The Chicken Killing Episode

by Mohammad Yadegari

In 1963, I visited my brother, Hadi, and a friend, Mahmood, in Germany. One problem that most Muslims traveling in Europe had was finding acceptable food to eat. All meat must be from animals butchered in a particular manner to be “halal.” A person must face Mecca, recite “Bismillah” (“in the name of God the Most Gracious the Dispenser of Grace”), slit the animal’s throat, and hold it upside down to allow the blood to drain.

Hadi and Mahmood were not eating meat because there was no halal meat in the stores. So we ate a lot of bread, cheese, and eggs. I pointed out to them that the Quran allows the consumption of non-halal meat when traveling if halal meat is unavailable but they were steadfast about maintaining their piety.

Mahmood found a local chicken farmer who would sell us a chicken to slaughter ourselves and I volunteered to do the job. This undertaking turned out to be one tragic comedy of “chicken killing.”

When we arrived at the farm and saw a bloody wooden chopping block set in the middle of a yard, I felt nauseous. I had never before slaughtered a chicken. I was getting cold feet so I was pleased that neither of us remembered to bring a knife.

“Good,” I thought to myself. “This is my way out.”

Mahmood was insistent. I had promised to kill a chicken, and I was obligated to do it. I was trapped. He chided me loudly, “We were so happy when you volunteered to kill the chicken, and now you’re chickening out?”

“What’s wrong?” we heard the farmer inquire, interrupting our heated discussion.

“We forgot to bring a knife,” said Mahmood, his face as red as a lobster. The kind farmer produced a very small knife.

I was still looking for an excuse to be relieved of my obligation. The poor chicken, which surely knew her life was in my hands, started wriggling and squawking. I tried another approach. I complained about the chicken’s uncooperative behavior saying, “We should just let it go. I can’t control it.” Mahmood grabbed the chicken with both hands and shouted, “Just grab her head and say ‘bismillah’ before you cut it off.”

I had no choice. I made an attempt. I can swear that, if the chicken could laugh, she would have burst out in a loud guffaw, making a mockery of the two of us. The knife was so dull it could not pierce the poor chicken’s throat. Again, I thought I was off the hook. I shouted that the knife was too dull. The kind farmer understood and rushed into his shed to find a sharper knife.

We finally did the job and, emotionally spent, headed home with our chicken. I conveniently neglected to tell Mahmood that we forgot to face Mecca and I am still not sure if our chicken was halal.

Mohammad Yadegari, an Iranian born in Iraq, moved to the United States in 1964. He studied at SUNYA and NYU and then taught mathematics and history in both high school and college. “The Chicken Killing Episode” is from his recently completed cultural memoir, A TALE OF THREE CITIES.


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