A Reply to Nicole L’s Korban Petition
Nicole L is quickly becoming a household name as her petition to MUIS and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs,Yacoob Ibrahim, entitled ‘Stop the mass animal slaughter in Singapore during Korban’, gains traction on social media and elsewhere. The controversy has also fueled many knee jerk responses that range from belligerent name-calling online, to a blatantly tit-for-tat move in the penning of a petition entitled ‘Ban Hungry Ghost Festival’.
These responses are inherently problematic for several reasons; they can be outright insensitive and hurtful to others (and unislamic) and are counter-productive since they inadvertently endorse and legitimize Nicole’s account of how Korban is carried out in Singapore without any clarification. Let us not morph into Incredible Hulk keyboard warriors, and instead keep with the Prophetic spirit of mercy, tolerance and patience when we respond to Nicole’s petition and the likes.
The petition provided a sound theological account explaining that the Korban honors the willingness of Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of submission to God’s command. As the Quranic parable goes, God then intervened, through angel Jibra’il (Gabriel) and informs the Prophet that his sacrificed had already been accepted. In celebration of this incident, Muslims slaughter animals after which the meat is divided into three parts; the family retains one third of the share, a third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors and the remaining third to the poor and needy.
She went on to explain her grouses with the Korban and this can be broken down into three parts, which I will address below.
1. Who slaughters the animals.
‘But the act of slaughtering the… and letting donors (whom bought the sheep to donate to their respective Mosques) slit the throats of the sheep (who might be inexperienced and thus needed a few times to do it right) is cruelty in itself.’
Contrary to what Nicole posits here, the only individuals certified and taught by the AVA, Agri-food and Veterinary Authority Singapore, are allowed to partake in the slaughter of animals to ensure that the animals do not suffer at the hands of the inexperienced.
2. Who witnesses the slaughter.
‘stop mass slaughtering of animals, especially not in front of children… or open for public view’
On the contrary, Korban is not open for public view but is done behind cordoned of area, and only respective persons who have purchased an animal may witness the slaughter with his family. One can only assume that parents who choose to bring their children to witness the Korban, will explain its religious significance, from the Prophetic parable to values such as Charity as well as the fact that the methods employed during the slaughter are not inhumane, rather, is the only means of slaughter that prevents suffering on the part of the animal, which brings me to Nicole’s next point.
3. The slaughter.
‘But it is really cruel when animals were killed side by side, where they were held down by many humans and they could witness the death and sound of other animals being killed..
Nepal has the same festival whereby over 250k animals were killed in a single day, yet they have since ban it. Let us head towards a more compassionate future where mass animal sacrifice in Mosques can be abolished.’
Islam necessitates that Muslims consume only ‘Halal’ or permissible meat which mandates that the animal be killed by hand by a means known as Zabiha. The animal’s throat is slit with a surgically sharp knife, which immediately cuts its windpipe along with key blood vessels running through its throat. This method prevents animals from suffering indefinitely as they die almost immediately due to the drop of blood pressure in the head. Jews too practice an identical method of slaughter in which the Sochet, or the slaughterer, carries out the same technique, rendering the meat Kosher and permissible for Jews to consume. Muslims too are permitted to consume Kosher meat.
In a slaughterhouse catering to non-Halal meat, various methods are used to kill animals from electrical stunning, asphyxiation with poisonous gases, captive bolt pistols where an animal is shot multiple times in its head and through conventional firearm or exsanguinations where an animal has a stick inserted into its chest or throat and left to bleed till dead. These means are not permitted in Islam solely because animals do not experience instantaneous death and consequently suffer for a long time.
While many animals are electrically stunned before these methods are carried out, let us remember that this merely knocks animals unconscious but they are very much alive to the pain that they will then experience in some times very slow deaths and sometimes, because the animal is left paralyzed, they are left to die slowly when they are presumed dead upon slaughter.
Nicole’s comparison to Nepal’s Ghadimi festival is also very problematic, primarily because the buffalos in those festivals are decapitated with a blow to the back of the neck by devotees who receive no training in any means that may lessen the animal’s suffering.
Islamic law that details the method of slaughter also contains information on how an animal must be treated kindly in its lifetime, prohibiting cruelty to animals in death, as well as in life. Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him) described God’s punishment of a woman who was sent to Hell because she kept a cat locked up, neither feeding it or setting it free to feed itself (Saheeh, Al-bukhari). On another occasion, the Prophet saw an animal that had been branded on its face and said, ‘Has it not reached you that I have cursed the one who brands an animal’s face or hits it on its face?’ (Abu Dawud, Sahih Muslim).
That being said, I do hope fellow Muslims in Singapore do not hark at such petitions or make it an opportunity to hurt others. Rather, treat it as an opportunity for inclusive, open dialogue – something we all desperately and urgently need in an age of rampant misinformation.
An oft-recalled story goes that a Jewish woman in Mecca would throw garbage on the doorstep of the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) in defiance of his message, and one day she fell sick and could not throw the garbage, so the Prophet (peace be upon him) visited her. Then it is said that she was so amazed at his character that she realized his prophet-hood and accepted Islam.
I do hope we can embody these teachings as much as we can in our dealings with one another. Also, I pray that God grants us ease when being merciful to one another and loosens our tongues only to say what may be beneficial for everyone.
Editor’s Note: A young man named Mohksin B Mohd Rashid posted on Facebook his intention to invite Nicole L to Alkaff Mosque and due to the many shares it got, it finally reached her. They eventually met and after the meet, Mohksin posted Nicole’s message to him on his Facebook. You can read the post in full by clicking here. Alhamdulillah, despite the ugliness that arose, this event has a happy ending. In Nicole’s own words: “This is the first time I have seen the Muslims community opening up to talk about their culture and religion in great details (sic). It’s really eye-opening, so please do so more often. I sincerely think it can help to close the gap between different races/religions.”
Farah is a Teaching Assistant in NUS, who wants to spend her life simply, laughing heartily and loving deeply.