The word Halal conjures up a notion of meat to all of us. In English dictionary too the word is described in terms of meat from animal slaughtered according to religious rituals. It is an Arabic word meaning “lawful” contrasted with the word Haram or “Unlawful”. In reality, it applies to all matters and activities relating to our lives.
Most communities, who derive their teaching from spiritual sources, tend to have certain dietary and other restrictions substantially to govern the health, welfare and safety in the physical world in which we live and prepare ourselves for the next life. In Islam, this could not be more vivid and pronounced. Let us look at a few examples:1. Male circumcision. - Research in Kenya now tells us that the rate of HIV infection among circumcised male is 60% lower than those who are not.
When it comes to food, the reality is that Allah, has legislated for its purity, fitness, quality and nutrition to secure good health, welfare and safety of mankind. The world Halal itself makes purity and fitness of food [Tyyiban as mentioned in the Quran] as essential. Unfortunately, vast majority of the Muslim community is steeped into purely orthodox belief of spiritual connotation of Halal and would reach out to the Arabic icon irrespective of how that food was produced. This is not unlike other aspects of our religious practices omitting or at best marginalising the common sense, pragmatism and rationality. The other more perceptible but unarguable fact is that we tend to pick orthodox practices that suit us and perpetuate what has been drummed into us at our infancy about the facts and fancies of our religious observances. This is all at the cost of us ignoring the advances in science, medicine and technology. In so doing, the image of Islam remains at stake especially in the modern multi-cultural society and yet being modern and up-to-date is not inimical to our faith. On the contrary, Muslim history is replete with such examples of advancements and achievements in science, medicine etc.
The following are some examples of our changes in traditions and practices because of advances in technology, science, and environment.1. Using meteorologically computed prayer times for five daily prayers instead of physical observation of the sun’s movement across the sky. (This religious requirement is one of the core issues in Islam one may argue is non-changeable.)
Many other aspects of our modern life such as dress code, facial and body enhancements, prayer routines etc have changed dramatically and yet animal has to be tortured to obtain meat which is so vastly consumed that the health and environmental damage, central to our religious teaching, is yet again just ignored.
So is it a wonder that today we have a lot of research in science and technology to assure us that a mild dose of electricity administered to an animal to render it unconscious and insensitive to pain is necessary before its throat is cut? None of the present methods of stunning an animal was available at the time of the Prophet (saw). Indeed no electricity existed nor were there slaughter houses. Is it not sufficient for us to understand that any method employed today to put animal at ease (as mentioned in the Hadith in Muslim) prior to slaughter is not only permissible but essential. Kindness to animal is therefore a foremost requirement in Islamic theology. Let us not forget that this standard was enshrined in the Muslim slaughter practice since the sixth century whereas in the West, animal welfare only began to be discussed in 1875 and stunning laws promulgated two decades later.Nizar Boga BSc LL.B(Hons) DMA FRSPH MCIEH JP
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