Dissatisfied with the “halal meat” available in the UK Ruby and Lutfi Radwan dreamt of starting their own farm. In 2002 they took the plunge, quit their teaching jobs, sold their house, bought a 45 acre plot of land in Oxfordshire, installed a caravan… and so began Willowbrook Farm!
Halal meat is now a £1bn a year market in the UK – and growing fast. Willowbrook Farm is one of the pioneers opening this market with an emphasis on ethically and sustainably produced meat. Here Lutfi and Ruby raise their animals, they believe, just as the Qur’an and the prophet Muhammad intended. To them this means organically and sustainably. It’s a fabulously diverse and idiosyncratic place. Chickens strut under silver birch and wild cherry trees, whilst sheep run the fields accompanied by alpacas – ideal shepherds according to Lutfi, they make a perfect pairing – and Christmas turkeys strut around within site of the farm’s Prayer Room.
Neither Lutfi nor Ruby are from farming stock. Lutfi was a geography lecturer at the nearby big University whilst Ruby taught and worked as an alternative healer. But, 2002, saw them buying their 45 acres of farmland and moving on site to develop it full time as a home and farm. Its been a long journey to build a wonderful cob earth house and out buildings, all heated through wood burning furnaces, to plant thousands of saplings and to build up their core stock of sheep, goats and chickens. Today though, they sell their produce online and from a small farm shop, as well as offering open days, camping and concerts. Lutfi and Ruby have created something of an ecological oasis, and live there with their five children and various spouses.
I guess the big issue is that when it is time for slaughter, then its halal style. This means that each animal will – in accordance with Islamic law – have the name of God pronounced over it before dispatch. Lutfi and Ruby are fervent in their belief that invoking God before killing an animal is “acknowledging a spirituality behind all material existence”. Halal slaughter also requires that an animal must be healthy and that pain and suffering be minimised. The animal should be dispatched with a quick cut to the throat with a sharp knife, a method that allows the blood to drain quickly from the carcass.
The stunning of animals before slaughter is legally required under EU regulations, but there is a waiver for religious groups such as Muslims and Jews causing significant concern beyond these religions. However, in actual fact, stunning has been adopted by most Muslim abattoirs, with over 97% of halal meat killed with a pre-stun in exactly the same manner as non-halal meat.
This is the case for Willowbrook Farm where they have also recently installed their own on site abattoir for the birds on the farm. This allows Lutfi to ensure individual attention to each bird and eliminates the suffering and disruption of the transportation of their animals to slaughter.
Lutfi argues passionately that the argument about stunning is disproportionate. Rather he suggests that there are more demanding issues at stake arising from Islam’s emphasis on sustainable living and kindness to animals. The Qur’an commands Muslims to “eat of what is in the earth lawful and wholesome”, but too often, he freely admits, the emphasis in halal audits focuses on the method of slaughter rather than the wholesome and pure life of the animals. The result is that many halal meat producers too often mirror the pitfalls of the mass food industry: expediency and cheapness rather than the wider Islamic dictates of natural and compassionate methods of farming and raising animals.
It was a fascinating and illuminating experience to spend a day with Lutfi and Ruby and family. Willowbrook Farm is so much more than halal-audited meat production. The whole family are involved in running the farm. The warmth and bond between them all is something which has to be experienced at first hand. It spills over to set the tone for everything done at the farm. It is that I took away with me as the enduring, dominant memory. You don’t have to even share the family’s genuine and sincere Islamic thinking in order to find a visit an inspiring experience, and one that can only serve to teach tolerance and love.
For more on Lutfi and Ruby at Willowbrook Farm see the Willowbrook Farm Website.
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC]