Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Main Slaughterhouse in Shuwaikh

When Kuwait University Dental School was established there was soon a demand for a special animal teaching model for oral surgical methods. Dental students throughout the world are frequently trained in different flap designs and suturing techniques by using mandibles of freshly slaughtered pigs. But they were, of course, not available in an Islamic country.

What is available and can be seen hanging on hooks in the numerous butcheries in Kuwait are sheep. Arabs love eating mutton and lamb. I quickly learned that the animals were not slaughtered in these places. Early in the morning the butchers are supplied with the slaughtered sheep by the local slaughterhouses. But where are those? Not being able of reading Arabic signs, I was too new in Kuwait, as to be able to find easily every place in the vast industrial areas where I assumed the slaughterhouses to be.

Somebody had told me that the main slaughterhouse of the State of Kuwait is located in Shuwaikh, close to the main fire station of that area. But where was that? When I finally found it in the bustling industrial area between the Fourth Ring Road and what they call Canada Dry Street, the guard who I asked had never had heard about a near-by slaughterhouse.

It actually turned out that it was the neighboring plot of land. I identified the guard commander in the derelict office building, and a few glasses of tea later Dr. Refat, who had been called by mobile phone, arrived. He was the veterinarian on duty that day and I told my problem.

Dr. Refat was an exceptionally friendly, polite, and serious Egyptian colleague. He showed me the facilities of the huge area where the animals were slaughtered. There was a smaller slaughterhouse where, for example, family fathers delivered a single sheep. There was also a bigger complex where, as Dr. Refat explained to me, every night several thousands of sheep were killed. I noticed a certain smell of blood in the air which I still can vividly recall when thinking of it.

Dr. Refat had to learn which part of a sheep’s head I needed and so we agreed upon a new appointment at one of the next nights when I had to watch the slaughtering and wait until all the dead animals were hanging on hooks and the Bangladeshi butchers could do their job and cut up the meat according to my demands.

I arrived at 5 pm. Dr. Refat and his veterinarian colleagues had a rather strange shift: 24 hours on duty, two days off. Regardless of holidays or weekends, sheep had to be slaughtered on every day. I met them in a small dwelling on the ground. Each doctor had his own bed and there was a living room with a TV and a small kitchen. We had a dinner with rice and lamb and then Dr. Refat showed me the animals which were waiting for being slaughtered at night. They had to rest, he explained to me. The long traveling had exhausted them. The flocks with different breeds of sheep, Australian, Somalian, etc. were penned up in fenced areas. I realized that Kuwait as all other Gulf States import living animals some of which are transported around half of the world. I remembered a decomposing corpse on the beach and suddenly understood that the animals which had died on the long way were thrown overboard.

Slaughtering would start after 11 pm, so there was plenty of time for discussing the deeper meaning of this. Dr. Refat talked about the right way to slaughter the animals. In order to be halal, the blood had to leave the body while the animal is still alive. So, the heart had to pump it out of the body. Benumbing the animal by electric current as is practiced, for example, in slaughterhouses in the West, would not be acceptable, nor is the use of a captive bolt stunner. The animal would have died before the blood could leave the body.

I was attentively listening to Dr. Refat’s narrations. I intuitively understood the necessity of getting rid of any blood before eating in a country where meat addles quickly in the scorching heat. It became very clear that it had been the Apostle Paul who had changed these customs. Jews and Muslims are slaughtering alike. There is also a strong element of traditional rites in Jewish and Muslim slaughtering. It may prevent humans from unthoughtful killing of innocent animals.

But when it started, these thoughts immediately disappeared. Three thousand sheep (five thousand during the month of Ramadan) were instantly ready to die, in incredible number. The animals approached their executioners, Bangladeshis in red overalls, in rows of twenty. Their throats were cut with expert movement of a sharp knife, and after a couple of minutes the next row was allowed to enter the area. The mortal agony of the animals took several minutes. Currents of blood were drained into sinks. We were overlooking the ongoing carnage from an office above with large glass windows. Before Dr. Refat had come to Kuwait he had been working in a slaughterhouse in Brazil. There, everything was almost clinically clean, stainless steel everywhere. All of the animals was utilized, the blood, the hide, the bones. Not only the meat as here in the Middle East.

In the middle of the killing the first dead sheep were hung on hooks. Through small cuts in the fur, compressed air was blown beneath the skin. So blown-up, it was easy to ‘undress’ them, i.e., to remove the hide. In rubber boots I followed Dr. Refat through lakes of blood to the site of action. The head of a sheep was cut off and I had to tell the Bangladeshi butcher in his red overall which parts of the mandible I needed for my purpose. With a few expert cuts he managed and I took the sample out. It was 2 o’clock in the morning. I left the slaughterhouse and drove my car home.

I was dreaming of splatter movies, of course. In the following weeks, one of my students and I went to the quite horrible place again and again. The model had to be developed and, given the enormous efforts of getting the samples, published. It took some time until we were able to conduct the first practical sessions with our students. They were curious and had, in general, a positive attitude. They actually couldn’t believe my explanations. According to Islamic rules, animals should not watch other animals being slaughtered. Go there and see for yourself, I recommended. I later read more about the cruelty of shipping living animals from Australia to the Middle East only for the purpose of slaughtering them halal.

Do you still eat meat? I asked Dr. Refat. A little, he told me.

First published at Freelance.


Intlxpatr said...

I wish everyone would read this post.

I eat meat, but I share an uncomfortable feeling that we are too distant from the realities of the living creatures that give up their lives. We were all healthier before we started eating so much meat so often.

So . . . do you still eat meat?

Muller said...

Well, I do. My strong opinion is when it comes to killing an animal, it doesn't make too much of a difference. And I learned a lot when discussing this with Dr. Refat. Ritual slaughtering, by the way, should prevent the mass killing of animals. And I fully underscore your last sentence. But this is a development after WWII, and in 'rich' societies only.

Mohamed Ali said...
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