Creeping Halal

In January of this year, the Daily Mail reported what was, to some at least, an alarming trend of "secretively prepared" halal meat (the meat of animals ritualistically slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law) being served in "Britain's most popular sporting venues, pubs, schools, and hospitals without the public's knowledge."  So prevalently was this tactic employed that some schoolchildren had no non-halal choices beyond a "vegetarian option."

Once the public was made aware of this fact, Britons began voicing their concerns over the practice.  Animal rights activists opposed it because "research suggests that animals can die a slow painful death" as a result of the bleeding halal requires, primarily because the animals are often not stunned prior to the act.  Others, however, had a more religious objection.  Over 10,000 Christians signed a petition that called for proper labeling, citing "reservations about eating meat from animals that are bled to death while an Islamic prayer is recited."  Church official Alison Ruoff suggested that "there is a lot of fear about upsetting Muslims but as Christians you have to stand up for Christian values.  Because we are unwittingly eating halal meat, we are spreading the practice of sharia law."

As a result of this outcry, Muslim and Christian leaders in the country agreed that "non-Muslims should not be compelled to eat halal meat."  In a statement, the Christian Muslim Forum said, "We urge all food outlets, catering organisations, and public authorities to label halal food properly, for the benefit of both non-Muslim and Muslim consumers." 

Contrast this reaction to that received by Pamela Geller for her efforts to expose Butterball's company practice of covertly slaughtering all turkeys in accordance with Islamic halal standards.  She was met with ruthless accusations of bigotry, intolerance, and Islamophobia by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  Ms. Geller merely offered that many "Christians, Hindus or Sikhs and Jews find it offensive to eat meat slaughtered according to Islamic ritual."  She, very much like British activists did earlier this year, suggested that Butterball clearly mark their meat as halal so that consumers can make their choices accordingly, and until they "stop selling only halal turkeys and make non-halal turkeys available," (emphasis added) she asks that agreeing Americans boycott the company.

From a strictly secular point of view, is this any less reasonable than a Muslim minority asking that halal turkeys be made available to them and to have them labeled as such?  Certainly not.  So why has Geller been so viciously smeared for her efforts?

Geller's critics usually fit one of two templates.  First, there are the secularists and Christians who describe halal slaughter as a "fairy tale ritual" involving a "meaningless prayer," and therefore "irrelevant."  And because it doesn't matter to them, it shouldn't matter to Geller or to others -- halal or non-halal, they say, it's all nonsense. 

Then, there are people like Ruth Nasrullah of the Houston Chronicle.  She, like so many of Geller's opponents throughout the blogosphere, chooses not to focus on the lack of choice for those who would not eat halal, but rather to relate the similarities between halal and kosher slaughter, suggesting that to criticize one is tantamount to intolerantly criticizing the other.  She goes on to say that "Geller uses the name 'G-d,' the traditional Jewish way of spelling the almighty."  This statement plays to an underlying assumption held by many Americans, and one that is evidently readily believed by many of the commenters on her blog.  The assumption is that both practices involve offering sacrifice and thanks to the same Abrahamic deity -- the same "almighty" by a different name -- and that since Christians (who intolerantly destroyed Native American civilization, anyway, she says -- who are they to say what is in line with freedom and inclusiveness?) worship that same God, they should not be concerned in eating a turkey that has been sacrificed to a deity called by her preferred title: Allah.

Of course, one has to wonder why, if this is true, Muslims would demand that their meat be halal in the first place -- if the practice is so similar, why are Muslims not entirely content eating kosher meats?  The parity, it seems, applies only one way. 

Many Christians have reservations about eating meat that is bled to death while an Islamic prayer is uttered.  The validity of any American Christian holding such a viewpoint is not for anyone else to decide, just as it is not the place of any non-Muslim to decide the validity of halal itself.  But as we live in a country that values religious freedom, we have a duty to see that people are free to exercise their religious expression in a reasonable manner.

And to those ends, a Christian requesting non-halal meat and labels should be every bit as reasonable as a Jew requesting kosher meat or a Muslim requiring halal meat.  This is nothing more than reason, and it is certainly not hate.

William Sullivan blogs at: and can now be followed on Twitter.