On the Ritual Slaughter of Animals

Ignoring the Cruelest Slaughter of All

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.


Someone once said that halal meat is meat from an animal that has been tortured to death. The truth hurts.

A calf slaughtered the ritual way may take up to eleven minutes to die; eleven agonizing minutes during which it is fully aware. A seal slaughtered in the traditional way off Canada's Grand Banks is rendered unconscious or dead in a second or less.

Yet, it is the seal hunt which preoccupies PETA, animal rights activists and the European Union, and not the cruellest slaughter of all.

How Much Pain and Suffering?

In its March 8, 2012 edition, Le Point, the popular mainstream French (France) weekly published excerpts from a confidential government report prepared by Le Conseil général de alimentation, de l’agriculture et des espaces ruraux on La protection animale en abattoir; la question particulière de l’abattoir rituel (Animal protection in slaughterhouses; the question of ritual slaughter, my translation).

The excerpts reveals that during 2010, 2,068,439 cattle, 382,460 calves, 2,568,444 sheep and 35,713 goats were ritually slaughtered i.e. the animal was not rendered unconscious before being bled to death.

The longest time reported for an animal to die while fully conscious was six minutes for cattle, almost twice that time for calves at eleven minutes, and five minutes for sheep. No time was available for goats or camels.

Under the heading Intensité et durée de la douleur: souffrance (Intensity and duration of the pain: suffering), the report goes on to describe the type of pain an animal that is not stunned* prior to bleeding experiences. It’s not for the squeamish. Again, the translation is mine, as are explanatory comments surrounded by round brackets ().

The pain that a conscious animal experiences at the time of its throat being slit is assumed to be intense …

To be able to compare different method of slaughter as to the amount of pain they cause, we must take into account the visible signs that permit us to gage the intensity of the pain experienced by the conscious animals … The amount of pain will vary depending on the type of animal.

A slit throat is in itself painful:

• The incision provokes a nociceptive reaction (“pain caused by stimulation of peripheral nerve fibers that respond only to stimuli approaching or exceeding harmful intensity” Wiki) causing extreme pain;

• the contraction of the muscle at the point of the incision has to be extremely painful;

• blood will fill the lungs provoking a sensation of drowning.

The length of time it takes for an animal (that has not been stunned) to become unconscious is a result of many factors:

• the constriction of the arteries compensates for the loss of blood and causes an increase in the heart rate;

• where cattle is concerned, the vertebral arteries are not cut when the incision is done …; different anastomosis (channels) between the vertebral and cervical arteries allow the vertebral arteries to continue bringing blood to the brain even after the carotid artery has been cut;

• other factors may contribute to the time an animal remains conscious e.g. a clot in the carotid artery …

Rendering an animal unconscious is both the beginning and the end of its suffering when conventional methods are used. In the ritual slaughter of an animal, unconsciousness comes much later.

During this period, which varies among types of animals, the animal, in a conscious state, will be subjected to many painful procedures, some related to the incision made by the person performing the sacrifice, others by the stop and go (“saccadé”) nature of the ritual.


* Modern, non-traditional slaughtering methods use what is commonly referred to as a captive bolt pistol to render the animal unconscious prior to slaughter “to prevent the pain and suffering of the animal during the bleeding (exsanguination) process (which is itself necessary to prevent meat spoilage) during butchering. The principle behind captive bolt stunning is a forceful strike on the forehead using a bolt to induce unconsciousness.” Wiki.

Why the Suffering?

... The Prophet slaughtered seven Budn (camel) with his own hands while the camels were standing. He also sacrificed two horned rams (black and white in color) at Medina.

Bukhari 26.772

Except for giving Allah credit for providing the animal to be slaughtered,  I am not aware of any verses in the Koran that demands that the animal be made to suffer beforehand. The suffering comes from the example of a man who may have gotten some satisfaction from the slow killing of a partially restrained struggling animal, and from his insistence that an animal must bleed profusely before it dies.

Narrated Zaid bin Jubair:

I saw Ibn Umar passing by a man who had made his Badana (sacrifce) sit to slaughter it.

Ibn Umar said, "Slaughter it while it is standing with one leg tied up as is the tradition of Muhammad."

Bukhari 26.771

Narrated Abaya bin Rifaa:

My grandfather, Rafi said, "We were in the company of the Prophet at Dhul Hulaifa, and the people suffered from hunger. We got some camels and sheep (as booty) and the Prophet was still behind the people.

They hurried and put the cooking pots on the fire. (When he came) he ordered that the cooking pots should be upset and then he distributed the booty (amongst the people) regarding ten sheep as equal to one camel then a camel fled and the people chased it till they got tired, as they had a few horses (for chasing it). So a man threw an arrow at it and caused it to stop (with Allah's Permission).

On that the Prophet said, 'Some of these animals behave like wild beasts, so, if any animal flee from you, deal with it in the same way."

My grandfather asked (the Prophet), "We hope (or are afraid) that we may meet the enemy tomorrow and we have no knives. Can we slaughter our animals with canes?"

Allah's Apostle replied, "If the instrument used for killing causes the animal to bleed profusely and if Allah's Name is mentioned on killing it, then eat its meat (i.e. it is lawful) but won't don't use a tooth or a nail and I am telling you the reason: A tooth is a bone (and slaughtering with a bone is forbidden), and a nail is the slaughtering instrument of the Ethiopians."

Bukhari 52.309

Why would God's Messenger insist that an animal "bleed profusely" for its meat to be lawful to eat? For that, we have to look at an answer given by the Prophet's personal scribe, Zayd ibn Thabit.

Like the quick–witted Prophet, he answered, on his master’s behalf, questions from slow-witted believers. A question from an obviously inexperienced herdsman was how can you tell if an animal is still alive when it’s not moving after injuring itself? If an animal is already dead and you cut its throat in an attempt to bleed it (an animal's heart has to be pumping for it to be properly bled), its meat is of course forbidden.

Yahya related to me from Malik from Yahya ibn Said that Abu Murra, the mawla of Aqil ibn Abi Talib asked Abu Hurayra about a sheep which was slaughtered and then part of it moved. He ordered him to eat it.

Then he asked Zayd ibn Thabit about it, and he said, "Does a corpse move?" and he forbade eating its meat.

Malik was asked about a sheep which fell down and injured itself badly and then its master reached it and slaughtered it. Blood flowed from it but it did not move.

Malik said, "If he kills it and blood flows from it and its eyes blink, he should eat it."

Malik’s Muwatta 24.3.7

Was there any point in ibn Thabit, even if he knew anything of animal husbandry, explaining that there are other means of telling if an animal is dead?

It was the Dark Ages when much of the Greek and Roman knowledge of human and animal physiology was temporality lost, but not all of it, especially among experienced herdsmen.

What if we looked at ibn Thabit's response as fool-proof instructions meant for simpletons, and not the sophisticated modern farmers and cattlemen who have other means of telling if an immobile animal is dead – a low tech example would be a stethoscope. For assembly-line slaughter, cheap wireless electronics are available to detect if an animal’s heart in a slaughtering enclosure is still beating while you bleed it to death – and leave it at that.

To quote Gandhi:

Looking at scripture ... we have to remember the age in which it was written, the environment and mental climate in which it grew, the vast distance in time and thought and experience that separates it from us. We have to forget the trappings of ritual and religious usage in which it is wrapped, and remember the social background in which it expanded.

Allah once destroyed an entire city. He just leveled it! Men, women and children, probably in their thousands, died a horrible death, and for what? Allah utterly destroyed the city of Thamud because some jerks had the temerity to cut the hamstring of a favourite camel after one of His messengers, the Arab prophet Salih told them not to.

91:13 Then Allah’s Messenger said to them: “Beware of Allah’s she-camel and her drinking time.”

91:14 They called him a liar and hamstrung her; whereupon their Lord destroyed them for their sins and settled the matter;

91:15 And He does not fear its sequel.

Allah's merciless response to the pain caused to a camel has to be the strongest evidence we have that the Creator of all things does not like animals to suffer even if He has been known to use cruelty done to an animal as an example of what disbelievers can expect.

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, "On the Day of Resurrection Abraham will meet his father Azar whose face will be dark and covered with dust. (The Prophet Abraham will say to him): 'Didn't I tell you not to disobey me?'

His father will reply: 'Today I will not disobey you.'

Abraham will say: 'O Lord! You promised me not to disgrace me on the Day of Resurrection; and what will be more disgraceful to me than cursing and dishonoring my father?'

Then Allah will say (to him):' 'I have forbidden Paradise for the disbelievers."

Then he will be addressed, 'O Abraham! Look! What is underneath your feet?'

He will look and there he will see a Dhabh (an animal,) blood-stained, which will be caught by the legs and thrown in the (Hell) Fire."

Bukhari 55.569