Oxford’s halal dilemma
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Friday February 22 2019
In a move that counters their record of trying to be inclusive, Oxford University’s Somerville College Junior Common Room committee has banned certain types of halal and kosher meat from its menu citing “animal welfare” issues raised by students.
The college’s Junior Common Room committee (JCR) proposed a motion to remove Halal and Kosher meat from the menu because of animal welfare concerns about how the animals are killed. In the end, the motion was passed with the amendment that halal and kosher meats are added back to the menu with the condition that it is pre-stunned. The motion requires them to provide food that is “lactose-free, gluten-free, kosher and halal in hall upon the condition that any meat purchased is pre-stunned”. However, the implication of this statement is that many Muslims do not believe that animals should be pre-stunned whilst Kosher food must never be stunned. Although ostensibly the proposal only bans unstunned meat, such a move would clearly discriminate against Muslim and Jewish students and thus is an example of indirect discrimination.
Furthermore, the argument that stunning an animal is humane is contentious, due to the fact that some stunning methods have significant failure rates and do not always render the animal unconscious. The method for slaughtering according to Jewish and Muslim laws requires the animal to be healthy and well looked after during its lifetime. The animal’s throat is cut by a sharp knife and the blood is drained. Although some pre-stunning is accepted by Muslim communities under certain conditions, Jewish methods, however, cannot involve pre-stunning regardless of any prior conditions.
The most contentious aspect of the motion is that in producing a ruling that so deeply affects particular religious communities, representatives from the respective communities were not present. One member from the JCR said that the Jewish and Muslim communities were “poorly represented in the meeting” as nobody in the committee are Muslim or Jewish. Furthermore, the president of the Jewish Society (JSoc) Nicole Jacobus said, “The very fact that this amendment was passed in a JCR meeting without a Jewish student being able to challenge it highlights the lack of diversity and awareness of other cultures amongst students in Oxford… this situation has demonstrated the severe lack of cultural awareness that Oxford is facing.”
There is an irony in a group of individuals making rules that affect those belonging to a religious community without anyone from the community to provide any consultation. To give an alternative example, it is akin to a group of men (such as the Trump administration) making rules (abortion) about women without asking women what they want . It is counterintuitive and infringes on the rights of religious freedom as Muslims and Jews can no longer practice their religion. The right and freedoms of religious worship are protected and outlined in Article 9 of the ECHR states “ Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching practice and observance.” The UK is also governed by the Human Rights Act which requires public organisations to treat all people equally, with fairness, dignity and respect, therefore
Muslims and Jewish people should have the right to access food that is permissible for them to consume.
Somerville JCR President Emmanuel Amissah-Eshu in response to the controversy has said, “The resulting vote was solely based on the debate of stunned vs pre-stunned meat provision in the Hall and not the religious implications. However, to hone in on kosher and halal meat only makes it a religious issue”. This is an ill-informed comment as it does not consider the impact of this on religious communities.
The problem of not providing for religious communities is highlighted by a 2018 survey from Oxford University Islamic Society (OUISOC) which found that 14 out of 30 of Oxford’s colleges did not serve halal meat. OUISOC Vice President Supti Akhtar stated that “Eating together with fellow students in Hall is a big part of the Oxford experience… So providing halal food is a simple – but important – way of creating an inclusive environment for Muslim students.” Akhtar additionally said that OUISOC found that “students are often not told when alcohol is used within desserts or main meals.” If Muslim students are paying high tuition fees it is only fair that they catering options are available for their needs. Furthermore, if Oxford wants to truly be more inclusive to the pluralistic society we live in then a range of catering options must be made available.