On Thanksgiving, why hate halal?

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By: Dr. Aref Assaf

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Muslim hater, Pam Geller is a hate-stuffed turkey.

On this year’s Thanksgiving Day, I thanked God for a lot of the good and bad things with which I’ve been blessed. I especially thanked God for the realizations that there is only one Pamela Geller; I cannot imagine life with two or three of her ilk.

An Internet blogger and Islam-hater, Ms. Geller has spewed her venomous poison by warning Americans not to eat turkey meat by the brand name, Butterball, simply because it is certified halal. Halal in some fashion is like Kosher: it is the acceptable form of slaughtering animals within the system of dietary constraints that observant Muslims must follow. In a column on The American Thinker, Ms. Geller is outraged that not only those halal meats are already prevalent throughout most of the meat industry, but also now, they have even infiltrated the popular frozen turkey producer Butterball. She went as far as calling for the boycott of the company’s turkey.

Ms. Geller is joined by other Islamophobes. Robert Spencer called this revelation “shocking” on his Jihad Watch blog – and she even set up the “Boycott Butterball Turkey” Facebook page, which so far has about 900 “likes.” Geller prods supporters to “keep calling and writing. All Halal should be labeled.” And anti-Islam, anti-bear activist Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association tweeted this warning on Tuesday: “Be advised: every single Butterball turkey sold in America this Thanksgiving has been sacrificed to Allah first.” In addition, there is the site Bare Naked Islam which provided this “WARNING” for its subscribers: “ALL ‘BUTTERBALL’ TURKEYS ARE HALAL-SLAUGHTER CERTIFIED. JUST IN TIME FOR THANKSGIVING. I have just learned that the turkeys so many Americans enjoy the holidays are certified Islamic-blessed, halal-slaughtered birds.”

Ms. Geller is getting away with her bestial attacks on Islam and Muslims. This latest manifestation would not have gone unpunished had she replaced the word halal with kosher, the term that describes a regime of laws governing the dietary requirements of observant Jews. She would be promptly labeled an anti-Semite (and possibly, a self-hating Jew) and would be forced to recant. But American Muslims have not achieved the political and financial maturity of American Jews to extract such a punishment. The fact that so few have ‘Liked” her Facebook appeal, demonstrates how her extremist views are removed from mainstream America.

The requirements for halal slaughtering are remarkably close to those found in a kosher regime. First, the animal must be in the halal category, i.e. an herbivore or the birds identified in the Koran. Second, the individual performing the slaughter must be an adult Muslim. Third, the name of God must be pronounced at the moment of slaughter. Finally, the throat must be cut in a manner that brings about complete and fast bleeding which would result in the most rapid death. The agreed-upon method for fulfilling this last condition is to cut three of the four main passages, i.e. jugulars, esophagus, trachea, and carotids.

Worldwide, halal meat production is dominated by non-Muslim countries such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, France, India, New Zealand, UK, and the USA. The non-Muslim world is effectively supplying the Muslim world with Halal meat, making this market a truly global concern.One noticeable trend is that many meat producers are deciding to do away with a dual slaughtering process. Producing non-halal meat is becoming increasingly perceived as irrelevant. The Muslims insist on halal, and the rest of the world seems happy enough (save a few) to eat it as well, so why bother with non-halal slaughter?Halal foods while similar to kosher foods are not identical. For one, Kosher permits alcohol and forbids shelled fish. Islam forbids alcohol and permits all sea creatures. Until recently, American Muslims have considered kosher foods to be a permitted food in the absence of Halal-certified foods. I, I like many Muslims, do consume kosher-labeled foods every day. Whether it is my cola drink, gum stick, or occasional pastrami, I see no sinister conspiracy to force Judaism down my throat.

Halal is fast becoming a new market identifier, a new market structure. As this trend increases and strengthens, we are likely to see the call for some form of standardization of procedures and certification methodologies. Where Geller may be correct is the issue of labeling products. But she is not the Ralph Nader type consumer advocate. And that’s where I part with her Islamophobic fear mongering. I as a concerned consumer demand and expect accurate labeling of foods I consume. In a sense, Butterball cannot claim it is selling halal foods because the turkeys are not labeled as such. If they were labeled halal-certified, the turkeys would have undergone a very strict set of requirement not only dealing with the slaughtering method. Islam requires that for any food to be permitted (halal), it must be freshly killed, not injured or sick and its feed contains no impure ingredients. The halal-certified meats and foods thus extract a higher premium because of these requirements.

Halal food is a growing industry not only in the US but also all over the world. Recent statistic put the volume at well over $14 billion in the US alone. With a population of close to 8 million, American Muslims are increasingly demanding clear mandates to protect their rights as consumers. Because as an observant Muslim, I am used to paying more for halal-certified foods. This fact has enticed many greedy merchants to mislabel their products as halal. When this practice is uncovered, the relevant consumer agencies are notified fines would be levied, and even licenses suspended. But enforcement is not uniform and some states it does not exist. New Jersey has led the nation in 2000 by enacting laws that govern the marketing of halal foods. No, the State is not agent of Islam and Establishment Clause is not compromised. Like kosher laws, the state was responding to consumer demands to that, like selling prescriptions drugs or beef, the seller clearly indicates all the relevant and law mandated details.

The silly outrage of halal turkeys is misplaced and in many ways dilutes the true spirit of Thanksgiving. If you have eaten a truly halal-certified turkey, be thankful: you have eaten a well-fed and humanely killed bird. The rampage is meritless and truly exposes the hate with which the heart of Pam Geller is stuffed.

Dr. Aref Assaf, president of American Arab Forum, a think tank specializing in Arab and Muslim affairs.

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