Why Can Muslims Eat Big Macs?

// November 7th, 2009 // Blog

The following is a response to a post written by one of my colleagues at Ijtema.net, on the conditions that make meat permissible for Muslims to eat. Here is an extract to whet your appetite:

The whole zabiha vs. non-zabiha debate can get pretty emotional and even lead to fights. Surprisingly when one learns about it in some depth it's not all that complicated. I will list the 5 conditions the 'ulema have laid down for a slaughter to be permissible to eat, and then list some common misconceptions about the concept of zabiha.

The following five conditions must be met together when slaughtering an animal that is permissible to eat and requires slaughter… Click to read more

I recommend you read that post first – one, because it contains useful fiqhi info, and two, because my response will naturally make more sense that way.

Response

Tbh, the only thing I'd like explained to me, is why a Big Mac purchased in any McDonalds branch located in Western secular democracies, such as the UK and USA (for the most part), is considered by some to be permissible for Muslims to eat?

I completely understand the ruling about the meat of animals slaughtered by the Christians and Jews being permissible (excl. porcine flesh, blood, etc). But unlike the label 'Kosher', which actually has some value and meaning attached to it, McDonalds, and by extension, most fast food retailers in the West, do not offer any guarantee that the cows used in their burgers have been slaughtered by either a Christian or a Jew (irrespective of their level of practising).

Are the scholars who condone this working on a matter of probability? I.e., the majority (whatever % that is) of citizens in the US identify themselves as Christians, and hence the likelihood of the person slaughtering the animal being a Christian is high, and thus the meat automatically becomes permissible, unless clearly stated otherwise?

I really am curious, because I know a few people who follow the “People of the Book” rule that far, but they never ask the person serving the meat who did the slaughtering. We don't need to ask if the product is sold as halal/ kosher – but otherwise, shouldn't there be some responsibility on the individual consumer to at least enquire?

Considering how, in the West, tasks of manual labour (especially such messy, unpleasant ones) are usually consigned to low paid immigrants, which could be of any religion – and also, how meat can, and is, imported from anywhere in the world – I think such a 'catch-all' fatwa is more than a little risky.

In the UK, we are blessed in that halal meat is relatively easy to obtain – at least if you live in cities and towns with significant Muslim populations. However, that didn't happen overnight. This state of ease came about through necessity. The first generation of Muslims wanted to feed their families food that they could trust was halal. Without this demand, the market to supply halal produce – a market presently worth millions of pounds annually – would not have been established.

There are about two million Muslims in the UK but an estimated six million consumers of halal meat nationwide. Michael Oakes, board member for rural affairs at Advantage West Midlands, said British Muslims consumed 20% of all red meat sold in the country while making up just 3% of the population. [Source: BBC News – Farmers aim for halal meat market]

Further, the market has now begun to evolve to the next level: in response to recent halal meat scandals, a national halal monitoring committee was established to ensure correct slaughtering practices; major supermarket chains now stock halal produce in outlets with a significant Muslim customer base; and several new providers have sprung up to respond to the growing demand for organic meat (one example here).

Thus I believe that the 'catch-all' fatwa actually causes more harm than good in the long term, by discouraging the enterprise that would lead to a more certain state of affairs. Either we 'lay' Muslims have misunderstood the nature of this particular ruling (which is entirely probable), and/or the original need for such a fatwa no longer exists, especially as far more permissible alternatives are now commonly available. In reality, no-one is going to be placed at a life-threatening disadvantage from choosing to eat a 'fillet-o-fish', or vegetarian equivalent, in place of eating meat of unknown origin. And in the few cases where they are, then a whole new set of rulings apply, with the aim of preserving life and health.

Demand drives supply: Muslims in the West must continue to demand the supply of trustworthy zabiha meat, and also start putting their inherent, entrepreneurial skills to use. After all, the UK Muslim market proves that there is much reward – both earthly and heavenly – to be earned from doing so, inshā’Allāh.

7 Responses to “Why Can Muslims Eat Big Macs?”

  1. Organica says:

    Halal meat slaughtered by Muslims doesn’t always mean humane or clean for that matter. I visited a Muslim slaughterhouse in the city and I was disgusted with the conditions the animals were kept. I refuse to eat the meat because I don’t see it as halal.

    I purchase organic/kosher chicken. It’s harder to find kosher beef products so I go with the grass fed, organic meat. I know free range kosher chicken was humanely slaughtered as prescribed by Allah (swt).

    As fast food concerns, what concerns me more than the halal issue, do you know what kind of meat goes in the processed hamburger patty? Literally one burger comes from a thousand different cows. It’s disgusting to know how these cows are treated and the amount of Ecoli floating around in our food. I am against it completely and have abstained from fastfood completely.

    I encourage homemade foods with fresh ingredients with minimal meat to begin with. When I eat out, I stick to chicken or fish.

    Honestly, the halal places in the city where I work and go to school are disgusting. The food always makes me sick and the quality of service is nasty. I don’t know how we label such things halal when in my opinion they arent!

    I know other families who I’ve advised to eat the greener and healthier meat from the markets versus the regular meats slaughtered, but the financial concern has been a big one.How do you feed a family of 8 under a tight budget?

  2. Organica says:

    P.S: A few years ago when we lived in the Midwest region of the U.S. and in a highly Muslim populated city we would purchase our chicken from the halal Zabiha market. We would buy our meat in bulk and often times the chicken had so much bruising we ended up throwing it out.

    Halal shouldn’t only concern the way the animal is slaughtered but the quality of life of the animal prior to slaughtering, the feed and treatment!

  3. iMuslim says:

    I agree about the humane treatment aspect… However, though I know it affects the suitability of an animal for ritual sacrifice (e.g., on Eid-ul-adha), I am not sure of the implications wrt general consumption.

    However, once again market forces have a huge impact here; if Muslims – including scholars – placed pressure on suppliers towards ethical treatment of animals prior to slaughter, things would improve, insha’Allah – and it would become cheaper for the masses to eat ethical/ organic.

    I want to pitch the idea to my parents… make dua! :)

  4. Mezba says:

    I think halal and ethical treatment of animals are two diffferent things. Halal is for the slaughtering method etc. Once an animal is slaughtered in the proper way it’s halal.

    But muslims should also treat animals ethically and properly. But that’s a separate issue, IMO.

  5. Baraka says:

    I agree with Organica. What the animal is fed & how it is treated does make it less or more permissible for Muslims to eat.

    We focus so much on the end of its like that we forget that the whole life of the animal counts. We are told to treat animals well and to shield them from seeing other animals from being slaughtered. Most halal meat in the US at least is coming from factories where none of these humane Islamic principles are practiced.

    Also, if animals are fed blood, animal byproducts or other garbage for example (as many factory animals are) then it becomes impermissible for Muslims to eat it until that has been cleansed from their system with pure food.

    The interval one must wait before slaughter is fairly short for a chicken and around 40 days for a camel I believe.

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