Avoiding the congestion that is notorious at abattoirs during Ramadan, Saeed Zayed, a 42-year-old Emirati in Umm al Qaiwain, prefers doing the work at home, because he believes slaughtering in one's residence brings blessings. He says he can also be sure the animal is killed according to Sharia. "In the abattoir you just wait for your slaughtered goat, and all the work is done in a rush by busy abattoir men, who may even forget to say Bismillah," he said.
Abattoirs across the Emirates are doing brisk business during Ramadan and the lead-up to Eid al Fitr, as iftar and suhoor meals are centred around celebratory camels and goats. It is also customary during this time to donate animals to the less fortunate. Slaughtering animals in one's home, however, is illegal in some emirates, and less than ideal in all of them. Butchering in private residences brings a greater risk of contamination, said Abu Baker Makki, a veterinary doctor and inspector at the UAQ Central Abattoir. Even with the long waits, the abattoir is still the best option, he said.
"You will have your animal examined before and after slaughter, and the hygienic conditions are also assured," said Dr Makki. "It is illegal to sell any meat in a market when the animal was not slaughtered in a registered abattoir." According to Ajman municipality statistics, of the 22,500 animals legally slaughtered in that emirate last year, 500 were considered unfit and were disposed of. At the central abattoir in Sharjah, where congestion has also been a problem, a newly installed computerised system is helping to make the slaughtering process more efficient. The system, which also monitors traffic and revenue, is to be introduced at the emirate's other two abattoirs, which are located at Port Khalid and on Airport Road, said Sultan al Muala, the director general of Sharjah Municipality.
"We want to shift the administrative work to electronic to simplify and speed up procedures for the clients," he said. "This new system will enable the abattoir to extract e-ticketing for the clients rather than the usual queue and manual system." All three abattoirs in the emirate now have a veterinary centre, in which all animals are inspected before and after slaughter, and the central abattoir has a laboratory to identify any diseases.
Over at the capital's central abattoir, business has tripled so far during this Ramadan. The facility, which is equipped to process 300 goats and sheep an hour, is the source of all fresh meat on offer at restaurants, supermarkets and hotels in the capital. Yet despite the pace of slaughter during Ramadan, special attention is paid to Sharia law, including making every attempt to prevent the animals from suffering, which many believe makes for healthier meat.
"No animal sees another being slaughtered," said Dr Raif Arnaout, an inspector with the Abu Dhabi Municipality, which owns the facility. "Animals feel fear and stress, and they understand more than people think." The majority of sheep slaughtered at the Abu Dhabi facility are shipped live from Australia to Jebel Ali, before they are trucked to the capital and allowed to rest for three days and recover from their long journey.
"That helps the animals relax," said Dr Arnaout. The central abattoir in Ajman, which is handling 300 animals a day, is now operating in the evenings in an effort to decrease the amount of time customers have to wait for service, said a spokesman with the Ajman Municipality and Planning Directorate. And business at the Al Ain Public Abattoir has doubled since the beginning of Ramadan, with as many as 80 goats and six camels and cows being killed each hour there.
It is illegal for residents to slaughter animals outside of an abattoir, said Dr Mohammed Khalil, a senior veterinarian at the facility. "Here, our veterinarians inspect the animal before and after the slaughtering process to see if it is sick or diseased," he said. "We check its liver, kidneys, lungs and heart, before packaging it and delivering it back to the customer. If the animal is sick, we don't give it to the customer."
Alawi Omar al Aidaroos, a 68-year-old Emirati, recently took three goats to the Al Ain slaughterhouse. He usually brings just two, but on this day he was hosting an iftar for 40 members of his family. "I prefer to bring the goats to the slaughterhouse and cook them at home, rather than buy already cooked from a restaurant, because I don't know if the restaurant goat is healthy or not," Mr al Aidaroos said. "Here, there are veterinarians who check the animal for me. It's the safest bet."
Another animal scheduled to be slaughtered that day was a small camel, which was resting in the back of a pickup truck outside the facility. Its owner, Ali al Kaabi, 56, an Emirati who bought it for Dh2,000 at the Al Ain Central Market, said he planned to distribute its meat to the poor. One of the centre's veterinarians, Dr Mubasher Hassan, 30, who is from Pakistan, was sent outside to examine the camel.
When the animal was cleared for slaughter, it was brought inside, tagged and positioned facing Mecca. When its time came, the animal was put on a conveyor belt, which moved it towards the slaughter station. Walid Ahmad, 22, an Egyptian, took a knife to its neck and, as dictated by Sharia, said "Allah Akbar" before slicing its neck. Less than a minute later the animal was motionless, and began moving down the conveyor belt to the processing station.
Twenty minutes later the carcass was in eight pieces - the abattoir charged Dh70 to process the camel - and delivered to Mr al Kaabi's driver packaged in plastic bags. The cooked meat was bound for a Ramadan meal.