Offence at a Butcher Shop: Halal Pragmatics, Authoritarian Politics, and Neoliberal Economy in Mumbai
Keywords:ethics, semiotics, halal, food, market, neoliberal
‘We are Muslim, we slaughter halal,’ Hassan muttered in irritation in response to a customer’s request to observe the recitation of the tasmiya upon slaughter. His assertion of Muslim identity as a source of trust in halal performance articulates a practice of halal that is now under threat from new forms of halal piety and the documentary demands of halal certification that each foreground complexity, suspicion, and doubt as the basis for halal in the contemporary world. In India where Hindu Nationalist discourse situates the imaginary of the Muslim-as-butcher as the symbolic antithesis of the nation, and where neoliberal aspirations forge a shiny future without Muslim presence—the stakes of offence, suspicion and purity are urgent. I foreground Islamic legal debates on halal as alternating between contested definitions of halal and pragmatic consideration of how trust in halal quality is to be established. Everyday halal practice in Mumbai is legible at the intersection of historically formulated forms of reason, intention, affect and material practice within a changing global market economy and an increasingly hostile political context. Moments of affective breakdown between Muslim customers and butchers reveal the intimacy between new forms of halal piety, a Hindutva politics of abjection, and the exclusionary economy of neoliberal aspiration. Through halal pragmatics, I argue for an ethical anthropology whereby contestations over forms of relation, materiality and subjectivity may form the basis for an ethical critique of political, economic, and scholarly formations.
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