Glasgow, 1994. It’s raining. It always seems to be raining. But that doesn’t make me love the town of my birth any less. A few months before I go on to study medicine at university, my mum had me working like her personal Deliveroo driver. On this occasion sending me to our local meat shop to collect whatever she had ordered. Driving in the incessant rain I pass our local Safeway; our usual grocery haunt. Clean, brightly lit, well stocked, hygienic, organised, with a large car park and neatly arranged shopping trolleys. In every way, it was diametrically opposite to my destination. Our local meat shop filled me with dread. I only ever agreed to go if Mum had called up and pre-ordered. That way I could keep my communication with the butcher to a functional minimum. Parking up on a nearby side-street, I plan my mission with precision. Just make sure I can see the blue, plastic carrier bags near the counter ready to be collected. But wait. Can I see the scrap of paper with the price sellotaped to the bag? Yes. Great. Go. Go. Go. I mutter a mandatory ‘Salaam’, then with a knowing nod, point to the bags waiting for collection. Deftly making sure I didn’t collect any unwanted scraps of meat loitering on the outside of the bag or butcher’s hand, I have a quick peek inside to witness the smaller bulging, white bags jostling for position as I head to the till to pay in cash. As I depart, I glance at the meat counter again. The trays of overflowing meat held in position with tight cling-film, valiantly trying to keep the contents from escaping. The morose butcher with a bloodied apron who seemed to have lost his joy for life wherever he lost his gloves. The large carcass that dangles nervously in a permanently open fridge at the back of the store and the secrets hiding in plain looking cardboard boxes. The pieces of flattened cardboard box that had somehow metamorphosed into a carpet. The wooden butcher’s block that never appears to be clean. Last year’s calendar with a picture of a Turkish mosque adorning the wall next to a large white plastic board, declaring the prices in hilariously misspelled English. ‘Sheep Tasticles – £0.59’. I drive away, glancing at the shop in my rear view mirror. Medina Halal, the sign declares. I am certain halal meat in Medina was never meant to be like this.
The truth was that the halal meat shop embarrassed me. I couldn’t accept that something that had such a poor appearance had anything to do with Islam or me. Islam is clean and beautiful, ordained by the Almighty and ahead of its time. This very typical butcher shop lacked hygiene and screamed ‘low quality’ with a distinct lack of pride in its mission. At this time in Glasgow, as with most of the UK, the only outward manifestation of Islam or Muslims were purpose built mosques and halal meat shops. In those days you were far more likely to see a Muslim woman wearing a South Asian dupatta (a long scarf, often worn over the head) than a hijab. But for the less culturally aware Scots man or woman, the halal butcher shop was an open declaration of how Muslims reflected their beliefs. It was testament to how Muslims actually wanted their meat. Unclean, dirty, cheap, with no sense of respect for the slaughtered animal, the consumer nor their Lord. My mortification was soon compounded with the realisation that this is what others were thinking of me. It was personal.