The crisp morning air smelled of blood and livestock as a group of Muslims arrived at a Pitt Meadows slaughterhouse to perform a ritual sacrifice on Eid ul-Adha, a key Islamic holiday.
“The first drop of blood spilled will absolve you of your sins,” said Sheikh Qaidjoher Mufaddal Diwan, one of the group members.
He had come prepared to slaughter a goat with his own hands, a practise allowed by the law and in accordance with the beliefs of the Bohra Muslim community
Judaic and Islamic ritual sacrifice are exempt from Canadian regulations that say a food animal should be stunned before slaughter to avoid undue suffering.
But the law provides some leeway to each federally-approved abattoir to decide how to implement the law, based on the policy of preventing unnecessary distress to the animal.
The Meadow Valley Meats slaughterhouse enforces a policy that the animal must be either stunned, or restrained or both, if a non-professional slaughterer is making the kill, putting it at odds with the Bohra
Listen: Slaughterhouse staff on stunning policy
[audio:https://thethunderbird.ca/files/2010/12/sacrifice-audio.mp3|titles= Slaughterhouse staff disagree on stunning policy ]
Slaughterhouse officials told the Bohras that the animal must be stunned if they wanted to carry out the sacrifice themselves. They could alternatively let a professional carry out the ritual if they wanted the goat to be conscious at the time of slaughter.
Muslims prefer that the animal is conscious at the time of sacrifice for a number of reasons, and the Bohra emphasize the sanctity of doing it with their own hands.
As a compromise, a slaughterhouse professional guided the hand of the Bohra as he carried out his sacrifice. Together they cut the goat’s neck in an act that satisfied statute, stomach and soul.
“The idea is to do it as humanely as possible, that’s why we use one quick stroke to the jugular vein and it’s over,” said Ahmed Medina, whose hand was guided by a professional as he sacrificed a goat.
Meadow Valley Meats is the only meat company in B.C. that practices Islamic slaughter as per the community’s halal directives. Their abattoir receives orders from vendors across the province.
A majority of Muslims in Vancouver simply pay a halal meat shop money to have someone else slaughter the goat on their behalf.
Ibrahim Kandawala is one such vendor. He accepts and relays orders for goat sacrifice at Zabiha Foods, a halal meat-shop, in Surrey. His business increased by 10 to 15 per cent this year.
The increasing business reflects a growing Muslim population over the past 30 years.
The number of Muslims in B.C. has risen from 10,000 in 1980 to more than 75,000, according to the BC Muslim Association.
Statistics Canada expects the Muslim population of B.C. to double by 2017
The growing Muslim population and subsequent lack of facilities has posed hardships for some.
Two years ago, Murtaza Ali, a Bohra Muslim, had to forgo his sacrifice because there was not enough time to carry out all the sacrifices as well as the regular abattoir business.
“It was not at all convenient, the whole matter was out of my hands. I had to put it off,” said Ali.
Need for compromise
Representatives of the Muslim community say it is time for businesses to take account of the changing nature of B.C.’s population.
“The slaughterhouse is too far, and they are unable to accommodate so many customers,” Diwan wrote in an email. “We have to do the zabihat [sacrifice] before zaval, [midday] which becomes very difficult.”
The sheikh said that Muslims do not follow all their practices here in B.C. because there is not enough time, there are not enough provisions, and the slaughterhouses have their own rules.
For example, he said he was uncomfortable cutting the goat in the metal restraining brace provided by the abattoir.
“The head was just hanging down like that,” said Diwan.
There are Islamic guidelines to minimize discomfort to the animal, he added. The animal should be laid on a bed of mud on the right-hand side of the slaughterer, he said.
Diwan suggested that the federal government fund research on Islamic law-based animal slaughtering to improve facilities for Muslims and Canadians alike.
He said his community’s motives are in line with the federal policy for safety and hygiene.
“We can come up with a practice where nobody needs to compromise,” said Diwan.