Demand for halal meats connects Minnesota Muslims, farmers

It's been a win-win situation, providing a fast-growing market for goats and sheep while also creating cross-cultural relationships and friendships. 

Geneva Meats owner Paul Smith brings his cart back in to pick up boxes of halal meat to bring out to a delivery truck.

Razi Masood joined a caravan of Muslim friends heading to a small meat processor in rural Minnesota last weekend, where they participated in a religious ritual repeated each year by Muslims across the globe.

They selected goats from a pen at the meat processor, helped carry them to a butcher table, said a prayer, and took part in an Islamic tradition that honors the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God — who allowed him to sacrifice a lamb instead.

Such goats and lambs made their way to dinner tables across Minnesota during Eid al-Adha, one of the most sacred holidays in the Muslim faith. The three-day festival, which ended Tuesday, has created lasting bridges between Minnesota agriculture and the state’s Muslim faithful whose desire for halal meat prepared by Islamic law is both religiously grounded and growing.

“We really appreciate the opportunity to have fresh meat from Minnesota farmers,” said Masood, a computer programmer from Blaine. “And without this, we would never go to these rural places, see farms or interact with people. People are friendly. They talk to you.”

Paul Smith, the owner of Geneva Meats, where Masood’s group was headed, was overseeing the arrival of nearly 300 Muslim customers on the busy holiday weekend. Smith said he had never met a Muslim until he was approached by a group who asked if he could do custom slaughtering to provide halal meats to the Twin Cities.

“That was about five years ago. It took off from there,” Smith said.

Jeelani Basha Shaik, right, prepared to slaughter a goat as Samir Lekbir and Paul Smith of Geneva Meats assisted.

Other rural meat processors are doing the same, he said. It’s been a win-win situation, for their Muslim customers and farmers and meat processors, who have a fast-growing market for goats and sheep.

Processing halal meat, which is now about 40% of Smith’s business, has resulted in cross-cultural relationships and friendships along the way, he said.

“A lot of the people are doctors, engineers,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of good people. I think they look forward to coming and seeing us and I look forward to seeing them.”

The two parties saw a lot of each other during Eid al-Adha, the busiest days of the year for Smith. It reflects the booming market for halal foods, estimated at $2 billion in the United States.

Growing demand

The folks coming in and out of Geneva Meats last weekend reflect the connections taking root. Rashed Ferdous greeted the Muslim men and boys walking through the doors. He held a list of names of nearly 100 people, the time they were to arrive, and the animal they would bring home.

Jean Hopfensperger Star Tribune


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