The Chronicle Herald (A Halifax based daily), Business section, page A12, Sunday May 28th 2006.
Meeting changing needs with Halal
By The Chronicle Herald
May 29, 2006, 10:04
Our growing Islamic community has its own special needs, and through the efforts of a Muslim businessman, a farmer and some local merchants, halal meats are making their way to market in Nova Scotia.
By MELANIE FURLONG
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Windsor farmer Mike Oulton had never heard of halal meat. Today, producing it is an integral part of his business operation. In fact, it’s an aspect of his business that has grown five- or sixfold in15 years, along with the Muslim community in Nova Scotia.
“Halal” is an Arabic word that has many meanings, but generally it means “what is permissible” in the Islamic religion. Things that are not halal include pork and gambling, for instance.
When Lower Sackville businessman Khurshid Khan arrived in Nova Scotia in 1984, he set about finding halal beef, goat and lamb for himself and his family. Finally, he came upon Oulton, a farmer he knew whose facilities were provincially inspected.
“When I met him, he didn’t know what halal was, but I explained it to him,” says Khan. “I told him why we eat halal and that it means no pork.”
Most Muslims prefer to eat halal meat. That means meat that has been sacrificed by a Muslim while facing Mecca and praying to Allah.
“It has to be cut in a way that the animal won’t suffer,” says Khan.
“The cow is stunned, cut and then bled to take all the blood out of it.”
It is also very important that no pork be cut at the same time in the abattoir and that those knives and grinding machines are not used, he said.
Oulton set aside one machine for Muslims, and a trusting relationship began that continues today.
“If anybody wants meat, I go kill it for them,” says Khan.
“They all call me, they say, ‘Brother, you killed it?’ They want to know if I did. Sometimes I go every week and sometimes twice a week. Now more Muslims go, but in the winter I go all the time. If I’m away, somebody else will go.”
Khan doesn’t charge any money for his service. “In my religion, if you can eat halal it’s a very good thing. Anybody can call me at 1 a.m. . . . and if Mike doesn’t have anybody, I will go and do it. My main aim is for my community to eat halal products.”
“If he doesn’t have halal, he’ll say, ‘I don’t have it.’ He’ll tell the truth. I’ve known him for 22 years and that man, in my opinion, is the most honest man I’ve ever seen in my life. If he doesn’t have halal, he won’t sell it to anybody.
Says Oulton: “Halal meat is an important part of the business now. There’s no difference in price and no inconvenience to us to satisfy the Muslim people. It’s definitely an aspect of the business that’s growing.”
Kosher meat is sacrificed in a similar way by the Jewish community. But Oulton says only a rabbi can perform a slaughter, and not every rabbi is allowed to do it. “We don’t have a rabbi in Nova Scotia that’s qualified to slaughter, but the Jewish community can eat halal or kosher.” The prayer the rabbi says in Hebrew is the same one the Muslims say in Arabic.
Hanaa Rashid, owner of House of Halal in Fairview, is one of the retail outlets most focused on halal products in the Halifax Regional Community. The store opened in October 2004 and sells fresh beef, lamb and goat in a variety of cuts as well as halal marshmallows, jelly and ready-made products such as frozen burgers, chicken bologna, beef salami and wieners.
Response to the products from the Muslim community has been very positive, but she’s also had interest from mainstream Canadian customers.
“People would poke their head in and say, ‘What are you?’ I’d tell them what halal is and explain what the meat is and that it’s local and all free-range. That’s not part of halal, but I like to promote that fact.”
Prices for halal beef at the House of Halal run from $2.49 per pound for ground beef to $3.99 for boneless beef stew, one other most popular cuts. Rashid is also the only halal caterer in town.
“I do catering because there isn’t anyone else at present,” she says. “It’s very expensive to ask a hotel or another establishment to prepare halal food for weddings and so on because there can be no pork in the facility. It can’t be cooked on the same grill or fryer.”
Although farmers such as Oulton and retailers like Rashid are doing their best to feed the estimated 15,000 practising Muslims in Nova Scotia, food is still an issue for many.
“It’s very hard for some people to go out to a restaurant,” says Rashid. “They feel kind of uncomfortable, and they don’t know where the meat is coming from. It is still a problem in Nova Scotia to find cooked, ready halal meals in restaurants.”
She says that in more metropolitan areas, like Toronto, halal is widely available.
“I think even in McDonald’s in Chicago they carry halal chicken nuggets. It’s all about demand. In Toronto, the main supermarkets all carry halal meat just like there’s kosher meat there. I had approached the Superstore about carrying halal before I opened my store, but they weren’t interested at that time.”
Khan says of Oulton: “I think he’s a businessman ahead of his time, and he took a risk, too. If you’re a good businessman and you’re honest, you’ll always succeed.”
Melanie Furlong is a freelance writer living in Halifax (sproctor at herald.ca)