I was in high school when my parents bought a goat in 1984, Pakistan. I named it, fed it, walked it, and then within a week, witnessed it getting slaughtered. It was a heart-wrenching experience at Eid-ul-Adha, a major Islamic holiday which honors Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son for God. The incident taught me a lesson: Be ready to sacrifice your desires to earn God's pleasure.
But 30 years later, some in the West charge Muslims with animal cruelty for committing the same act. Since affording Muslims will be sacrificing an animal on Eid-ul-Adha this weekend, it's time to answer the top seven charges of animal cruelty against them.
1. Muslims don't care about animal cruelty.
Get to know Prophet Muhammad, who in the savage society of 7th century Arabia, prohibited the rampant practices of cutting a live camel's hump, branding an animal's face, wrongly caging a bird, or clipping a horse's forelock. In fact, the Prophet even cared for the animal's feelings. His companion narrated: "Once we were on a journey and during the Prophet's absence, as we captured two chicks of a bird, their mother started circling above us, beating her wings in grief. When the Prophet returned, he inquired, 'Who has hurt the feelings of this bird?' and commanded us to return the chicks to her."
2. Slaughtering an animal is an undercover attempt to impose Sharia!
Now that's another straw man argument. By slaughtering an animal, American Muslims are actually obeying the 1958 Humane Slaughter Act which allows, "...slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling." Why is the Jewish practice of slaughtering animals not an undercover attempt to impose Halakhah, the Jewish Law?
3. The West just has a much higher regard for animal rights as compared to Muslims.
By the way, millions of Muslims are also Westerners. But let's get back to the point. Explain why 1,880 cases of animal cruelty were reported in the U.S. media just in 2007? Why over 100 million animals perish in U.S. laboratories for chemical, drug, food and cosmetics testing every year? And up until the 20th century -- before the stun guns came into vogue -- I wonder how could anyone slaughter an animal with more care than the minutia laid out by Prophet Muhammad: give an adult animal water to drink and lay it down gently (young, pregnant, or sick animals should not be slaughtered), use the sharpest, non-serrated knife to sever the windpipe and large blood vessels of the neck while invoking the name of God, and allow the animal to die of exsanguination. He even barred Muslims from sharpening their knives or slaughtering an animal in front of other animals to mitigate psychological trauma.
4. Muslim slaughter practices cause a slow painful death.
Animals do feel the pain and we don't deny that. But the Prophet's intent was "...to cause as little pain as possible." According to studies, typically the animal's pain lasts 2-8 seconds and death is quick. Muslims however, are expected to feel, not evade this pain. "This animal's pain lasted a few seconds" my father said in 1984, "but when you will make greater sacrifices in life, your pain may last for decades." I get it now. To me, the animal's pain is far shorter in duration in comparison to the pain of, say, a mother whose son died on either side of the Iraq war. Think about it.
5. For Muslims, it's all about big money.
Yes, the multi-billion dollar market for "halal," meaning the meat of animals slaughtered according to Muslim religious requirements, is only growing. But no, sacrifice at the occasion of Eid-ul-Adha isn't about money, it's about sacrifice. Muslims donate a large portion of the meat to the poor. Annually, over a million carcasses of animals slaughtered at Hajj are shipped to 24 impoverished Muslim countries. Nearly 2/3 of the meat of every animal slaughtered domestically, at the occasion of Eid, also goes to the needy.
6. Pre-slaughter stunning is such a humane practice and yet Muslims reject it.
Stunning is operator dependent and is not always humane. Watch this video and you'll be stunned to see how these animals suffered, despite stunning. According to the World Organization of Animal Health, accidental or improper stunning exacerbates animal suffering and some Jewish leaders claim the rate of "mis-stunned" animals to be as high as 4-30 percent. When Paul McCartney said, "if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian" he was not talking about Muslim slaughterhouses.
7. Muslims resist the practice of stunning for no reason.
In approximately 1 out of every 4 animals stunned with a cartridge-activated captive bolt gun, measurable amounts of brain tissue leaks into the blood stream of the animal, potentially exposing the consumer to deadly infections like Mad Cow Disease. This poses a major public health risk. On the other hand, some animals die as a result of over-stunning. That's a problem since Quran lays out the following religious requirements: "Forbidden to you is the flesh of an animal which dies of itself, and blood...and that which has been strangled; and that beaten to death...and that which has been gored to death... except that which you have properly slaughtered...5:3" But despite these reasons, there are early adopters of stunning among Muslims and some scholars have allowed a head-only, electric stunning method in countries like Switzerland, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. Nearly 88 percent of all animals in the U.K. are slaughtered by Muslims after stunning.
Prophet Muhammad instituted the most humane slaughter practices nearly 13 decades before the Humane Slaughter Association introduced the idea of pre-stunning the animal. A Muslim must be compassionate to God's creation. Adopting the practice of stunning before an Islamic slaughter, I believe, is only a matter of time. Once the risk of an animal's death or rendering it's meat harmful is eliminated, pre-slaughter stunning will gain wider acceptance among Muslim communities. Until that time, please hold your horses.
Faheem Younus is the Baltimore president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and a senior fellow at the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics at the University of Baltimore. The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Follow him on Twitter @FaheemYounus.