Twenty-two year old Murtaza Ziarak, aka Muddi, studies law at Aarhus University in Denmark. Like most university students, he has little time to cook a big meal between studying, sleeping, and hanging out with friends. Yet, unlike many, Muddi’s diet is complicated by another aspect – eating halal.
Halal is food and drink that Muslims are allowed to consume in accordance with Islamic law. In the case of halal meat, the animals must be slaughtered in a particular manner. The slaughter is done by a Muslim, who first invokes the name of the Islamic God Allah. Then the throat, windpipe and blood vessels in the neck of the animal are cut, causing the animal’s death. The practice has been labelled cruel by animal rights activists around the world because they say this is a slow, painful death, as the animals are not first stunned like in modern slaughter methods.
In February the Danish government angered many Jews and Muslims when it banned the practices of halal and kosher slaughter. Denmark’s Ministry of Agriculture justified the ban saying that animal welfare takes precedence over religion. Still, the new law started a flurry of anti-religious accusations toward the Danish government. A group called Danish Halal called the ban “a clear interference in religious freedom limiting the rights of Muslims and Jews to practice their religion in Denmark”.
Muddi, who was born in Afghanistan and moved to Denmark with his family at the age of three, is a Muslim. He said he does not agree with Denmark’s ban on halal slaughter methods because of rights to religious freedom. “Not mine, but peoples’ [religious freedom]. Because their religion says that they can only eat halal meat.” For Muddi, though, the ban does not have a huge impact. “ I eat halal because of culture, not religion,” he explained.
Though his family moved to Denmark in 1994, Muddi’s mother has continued to prepare Afghan food. “My mom always cooks Afghan food,” Muddi said smiling. “It keeps me tied to the culture because food is an important part of one’s culture.”
Eating Afghan food keeps Muddi tied to Afghan culture, yet there are things that cannot be replaced. “The hospitality is different. In Afghanistan you are more welcoming of guests than in Danish culture.”
Muddi gladly welcomes his mother’s food anytime. “I don’t have these skills that my mom has, so I just cook normal student-style. But my mom always send me packets of food.”
Muddi oftens shops at an Afghan supermarket close to where he lives. “They have a lot of food that is hard to find in Danish supermarkets, like condensed milks, some really good chilli pickles, and some halal meat.”
Even though the Danish government has banned halal and kosher slaughter methods in Denmark, the meat can still be imported from other places. Muddi said he is not worried about being able to continue eating halal.
“I grew up with the food, I’m used to it and I love it,” Muddi said with a mouthful. “It’s a matter of taste.”
Story and photos by Christine Wendel