Ritual slaughter besets Belgium ahead of Eid al-Adha holiday

2015-09-22 20:01

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Brussels - As sheep around the world are prepared this week for ritual slaughter on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, the celebration has unleashed a heated debate in Belgium over stunning the animals before they are bled out.

Some 600 people took to the streets of the capital Brussels on Saturday under the slogan "Don't touch my sheep," for a rally defending ritual slaughter. A day later, the animal rights group GAIA nevertheless asked the justice system to block temporary slaughter sites.

Bianca Debaets, the Brussels state secretary responsible for animal welfare, warned against the "chaos" created by the GAIA complaint, while Muslim organizations have tried to underline the importance of the yearly Feast of Sacrifice.

"Eid is an important moment of conviviality for Muslims, who only have this religious holiday and Ramadan," Mustapha Chairi of the anti-Islamophobia organization CCIB was quoted as saying by the Belga news agency.

"Eid al-Adha is a moment of sharing and being open to others, whatever their religion or philosophy," the Executive of Muslims in Belgium (EMB) says in a statement on its website, inviting all Muslims to "work for peace, dialogue and solidarity."

Eid al-Adha, which falls on September 24 this year, is celebrated with the slaughter of sheep - or in some cases goats, camels and cows - to remind Muslims of the Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail to Allah as an act of obedience and submission.

A third of the meat should go to one's immediate family, a third to the poor and the last third to members of the larger family.

In the European Union, the practice is limited by rules that require animals to be stunned before slaughter so as to minimize their pain and suffering, for instance through exposure to an electrical current.

But many believe stunning to be contrary to Muslim theology.

Three temporary sites

The EU rules include an exception for "religious rites," but waive the stunning requirement only if "the slaughter takes place in a slaughterhouse."

That clause is at the heart of the debate in Belgium, where six per cent of the population is Muslim, according to the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

The requirement led the French-speaking region of Wallonia and the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders to prohibit non-stun slaughter at temporary sites, limiting the Eid al-Adha ritual to slaughterhouses.

But Brussels has allowed three temporary sites to continue operating this year, arguing that the capital's only certified slaughterhouse cannot handle all of the demand and that the risk of clandestine - and painful - slaughtering would otherwise increase.

Stunning will not be required since a religious rite is involved, Brussels authorities have said. They have pointed to a tolerance for "mobile slaughterhouses" in the EU rules to back up their argument.

"In Brussels, we have favoured dialogue and training, as well as temporary measures, so that we can reach in the coming years a consensus on a reinforcement of animal well-being and an authentic practice of one's own religion," Debaets said in a statement.

Last year, 1,144 sheep and goats were slaughtered at the Brussels slaughterhouse on Eid al-Adha, while another 1,566 animals were slaughtered at three temporary sites, according to Belga.

But GAIA argues that the non-stun slaughter carried out at the temporary sites is illegal. It filed a complaint with Brussels prosecutors at the weekend, asking them to block the practice.

Animal well-being

The organization argues that temporary sites cannot fulfill the hygiene and public-health requirements met by slaughterhouses, basing itself on a ruling in June that upheld Flanders' temporary-site ban.

"Animals are the victims of these lax policies. It's unacceptable," GAIA President Michel Vandenbosch said in a statement. "Our campaigns are not aimed against religious traditions, but the animal suffering that ensues."

Chairi, however, argued that studies on the pain associated with animal slaughter have been contradictory and noted that the question of animal well-being should be taken up more broadly.

"The consumer society treats animals in a revolting way," he told Belga.

Given the enduring strife, the theologians at the EMB said that those who cannot find space in a slaughterhouse will be excused from the Eid al-Adha ritual this year and will not face any "embarrassment or blame." But the move also came with a plea to Belgian authorities.

"We dare to hope that the people in charge of our country, responsible for justice and the respect of freedoms, can provide a lasting solution to this chronic difficulty," they said.

Read more on:    eu  |  belgium  |  religion

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