Hamtramck council approves Islamic animal sacrifices at home

After several months of contentious debate and pressure from Muslim residents, Hamtramck City Council voted Tuesday night to allow the religious sacrifice of animals on residential property.

Muslims often slaughter animals during the holiday of Eid al-Adha and Hamtramck has one of the highest percentage of Muslim residents among cities in the U.S.

The all-Muslim city council voted 3-2, with Mayor Amer Ghalib casting an additional vote in favor making it 4-2, to amend a city ordinance to allow religious sacrifice of animals at home. After the vote to approve, applause broke out from members of the public, who packed the meeting to speak out before the vote.

"If somebody wants to do it, they have a right to do their practice," Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Mohammed Hassan said at the meeting, which was livestreamed.

Some residents and animal rights advocates have expressed opposition to the ordinance changes, saying they will lead to animal cruelty and sanitation problems in Hamtramck, one of the most densely populated cities in Michigan. They said they worry about people being traumatized by seeing the throats of goats, lambs and cows being slit in backyards, with blood splattering and entrails falling out.

But Hassan said allowing animal slaughter will not make the city "blow up with the nasty blood, contamination."

At a Jan. 10, 2023 City Council meeting, Hamtramck speakers discuss changing a city ordinance to allow religious animal slaughter, which Muslims often perform during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. The council voted to approve amending the ordinance to allow it. Still image from livestream.
At a Jan. 10, 2023 City Council meeting, Hamtramck speakers discuss changing a city ordinance to allow religious animal slaughter, which Muslims often perform during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. The council voted to approve amending the ordinance to allow it. Still image from livestream.

Ghalib and other supporters of the new ordinance say state and federal law protect their religious rights under the U.S. Constitution, noting a Supreme Court decision 30 years ago that prohibited city bans on animal sacrifice practiced by followers of the Santeria religion.

They also note some in the Jewish community perform animal sacrifices during holidays, including a group of Orthodox Jews who travel to Hamtramck every year on the eve of Yom Kippur to slaughter chickens at a halal butcher run by Muslims. Ghalib said banning animal slaughter could prompt lawsuits against the city alleging civil rights violations. The city attorney also said the ordinance changes are legal and that banning sacrifice could risk lawsuits.

The passing of the amendment is an example of the growing political and cultural clout of the city's Muslim population, most with roots in Yemen or Bangladesh. At Tuesday's meeting, some also expressed objections to the flying of a LGBTQ Pride flag on city property along Jos. Campau Avenue, saying it clashes with their faith. Some residents have accused the city of trying to undermine their religion with the flag and by trying to restrict animal sacrifices.

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Councilman Khalil Refai, who had previously opposed allowing animal sacrifices, was not present at Tuesday's meeting and did not vote. City Councilwoman Amanda Jaczkowski, who also previously opposed allowing animal slaughter, flipped her position and voted Tuesday in favor of it. In December, Jaczkowski had voted in favor of the city continuing its ban on animal slaughter; the council had voted 3 to 2 last month to ban animal slaughter.

"The majority of people, including the majority of Muslims that I know, do not want slaughter to be allowed in the city of Hamtramck," Jaczkowski had said last summer.

But at Tuesday's meeting, she said she has to follow the legal advice of the city.

"Do we want to risk the city getting sued?" she asked.

The controversy arose last summer after the city had revised its animal ordinance to deal with the issue of how to feed cats. During that revision, some on the council recommended the city add a sentence that would prohibit animal slaughter.

Hamtramck City Council on Jan. 10, 2023 voted to allow animal sacrifices for religious reasons. Left to right: Councilman Mohammed Alsomiri, who voted, No; Councilwoman Amanda Jaczkowski, who voted, Yes; Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Mohammed Hassan, who voted, Yes; Mayor Amer Ghalib, who voted, Yes; Councilman Nayeem Choudhury, who voted, Yes; Councilman Muhith Mahmood, who voted, No. Councilman Khalil Refai was not present. Still image from livestream of meeting.
Hamtramck City Council on Jan. 10, 2023 voted to allow animal sacrifices for religious reasons. Left to right: Councilman Mohammed Alsomiri, who voted, No; Councilwoman Amanda Jaczkowski, who voted, Yes; Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Mohammed Hassan, who voted, Yes; Mayor Amer Ghalib, who voted, Yes; Councilman Nayeem Choudhury, who voted, Yes; Councilman Muhith Mahmood, who voted, No. Councilman Khalil Refai was not present. Still image from livestream of meeting.

That proposal drew outrage from some Muslim residents, who raised concerns on Facebook and at council meetings. The council then struck that proposal to ban the slaughter and moved to make additional revisions ensuring the right to animal slaughter.

Hassan on Tuesday criticized the subcommittee that sought to ban animal slaughter last year.

"Our committee tried to prohibit what was already there," Hassan said. "They tried to close the door for us."

Goats shipped from a Texas ranch in the holding section of the ENA Meatpacking facility in Paterson, New Jersey before they are to be slaughtered. ENA, one of the largest Halal slaughterhouses in the United States, is a family-run business that slaughters and prepares goats, lambs, cattle and chickens, serving the Muslim community for Eid al Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, one of two major Muslim holidays.
Goats shipped from a Texas ranch in the holding section of the ENA Meatpacking facility in Paterson, New Jersey before they are to be slaughtered. ENA, one of the largest Halal slaughterhouses in the United States, is a family-run business that slaughters and prepares goats, lambs, cattle and chickens, serving the Muslim community for Eid al Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, one of two major Muslim holidays.

The current animal ordinance in Hamtramck appears to ban religious slaughter done by individuals at home, reading: "No person shall slaughter any animal in the City except for properly licensed commercial facilities in the business of food preparation or police in the course of their duties or as permitted by law."

Hamtramck has some businesses that perform animal slaughter for customers who like consuming halal chickens and other types of meat.

An earlier version of the proposed additions to the ordinance had rules governing religious slaughter - such as requiring a fee, notifying the city, and blocking it from public view - but those sections were later removed before the council voted on it, Jaczkowski said.

According to a copy of the new animal ordinance provided Wednesday by Hamtramck Clerk Rana Faraj, the city ordinance changes approved Tuesday by the council include:

  • A sentence was added to a section prohibiting local ownership of various animals such as cows, sheep and goats that reads: "This section does not apply for temporary religious sacrificial purposes as permitted by law."

  • A new section was added that is titled "Religious Animal Sacrifice." It says that the other parts of the ordinance, which prohibit animal cruelty, can't be used to "hinder the religious freedom of any person or group." It also says animals slaughtered must be killed in a humane way, whether by mechanical or electrical means; or by means often used in kosher and halal practices, "whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument. "

  • Residents doing animal sacrifices need to "dispose of all waste in accordance with local, state, and federal law."

About 30% to 38% of Hamtramck's residents are of Yemeni descent, and 24% are of Asian descent, largely Bangladeshi, according to 2020 census data. A majority of the two groups are believed to be Muslim. Last year, Hamtramck became the first city in U.S. history where Muslims make up the entire elected city council. Also, Ghalib became the first Muslim mayor of Hamtramck, which previously had only Polish American mayors in its history.

The council's decision was praised by Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan, who said in a statement: "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 in conjunction with Eid al-Adha."

Ghalib said at the meeting he is open to revising or even rescinding the changes if they don't work out. He said the city will observe how the sacrifices play out this year.

"If it's allowed by the state and the federal (law) ... then follow our legal advice ... give it a try," Ghalib said at the meeting.

More:Immigrants' trip to buy slaughtered cattle near Adrian turns into dispute with farmer

Ghalib and Hassan said some have proposed donating money to help with the sacrifices. Hassan said a potential donor spoke of spending $1,000 on a large container to dispose of the animal parts that could be placed on a corner at a set time around the Eid holiday.

Councilman Nayeem Choudhury said this is an issue of religious freedom.

"Our rights come first," he said. I was "born ... Muslim, and that's my faith, and I will stick with my same faith."

Contact Niraj Warikoo:nwarikoo@freepress.com or Twitter @nwarikoo

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Hamtramck City Council approves religious animal sacrifices at home