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Halal Hysteria


Is it political correctness gone mad? Should it be Britain first? Or is it the media’s attempt to stir up Islamophobia and oppose ‘Muslim food’? Christy Ku investigates. 

Subway announced that they would provide Halal-only meat at some of their stores, a few days before The Sun published its front page ‘reveal’ on Wednesday 7 May that the chicken used by Pizza Express is Halal. Since then, a ‘Boycott Subway’ page has been created on Facebook and received over 8,000 likes, and debates between respecting faiths and putting Britain first have resurfaced once more.

However, there have been a lot of misinterpretations. Firstly, not all 1,700 Subway stores are having their meat replaced by Halal meat – only 185 stores are.  Furthermore, there is no need to fear that bacon and ham are being eradicated from every Subway menu (pork is forbidden for Muslims); Subway emailed to state: “Absolutely nothing has changed, bacon and ham aren’t going anywhere (…) The small proportion of Halal specific menu stores that carry Halal-approved turkey-based ham and bacon, have been around since 2007”. Indeed, Pizza Express’s use of Halal meat should not be new information – whilst it is not expressly written on menus, the fact has been addressed several times in previous years in the media and on Pizza Express’s website: “it is no secret that all the chicken used in our dishes is Halal slaughtered. Our teams in restaurants have and always will provide this information, and in addition it is available on the customer service section of our website. We are looking at whether we take steps to make this information even clearer through our menus”.

But why are restaurants switching to or providing Halal meat? And what is all the fuss about? I’ll try to address the key issues, so firstly:

What is Halal meat?

The word ‘Halal’ means ‘permissible’ or ‘lawful’. In the Qur`an (Islam’s holy book), it gives guidelines in chapter al-Maida 5:3 on how to make meat Halal – the animal has to be slaughtered in a ritual way known as Zibah or Zibihah. In summary, the animal has to be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter, blessed by the slaughter man, and must be slaughtered by a single swift incision with a very sharp knife to the throat which severs its vital parts (the windpipe, jugular vein and carotid artery) to minimise pain to the animal, and all the blood must be drained from the body.

Halal slaughter is cruel

UK regulations state that the animal has to be stunned, and Islamic scholars in the UK have approved of this method. Also, the 2012 Food Standards Agency report stated that 97 per cent of cattle, 96 per cent of poultry and 90 per cent of sheep slaughtered using the Halal method are stunned. Furthermore, at its very simplest, non-Halal slaughtered meat is when the animal is stunned and its throat is cut or it is gassed. Halal slaughtered meat is when the animal is blessed, stunned and its throat is cut. In both Halal slaughter and non Halal slaughter procedures, an animal is killed and people eat its flesh.

Indeed, the RSPCA makes no distinction between pre-stunned Halal meat and non-Halal meat.

Why is there a new need to provide Halal meat in restaurants?

Having Halal meat on the menu is nothing new. Subway have stated that “due to the growing popularity of the SUBWAY® chain, with the diverse multicultural population across the UK and Ireland, we put a programme in place in 2007 to ensure that the population demographic is taken into account when new store openings are considered in order that we meet consumer demand in each location.” There are about 100 KFC outlets that serve Halal chicken. Some major supermarkets stores such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco provide Halal meat. 64 out of 314 Nandos restaurants serve Halal chicken only. Also, a “small proportion of chicken sold in our other 250 restaurants is also Halal and is not currently labelled when served”. In Exeter alone, there are 3 Halal butcheries: ‘Al Baraka’, ‘Brothers Butches’ and ‘BestOne’.

But why bother to provide it at all? Whilst there is a demand for Halal meat, only 5 per cent of the British population is Muslim. It could be that it would be better for business – both methods of slaughter produce meat, but one prevents customers from compromising their faith and reduces the risk of complaints. Also, although the overall Muslim proportion of the population is relatively low, the population density may be quite high in certain areas in cities, increasing the demand.

“If you live in Britain, you should respect our cultures and our ways”

Previously, David Cameron was criticised for calling Britain a Christian country. Britain is a multicultural country, and one of its wonderful points is that it generally goes beyond mere tolerance to acceptance of other faiths and nationalities. However, the immigration controversy is a subject that refuses to lie down.

However, needing to adapt to a new country’s cultures is a valid point. For example, it would be highly unusual if stores stopped selling meat as it may offend vegetarians. On the other hand; it isn’t as though the Muslim population have been harassing the stores – it was a business decision made by the companies. It appears that the media have angled the story as though we should be outraged at the Muslim population for ‘taking over’ – but we don’t even know if the majority have a problem with non-Halal products in stores. Where are the surveys and the statistics?

Should we be expressly informed about whether or not we are eating Halal meat?

Whilst it is positive that consumers are no longer blindly accepting products, demanding to know if our products are organic, fair trade, cruelty free, how the labour force and so forth, it is unusual that The Sun now demands us to question whether or not the meat is Halal. There was previously little demand to know how our meat was prepared, but now there appears to be an indignation about animals being killed in the ‘Muslim’ way.

Ultimately, after addressing the facts and examining the research, there is one last issue that we must ask ourselves: does it really matter?

With thanks to the UoE Islamic society. 

Sources used:

“Halal Monitoring Committee UK”: http://www.Halalhmc.org/HMCCriteria.htm

Authentic Islamic Slaughter by ‘Mercy Halal’: https://www.youtube.com/user/mercyHalal/videos

“Halal Food Authority UK”: http://Halalfoodauthority.co.uk

Christy Ku, Online Books Editor

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