As Eid Al-Adha approaches, many animal rights groups have called to the fore the treatment of animals at slaughter houses during the qurban (sacrifice) period. In 2015, the Cape of Good Hope Speak, Protect and Care for Animals (SPCA) raised concern over the treatment of animals in conducting the Islamic ritual. The SPCA inspected various qurbani farms where it found that animals were ill-treated and that the Islamic norms of slaughtering were not adhered to. As a result, the organisation issued a total of six warnings to a number of qurbani farms in the Western Cape that failed to comply with the rules and regulations as prescribed by the Animal Protection Act.
To gain clarity on the SPCA’s findings and the Islamic norms of slaughtering, VOC spoke to veterinarian and a member of the National Council of SPCA (NSPCA) board, Dr. Ayoub Banderker, as well as member of Majli Shushurah Al Islami, Imam Hassiem Salie.
Salie explains that given the sanctity that Islam places on every life, an animal that is to be consumed is undeniably respected.
The imam says that individuals entrusted with the slaughtering process need to adhere to strict procedures, which includes the use of a “very sharp” knife, a reasonable level of comfort for the animal, the requirement that the animal bleeds out by cutting both the oesophagus and the throat, the prohibition of sharpening the knife in front of the animal, and that animals do not witness the slaughter of another animal.
“You can’t only cut the throat and not the oesophagus. This needs to be done as swiftly as possible so that the animal is given ease in the pangs of death,” Salie states.
Opposed to ‘western’ methods of slaughtering, Salie asserts that Islamic procedures encourage those involved in the process to remember the Almighty.
In doing so, he says that those involved in the slaughtering process may ensure that the life of the animal is respected at each step of the process.
Salie notes that the lack of respect within the process is most evident during mass slaughtering at farms, where large numbers of individuals await the qurban of their animal.
“Very often we do not take our time and give each animal its haq [right] that it deserves as a sacrifice to the Almighty and let blood flow – it shouldn’t be a massacre of sheep, it should be a sacrifice.”
While it is encouraged for an individual to personally conduct the slaughter of his animals, Salie asserts that it is essential that individuals are not forced into conducting the sacrifice, since he or she may be overwhelmed by the process.
“When you say bismillahi Allah Akbar [in the name of Allah, Allah is the greatest], then you must cut the oesophagus and the throat. You need to have an individual who can do the job correctly, because the meat becomes haram if both lines are not cut.”
The role of the SPCA in monitoring the slaughter of animals
Bandeker explains that there is a difference between an animal rights activist and animal welfare.
He says that while the SPCA promotes the principle of animal welfare, animal rights activists give animal’s human attributes and call for individuals to all-together refrain from eating animals.
“They want us to just eat grass and treat animals as humans – but, Islam is the middle way,” he added.
Given the fact that individuals will continue to consume meat, Bandeker says that the National Council of the SPCA (NCSPCA) is, therefore, calling for the humane treatment of animals.
He affirms that while the treatment of animals in the Western Cape is relatively acceptable, elsewhere animals are mistreated at the hands of Muslims in the name of Islam.
“That is against the sunnah and the teachings of the Qur’aan; 14000 years ago, people were rebuked quite severely for treating animals in a cruel manner. The Arabs use to cut the tails off and eat, and then the Nabi forbade that.”
In light of the continued mistreatment of animals during qurbani periods, he says that the NSPCA has decided to privately prosecute individuals since the National Prosecuting Authorities prefers to act cautiously when dealing with religious issues.
In addition, he says that the SPCA has met with the Ulama Council of South Africa (UCSA), the United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) and the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC).
He confirms that the ulama bodies have promoted the fight against animal cruelty and supported the SPCA.
“Unfortunately, in this country there is no legal standing, as the MJC or UCSA cannot prosecute people for treating an animal badly or for going against the tenants of Islam,” Bandeker stated.
Given the limitation of the MJC and UCSA, Bandeker says that the NSPCA will attempt to prosecute those guilty of animal cruelty by laying a charge according to the Animal Cruelties Act and the Animal Protection Act.
The humane aspects of handling an animal
Given the fact that qurbaan to a large decree has been used by many farmers as a money-making scheme, Bandeker explains that most of the ill-treatment is found in the handling of the animals.
“There are many who are selling sheep at inflated prices and then slaughtering high numbers. When you have high numbers things get rushed and the spiritual essence is lost.”
He says that when one slaughters an animal, the utterance of bismillah Allahu Akbar reminds the individual that only Allah gives and takes life.
Bandeker adds that in commercial farming, where the animals are dragged, stunned, and then slaughtered, the sanctity of life is divorced from the process.
“The biggest problem is the how the animals are handled and slaughtered. According to the sunnah, the animals have to be kept properly, with enough; space, water, food, and freedom of movement.”
Bandeker asserts that from a public health point of view the positive aspect of the Islamic process, in which the animal is not stressed, is affirmed by research that explains that lactic acid builds up in animal as a result of stress, altering the quality of the meat.
“The Rasool [may peace be upon him] said we must bring the animal to the slaughter place in an easy way. We can create sufficient calmness if the team is experienced,” Salie asserted.
Salie says that a well organised farm will schedule each individual’s farm in a specific time slot and will provide those conducting the slaughter with a sharp knife.
“If you are going to a commercial farm, you have the right to choose the animal, ensure that they are kept in clean environment, and to slaughter it.”
Bandeker says that aside from the treatment of the animal, the process appears to have transformed into a “spectator sport” where individuals stand around and photograph the sacrifice, instead of praying in respect of the sanctity of life.
Provisions for slaughtering in residential areas
Bandeker encourages hujjaaj to have their sheep slaughtered at home by the family, improving the local farm industry.
“What happens is that millions of sheep is shipped from around the world [to Makkah] in a journey that can take months, in crowded conditions, in which many die or suffer broken legs.”
Salie explains that while there are different forms of slaughtering for hujjaaj, qur’ban can be performed by families of the hujjaaj in their home countries.
He, however, adds that penalty sacrifices must be slaughtered in mina, extended to Makkah.
Salie explains that while the SPCA was present at the more popular farms, where slaughtering takes place, the organization last year also accompanied various imams to homes where they were scheduled to conduct the qurbani.
He says that though the process is less deficient as compared to farm slaughters, a well-equipped team is still required to ensure that each step is adhered to.
Bandeker says that given the fact that the home environment is not adequate when housing large animals; families should opt to purchase small stock, such as sheep and goats.
He encourages individuals to demarcate a sufficient area, with ample food and water, in which the animal will reside until such time that it is slaughtered
The demarcated area should be different from the area in which the slaughter is to take place.
In light of space restrictions within most backyards, Bandeker notes that individuals may choose to slaughter via aid organizations that conducts qurbani in poorer countries.
With regards to health issues that accompany slaughtering within residential areas, he urges community members to ensure that faeces and bodily fluids of animals are regularly cleaned.
“Speak to your neighbours; inform them that you will be keeping the animals and the duration you will keep them. But, keep the place clean and ensure that the animals are not soiled.”
He adds that community members need to ensure that the blood is drained away sufficiently.
“Allah has no need for the meat; it is a community experience that may strengthen our connection with Allah,” Salie continued.