The mechanical slaughter process raises many major concerns from the point of view of Islamic law. One of these concerns is with regards to the recitation of the name of Allah on the slaughtered chickens. Three of the four major schools of thought require that the name of Allah is recited at the time of slaughter. In the poultry slaughterhouses in America which implement a ‘halal’ mechanical slaughter, there are three ways in which there is an attempt to fulfill the requirement of the recitation of the name of Allah. Sometimes there is a Muslim who says the name of Allah once while turning on the machine in the morning. Alternatively, a Muslim not associated with the machine in any way stands and recites the name of Allah for each chicken. There are other methods such as a tape recorder or a ‘blessed blade.’
In reality, it is difficult to say that the requirement of reciting the name of Allah on each chicken is met through the above-mentioned procedures. Mufti Taqi Usmani has discussed this issue at length in his book, Legal Rulings on slaughtered animals and examined each case separately. We will quote this entire discussion for the benefit of the Muslim community below:
“There are many complications with regards to reciting the name of Allâh while using the automated method. The first complication is in specifying who is the slaughterer because only the slaughterer is responsible for reciting the name of Allâh. It is not valid for one person to slaughter and for another to recite the name of Allâh for him. Therefore, the question to ask is that who is the slaughterer in this automated method? We could say that the slaughterer is the person who started the machine because he controls the movement of the machine. The machine itself does not have the level of intelligence which would allow us to attribute the act of slaughtering to it.
We could attribute the slaughter to the person running the machine and consider him to be the slaughterer whilst using the machine as a tool. However, the problem with this is that the person who starts the machine only starts it once, for example in the morning. Thereafter, the machine runs continuously during the work day and sometimes for 24 hours, cutting the necks of thousands of chickens. If the person who starts the machine recites the name of Allâh once in the beginning of the day, will this one recitation suffice for the thousands of chickens slaughtered by this machine during the day? The outward meaning of the verse of the Qurân, “And do not eat of that upon which the name of Allâh has not been mentioned” proves that the name of Allâh must be recited separately for each animal and that it should be slaughtered immediately thereafter. Based on this principle, the scholars of Fiqh have derived the following laws:“One of the conditions for the slaughter under normal circumstances is that one must specify the animal for which he is reciting the name of Allâh. From this principle, we can derive the ruling for when a person slaughters one animal whilst reciting the name of Allâh and then slaughters another animal while assuming that the first recitation of the name of Allâh will suffice for both animals. This second animal will be unlawful in this case. Therefore, it is necessary that the name of Allâh be recited separately for each animal.”
“If a person places a sheep on the ground to slaughter it, takes a knife, recites the name of Allâh, leaves this sheep, and slaughters another sheep in its place while intentionally leaving out the name of Allâh, then this animal will be unlawful to consume. This is mentioned in Khulâsatul Fatâwâ (written by Tâhir Bukhâri) . . .
If a person lays a sheep on the ground for slaughter, recites the name of Allâh upon it, then speaks to a person, drinks water, or sharpens his knife, or eats a morsel of food, or does another similar action which is not considered to be an extended action, then this recitation of the name of Allâh will suffice for that animal. However, it will be Makruh (disliked) to consume that animal if he talks for a long time and the action becomes extended. No exact time has been stipulated for an action to be considered extended, rather we will look at the normal trend. An action will be considered to be extended if people normally consider it to be extended. Similarly, the time period of an action will be considered to be short if people consider it so.”
Ibn Qudâmah says, “The recitation of the name of Allâh is valid [if recited] at the time of slaughter or close to it, as is the case in Wudhû (ablution for prayer). It is not permissible to recite the name of Allâh on one sheep, take another sheep, and slaughter it while relying on the first recitation of the name of Allâh. This ruling will apply, irrespective of whether the slaughterer releases the first sheep or slaughters it because he did not make the intention of slaughtering the second sheep when he recited the name of Allâh the first time.
It is also unlawful for a person to recite the name of Allâh upon seeing a herd of sheep, then take a sheep, and slaughter it without repeating the name of Allâh. A person who is unaware of the need to repeat the name of Allâh will not be in the same ruling as a person who forgets to recite the name of Allâh because a person who forgets is not held accountable for reciting the name of Allâh while a person who is unaware of the need to recite the name of Allâh is held accountable. This same principle applies to fasting; the fast of a person who eats forgetfully does not break, while the fast of a person who is unaware that his fast will break by eating does break. If a person lays down a sheep for slaughter, recites the name of Allâh, puts his knife down and takes another one, or returns the Salâm (greeting of a Muslim), or speaks to a person, or asks for water, or does something similar, then the slaughter will be valid because he had recited the name of Allâh on a specific sheep and there was only a short interval between the recitation of the name of Allâh and the slaughter. Thus, we will consider this interval as if it did not take place.”
Al-Mawwâq Al-Mâliki says, “Imam Mâlik holds the view that it is necessary for a person to recite the name of Allâh while shooting his weapon, releasing his hunting-animal, and slaughtering because of the verse, “And mention the name of Allâh upon it.”
These passages from the books of Fiqh clearly show that the majority of scholars who require that the name of Allâh be recited at the time of slaughter also require that the name of Allâh must be recited on a specific animal and at the time of slaughter. They also make it a condition that a significant interval of time not pass between the recitation of the name of Allâh and the slaughter.
These conditions are not found in the automated process mentioned above. If the person who starts the machine recites the name of Allâh, then he is not reciting the name of Allâh on a specific animal, and a significant period of time will elapse between his recitation of the name of Allâh and the slaughtering of thousands of chickens throughout the work day, 24 hours, or longer. Apparently, this recitation of the name of Allâh will not suffice for the slaughter of all these chickens. This is similar to the situation mentioned by Ibn Qudâmah above in which he says that it is unlawful for a person to recite the name of Allâh upon seeing a herd of sheep, then take a sheep, and slaughter it without repeating the name of Allâh.
It is possible for someone to raise an objection to this view based on the following statement, “It will be sufficient to recite the name of Allâh only once when a person lays down two sheep, one on top of the other and slaughters both in one motion. However, if he places two sparrows in his hand, recites the name of Allâh, and slaughters them in succession, then the second sparrow will be unlawful to consume. Reciting the name of Allâh once will suffice if he slaughters both in one stroke.”
There is a possibility that someone might say that the ruling for reciting the name of Allâh using an automated machine is similar to the above-mentioned ruling where a person lays down two sheep together or gathers two sparrows in his hand in that reciting the name of Allâh once will suffice. However, in reality, the two situations mentioned above cannot be applied to the automated slaughter because the two sheep and two sparrows mentioned above are slaughtered simultaneously without a significant interval of time elapsing between the slaughter and recitation of the name of Allâh. For this reason, the author of this passage clearly states in this ruling that the second sparrow will be unlawful to consume if a person takes two sparrows in his hand, recites the name of Allâh, slaughters the first, and thereafter slaughters the second one. This is because of the fact that the second sparrow was not slaughtered simultaneously with the first. We cannot say that all the chickens slaughtered by automated machine in the period of one or two days are slaughtered at once because they are in reality slaughtered separately, one after the other. Thus, there is a clear difference between the two situations.
This proves that it is not sufficient for the person starting the machine to recite the name of Allâh once for all the animals slaughtered by the machine. If a person is stationed by the rotating blade to recite the name of Allâh every time the throat of a chicken is cut (I witnessed this in a slaughterhouse in Canada), then there are the following difficulties in considering the recitation of the name of Allâh to be valid in Islâmic law:
1. The name of Allâh should be recited by the slaughterer himself, whereas the person standing by the machine does not participate in the slaughter in any way; he has neither started the machine, moved the rotating blade, or placed the chicken in front of the rotating blade. He is completely detached from the slaughter. Therefore, his recitation of the name of Allâh cannot be considered as being the recitation of the slaughterer.
2. Many chickens pass through the rotating blade in the span of a few seconds. Therefore, it is not possible for the person standing to recite the name of Allâh separately for each one.
3. The person standing is a human being and not an automatic machine, meaning that it is not possible for him to continuously recite the name of Allâh without doing anything else. He will sometimes have to attend to his needs and thus will be distracted from reciting the name of Allâh. In this period of time, many chickens will pass through the rotating blade and be slaughtered without having the name of Allâh recited upon them. I personally saw in the slaughterhouse in Canada that this person would be away from his place near the machine for intervals which would sometimes extend for half an hour or more.
The rotating blade should be removed and replaced with four Muslims who take turns in cutting the throats of the chicken while reciting the name of Allâh as the chickens are brought by the hooks. I proposed this idea to a large slaughterhouse in Reunion and they implemented my proposal. Experience has shown that implementing this method does not affect the number of chickens slaughtered in the least bit because the four slaughterers take the same amount of time to cut the necks of the chicken as the rotating blade.
Also, this machine is not entirely independent of human labor. We have seen that the managers of slaughterhouses are often forced to appoint workers to stand in sections of the machine where the hooks pass through and remove the intestines from the stomachs of the chickens either by hand or by using tools. I do not know of any slaughterhouse which is completely independent of such human labor. If they can appoint people for this type of work, then they can definitely appoint four people to slaughter. By doing so, the slaughter can take place according to Islâmic law at the hands of Muslim slaughterers who recite the name of Allâh while slaughtering, and the remaining processes can be done automatically by the machine. Besides Reunion, I also saw the same method being implemented in a much larger slaughterhouse in Durban, South Africa. Thousands of chickens are slaughtered there daily. They accepted this request from the Muslims and are implementing it without any difficulty.
In the same way, I also spoke to the owners of a slaughterhouse which I visited in Canada and I requested them to do the same (to modify their method of slaughter). They expressed their willingness to implement this method if the Muslims requested it. However, it is a great disappointment that the Muslim group which sanctions their chickens as being lawful did not accept this proposal.
As long as this replacement is practical to implement, there is no pressing need to use the rotating blade. Allâh knows best.”