By JOCELYN GRZESZCZAK, La Poste and Courrier
COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – It was 2:45 p.m. on a Wednesday in early November, and the truck carrying a shipment of meat to Halal International was late.
Owner Ulfat Shagiwall roamed his market: along the crowded aisles, behind the butcher’s counter, in the fridge, through the storeroom and out the back door. But still, no meat.
Halal International, its shelves filled with products from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, were largely empty. Shagiwall customers had memorized the typical delivery window – Wednesdays, 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.
The weekly deposit was the best chance for many Muslims in South Carolina to purchase the freshest halal meat.
âHalalâ is a term describing an action or thing permitted by Islamic law; it is the opposite of “haraam”, which is prohibited. When “halal” is specifically applied to meat, it means that the animal has been prepared for consumption in accordance with Islamic law.
An Arabic phrase thanking God should be recited before slaughtering the animal. There is also a specific way to kill animals: a cut in the jugular vein, carotid artery and trachea, helping it to pass out quickly. All blood inside the animal should drain out before further processing.
While there is a basic understanding of halal meat among all Muslims, the religion is ancient and broad, resulting in some variation in practice and personal preferences. Modernity and colonialism have also changed the way people think about halal meat, said Garrett Davidson, professor of Arab and Muslim world studies at the College of Charleston.
Some stores, including a few local markets and Costco, sell frozen Halal meat, as well as meat from machine-killed animals. The Koran, the Muslim holy book, also allows the consumption of meat killed by Christians and Jews. Accessibility constraints could influence the way Muslims interpret Halal.
Shagiwall customers, however, will travel from across the state, including the Charleston area, for a particular type of Halal meat.
He buys it from three American suppliers, all of whom employ Muslim butchers in their slaughterhouses. The meat is guaranteed to be fresh and hand-killed, and sells for some of the best prices, Shagiwall said.
These are the factors that have kept customers coming back over the three years he has owned the place. Good prices and a reliable and predictable supply of meat.
Shagiwall’s phone screamed again – another customer wanted an update on his meat order.
“Come in a few hours,” he said.
The Charleston area Muslim community has exploded into growth over the 35 years that Dr. Ghazala Javed has lived here. What started with a handful of Muslim families has spread to what must be around 500 now, she estimated.
The number is only expected to increase. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, the Pew Research Center reported in 2017. Muslims will grow more than twice as fast as the overall world population between 2015 and 2060, according to the group.
Javed, who considers herself a moderate Muslim, cooks only Halal meat at home, purchased from Halal International and similar stores in Charlotte.
The local Muslim community is tight-knit, and families are coordinating trips to Columbia or even Atlanta to stock up on meat to distribute at home, Javed said.
âIt’s very, very convenient now, but it’s not like walking into a store and making your choice of meat,â she said.
It was around 3:30 p.m. when the truck, caught in a traffic jam as it got out of Charlotte, finally pulled into the back of Halal International.
Shagiwall stood by its opening next to a huge plastic bin, throwing full bodied goats and lamb, their hooves erect all over the place.
An employee approached him, telling Shagiwall that a customer had arrived, ready to pick up the meat order she had placed earlier in the morning.
It was as if a switch had turned on – suddenly a line formed in front of the butcher’s counter. Six people filled the space behind, screaming, cutting and unloading the meat as customers waited patiently.
Srinivasa Kothury does not practice Islam but makes the 40-minute drive to Columbia from Orangeburg every three weeks so that she can stock up on meat for her family. It’s fresh and one of the only stores selling goat meat, he said.
Nasir Waheed, who lives about 20 km from the store, comes more often. Halal International is the only option when it comes to Halal meat, he said, loading several filled bags into his cart.
Javed is hoping that a store like Halal International will come to the Lowcountry soon.
The growing Muslim population in South Carolina and the addition of several restaurants in the Charleston area serving halal meat are promising signs, she said.
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