The guys working in the Oakland halal slaughterhouse were, like me, Muslim. We all had learned that Allah wants us to respect animals, treat them well and bless them before slaughter. We were also taught the essence of Islam is compassion.
For the Muslim workers there, the killing of animals for food is a natural part of life and God offers humans these animals, along with the rest of creation, as a gift to sustain us. I used to think that way too, but not anymore.
On Oct. 21 of last year, I, along with a group of some 200 animal rights activists, entered that slaughterhouse to silently and nonviolently protest the killing of animals and to rescue animals from certain death. I was among those who refused to leave that squalid place of suffering. Twenty-three of us were arrested.
At one time I might have seen that slaughterhouse as a normal and natural part of a devout life too. After all, I had witnessed my uncle actually performing ritual animal sacrifice without getting particularly upset. How many times had I gratefully broken my Ramadan fast with my friends and family by gorging on lamb, chicken and beef? How many times had I enjoyed the delicious taste of my mother’s cooking?
“Delicious” – that’s what my family says to me now. They beckon me to join them: “But it (meat) is so delicious – have some.” But I won’t; I can’t. I can’t believe Allah, who created animals as sentient and beautiful, intended them to suffer for just our taste. It’s not necessary to raise large numbers of animals for human use. Eating an animal to survive is one thing, but we don’t have food scarcity in the U.S. for the most part. To eat an animal in this day and age is “haram,” which means sinful in Arabic. How can causing unnecessary suffering be “halal” (sacred)?
As far as I could see, there was nothing even faintly holy about that small slaughterhouse. Chickens, quails, ducks and rabbits were crammed into filthy cages along with the dead bodies of other animals who had died under those conditions. The animals’ food and water bowls were empty. Sheep and goats were penned up in another part of the place as they awaited their deaths. The animals would have their throats partially cut so that they are supposedly unconscious but alive enough to pump the blood out of their bodies.
In the area where the chickens and other smaller animals were killed we saw a bucket of blood. We saw a trash can filled with coffee cups, bits of paper and the bodies of animals, as if they, too, were just garbage.
Part of Sharia law is that Muslims may eat the flesh of certain animals but we are not to consume their blood. How is that even possible? Forbidden animals include pigs, dogs – any animals that have wet noses or animals that roll around in the dirt. The people doing the actual killing must be Muslim and they must say a prayer before slaughtering any animal.
There are so many rules and regulations around the killing, cooking and eating of meat, it’s almost as if Allah doesn’t really want us to eat meat. And in the Quran you can find mention of sanctuaries for animals.
Although I have lived most of my life in the United States and am a citizen of this country, I was born in Vietnam. The Muslim culture that I grew up in was called Cham Islam. Cham people were not only Vietnamese but from other Asian countries like Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia. My grandfather, who was an imam and the kindest person I have ever known, taught me how to read Arabic. I have memorized about a third of the Quran. I know how to lead the prayers.
As a child I learned of the strict Islamic obligation of caring for the poor and caring for the vulnerable. I wonder who could possibly be more poor or more vulnerable than an animal who possesses nothing more than their life, trapped in a cage waiting for slaughter.
Becoming vegan was a major change in my life. After realizing that animals suffer and want to live just like we do, everything looked different to me. But one thing looked the same: compassion. Islam taught me that compassion is essential and it was that strong belief in compassion that brought me to veganism.
I don’t think the Muslim community is aware of what the animal food industry does to animals, to the environment and to the workers. I don’t feel any hatred or anger for people who work in these places. I just want to spread awareness. During our protest I said to one of the workers there, “As-salamu alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you.” I wanted him to know that there are people who are Muslim who care about this. I wanted to say, “Hey, this is how I grew up too.”
Halal meat is a big seller. People think, “It’s blessed so let’s eat it.” But there’s no such thing as sacred meat – it’s not what Allah wants from us.