Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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In Bologna, the preparation of chicken tortellini started a permanent election campaign controversy. Many have talked about halal food, traditions, and Islam. But what is halal food, and how ethical is it?


When two people are arguing, it often ends up being a passer-by to take a slap in the face.

This is what happened in Bologna last week. In Piazza San Petronio, the well-known brigade with appeasing attitude lair of the Forum of families had the heretic thought of preparing a tortellino bolognese with chicken (notoriously, the typical dish from Bologna is prepared with pork), renaming it “tortellino dell’ accoglienza” (welcome tortellino). For who? But for everyone! From Muslims to the elderly who must keep cholesterol at bay.

Some people said it was a culinary blasphemy, those who, at the same time, are quick to pass over the Christian precepts of hospitality. And much more simply generosity, because the guest with special dietary requirements who does not eat fish or avocado, corn or lamb always comes to the house of each of us. For very different problems: allergies, intolerances, ethical, and religious choices.

Yet, the event organized by the Archbishop of Bologna Mattia Maria Zuppi was “used,” as he said, and thrown into the political arena specially by the large anti-immigration party (the proposal of the chicken tortellini, however, did not come from any Muslim representation).

In such atmosphere, of a permanent electoral campaign, in which ordinary news – no connection to politics and far away from ethical-cultural discussions – has become a national case. It is good to try to shed light on what really is the Muslim culinary culture because, unfortunately, halal food also ended up in the cauldron. And even here public opinion has split into factions, by definition always unbalanced.

What is halal food?

Halal indicates all that is legitimate for the Islamic religion regarding behavior rules, language, clothing, and, precisely, food. It is opposed, therefore, to all that is haram, meaning “forbidden.”

The Islamic diet is ruled by the verse of the Quran, 16: 114-115:

«So eat of the sustenance that God has provided for you, lawful and wholesome; and be grateful for the favors of God, if it is God that you serve. God has forbidden you only dead meat and blood, and the flesh of swine, and anything over which the name of other than God has been invoked. But if anyone is compelled by necessity, without wanting to or being excessive, then God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. »

As one can guess from a careful reading, the verse has no univocal meaning, and in fact, there are various interpretations of the Muslim faithful of this passage. We list three of them.

Three types of “halal” food

Dhabīḥa Ḥalāl

It is the most intransigent way to consider halal food. For those following the Dhabīḥa Ḥalāl, the food will not be prohibited only if it follows the traditional guidelines indicated in the Sunnah (code of behavior). We are going to talk about it below.

Ḥalāl “Bismillāh” (version 1)

According to those who follow this line of conduct, the guidelines do not need to be strictly followed and to eat food with no worries it would be enough to recite the “Bismillāh al-Raĥmān al-Raĥīm” (“In the name of God Forgiving and Merciful”)

Ḥalāl “Bismillāh” (version 2)

According to those who support this thesis, every food, forbidden or lawful, becomes halal after saying the prayer.

So, as you can see, even among Muslims, there are very different ways of living certain dogmas.

The rules to follow for halal slaughter

The regulation is very similar to that concerning the kosher diet (Judaism and Islam have much in common, as is the case with Christianity).

A lot of criticism on this type of killing because the blood is a forbidden food, so the animals must be well bled (this can only happen if they are slaughtered). And yet, the central issue of the regulation is to treat animals with dignity and avoid trauma during the killing.

Here are the 9 rules:

  1. The slaughter must be an adult and, strangely, may also be Jewish or Christian. In short, it must be male, healthy and expert in slaughtering halal;
  2. The animals to be slaughtered must also be halāl (and therefore pigs are not accepted);
  3. The animals must be conscious at the time of the killing, although they can be blindfolded so they can’t see the knife;
  4. The slaughtering involves cutting the esophagus and trachea, with the animal’s head facing the Mecca. The vertebral column must not be affected, and beheading is prohibited;
  5. The animal must be killed with a single cut. A second would transform meat into haram meat;
  6. Bleeding must be complete and spontaneous
  7. Slaughtering will be possible only once the animal has died;
  8. The equipment used for non-banned animals should not be used for others who are not;
  9. Also where the slaughter takes place should be different from the others.

The ethical issues of halal meat and Islamic ritual slaughter

It is clear that the exsanguination has raised various ethical problems in western cultures, which for industrial slaughtering, has already imposed a previous stunning and banned the slaughter.

It must be said, however, that there is a tendency to omit the treatment that must be imposed on animals by Islamic law. This procedure is much more human and civil than what given to so many pigs or hens born and raised in a battery.

In fact, according to Islamic law, animals must be respected and well-fed. The use of the bandage, then, is precisely to avoid unnecessary stress at the time of slaughtering (another rule requires sharpening the knife away from the sight of the animal).

Let’s talk about the central point, the exsanguination. The practice is perplexing, even if the Islamic rules say that the killing should be as quick and painless as possible (for this reason, one of the rules requires killing with a single cut). However, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, and Denmark have banned halal slaughter, since an animal dies by bleeding after at least 20 seconds of suffering.

According to the European Regulation (EC) 1099/2009, ritual slaughtering is not illegal, since an exception is recognized: the directive provides for killing after stunning.

Although in Italy and most of the West, halal slaughtering is accepted and legal, it is the Muslims themselves who introduced the practice of stunning, which is not contemplated – as we have seen – by Islamic religious precepts. Nevertheless, in some countries such as Malaysia, stunning is used as a measure of kindness for the animals. Precisely, stunning must be temporary and must not cause definitive damage; if the person who stuns is not a Muslim, it will need to be supervised by a halal certification authority (or a Muslim); as for slaughter tools, even those used to stun must not be used for haram animals.

Halal and cruelty: the false ethical problem

Killing a living being by exsanguination is tremendous and should be avoided. It is not true, however, that Muslims are dogmatists and do not feel the need to reform themselves and bring other cultures closer. By stunning the victims, the Muslim authorities have shown that they want to meet the Western sensibility (in the face of those who consider them monolithic and not interested in integration).

And then, are we sure that the core of the speech is just the stun? For centuries, even in Italy,  pigs were slaughtered and, in the countryside, perhaps secretly, they continue to do so, with the sole aim of getting as much blood as possible to cook the black pudding.

How was this problem solved? Killing on the spot animals that, however, have lived in mini-cages, dirty and practically unable to move. Is this ethical?

If you then compare the number of dead animals with halal ritual slaughter and those killed with the method we have just explained, there are no comparisons. More: if the problem is ethical and linked to the exploitation and killing of weaker life forms, the point is only one: either killing or not killing.

In short, ethically, we should think of the extra seconds or less of suffering imposed on another living being.

Is it a pro-vegetarian discourse? No, it is an invitation to in-depth thinking. It is an invitation not to trivialize and not to generalize: Muslims are not sinister torturers of lambs, and ethics is not a dough, mouldable at will, and for convenience.


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Ambra Del Moro
My name is Ambra Del Moro, to be fair. I hold a master's degree in Modern Languages and for ten years I've been citizen of the world as I lived in Germany, United States, Belgium and Disneyland. For the moment it seems I found my place. In the joyful Foodiestrip Republic.