Jerome Taylor: The beliefs behind the halal and kosher rituals

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The Independent Online

To critics, halal and kosher slaughtering is a barbaric and overly violent way to end an animal's life. Yet both methods came from a desire to ease an animal's suffering, and to reflect spiritually on the taking of a life.

Christianity lays down no rules on slaughter, but Jews and Muslims eat ritually slaughtered meat precisely because they believe their methods are the least cruel way to kill an animal.

Strict laws govern shechita and dhabihah, the Jewish and Muslim methods. Although there are differences, both methods involve using razor-sharp blades to deliver a smooth cut through the neck which results in a massive haemorrhage and near-instant death.

Killing an unhealthy animal or using a blunt blade is strictly forbidden because it would be unkind. It is usually the insistence that an animal be "healthy" prior to death that stops orthodox believers from allowing an animal to be stunned, although many Muslim and some Jewish authorities do now allow stunning.

Dhabihah adds another layer of spirituality to the slaughter by insisting that the slaughterer says the words Bismillah, Allahu Akbar (In the name of God, God is the greatest) as the animal's throat is slit. This declaration recognises God's right over all things and also is also a way of asking permission to take a life.

Many Jews and Muslims believe that the mass-slaughter methods used in Western, mechanised abattoirs are far more barbaric, and they vehemently defend their right to ritual slaughter under British law.