unlabelled hindquarter kosher meat should certainly also be labelled if we are to go down that road, particularly as shechita doesn’t permit pre-stunning. But then he says:
This is covert religious extremism and creeping Islamic fundamentalism making its way into Britain by the back door.
That sentence might be earned in a discussion of the Birmingham schools controversy, but here it just seems like halal hysteria. He then observes: 
It’s unfair to everyone, non-Muslims and Muslims alike. It’s deception on a grand scale for the former, while it could fuel bitter resentment against the latter.
There are indeed times when it is both morally and strategically correct for Muslims to articulate criticism of their own community.  Mehdi Hasan’s article on Muslim antisemitism is an obvious example.  But when discussing the much more trivial issue of halal, Hargey seems to play his own part in fuelling, quite unnecessarily, more of the resentment he apparently deplores. 

Although he concedes that Muslims have a right to choose halal meat, he immediately embarks on a long discussion in which he sets out to demonstrate that there is no religious requirement to insist on a different slaughter method.   This seems out of line with mainstream Muslim opinion.  It would be worth making a case for some really illiberal practice being unislamic – e.g. penalties for apostasy – even if you were battling against the majority.  But Hargey just seems to be encouraging still more intolerance against even the most liberal and secular Muslims.  Here’s another troubling passage:
But if the Koran does not insist on what have become the customary halal methods, why are they now so prevalent in Britain? One reason is that religious zealots and theological ideologues are deliberately promoting confusion about halal to sow discord and resentment. … [T]he extremists’ insistence that animals today should be killed in exactly the way that they were back then isn’t just cruel and bizarre, it is grotesquely hypocritical. 

Although of course there are real reasons to worry about the influence of fundamentalist sects, the Deobandi for example, I remain unconvinced that Chicken Cottage is part of a Wahhabi plot. However the Mail’s readers loved this piece, and wonder why other Muslims can’t all be as sensible as Taj Hargey.  


Mark said...

I've just be left confused by the whole thing. Hargey's piece slots into that confusion.

Who has the say-so anyway? Over the last few days, I've heard opinions on radio call-ins from:

EDL types
Animal rights
"Who cares"
Various Muslim sub-groups.
Mohammed Ansar (of course)

Some are obvious, like the EDL (type) who insisted he wouldn't touch it because it's Muslim, stunned ot not.

A Sikh who couldn't eat any form of ritually slughtered meat.
A Sikh who can.

Animal rights people who insist on best practice of humane slaughter.

Who cares? People who couldn't see the fuss.

A Muslim who insists non-stun is halal, and stun is not.
A Muslim who says stun is ok.
A Muslim who said he was "devout" but reckoned his fellow Muslims had got it all wrong about ritual slaughter and didn't care as long as the animal was treated well, and it didn't even have to be labelled halal.

And the ridiculous Ansar who keeps defending non-stun as less painful, etc, etc. Anyone would think the animal would be leaping for joy to get killed like this, according to him.

Based on all of those views, it would be virtually impossible for a large chain to cater for everyone in any way, and if the chain went "halal" (all stunned), someone from some of theose groups is left out.
Etc, etc.

This is one of those stories which will fizzle out before it's brought up again in a year or so.
But it is also one of those things that can have the effect of real trouble.

Apart from not wanting non-stunned meat, my overall view, given that most halal is stunned, is just to roll my eyes to the ceiling, and bemoan the fact that silly religious needs has yet again caused a fuss.

theoldbrewer said...

There are misconceptions all round.

The slaughter process can be explained without religion. It may be more rational than is accepted in the secular world.

Intuitively when correctly undertaken shechita or zabiha (or dhabiha -same word different transliterations) must result in rapid loss of because of a sudden and catastrophic drop in blood pressure. Stunning is far from being an infallible procedure.

Moving on Pizza Express do buy halal certified chicken derived from stunned birds but do not operate halal restaurants. There is a clue in the name - "pizza". What is the common dairy ingredient?

It is possible to buy halal mozzarella but in any event they also process pig meat products. Why is the cheese not normally halal? It is made from using bovine rennet derived from the offal, which is haram.

Now you are really confused, I bet.

We have halal certified meat that's produced in the same way as secular meat - except that a man rather than machine conducts the final act and he "thanks his maker for His bounty".

But the halal status is negated in the kitchen.

Had Pizza Express not been honest they'd have been censured. Their website is honest and we still censure them and all because they serve meat slaughtered by a human and not a machine.

ignoblus said...

"First, although JVNA believes that every person should be a vegan and that there should be NO slaughter of animals at all, we also oppose efforts to single out shechita for special criticism."

I think that's relevant. I don't think efforts to ban Jewish or Islamic slaughter are principally propelled by or guided by what proponents claim.

SarahABUK said...

Thanks Mark. Just picking up on your point about Sikhs - the Sikh prohibition on eating halal food is another reason why clearer labelling might be desirable. But Sikhs and Muslims are in a very similar position - both need to avoid some kinds of meat, and both may sometimes find it difficult to work out whether a particular shop or restaurant stocks the kind of meat they can eat. Both will be used to having to do a bit of research. Thus I didn't agree with Andrew Coates writing here.

Halal subways (and there are only a handful) no more discriminate against Sikhs than ordinary Subways do against Muslims.

I suppose ultimately I agree that these religious rules are 'silly', but so are lots of things, and personally I don't object to non-stun halal (or kosher).

@theoldbrewer- I didn't realize there was a problem with cheese. I am not sure about the science with regard to pain/different slaughter methods - but given how many horrific practices there are in intensive farming, I still feel no urge to fret about halal or kosher.

@Ignoblus - I share your scepticism about those who get very worked up about this issue. However I am sure some are sincere - but even they might have been drawn to think about the issue in the first place because of sensational media coverage.

Yusuf Smith said...

The status of rennet differs according to different schools of thought. The majority of British Muslims are of Indian origin and follow the Hanafi school, which says that rennet extracted from the stomach of an unslaughtered animal is still acceptable because it was never part of the animal as such - it is simply something the animal ate and had not been assimilated yet. Other schools do not accept this (and a large proportion of Arabs and Somalis follow these other schools, chiefly the Maliki and Shafi'i). However, a lot of mozzarella is made from microbial rennet anyway, which is halal as far as I'm aware and is marked as suitable for vegetarians. The Halal Food Guide says (last time I read it), "as far as possible buy cheese that is suitable for vegetarians".

However, I wouldn't eat food cooked in an environment where non-halal meat (especially pork) was cooked. I simply do not eat meals in non-halal restaurants. That the meat itself is halal is only one issue for Muslims.

Flesh said...

I think we'd better go with the animal welfare people and not the religious people on which slaughter methods cause least suffering. A deep slit in the throat without pre-stunning will bring a terrifying, protracted and painful death according to the chief vet and the RSPCA. I do not fully trust either vets nr the RSPCA to have animals' best interests at heart, but I trust them more than the clerics defending these practices, who seem comparatively light on evidence or curiosity about animal welfare.

As far as I'm concerned it is equally disturbing for the racists and the religious animal eaters to avoid types of meat in favour of other types based on slaughter practices which obviously have nothing to do with animal welfare and everything to do with tribal affiliations or disaffiliations.

I also think it's important bear in mind that not all Muslims and Jews think it is OK to eat dead animal - see for example Islamic Concern .

Meanwhile Denmark has made a small but progressive step to help animals at the premature end of their short and blighted lives (though if they don't have CCTV in the abattoirs then the sadism which is unsurprisingly prevalent among slaughterhouse workers will probably have its way).

The Guardian's 9th May editorial began to flirt with sense when it suggested keeping meat out of the pizza oven. Becoming vegan solves all of these problems - and many more - at once.

OrtegaSeason said...

Hargey's just an attention seeker. I doubt there's actually much sincerity in what he's saying. Theologically he hides under a type of modernist "Quranism" (or Transcendental Modernism as Prof Ebrahim Moosa calls it), but this is really just a smoke screen for his opportunism I think.