US Muslim Immigrant Corrals Market on Halal Goats


Mukit Hossain drove up to a large suburban home recently and pulled out two plastic bags from his Jeep Cherokee. He hurried up the driveway and called out to the couple waiting inside.


In their kitchen, he spread out packages wrapped in white paper, labeled “Hams,” “Neck” and “Ribs.” The lady of the house handed him a glass of water and asked, “So, now, did you slaughter the goat by yourself?”

“Yes, I did,” Hossain said proudly.

It was his first delivery in suburban Washington, just a couple of weeks after he had e-mailed fliers to area Muslims informing them that he was selling naturally raised, humanely slaughtered, home-delivered goat meat that was halal , or in accordance with Islamic law.

What the e-mail recipients didn’t know was that Hossain was doing all the raising, slaughtering and delivering himself.

Like many of Hossain’s customers, the Khans had known him as a civic activist and telecommunications executive. Hossain, 49, who emigrated from Bangladesh in the 1970s, was living in suburban Loudoun County, Virginia, when he became concerned that his work on behalf of day laborers was affecting his business relationships and that his daughters were becoming more interested in designer labels than core values. By 2008, he was wondering about the path his life had taken.

“I thought, ‘There’s got to be something better I can do rather than run this corporate rat race,’ ” said Hossain, a compact and energetic man. “We were thinking about doing something with the land, and it occurred to me that there are close to 300,000 Muslims in Northern Virginia. The majority eat halal,” and he knew of no organic halal goat meat produced in Virginia.

Abdullah Wasay, who manages Madina, a suburban Middle Eastern market, said the demand for halal goat meat is high, especially among Indian and Pakistani customers or those seeking lean meat.

When Hossain sold his four-bedroom house and moved his family to a 15-acre farm near Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 2008, he had never lived in a rural area. “Some folks think I have completely lost it,” he said. “A friend said, ‘Why would you get a degree from Duke if you were going to become a farmer?’ ” Even his wife, Sabrina, wondered whether it was a good idea. (There was some precedent: Hossain’s grandfather had given up a prominent law career in Bangladesh to become a farmer. Everyone thought he had lost it, too.)

But as Hossain stood outside his barn last week, sucking on a Peterson bent pipe, he radiated contentedness. “This is the most peaceful job I have ever done,” he said as he watched two workers build fences for his 67 goats and the additional 150 on their way from a another farm.

But farm life isn’t easy. A day earlier, several goats had escaped their corral and eaten poisonous holly. Two died; Hossain saved the rest by feeding them Pepto Bismol to soothe their stomachs and coffee to make them vomit.

“One thing about being a farmer is, you have to become a vet; you have to become an animal psychologist,” he said. You also have to become an economist and a marketer — and, in his case, you have to understand how to produce an Islamically pure product.

“I wanted to create halal in every sense of the word, from the time it’s born,” he said. “One of the things people don’t realize about halal is it’s not just the way they are slaughtered. It’s the way they are raised. If all that is not done as humanely as possible, what is the concept, really?” Allowing an animal to become stressed or confining it in tight spaces goes against the spirit of halal, Hossain said. So does squeezing too much profit. “If the concept of halal is something that’s beneficial, trying to sell halal at an exorbitant price goes against that.”

Hossain learned halal slaughter from an imam. “The knife has to be extremely sharp so you don’t put the animal under undue duress,” he said. When slitting an animal’s throat, he tries to cut the jugular vein and the nerve that goes to the spine in one smooth motion. An important requirement, Hossain said, is to invoke the name of God before and during the act.

Still, even humane killing is killing.

“There is a psychological and emotional toll in every slaughter .… It’s a responsibility to the animal and also a responsibility to the consumer. I’m telling them that ‘I’m giving you halal,’ and I need to ensure that it is halal,” he said. “If I leave this part to somebody else, I don’t know exactly what the process is going to be. It’s one part that I really, really want to do myself.”

That might work as long as he has only a handful of goats to butcher weekly according to customers’ specifications.

But during his first week in business, a wholesaler asked whether Hossain could provide him with 800 goats a month, much more than the 200 a month he had planned for. Hossain said he might talk to an imam about getting help and will hire a driver.

With an initial investment of $200,000, the farm, named Netoppew after a Powhatan word for “friends,” has not broken even but has given the family less tangible benefits.

“I think that here, there’s not as much sense of keeping up with the Joneses,” Sabrina Hossain said. “I think this is the healthiest decision we’ve made.”

The Washington Post

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