Muslim Holiday Eid Keeps Texas Butcher Busy
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Today marks the end of Eid ul-Adha, a four-day Muslim holiday. It's one of the two Eids in a Muslim calendar. Festivities in this Eid begin after the completion of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Because of the celebration, it's the busiest time of year for an unlikely business - a North Texas butcher shop.
NPR's Shomial Ahmad visited the store. Now, a caution: Some listeners may find portions of this report disturbing.
SHOMIAL AHMAD: Fifty years ago, J.B. Hamilton(ph) opened a butcher shop in Weatherford, Texas, a city 30 miles west of Fort Worth. It's a town known for its ranches and peaches, not its mosque. One day, a retired Pakistani colonel walked into the shop to buy some beef.
Mr. BILL HAMILTON (J.B. Hamilton's Son): And he asked if it was Halal. And we had no idea what he was talking about.
AHMAD: That's JB's son Bill. He's 66 years old now owns Hamilton Wholesale Meats.
Mr. HAMILTON: So he explained the ritual and we got him two goats.
AHMAD: It was just two goats then. And this week, 28 years later, the shop sacrificed over 2,000. The Hamiltons have learned to prepare Halal meat for their Muslim customers. This involves a prayer and a humane way of killing an animal.
On this holiday, Muslims celebrate Abraham's commitment to God. As the Koranic story goes, it's when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael. At the last minute, God replaced Ishmael with a ram. So on this holiday, Muslims honor that faithful day by sacrificing an animal in the name of God. The day begins with a group prayer and then the celebrations began. Nigat Koreshi(ph) is one of Hamilton's customers.
Ms. NIGAT KORESHI: On this Eid, it's all meat. You invite people, you cook fresh meat, you eat. If you go to people's house, they have cooked fresh meat, and you eat. Then after that, you're sick of meat. There's so much meat.
AHMAD: Koreshi grew up in Pakistan and she remembers the rituals before the holiday. She tied balloons around the goat's horns and then painted messages on the goat's fur. When she moved to Texas in the '70s, she and other Muslim parents wanted to continue that tradition for their kids.
KIRESHI: And Hamilton, he agreed to sacrifice a few goats. And we all - right after performing our Eid prayer - would rush to him. And he has ordered goats.
AHMAD: Since that time, many Muslims go to Hamilton. The shop services nearly all of the 32 ethnic grocery stores in the North Texas area.
(Soundbite of phone ringing)
AHMAD: While the phone rings constantly, Hamilton jots down the orders in a composition book labeled Eids. Ashrah's(ph) 20 male goats; Al-Amgir(ph), beef, Angus; Mrs. Han(ph), 10 lambs; Akbar(ph), a fat calf; Sayyed(ph), 500 pounds beef. There's such a high demand for Halal meat that Hamilton employs a man fulltime to bless the animals before slaughter. His name is Shams Hadin Abdul Sabur(ph). And he's the only employee at Hamilton meats with a beard.
One by one, an animal is lead into the kill floor.
AHMAD: Abdul Sabur wears a slick yellow apron and a white prayer top. The animal is directed east, towards Mecca. And with an eight-inch knife, he makes one death slice to the animal's neck.
(Soundbite of butchered animal)
AHMAD: In the name of God, he says. God is great.
The blood gushes out onto the concrete floor. Next, the animal is dehorned, dehooved, skinned and gutted. When Abdul Sabur's hands get cold, he runs warm water over them. When he needs a break, he studies from his blood-stained Koran that sits on a riser in the kill floor. When he gets sad from the killing, he says (speaking in foreign language) may Allah forgive him.
Mr. SHAMS HADIN ABDUL SABUR (Halal Butcher, Hamilton Meat): Because sometimes when I'm walking towards that animal, I feel like I'm the angel of death, you know? And so many thoughts come to your mind while you're going to describe that. You feel compassion, at the same time it makes you more conscious of the human being also.
AHMAD: Abdul Sabur takes his job seriously. In his words, he's working for God. For the last eight years, he's ensured that Hamilton's Muslim customers are getting pure Halal. Halal now makes up over 50 percent of the business. Hamilton's son, David, thinks Texas Muslims are becoming more observant.
Mr. DAVID HAMILTON: For a while, it seems like, you know, people (unintelligible) are starting to get away from their religion and stuff. I caught a few of them eating cheeseburgers and stuff from McDonald's. And it seems like they really have tightened up. And people, you know, actually care about buying Halal products.
AHMAD: The demand for Halal meat has shot up so much that a mainstream grocery store carries the meat. A couple of years ago, the Texas legislature even passed a consumer protective measure. It ensures that Halal-labeled meat follows the Islamic requirements.
Bill Hamilton will retire next year. And he says he'll have his sons take over the shop. His son, David Hamilton, has a few thoughts about how to expand the Halal meat business.
Mr. D. HAMILTON: And we make a lot of Halal beef jerky and some are sausage and stuff like that. They really like it. It's hard for them to get. And beef bacon and stuff like that, you know? And they like it really, really hard. That's (unintelligible).
AHMAD: David Hamilton learned to like that difference. Sometimes, after a hard day's work, he takes his wife and children to one of his favorite Pakistani restaurants. They love the Biryani, the spicy rice dish.
Shomial Ahmad, NPR News.