Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press, January 11, 2023
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”