Ritual slaughter in a nutshell
Summary based on the book Le Marché du Halal, entre références religieuses & contraintes industrielles, Mostafa Brahimi & Fethallah Otmani.
- In Islam the right to take the life of an animal is a derogation granted by God to men.
- Muslim ritual slaughter (dhakat) is strictly framed by religious Texts.
- Ritual slaughter is supposed to ensure both the spiritual and physical purification of the meat. Spiritual because the animal has been slaughtered in the name of God; physical because the slaughter practised drains the animal of most of its blood (considered as an impurity in Islam).
- According to the context, there are different methods for slaughtering animals.
- The type of slaughter practised on small to medium-sized domesticated animals (notably sheep, cattle, goats and chicken) is called the Dhabi
- In practical terms, dhabh consists of slitting vital parts of the animal’s throat.
- Dhabh is framed by obligations that must be unconditionally met and recommendations aiming at reducing the animal’s pain.
Obligations (according to a majority of ulamas)
- Before or when passing the knife over the animal’s neck, the slaughterer must utter the basmallah, i.e. he must say: “Bismi-Llâh, (In the name of God)”.
- If by oversight or ignorance, the slaughterer doesn’t utter the basmallah, his slaughter remains valid (a majority opinion but not a consensus).
- If however, the slaughterer doesn’t deliberately pronounce the basmallah, his slaughter is invalid.
- The instrument used to slaughter the animal must be sharp.
- The slaughterer must sever the animal’s two carotid arteries
- The carotid arteries adjoin several veins, so when the bleeding is performed, the veins and the arteries are often severed simultaneously.
- The slaughter remains valid if, out of necessity or by accident, only one carotid artery is cut, in addition to the windpipe and oesophagus (a majority opinion but not a consensus).
- It is advised to choose large knives, to sharpen thoroughly the blades and to slaughter the animal swiftly.
- For the record, during the bleeding it is only compulsory to cut the carotid arteries. But as the objective is to kill the animal as painlessly as possible, scholars recommend to sever four organs: the windpipe, the oesophagus and the two carotid arteries.
- When slicing the four organs, the slaughterer should ensure that he’s not, at the same time, severing the cervical vertebrae and the spinal cord.
- One should not kill an animal in front of other animals.
- One should wait until the complete death of the animal before handling it again.
- The slaughter must face the The animal, placed on its left flank on the ground, should also face the qibla.
Criteria that a Muslim slaughterer must meet
- The slaughterer can be a man or woman.
- He/she must be of sound mind.
- The slaughter performed by a Muslim transgressing some rules (such as not performing his/her daily prayers) remains valid (a majority opinion but not a consensus).
Slaughter performed by the People of the Book (Christians and Jews)
- The slaughter performed by a Jew or a Christian, man or woman, of sound mind, is permissible if the following conditions are met:
- If the animals are in the first place licit for consumption, and if they have been slaughtered accordingly to the Muslim rite in its practical dimension (in particular the animal must have been bled without any prior stunning).
- If the name of God has been uttered before or during the bleeding and, in the opposite case, if no other name has been mentioned instead of God’s name.
- The basmalah is therefore not compulsory for Jewish or Christian slaughterers (a majority opinion but not a consensus).
- If however the name of Jesus, or of a saint or any other name has been uttered instead of God’s name, then the slaughter is invalid (a majority opinion but not a consensus).
- People working in slaughterhouses in countries historically characterised by Judeo-Christian tradition cannot be assumed to be People of the Book, because it is most often impossible to ascertain their religious background.
- Meat deriving from animals that are lawful but for which we cannot ascertain by who and how they have been slaughtered, is therefore not permissible for consumption.
The different stages of dhabh
The letter R stands for recommendation and the letter O for obligation.
- Before slaughtering the animal, it is advisable to give it a drink (R), to not subject it to any violence or stress, and if it is stressed, to give it time to calm down.
- The slaughterer makes the animal lay down on its left flank (R), facing the qibla (Mecca) (R), and shackles its legs (R).
- The slaughterer utters the words: “Bismi-Llah(in the name of God)” (O).
- The slaughterer pulls the animal’s head back, so as to uncover its neck; he takes the sharp (R) knife with his right hand (R), and passes it quickly (R), and forcefully over the animal’s neck.
- The slaughterer must sever the windpipe, the oesophagus and the carotid arteries (O), cutting at the same time the jugular veins.
- If necessary, the slaughterer can pass the blade across the animal’s neck several times.
- When the slaughterer sees that the blood is forcibly gushing, which indicates that the two carotid arteries are cut (O), he must stop cutting (R), taking care to not decapitate the animal.
- Then the slaughterer must refrain from handling the animal until the latter is completely motionless (R).
 Page 55 to 75, Tawhid, AVS. To find the sources of the opinions quoted in this article, please refer to the chapter of the book mentioned above.