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Around daybreak on Friday, Abdulrazaaq Mursal carpooled with his friend Ghaleb Qassem to the Meat Halal Farm in Braham, Minnesota. Neither of the men works on this farm in the north metro: Abdulrazaaq and Ghaleb are managers at different Allina Health System facilities in the Twin Cities. But the friends took the day off to enact the ritual animal sacrifice that Muslims worldwide perform to feed the poor on this holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.
In the two decades since Abdulrazaaq left Somalia, he’s never made the drive to sacrifice a goat. But Ghaleb, a Palestinian, is no stranger to the local animal farms that provide the killing services. He’s sacrificed a lamb or two each Eid al-Adha for the last three years.
Abdulrazaaq and Ghaleb are among thousands of Minnesota Muslims who are celebrating Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the five-day pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The holiday commemorates the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (or Abraham in other faiths) to sacrifice his son, Ismael, at God’s command.
Throughout the three-day celebration, hundreds of Muslims travel for the ritual to animal farms across the state: places like Jeffries Chicken Farm in Inver Grove Heights, Geneva Meats in Geneva, and Blue Ribbon Quality Meats in Monticello.
‘I’m not a professional. So I might let the owner slaughter it’
The ritual process requires the faithful to follow a few meticulously crafted instructions, set down by the Prophet Muhammad. For instance, the only animals that can be sacrificed on the occasion are goats, sheep, cattle and camels. Even then, those animals must possess particular traits. Any sacrificial goat or sheep, for instance, should be at least a year old; the cattle must be two years and older; and camels, at least five years of age.
More than that, the animal should be in good health and free of defects. A lame goat, a blind cow, a mangy sheep or an already-dying camel would not be considered sacrificial. “When you sacrifice,” Ghaleb said, “you have to give the best to Allah.”
For many Muslim immigrants, the experience of making the sacrifice in Minnesota is a little different. In their native countries, for example, people would purchase the animals a couple of days earlier and nurture them at home until Eid morning.
When the day arrives back home, a household member or a hired butcher hangs the animal from a tree just outside the house. There, the slaughtering and skinning process occurs. Then, women in the family take over to eviscerate the carcass and cut the meat into smaller pieces.
Families ultimately divide the meat into three equal packages, to be shared among the family, the poor and the needy, as well as more distant relatives and friends. By afternoon, the meat will be cooked and served with rice.
In Minnesota, home to an estimated 150,000 Muslims, the observers of the festival can’t legally perform the ritual killing in their backyards. But on-farm slaughter facilities and animal farms in greater Minnesota have given them ample opportunity to perform their sacrifice. However, it may involve some driving to the destination and a little waiting around in the slaughterhouses.
“Allah blessed us that we can still perform the Eid sacrifice,” Ghaleb said. “We are capable to do so—to revive the biblical story of our prophet Ibrahim, may peace be upon him.”
Before this year, Abdulrazaaq only performed morning Eid prayers and celebrated with family and friends, without the killing ritual. But recently, Ghaleb, whom he’s known for three years, told him about a livestock farmer who is an Iraqi Muslim. Abdulrazaaq decided to go with Ghaleb to the Meat Halal Farm to sacrifice a goat.
Before the trip, he wasn’t sure he’d be ready to actually grab the knife and do the killing himself. “I’m not a professional,” he said. “So I might let the owner slaughter it.”
While the Prophet may be clear in his instructions, not everyone knows how to strike a deal with a Minnesota farmer. How does the process actually work?
Customers usually start by calling a farm operation before they make the trek. Do the owners have animals for the customer to butcher?
The callers generally don’t need to spend a lot of time explaining their intended plans. As people in the business of selling livestock, Minnesota farmers—Muslims or not—have already familiarized themselves with the ritual killing on Eid al-Adha. Without much fuss, they will give customers specific times to show up at the farm. And they’ll note the cost of the animal for the sacrifice.
Hassan Osman of Columbia Heights hasn’t made up his mind yet about how he’ll make the sacrifice this year. But, he said, he’ll probably kill a lamb on Saturday at Blue Ribbon Quality Meats, in Monticello, where he enacted the ritual last year.
When the customers arrive on the farm, Hassan said, staff lead them to a pen where they can pick the animal of their choice. At Blue Ribbon Quality Meats, the goats and sheep—the most popular animals on Eid al-Adha—occupy the same pen.
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At this point, the farmer transfers the animal to the slaughterhouse. If the customers have the guts to do the killing, Hassan said, they get the knife, sharp and ready. Otherwise, there are always people—mostly other Muslims waiting to make their own sacrifice—who will gamely take care of it for them.
The last time Hassan visited the farm, in May, he didn’t need any help to slaughter a 50-pound lamb, which he purchased for $295. He turned the neck of the lamb toward Mecca, the holy city in Saudi Arabia, murmured (in Arabic) “In the name of God. God is the greatest,” and slit the lamb’s throat with the knife.
That’s the process which, in Islam, makes the consumption of meat halal, or permissible. It’s not considered halal if the animals have been shot, electrocuted or stunned with a blow to the head before slaughter.
Shooting an animal and delivering a blow on its head causes blood to pool inside the carcass, Hassan said. “Slaughtering helps the blood to gush from the animal,” he explained. “It will make it cleaner—not a lot of blood remains inside.”
Under the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958, the United State Department of Agriculture recognizes two “humane” methods of slaughter. The first involves killing animals with electrocution, a gunshot and a blow to the head. The second method is religious ritual killing—halal and kosher practices—which are protected under the First Amendment.
The collaboration between Muslim customers and animal farms with slaughter facilities extends beyond the Eid holidays. Rashed Ferdous, co-owner of Zabiha Fresh Meat, has been supplying halal goat, lamb and beef meat to groceries and restaurants in Minnesota since 2012.
Zabiha Fresh Meat also sells halal meat to individual customers in the Twin Cities and in Rochester. “If you like goat meat, you probably ate goat that came from us,” Rashed said. “Every week, we deliver meat to local groceries and restaurants that want halal and fresh locally based stuff.”
However, tens of thousands of families depend on halal meat, according to “Halal + Kosher Minnesota Market Assessment,” a recent report from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. This means, the “demand for Minnesota-produced halal…meats currently exceeds supply,” the study says. Today, the majority of halal meat comes to the U.S. from Australia and New Zealand.
The prophet saw a vision to slaughter his son
The story of Ibrahim—like those of Isaac, Joseph and Moses—appears, with some variations, in the scriptures of the three major Abrahamic religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
In Islam, Ibrahim is revered as an important figure. One of his many legacies is erecting the original structure of the Kaaba, which Muslims consider the holiest mosque in Mecca. The story of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice Ismael cannot be told without a history of the Kaaba.
As the story goes, when Ibrahim was constructing the mosque—with some help from Ismael, a young boy at the time—he took a break. As he rested, the prophet saw al-ru’yah, a vision to slaughter his son. Both Ibrahim and Ismael accepted the fate and submitted to the command of God. When Ibrahim placed the knife on his son’s neck, as the story goes, God replaced it with a ram.
Ghaleb describes this as one of the most powerful moments in the Qur’an. “The vision is a true revelation that came to him from Allah,” he said.
In commemoration of this event, Prophet Muhammad sacrificed animals and encouraged his followers to do so if they had the means. Which is why many Muslims in Minnesota—and around the world—perform the ritual killing.
“Every single Muslim is recommended to do sacrifice,” Ghaleb said. “For every single drop of the blood that comes down and touches the earth, Allah will wipe your sin.”
As the early morning moved into day, Ghaleb and Abdulrazaaq walked out of the Meat Halal Farm, leaving behind the entrails, the head, and the skin of the sacrificial goat. But the meat would come with them on their way home, where the feast of sacrifice truly begins.
In a few hours, the lamb and goat meat would make its way onto kitchen counters, served hot in bowls and plates. Some cooked. Some grilled. Some roasted. But, almost certainly, all prepared with rice.