The Divisive Taboo of Halal for Sikhs

Like many Sikhs, I grew up eating meat. It was something I never really questioned until I was in college and started learning more about the treatment of animals on factory farms and the environmental impact of the meat industry.

But growing up I never thought about where my spicy deep-fried chicken strips were coming from. Or the living (and dying) conditions of the cow that made up the thinly sliced pieces of meat in my Arbys roast beef sandwich. As long is it wasnt halal, it was all good.

I never understood what halal truly meant, but the message I got from my parents and others in the community went something like this: Halal is the way Muslims slaughter animals, and it involves killing the animal slowly and painfully. And lots of gushing blood. We Sikhs dont believe in torturing animals, so we dont eat halal meat. Sound like a familiar story line?

This, of course, contributed to my perception of Muslims as barbaric people who were dirty, had multiple wives and questionable morals, and killed my ancestors during partition. In the context of the messages I received from family and community growing up, the story about halal fit right in yet another way Muslims are backwards.

As is abundantly clear in my writing on this blog, this is in stark contrast to how I see Islam and the Muslim community at this point in my life. But I grew up with these messages and stereotypes just like most of my Sikh peers did.

Really, whats all the fuss about halal? Why arent Sikhs supposed to eat halal meat?

Section Six of the Sikh Rehat Maryada (Code of Conduct) states:

The undermentioned fourtransgressions (tabooed practices) must be avoided:

1. Dishonouring the hair;
2. Eating the meat of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way;
3. Cohabiting with a person other than one’s spouse;
4. Using tobacco.

The most common argument I usually hear to explain the halal ban is simply that the Rehat Maryada says so. No disrespect to the Rehat Maryada or the (attempted) consensus-based process through which it was created in the first half of the 20th Century, but this is not a sufficient reason in and of itself. If the lives our Gurus have taught me anything, it is to think critically, question everything Im told, and to always keep the love of Waheguru in my heart. So an argument based solely on citation of the Rehat Maryada (which our Gurus were not involved in writing) is not convincing to me.

Another common argument I hear is the aforementioned animal welfare argument: that slaughtering the Muslim way is unnecessarily painful for the animalits a slow death and a form of torture. With jathka meat, on the other hand, the animal is killed swiftly, experiencing minimal pain.

Scientific research reveals a more complicated reality, however. A 1978 German study found that halal slaughtering actually caused less pain to calves and sheep than slaughtering after the animals were stunned by a captive bolt (the industry standard). A more recent New Zealand study, on the other hand, found that stunning reduces the pain of the slaughter. However, according to a study cited by the Guardian last year, 90% of animals killed for halal food in 2004 were stunned first. As in mainstream food production, the animal’s throat is then cut. So this supposedly sinister method, it seems, is not that different after all.

Research studies aside, the intention of halal (and for Jews, kosher) slaughtering is to minimize pain and suffering to the animal. The Guardian states:

The definition of halal is anything that is legal or lawful for Muslims. In terms of meat, this can apply to what kind of animal is used (not pigs, for instance) and the way they are killed: an animal must be healthy, the butcher must make a recitation dedicating it to God, and the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe are cut with a single swipe from a sharp knife. As with kosher meat, the idea is that the animal dies immediately and the blood drains away. [my emphasis]

And in fact, if the animal is not killed immediately with a single swipe, it is not considered halal.

Thus, not eating halal because of our concern for animal welfare simply doesnt make sense. If this was our primary concern in our food choices as a community, then I would argue we should talk about a Sikh prohibition of all factory-farmed meats, eggs, and dairy products. Animals on factory farms (or the official term, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, CAFOs) live in grotesquely unnatural, overcrowded conditions, never seeing the sun or grazing in the grass. Pumped with growth hormones and antibiotics, these animals are treated simply as units of production rather than living beings. There is nothing respectful or humane about the treatment of animals on factory farms, so why are we so concerned about halal and not worried about the cows that become our Big Mac or produce the milk in our cha?

A final explanation of the Sikh ban on halal meat I have often heard is we should not partake in the ritual or sacrificial killing of an animal. Of course, we Sikhs are not proponents of ritual for the sake of ritual:

jaalo aisee reeth jith mai piaaraa veesarai ||
Burn away those rituals which lead you to forget the Beloved Lord.
naanak saaee bhalee pareeth jith saahib saethee path rehai ||2||
O Nanak, sublime is that love, which preserves my honor with my Lord Master. |

(Guru Granth Sahib, p. 590)

But talk to a devout Muslim or Jew about halal or kosher, and youll likely find that they think of their respective religions practice of killing an animal as a necessary means to show respect to the animal and to God, since the animal is a creation of God. Is saying a prayer and remembering God while ending the life of a living being for the purposes of eating a blind ritual? Even if we dont see it as a necessary step for our own religious practice as Sikhs, I would argue that it is not fundamentally contrary to the Sikh way of life.

Yes, I am raising questions and concerns about a guidelines set forth in the Rehat Maryada, and perhaps some readers will take issue with that. But over sixty years after our code of conduct was officially approved by the Panth, dont we owe it to ourselves as a community to continually look inward and ask questions about where we are and where we are going?

From my own observations about the Sikh prohibition of halal meat, it does little to protect the well-being and humane treatment of animals and even less to get us closer to Waheguru. Instead, the prohibition of halal meat spreads misinformation and perpetuates stereotypical and demeaning attitudes about Islam and the Muslim community. While I have heard some say the prohibition is not about halal specifically, but about any sacrificial meat, the Rehat Maryada explicitly singles out an animal slaughtered the Muslim way. Rarely do I hear any talk of kosher meat being taboo for Sikhs.

At the heart of Sikhi is Ik Onkar One Divine Light that shines in all human beings. Waheguru connects us all. Guru Gobind Singh was always clear that the Khalsas war was never against Muslim people or Islam, but it was against tyranny, which at the time was epitomized by Aurangzeb’s empire. Sadly, many in the contemporary Sikh community maybe even a majority have taken home a different message which they have taught to their kids, and their kids taught to their kids, and so on.

When do we stop this legacy and get back to the heart of Sikhi?

Sikhi is arguably one of the most inclusive philosophies of the major world religions. Yet it seems to me that prohibiting the eating of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way serves only to divide.

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140 Responses to “The Divisive Taboo of Halal for Sikhs”

  1. Sunny says:

    A lot of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge noticed in replies. Not trying to offend anyone and if one feels isolated or offended then I am extremely sorry. To have a full insight about the topic and to develop a better understanding we need to look the right meaning of words. For example, killing and slaughter/sacrifice are different things. Also Halal in terms of English turns A lot of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge and insight noticed in replies. Not trying to offense anyone and if one's feel isolated or offended then I am extremely sorry. To have a full insight about the topic and to develop a better understanding we need to look the right meaning of words. For example, killing and slaughter are two different things. Also Halal I terms of English turns out sacrifice because there's no other way to explain or say it in English. Not defending or offending anyone, but the true intentions are what we really should talk about. When Muslims slaughter an animal they recite in Arabic language in simple English which means, "a humble recite to thank God for what he has provided and saying that he (GOD) has created everyone including every creature (Inc animals), he is almighty and more knowledgeable than anyone". The sacrifice is not made to please God. Therefore, it is more to thank for his givings to human. Whereas it comes to bolt/stunning and animal and slaughter them or slaughter then according to sharia (one sling cutting sacrifice because there's no other way to explain or say it in English. Not defending or offending anyone, but the true intentions are what we really should talk about. When Muslims slaughter an animal they recite in Arabic language in simple English, "a humble recite to thank God for what he has provided and saying that he (GOD) has created everyone including every creature (Inc animals), he is almighty and more knowledgeable than anyone". The sacrifice is not made to please God. Therefore, it is more to thank for his givings to human. Whereas, when it comes to bolt/stunning with slaughter or slaghter according to sharia (islamic way) I would not provide any study but I would rather aid viewers thinking with a simple thought. This thought can explain for itself along all the studies which have been conducted in medical. Many medical studies back up this simple thought which is "if any living, such as animal, has their jugular vein and carotid artery cut in one sling and clean cut then blood transport stops towards brain which of course leads to our argument again that living wouldn't have any feeling of pain". Also, a rapid loss of blood will make living organism unconscious suddenly and any surgeon or doctor will verify this statement. What I am trying to convey here is that, in sharia, this is how exactly an animal should be slaughtered so living organism shouldn't feel much pain. On the other hand if, for example, I bolt a living organism in the head while they're perfectly conscious this can lead to few good minutes suffering and nerve wrecking shivers before they are unconscious. So now a wise person can have a slight clue and any literate hater would still deny this fact.

    Secondly, different people have different sense or interpretation and some can be erratically stubborn and neglected for all their lives. Thinking logically is healthy and questioning helps ones brain exercise. Also I would have something to say in the end for the author of this blog, maybe the verses you provided from Rehat Meryada were meaningful and had the meaning that eating any meat which is dedicated to single body (human/magic/tantric godess) isn't allowed and whoever interpret "wahegurus" wise words made an exception to Muslims only, this can be entirely because going back centuries think of the habitats Siks were living in. They didn't know of course any other religion exist apart from Muslims and Hinduism. Whoever, interpret these verses they related this to Muslims without knowing the intentions and true meaning of Halal. Also bitter history between these two nations is to blame for. Human didn't have many means of transportation and communjcation. Western world and other religions were ghostly mystery in old days. Meat dedicated to anyone is also abstained consumpting in Muslims and Jews aswell. You shouldn't neglect these wise words but make a useful interpretation out of it thinking all the possibilities.

    I would like to thank again in the end to express my views through this blog, and for allowing me to have the opportunities to enlighten this topic further.

  2. Abdullah says:

    This is a classic case of seeing the forest for the trees. How can you Sikhs justify debating the sacrificial ceremony of halal meat when your Gurus were out hunting animals to hone their martial skills?

  3. Enuff says:

    If one has read the Quran, or even the tawrat, one will know that hunting for sport is never allowed. A life is a life. When we take a life as allowed, we are taking it in the name of the one who grants us permission to do so. The incision to the neck is to drain as much blood as possible from the body and to minimize pain suffered by the animal. When we say bismillah, we are simply saying, in the name of God, the one who has granted me permission to take this life I take it within reason and means. Halal is to ensure that the animal is safe for consumption as well as, as little pain is felt by the animal.

    So yes, take the life in the name of God and we consume it by his grace. If you don't want to have halal meat, dont. Just don't be talking crap about others' beliefs. I'm 100% sure Guru Nanak didnt preach ignorant and wasteful time spent on such debates.

  4. Zack Martin says:

    So let me get you straight – you think that Sikhs should give up their dietary practices, but Muslims should keep theirs? How does that make any sense? How is that fair or righteous? A Sikh has just as much right to reject halal as a Muslim has to demand it; if the Sikh's dietary rule is a "divisive taboo", no more so than that halal itself is a "divisive taboo". Halal is a taboo (don't eat certain foods), and jhatka cannot be any more divisive than halal is.

  5. aTrueSikh says:

    Trying to validate what we were told??Try telling other communities Why Halal?and why not jhatka?A muslim wo't even enter a place where jhatka is sold…It is because of this rigidity of muslims that u don't find jhatka in most of the states…and having low will power not to consume meat will force u to fall prey to Halal.—————————————–please avoid Halal.Stop validating teachings of gurus.Lead a sikh way of life

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  7. Arv Singh says:

    Halal meat is the first step in the Islamization of free world. Read more on it on my blog:

    The author of this article has a pro-Muslim bias and supports Halal that has been prohibited to Sikhs and taboo in our traditions. The cruely suffered by the slaughtered animal in "Dabiha" is condemned by RSPCA (Royal Society for Protection against Animal Cruelty), PETA, and many other organization. Killing an animal in the name of God is a farce, it about desire to consume meat and celebrate it ritually. Not any different than our ancestors when they lived in caves.

  8. Puninder Singh says:

    Part – I


    Friends, I am as disheartened (especially as a Sikh) to see people commenting loosely on each other in this discussion forum. This behavior is not Sikhism, Guru Nanak preached his philosophy with love and humbleness, and these two are the most revered attributes of Guru Nanak’s house. But, are we showing these attributes to our fellow brethren?

    It is indeed a tragedy that we Sikhs do not openly discuss topics on meat eating, etc. when our younger generations are looking for answers. When a young Sikh comes asking a question we answer: “Guru says so”, neither have we told them about the great lives of our Gurus nor are we giving them logical answers. So how on earth are we expecting our youngsters to surrender to the word of Guru? Unless they get influenced by Guru’s attributes & deeds, they won’t understand the Guru, hence, it is extremely difficult for youngsters to believe in Guru completely. This is a hard truth and let’s face it together rather than bashing it wrongly. Gurbani is not Mantra Jaap or an empty recitation, it’s a complete value system for a Sikh to contemplate and we all know that contemplation means – read, understand and apply. So let’s make it happen and make our youngsters proud of our Gurus.

    Our youth is now facing the cross culturalization around the world and Sikhs are present in almost every country, hence cannot ignore. Youth is now, more than ever, prone to become an apostle if he/she does not get logical answers. All answers are available in Guru Granth Sahib, so, why we look outside?

    The best part is that there is absolutely nothing illogical in Sikhism; every teaching and Rehat has logic and purpose behind. So is the case with consumption of “Kuttha”, which is listed as a cardinal sin (Bajjar Kurehit) for a practicing Sikh in code of conduct – Rehat Maryada.
    So why is eating “Kuttha” such a serious issue for Sikhs?

  9. Puninder singh says:

    Part – II
    Let’s try to find the answer in the view of Gurbani:
    1.Everything has life. All are his creation. All have soul, so what’s the fuss about veg/non-veg:
    Guru Nanak says water is the source of life and it takes many shapes – wheat, cotton, sugarcane, plants, animals, etc. all has life. So those who think killing an animal is different than killing plants do not believe in Guru’s words. Guru Ji very clearly points – “Jetey daaney ann ke jean baaj na koey” (None of the food grain is without life). Isn’t that clear enough? Period.
    Please don’t argue whether you are a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian, because Maas Maas Kar Moorakh Jhagrey.

    2.Sacrifice & Halaal:
    Gurbani has condemned sacrifice of anything or any product. So an animal sacrifice is out of question, there are numerous shabads condemning the prevalent rituals of the time. But this Shabad clarifies what this forum is discussing:
    Bagat Kabir ji’s shabad says –
    (Page – 1350, SGGS)
    Bed Kateb Kaho Mat Jhoothey, Jhootha Jou Na Beecharey
    Jou Sabh Mein Ek Khudaae Kehat Hou, Tou Kyon Murgi Maarey.
    Don’t call the Vedas and the Koran false,
    False are those who do not contemplate the truth,
    You say that the One Lord is in all, so why do you kill chickens.

    If one reads full Shabad, Bhagat Ji is saying that: Oh Mullah, Instead of saying which holy book is false or not, you should contemplate on truth. Instead, you are just following a ritual of purifying (halal or zabah), whereas, it is not possible to do so. You seize a living creature, kill it and says “Bismillah”, and you think your saying will cleanse the soul of the animal or make it Halaal. In reality you have only killed clay (the body), and you will use clay only, because the soul will simply pass onto another form. So neither have you purified anything in real nor have you sacrificed anything. Instead your attitude shows your hypocrisy and your ritual is misled.

    Root – Oh Mullah, saying Bismillah (in the name of God) is a not going to purify the soul of the animal, hence you are taking credit for something, which is not happening. Soul goes on, only God can free a soul, you cannot. So what are you really sacrificing here?

    Note: Halal/Zabah is defined as an Islamic way of sacrifice, that’s the reason they say Bismillah. Numerous studies/articles available online, please Google if in doubt or want to understand the concept in detail. In light of Gurbani, the real and true sacrifice to be done by a human is of his five human vices (Ego, Anger, Greed, Lust and Attachment).

    Some Sikhs says that it simply means to kill or it means meat. Let’s find out what it denotes or refer to:
    ‘Kuttha’ word has been used 3 times in Guru Granth Sahib, and it has been used in context of killing to taking out blood profusely twice and once straightly referring to Halaal/Zabaah. Mahan Kosh, which is mostly referred as an authority rather than a dictionary for Gurbani, states the meaning of ‘Kuttha’ explicitly as – Halal/Zabah.

    Note: Various historical books on sikh history points out that during times of Gurus and in later Sikh history, use of ‘Kuttha’ word was prevalent among Sikhs for referring to slow slaughter and halaal. Whereas, India’s original slaughter way (recorded in early history) is Jhatka, which is one swift blow.

    Friends, I don’t think I really need to now state that why “Kuttha” is forbidden for Sikhs. Or if Halal is sacrificial meat or not. Gurbani has explained it and for a Sikh anything and everything has to be understood / viewed in light of Gurbani. So, please! Please! Please! Always look for answers in Guru Granth Sahib, not elsewhere.

    Hope the view above clears the topic, because, if not then you are probably not in agreement with Gurus and Kabir Ji. I am up for any questions or debates, but please don’t fight no one is as learned as Gurus.


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  11. Sadat Anwar says:

    Hi. I'm a Muslim who just happened to stumble across this site. What you choose to eat or not eat is your (religious) business, so I have no say in which side in this debate is right or wrong. But I would certainly like to thank Brooklynwala (and other like-minded Sikhs in the comments section) for the noble intention and attempt to counter anti-Muslim feelings and prejudice. I'm grateful to you!

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