The Festival of Sacrifice is held by Muslims around the world each year at the end of the Haj. But what is one of the Muslim world's most joyous periods, is an annual thorn in the side of German animal right activists.
A Germany- based Turkish butcher takes part in the celebration
Under Islam, the end of Hajj is marked by Eid ul Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, which falls today (Thursday, Jan. 20).
It is one of the most important holidays on the Islamic calendar, and is celebrated by all Muslims around the world -- not only those who are on a pilgrimage to Mecca. And every year just before the holy day, the German animal rights association appeals to Muslims to stun their sacrificial animals with electric shocks before they slaughter them.
Religious duty, religious right?
For many Muslims, this would be unacceptable. They see sacrificing an animal that is fully conscious as a religious duty and one which they have the right to fulfill.
Three years ago, Germany's constitutional court ruled in favor of the ritual slaughter
Here in Germany, they do indeed have that right. The country's most senior court ruled three years ago that Muslims are allowed to slaughter animals without stunning them if this is dictated by their religious beliefs. But there are more restrictions on the practice in Germany than in Muslim countries. Slaughter without stunning can only be carried out with a special permit issued by a local authority.
Such permits are not issued by religious experts, but by official veterinary departments. The chairman of Germany's Islamic Council , Ali Kizilkaya, finds this practice dubious.
"It is then more or less left to the discretion of the official veterinary department, whether the person who wants to do the slaughter can give a sufficient religious justification," Kizilkaya said. "But it cannot and should not be the job of the official veterinary department to decide whether or not someone is devout enough."
But Thomas Schröder, head of Germany's animal rights association, said veterinary offices simply have to ensure that the law of the land is obeyed.
"It would certainly be too much for the veterinary office to have to make decisions about religious customs. The veterinary office looks at the law; that is their goal. And I must stress that the law says: No animal should be subject to suffering and pain without a reasonable cause," Schröder said. "Muslims then say, 'Freedom of religion is a reasonable cause, and we invoke the constitution."
Change in the law
The law, however, has become more complicated recently.
The constitutional court ruling on halal slaughter was followed a few months later in May 2002 by a parliamentary resolution in which animal protection was enshrined in Germany's Basic Law.
Bosnian muslims during ritual slaughter
Schröder said this meant that religious freedom as a constitutional right no longer enjoys priority over animal protection. A balance now has to be struck between animal protection and religious ritual, he said.
"In this light, halal slaughter needs to be looked at anew," Schröder said.
He also pointed out that several Muslim leaders in Germany have no objection to stunning the animals prior to sacrifice. The topic is hotly debated, and there is more than one point of view.
A question of discrimination?
"Germany has many different Muslim groups. And within individual groups, there is certainly discord on the topic. For us animal-rights activists, it is clear: if an animal is stunned, then it still fulfills the criteria of animal sacrifice according to the Koran," Schröder said.
For his part, the Islamic council's Kizilkaya counters that it is not the job of animal rights campaigners to decide on Islamic religious issues.
Some Muslims in Germany also feel they are discriminated against, because the country's small Jewish community is exempt from any ban on sacrificial animal slaughter.
Kizilkaya noted that Jewish groups are themselves not happy with this lack of equality, and that Muslims wanting to sacrifice animals without stunning them beforehand can count on the support of Jewish representatives.