The ill-evolved humans religiously and ridiculously complicate their food.
-Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung
The news is that the BJP-led South Delhi Municipal Corporation is planning to make it mandatory for restaurants and meat shops in its jurisdiction to prominently display whether the meat they are serving is halal or jhatka. For good measure, the proposal states that consuming halal meat is “forbidden and against religion in Hinduism and Sikhism”. The standing committee of the civic body approved the proposal a few days ago. It will now go to the House, where the BJP has a majority.
Muslims have been consuming halal meat for 1,400 years. But Hindus and majority of Sikhs have made no bones about halal or haraam meat, though Sikhism categorically urges its followers not to have halal meat but to opt for jhatka meat. Before enumerating upon these religio-dietary distinctions and diktats, it's worthwhile to understand the difference between the two.
The followers of Islam strictly adhere to halal meat, which is actually a Semitic religious legacy from Judaism. Halal meat is called kosher in Hebrew, which now means 'transparent and honest ' in English. Here, I must mention that despite the ostensible differences in Judaism and Islam, there are 79 religious practices that are same in both the warring faiths. Halal and circumcision being the two most important Semitic religious legacies accepted and internalised by Islam. Both the practices came from Judaism which is the nodal head of all three Semitic faiths.
Muslims consume halal meat because they believe that meat prepared in this way is not just hygiene, it's also religious. That's why, when an animal is butchered for human consumption, Tasmiya or Shahda (Kalma) is recited: La Ilah Illilah Muhammad Rasoolillah. It's also known in general parlance as Dhai Chhuri. But in jhatka (common among Hindus and Sikhs), the head of the animal is severed in one go so that it doesn't feel the pain. Despite being a Semitic faith, Christians also follow jhatka which seems and sounds more 'humane', though till the eighth century, all denominations in Christianity also practised halal. Today, Christians eat halal, as well as jhatka meat, without any reservation whatsoever.
Now the question is, what creates a dietary division on the basis of halal and jhatka? Having studied Semitic religions, cultures and civilisations at the world's premier universities and also at Al-Azhar, Cairo, I once asked my professor of Islamic theology Dr Imam-ul-Unsif, about the significance of halal. He said that apart from being a (mere) religious practice and an early Semitic legacy, halal has no other significance. He also told me that the meat, whether halal or jhatka, tastes the same and has similar properties. In fact, jhatka is more humane in the sense that it doesn't cause excruciating pain to the animal.
An experiment was conducted by the University of Kent (England) in 2001. Twenty-four Christian students were served kosher (halal) and non-kosher (jhatka) meat items for a month because they're rather 'liberal' in this regard and were asked to comment whether they could discern any difference in the taste. No one could. They were also checked medically for a year to see whether kosher or non-kosher meat caused any health issue. Nothing happened.
In his seminal essay, 'Food and Faith,' Sir Paul Escott of London University is of the opinion that dietary idiosyncrasies and restrictions in almost all faiths have a religious streak to them. Humans create certain religious peculiarities and impose them on their food items. That leads to the acceptance and rejection of certain food. These religio-dietary restrictions and idiosyncrasies are central to all faiths. Since all faiths consider food to be sacrosanct, religious purification seems indispensable. All these practices have nothing to do with spiritual or divine awareness. In fact, these dietary predilections, laced with certain religious beliefs and dogmas, have a very mundane role to play.
Ritualistic, not spiritual
Humans are still quite duty-bound when it comes to religion. The problem with almost all believers is that they're ritualistically-inclined, but not spiritually driven. It's a classic case of missing the woods for the trees. If at all there's a god or some higher power up in the sky, surely, it would not be bothered by what a man eats or how he eats it.
Centuries ago, Fariduddin Attar wrote: Dee azmai gosht un neez, ya ifla halal choon haram (First of all, you're killing an animal for your palate, which's fundamentally wrong and then you spar over whether or not it's halal!).
Humans need to answer and address certain conscientious issues related to their food and palate. After that, we should think over redundant, hairline differences like what's better or religiously acceptable: halal or haraam or jhatka? All is good if our conscience is clean. So, first cleanse the conscience and consume. All food will appear kosher to you.
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.