The city council of Hamtramck, Michigan, which has a Muslim majority population, voted 3-2 Tuesday night to allow the religious sacrifice of animals at people’s homes. A tiebreaker vote from Mayor Amer Ghalib made the final tally 4-2.
The city had banned animal sacrifice in December, but legal advice from the city attorney changed the council’s mind. Animal sacrifice is protected by a 30-year-old Supreme Court precedent, which upheld the right of practitioners of the Santeria faith to commit animal sacrifice.
The brouhaha began in Hamtramck last summer, when changes to the city’s animal ordinance regarding the feeding of cats prompted a subcommittee suggestion that a line prohibiting animal sacrifice be added.
Many members of the city’s majority Muslim community, split between 30% Yemeni and 24% Asian, mainly from Bangladesh, were incensed.
Animal sacrifice is central to two Muslim feast holidays — Eid al-Adha, wherein a sheep is sacrificed to remember the story of Abraham, and Eid al-Fitr, which breaks the monthlong fast during Ramadan.
“Our committee tried to prohibit what was already there. They tried to close the door for us,” Hamtramck Mayor Pro Tem Mohammed Hassan said at the Tuesday vote, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The divide was not strictly on religious lines. The previous ban and Tuesday’s changes were passed by an all-Muslim city council and a Muslim mayor. One member, Khalil Refai, voted against the sacrifice in December and was absent Tuesday.
Other communities would also have been affected, including Orthodox Jews who use halal butchers in Hamtramck to sacrifice chickens on the eve of Yom Kippur, one of the religion’s holiest days.
Council member Amanda Jaczkowski, who had voted to ban sacrifice in December, noted that the majority of public comment regarding the ordinance was against the practice of animal sacrifice.
“Do we want to risk the city getting sued to respect the majority public opinion?” Ms. Jaczkowski asked, according to the Detroit News.
The new provisions initially stipulated that people who perform animal sacrifices notify the city beforehand, pay a fee for post-ritual sanitary inspections and keep the sacrifice out of the view of the nonparticipating public. Those stipulations were later removed, Ms. Jaczkowski told the Detroit Free Press.
The latest edition of the changes provide a couple of legal outs regarding animal sacrifice. Prohibitions on the local ownership of livestock are waived for animals being kept for temporary sacrificial purposes, and animal cruelty provisions elsewhere in the ordinance cannot be used to contravene the religious freedom of individuals or groups.
Residents are required to slaughter their sacrificial animals humanely, either through mechanical and electrical means or by means often used by halal and kosher butchers wherein the animal bleeds out after its carotid artery has been slashed open.
Residents are also required to dispose of animal waste in accordance with local, state and federal law.
The Council for American-Islamic Relations Michigan (CAIR-MI) approved the move.
“We welcome the Hamtramck City Council’s vote, which blocked those who sought to place undue burden on Muslim residents who uphold their sincerely held religious practice,” CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid said in a release.
Residents are less sanguine, especially given sanitary concerns.
“This is a health issue,” resident Mohammed Islam said, according to the Detroit News.
Some, while approving of allowing animal sacrifice, have called for a designated place for it to occur so as to mitigate the sanitary concerns.
“My concern is health. If they want to do it, there should be a designated place,” Abdul Latif Azom, the imam (head cleric) at the Islamic Center of North Detroit near Hamtramck, told the Detroit News.