Allegedly insulted Islam
CAIRO, Egypt––Found guilty of insulting Islam for criticizing mass public slaughter of animals at the 2015 Eid al Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, Egyptian writer Fatima Naoot, 52, was on January 26, 2016 sentenced to serve three years in prison and to pay a fine of 2,000 Egyptian pounds, amounting to $255 in U.S. currency.
The sentence took effect immediately, “but Naoot will be able to appeal from behind bars,” reported Lara Rebello for the International Business Times.
“Millions of innocent creatures”
Summarized the PEN American Center, a New York City-based organization of writers formed in 1922 to defend freedom of expression, “In an October 2015 Facebook post, Naoot in describing her opinion about the sacrifice, wrote, ‘Millions of innocent creatures will be driven to the most horrible massacre committed by humans for ten-and-half centuries. A massacre which is repeated every year because of the nightmare of a righteous man about his good son.’ A lawyer filed a lawsuit against Naoot in December 2015 in regard to this post, and the [Egyptian civil] prosecutors agreed to take up the case shortly thereafter.”
Elaborated petitioner Eugene Boone in an online appeal to Egyptian minister of justice Ahmed El-Zend, “During the Eid al-Adha festivities, sheep are sacrificed as a symbol of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.”
Killing is often inept
The killing is supposed to be performed according to the rules of halal slaughter, as prescribed in the Q’ran and Haddiths of Mohammed. In practice, however, the killing is often done ineptly by untrained and inexperienced male heads of households.
The sheep, and sometimes also goats and cattle, are as Boone wrote, killed “while they are still fully conscious and moving and experience terrible suffering, all in the name of tradition.”
Said Naoot to Agence France-Press, “I’m not sad about the actual sentencing. I don’t care about it. I’m sad that the efforts of reformists have been wasted.”
Had hoped for acquittal
Acknowledged defense attorney Sherif Adeeb, “We did hope for an acquittal. I cannot comment in any way on the court’s decision,” Adeeb hedged, “but the situation is quite odd, because we have submitted proof on behalf of my client that there was no mischief intended, a statement that was also supported by the prosecution.”
Born in Cairo in 1964, Naoot has long combined writing with political activism on behalf of women and disadvantaged minorities, producing 19 books, editing the literary magazine Qaws Qazah (The Rainbow), and running unsuccessfully for a seat in the Egyptian parliament in 2015.
Her case has so far attracted little if any attention from animal advocates internationally, but is among many cases before the Egyptian courts recently that have alarmed human rights advocates.
Summarized Cairo correspondent Jared Malsin in the February 26, 2016 online edition of TIME magazine, “The judiciary and security forces have been on the leading edge of a violent crackdown on critics of the state since the military takeover that ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013. Since then, the authorities have detained tens of thousands of people—activists, students, and bystanders—in a security campaign intended to quell the years of unrest that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
“It’s clear from his rhetoric and his action that Sisi is leading the broader crackdown on dissidents,” opined Malsin, “but it’s increasingly less obvious that he actually controls all the rival state institutions that are taking part. In previous cases in recent years, judges have sentenced hundreds to death in mass trials, and sent three Al Jazeera journalists to prison on charges of collaborating with terrorists in a case where the supposed evidence included video of a horse and a news report on sheep farming.”
Said Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights researcher Karim Medhat Ennarah, “They [the Egyptian judiciary] are acting with a lot of institutional independence but at the same time, they are influenced by the general authoritarian, conservative political climate.”
Cairo human rights and animal rights attorney Ahmed al Sherbiny, president of the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends, offered ANIMALS 24-7 multiple perspectives: as a Muslim, as a lawyer, and as a longtime leading advocate of slaughter reform, to bring slaughter practice into compliance with halal requirements.
“My personal opinion as a Moslem: Naood’s article was absolutely against the Qu’ran and Muslims beliefs,” Sherbiny began. “She did not separate between the horrific practice during slaughtering the sheep at the Eid El Adha and sacrifice as a part of our religion. She made fun of the Profit Ibrahim and his son Ismail, which is not acceptable to Moslem people.”
Sherbiny reminded ANIMALS 24-7 that he has had to run a similar gauntlet himself in criticizing the practices of the 447 licensed slaughterhouses in Egypt, many and perhaps most of which fall short of meeting the halal standards they are required by law to meet, and in seeking enforcement of a 1986 law forbids slaughter of any animal for human consumption outside licensed slaughterhouses.
“This article is not enforced during Eid al Adha due to lack government supervision,” Sherbiny noted.
“If you recall the 2008 Cairo conference on Long Distance Transportation and Slaughter,” Sherbiny said, “I was accused that the conference and myself were against the Islamic religion and the conference aim was to criticize the Islamic Sharia regarding Eid Al Adha sacrifice.
“Cruelty is totally forbidden”
“My response toward these allegations and accusations was that I myself and the conference were not against the Islamic religion, but that I as a Moslem person am against cruelty and horrific practices during the slaughter of animals, and against unnecessary violence and pain,” as specifically directed by Mohammed in prescribing the rules of halal.
“The Holy Q’ran and Haddiths teach Muslims how to slaughter animals and how to be kind to all creatures, as cruelty is totally forbidden in the Muslim religion. ‘Mercy’ and ‘Merciful’ are God’s name,” Sherbiny said.
Penal code vs. constitution
In his personal opinion as a lawyer, Sherbiny argued that “Naoot broke the law by insulting the religion, which does not allow freedom of speech at all.”
Article 98F of the Egyptian penal code, Sherbiny noted, prohibits propagation of “extremist thoughts [uttered] with the aim of instigating sedition and division or disdaining and tempting any of the heavenly religions or the sects belonging thereto, or prejudicing national unity or social peace.”
However, Sherbiny continued, “The new Egyptian constitution protects freedom of speech.”
Article 65 of the two-year-old constitution provides that “Every person has the right to express his opinion by speech or by writing or by pictures or any other means of expression and publication.”
“There is a conflict between Article 98F of the penal code and Article 65 of the new constitution,” Sherbiny explained. “The constitution is the highest legislation and all codes must match the constitution. Otherwise, the legislation should be considered unconstitutional and nul and void.”
In summary, Sherbiny told ANIMALS 24-7, “Naoot committed a crime according to penal code article 98F, which doesn’t comply with the Egyptian constitution Article 65. We believe that the newly established Parliament will amend the penal law to fit with the constitution.
“Naoot has an excellent chance before the appeal court,” Sherbiny concluded.
Two separate issues are involved in Naoot’s criticism of the Eid al Adha slaughter: the question of whether it meets halal standards, and the question of whether it is actually required by Islamic law at all.
Amateurish killing, including use of dull knives, injuring animals unnecessarily, and killing animals in front of others, were sternly denounced by Mohammed himself. Failures of slaughter and sacrificial practice to meet halal standards tend to be recognized and denounced across the spectrum of Islamic belief.
More controversial is the increasingly widespread perspective among educated Muslims that the Eid al Adha demands a gift to charity as a symbolic sacrifice, not the actual slaughter of an animal and distribution of meat, as held by literalist interpretations of the Q’ran and Haddiths.
A third criticism of Eid al Adha sacrifice, heard especially often in Europe, is that it, like all halal slaughter, is done without pre-stunning.
Pre-stunning has traditionally been interpreted by most Judaic and Islamic religious authorities––though some differ––as a violation of the requirements of Mosaic and Islamic religious law that animals be conscious when their throats are swiftly cut with a sharp blade.
Introduced more than two millennia ago to minimize animal suffering, kosher and halal slaughter have been targeted for prohibition in various nations, especially in Europe, since the early 19th century. Poland prohibited kosher and halal slaughter in 2013, but the prohibition was overturned in December 2014 by the Polish constitutional tribunal. Denmark meanwhile banned kosher and halal slaughter in February 2014. The Danish law remains in force.
Halal & kosher bans
The animal advocacy goal in the 19th century was at first just to introduce pre-stunning as a requirement for all slaughter. At that time most slaughter in Europe was done by local butchers, who often used dogs ancestral to pit bulls, to hold cattle by their noses as their throats were cut.
Amid the early debate over slaughter methods in Britain, machine tool inventor Lewis Gompertz, who rescued the Royal SPCA of Britain from bankruptcy in 1828, avoided condoning any form of slaughter by practicing veganism. This led to his expulsion from the RSPCA board in 1832 for the alleged offenses of being both a vegan and a Jew.
The introduction of industrial-scale slaughterhouses in the mid-19th century led to the acceptance of pre-stunning in non-kosher and halal slaughter as an efficiency measure which enabled slaughter workers to work faster.
Laws requiring pre-stunning, however, were not introduced to Europe until decades later, amid the anti-Semitic political climate of the 1930s––as European Jewish Council president Moshe Kantor reminded Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in an open letter asserting that the proposed Dutch ban on slaughter without pre-stunning would violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees religious freedom.
The British pre-stunning requirement, enacted in 1933, exempted kosher and halal slaughter, as did the U.S. Humane Slaughter Act, which introduced mandatory pre-stunning to the U.S. in 1958.