Halal and Healthy: Entrepreuner Offers Option to Observant and Health-Conscious Muslims | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Halal and Healthy: Entrepreuner Offers Option to Observant and Health-Conscious Muslims

Muslims in the Chicago area are finding it tough to be both observant and health-conscious when it comes to meat. They need to find meat that is “halal,” which means it was slaughtered according to Islamic ritual, but they also want it to have been raised naturally. As a growing number of concerned Muslims try to find some options, one entrepreneur has stepped in to fill the void.

It is a wide, and untapped market for Qaid Hassan and his young business, Whole Earth Meats. Early one July morning, Hassan was leaving his southside apartment before dawn to head to a slaughterhouse. He needed to stock up his butcher shop, which sells naturally-raised halal meats online.

All the animals that Hassan kills come from local farmers that he knows personally. That's how he's certain the beef has been grass-fed, the chickens are cage-free, and the animals have not been given hormones. But it's his job to make sure the slaughter is according to Islamic law.

In a brick warehouse in Eureka, IL, Hassan's animals are waiting for him. He's planning to kill several lamb and goat. He's the first to use the kill floor this day.

HASSAN: You have to be the first on the kill floor before it gets too dirty and before any hogs are brought in. It kind of ensures that the knives and things like that are sanitized and halal.

Islam forbids the consumption of pork, so it's important to avoid any potential contamination of the meat that Hassan has come to kill.

First, he checks his knife to see if it needs sharpening. Hassan pulls out a 12-inch-long machete with a white plastic handle.

HASSAN: It's ideal for slaughtering a lamb, adult sheep, goat. Even a steer would be fine with this one. So you're able to pull right across the animal's throat.

Hassan's method of slaughter is different from the norm because he kills the animals while they're still fully conscious, as required by Islam. But he had to get a special exemption to do it that way. State and federal law normally require that animals be unconscious when they're killed.

The first animal Hassan slaughters is a black lamb. He lays it flat on its side, singing a prayer as he calms it.

HASSAN: I want to be just below the jaw here and to go right through.
 
He holds the animal down, knife in his right hand.

HASSAN: Pull it across just like that. So... Bismilla... Allahu akhbar.

With that prayer, Hassan makes one even pull of the knife across the lamb's throat.

A few feet away half a dozen workers at the slaughterhouse skin the animals. Then they're hung from the ceiling and rolled into a giant cooler adjoining this room.

Hassan is essentially a one-man operation. He kills the meat himself, drops it off to processing plants to get it cut and cured, then delivers it to the doors of people who've ordered through his website.

Hassan believes Muslims have been too focused on how the animals are killed. He wants to remind them that how the animals lived is just as important in Islam. He uses a word called "tayyib," which means "wholesome."

HASSAN: Tayyib is really what Muslims should be eating. You're putting something inside of you that benefits your soul and your body. Tayyib also means that we might have to pay a little bit more for our food.

The price differential is significant. One pound of beef sirloin roast and two pounds of ground chicken from Hassan will put you out $34.75. That's compared to roughly $10 for the same order at an average halal meat market on Devon Avenue.

The expense is why most halal butchers don't carry many naturally-raised meats. Faris Shadid and his family own a butcher shop in north suburban Niles.

SHADID: I know grass-fed is a healthier beef and the natural way that a cow's supposed to live and that whole deal. But as far as being able to just walk in and find some, instead of having to buy thousands of pounds of it, it's just a little tough for me right now.

Shadid says that once the demand for naturally-raised halal meats is higher, he will be able to justify keeping more in stock. But he says it will take some time before demand reaches that point.

That presents a sort of catch-22 for consumers like Yvonne Maffei. Maffei buys her meats from Shadid about three times a week. She says ordering that frequently from Hassan would be too expensive. Also, she'd rather see it first in her local butcher shop.

MAFFEI: If it was a large-scale effort where these companies could source out to our local meat stores, then the shipping would be more energy-saving. It would be more cost-effective.

Hassan says he knows his prices, and the idea of ordering through a website, might deter people. But he's already won around 40 regular customers; more than he expected only eight months into his operation. Eventually, he wants to open a bricks-and-mortar butcher shop. But first, he says there's a lot of education and outreach to do, to remind Muslims that "halal" should not only focus on how the animal died, but on how it lived.

Music Button:  Brad Mehldau, "Capriccio", Highway Rider, (Nonesuch)

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