By Shaykh Omar Baig
While there are understandable differences of opinion regarding issues pertaining to salāh, zakāh, and ḥajj, never before have such differences come about regarding food. Nowadays, even the chicken we eat every day is an issue of contention!
During the time of the Messenger (may Allah Ta’ala bless him and give him peace), there was only one method the Muslims would use to slaughter. They would recite the name of Allah upon each animal before slaughter, and thereafter, slaughter it by hand. This was the standard way of slaughter amongst the Muslims for almost 1400 years. Recently however, a new way of slaughter was introduced that speeds up the process and saves money (chicken processed at 200 birds a minute using two workers costs far less than chicken processed at 100 birds a minute using five workers). This process is commonly known as ‘machine slaughtering.’ While the process is definitely more efficient and cost-effective, an important question remains: does it fulfill the criteria of ḥalāl or not? We will focus on the most pertinent condition to the discussion of machine slaughter, which is pronouncing the name of Allah before each slaughter. Thereafter, we will see whether or not machine slaughtered chicken fulfills this criteria.
Reciting the Name of Allah Before Slaughter (tasmiyya)
Reciting the name of Allah upon the animal before slaughter is a condition almost all the fuqahā (jurists) agree upon. While there are numerous authentic hadīth to support this, we suffice with one of the many verses of the Qur’an to avoid any room for doubt or dispute:
“And do not eat (meat) over which Allah’s name has not been pronounced. That would be sinful (fisq).” (Surah al-An‘am, verse 121)
The opinion of tasmiyya being necessary according to the vast majority of ulamā can be found in just about every book of tafsīr, fiqh, and commentaries of hadīth.
The Method of Machine Slaughter
There are a two common methods for the machine slaughter process. We’ll take a look at each of them and briefly analyze below:
A Muslim recites tasmiyya once at the beginning of the day before turning on the machine. He then turns on the machine, which continues to slaughter chickens (coming through a conveyer belt) for a couple of hours or for the rest of the day. The machine is eventually turned off, and the same process is repeated the next day.
The problem with this method: As you may be aware, the machine does not slaughter all the birds at once. Rather, the birds are slaughtered one after the other in succession. Thus, if a Muslim was to pronounce the name of Allah and switch on the machine, then the first bird that is slaughtered may be ḥalāl, but the rest would remain unlawful, for it is a condition that each animal individually has the name of Allah pronounced over it.
A Muslim turns on the machine, but instead of reciting one tasmiyya for the entire day, various people are assigned to stand near the conveyer belts and recite tasmiyya upon each chicken as they pass by before getting slaughtered by the rotating blade of the machine.
The problem with this method: It is a condition that the tasmiyya is pronounced by the one who is slaughtering the animal, not anybody else. In this scenario, the one standing next to the blade is neither the one slaughtering the animal, nor does he even actually have anything to do with it at all! He did not switch the machine on, neither did he turn the blade, nor did he even move the chicken towards the blade. He is merely like an individual who was passing by a slaughterer who was slaughtering his animal. If a random person passing by can say tasmiyya on behalf of the slaughterer, what if a non-Muslim passes by saying words of kufr? Would that make the animal ḥarām? What if two people pass by, one saying the name of Allah while the other says words of disbelief, which one would you go by?! Thus, it is unanimously agreed amongst majority of the ulamā that such tasmiyya cannot suffice.
What are we supposed to do when these issues arise?
After briefly reading the issues which occur in machine slaughtered chicken, it becomes quite easy to understand why many ulamā and ḥalāl certifying organizations are skeptical in classifying such chicken as ḥalāl. While we might come across certain ulamā and organizations who might deem machine slaughtered chicken ḥalāl, it is important to be respectful and remember it’s always better to err on the side of caution, as there is no dispute regarding hand slaughtered chicken, and it is also easily available. In times like this, it is vital to stick to the Prophetic guidance and the way of the salaf:
“Stay away from that which is doubtful and instead adopt those things which have no doubt.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī)