Is meat (bovine and sheep) stunned before slaughter halal?
There is a growing demand for the supply of halal meat in the UK. This has led to an unprecedented situation requiring the slaughter of a vast number of animals in a manner that maintains animal welfare whilst also being compliant with sharia and legal regulations.
To ensure that an animal’s welfare is taken care of, many slaughterhouses opt for pre-slaughter stunning, which renders an animal to be immediately unconscious and therefore insensible to pain and distress until death ensues. The law of many western countries, including the UK, requires all animals to be stunned before slaughter, but non-stun slaughter is permitted for certain religious communities including Muslims and Jews.
However, in recent years many animal rights organisations have been campaigning to end the practice of non-stun slaughter in the UK based on scientific evidence that stunning allows the animal to be killed in the most humane way possible. Several countries in Europe, including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland, have already prohibited slaughter without stunning.
Although much of the halal meat available in the UK has been pre-stunned, the compatibility of pre-stunning with sharia requirements for halal meat has been a point of controversy for Muslims. Unfortunately, some of the concerns regarding stunned meat arise from a misunderstanding of the process. One of the greatest concerns is that it causes an animal to experience pain and suffering. However, there is ample of scientific evidence showing that effective stunning causes immediate unconsciousness meaning that an animal cannot experience any pain or distress. Similarly, there is a misconception that electrical methods of stunning cause death of animal prior to slaughter. This again is not entirely true, as it is possible to control the electric output of stunning to ensure that cardiorespiratory death does not occur prior to slaughtering.
It is important to clarify that the suitability of commonly used methods of stunning depends on species, availability of facilities, consumer demands and economic consideration. The methods currently used for bovine and sheep include:
1) Electric Stunning – Primarily used for sheep/lamb and not suitable for larger animals. It consists of two types:
- Head only electrical stunning: Electrical currents are applied on the head of the animal resulting in a loss of consciousness. Controlling the current threshold ensures the animal is still alive and reversibly unconscious before slaughter.
- Head-to-back (cardiac arrest) electrical stunning: This involves electric currents to the head and the chest causing both irreversible unconsciousness and cardiac arrest. Any possible recovery is prevented as stopping cardiac output kills the animal in approximately 19 seconds.
2) Captive Bolt Stunning – Primarily used in cattle. Captive bolt guns fire blank cartridges which propels the bolt from the barrel to impact with the skull and render the animal immediately unconscious. These guns are different from rifles or pistoles. Captive bolt stunning consists of two types:
- Penetrative captive bolt: Designed to cause concussion by transmitting the energy from the missile (bolt) into the cranium and brain.
- Non-penetrative captive bolt: Does not penetrate the brain but does produce a degree of superficial damage to the brain from force of impact. The depth and duration of unconsciousness is less when using non-penetrating captive bolt devices.
The question that arises is whether it is permissible to eat the meat of an animal that has been stunned prior to slaughter?
Since the issue of stunning prior to slaughter is a new phenomenon, it is not directly mentioned or dealt with in the primary sources of Islam (the Quran and sunna). Nevertheless, the Quran prohibits the consumption of any animal that has died (mayta) prior to ritual slaughter (dhabh).
“Forbidden to you are dead meat (mayta), blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah; that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been eaten by a wild animal; unless you are able to slaughter it…” 
It is clear from this verse that any method of stunning that does not cause the physical death of animal is deemed as being permitted by the sharia. The loss of consciousness caused by stunning, whether it is reversible or not, does not render an animal as ‘mayta’ or ‘dead’. Rather, in compliance with the sharia, an animal is only considered as ‘dead’ when its heartbeat and breathing terminates due to loss of blood that is caused by severing its carotid arteries and jugular veins.
Since the consumption of blood is forbidden by the sharia, some may raise concern regarding whether there is a possible reduction in blood loss following stunning compared with non-stunned slaughtered meat. The primary sources of Islam do not mention the volume of blood that should flow as a criterion; rather, the condition is flowing blood without coagulation. This can be established by the fact that primary sources of Islam refer to a variety of different Sharia-compliant methods in which animals can be killed or slaughtered. The amount of blood-loss in each method would naturally differ. Furthermore, controlled experiments comparing neck cutting with or without stunning has found no difference in bleed out rate and total blood loss in sheep and in cattle. It is also known through scientific observation that it is impossible to expel all the blood from an animal, regardless of stunning or not, since some blood is retained in small blood vessels and muscles.
Finally, the welfare of animals is of paramount importance in Islam and there are numerous reports (hadith) from the Prophet Muhammad that command Muslims to be conscious of the safety and rights of animals, even at the time of slaughter. One such narration states, “God Almighty has ordained kindness in everything. And when you slaughter, do it in the best manner by first sharpening the knife and putting the animal at ease.” It is also reported that once the Prophet saw a man who was sharpening his knife after laying down a sheep to be slaughtered. The Prophet rebuked him saying; “Do you intend to make it die two deaths? Why did you not sharpen your knife before laying it down?” Thus, it is necessary to show sympathy towards animals even at the time of slaughter by adopting the method that is most humane.
As such, pre-slaughter stunning is in consonance with the message of the Prophetic narrations as it renders the animal insensible to pain and distress; in addition, it is compliant with the Sharia requirements for slaughter.
 Anil, M. H. (2012) “Effects of slaughter method on carcass and meat characteristics in the meat of cattle and sheep” available at: http://www.eblex.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/slaughter_and_meat_quality_feb_2012-final-report.pdf
 Welfare of animals at the time of Killing 2012/13/14/14 (UK) Protection of animals at the time of killing EC1099/2009 (EU)
 RSPCA, Religious slaughter available at: https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/farm/slaughter/religiousslaughter British Veterinary Association, Joint call to end non-stun slaughter available at: https://www.bva.co.uk/news-and-blog/news-article/joint-call-to-end-non-stun-slaughter/
 Nakyinsige, K., Che Man, Y.B., Aghwan, Z.A., Zulkifli, I., Goh, Y.M., Abu Bakar, F., et al. (2013). “Review: Stunning and animal welfare from Islamic and scientific perspectives.” Meat Science, 95, 352–361. Farouk, M.M. (2013). “Review. Advances in the industrial production of Halal and Kosher red meat.” Meat Science, 95, 805–820.
 For more see Anil M. H, p33
 Anil M.H, p5
 Anil M.H. p10-15
 Quran 5:3
 Quran: 2:173, 5:3, 6:145, 16:115
 Anil, M.H., Yesildere, T., Aksu, H., Matur, E., McKinstry, J.L., Erdogan, O., Hughes, S. and Mason, C., (2006) “Comparison of Halal slaughter with captive bolt stunning and neck cutting in cattle: exsanguination and quality parameters.” Animal Welfare 15, 325-330.Anil, M.H., Yesildere, T., Aksu, H., Matur, E., McKinstry, J.L., Erdogan, O., Hughes, S. and Mason, C., (2004.) “Comparison of religious slaughter of sheep with methods that include preslaughter stunning and the lack of differences in exsanguination, packed cell volume and quality parameters.” Animal Welfare 13 (4), 387-392 Khalid, R., Knowles, T.G., Wotton, S.B., (2015) “A comparison of blood loss during the Halal slaughter of lambs following Traditional Religious Slaughter without stunning, Electric Head-Only Stunning and Post-Cut Electric Head-Only Stunning.” Meat Sciences Dec;110:15-23.
 Awan, J.A., Rahim, S.F.U. (2018) “Animal rights and welfare in Islam.” Int J Avian & Wildlife Biol.3(6):427‒430
 Ibn Majah