Understanding The Prophet's Life
From Issue: 518 [Read full issue]
The Prophet, peace be upon him, did not simply command us to respect the ritual and say the formula "Bismillah, Allahu Akbar!" ([I begin with] In the name of God, God is the greatest!) with which animals could be killed for food. He required animals to be treated in the best possible way and spared needless suffering. As a man had immobilized his beast and was sharpening his knife in front of it, the Prophet intervened to say: "Do you want to make it die twice? Why didn't you sharpen your knife [away from the animal's view] before immobilizing it?" Muhammad had asked everyone to do their best to master the range of skills: for a man whose task was to slaughter animals, this clearly consisted of respecting the lives of the animals, their food, their dignity as living beings, and sacrificing them only for his needs, while sparing them unnecessary suffering.
The formula accompanying the sacrifice was only to be understood as the ultimate formula that, in effect, attested that the animal had been treated in the light of Islamic teachings during its lifetime. This formula was certainly not sufficient to prove that those teachings were respected: an animal slaughtered correctly according to Islamic ritual but ill-treated during its lifetime therefore remained, in the light of the Islamic principles transmitted by the Messenger, an anomaly and a betrayal of the message. The Prophet had threatened: "He who kills a sparrow or any bigger animal without right will have to account for it to God on Judgment Day." The Prophet thus taught that the animal's right to be respected, to be spared suffering and given the food it needed, to be well treated, was not negotiable. It was part of human being's duties and was to be understood as one of the conditions of spiritual elevation.
Proposing breeding techniques on a small, medium, or large scale; developing new types of slaughterhouses allying respect and efficiency; issuing legal rulings (fatawa) that, in some areas, more clearly encourage monetary compensation rather than ritual sacrifice (which remains a recommended act - sunnah) are all initiatives that may help the Muslim world to reconcile itself with the higher objectives and meanings of its ethics rather than hiding behind insistence on norms and means that guarantee only false respect of the requirements of Islam's message.
Ritual slaughter is a simple, day-to-day example, which perfectly reveals the contradictions within contemporary spiritual teachings. It emblematizes the whole problem: obsession with form regardless of substance, confusing means and ends, adoption of reform that is not suitable for transformation, and overdetermining norms while neglecting meaning: it is the heart of all contradictions.
"Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation" - Tariq Ramadan, pp. 236 - 238