DUBAI // Abdul Rahman Ali Al Ameri marches from stall to stall at the Dubai Cattle Market inspecting Iranian goats. The Emirati has a spring in his step as he walks through the pens.
"God has blessed me with a grandson - the first of many, inshallah," says the 63-year-old. "I am buying two goats in his honour. I want the slaughtering to be done at home, like it was when I was growing up. This is part of our life, culture and religion."
Carrying on the traditions of Eid Al Adha, many people in the UAE opt to sacrifice an animal to bless a special occasion. Ramadan, expected to begin in two weeks' time, is one of the peak times for slaughtering. And there are many like Mr Al Ameri who shrug off the hygiene and safety risks of home slaughters.
Ahmad Hassan Al Shammari, the head of the abattoir section at Dubai Municipality, says he has been battling such thinking since 1989. "It was OK in the old days when your herd of a few goats didn't mingle with hundreds of animals from around the world."
Now, Mr Al Shammari warns, times have changed. The improper disposal of offal and animal byproducts can cause severe hygiene problems for the entire neighbourhood. "These things will rot in a skip near your home for days, causing bad odour and attracting pests and may even endanger your pets."
Improper disposal of contaminated meat could lead to zoonotic diseases - those that transfer between animals and humans, such as bird flu.
It is not difficult to find an illegal butcher, many of whom can be seen hanging around the market trying to attract customers. "Now people are getting more nervous, more cautious of police and CID," says Mohammed Yousef, 40, a lorry driver from Pakistan who works at the market.
He and others park their lorries outside, waiting to help those who might need to transport animals to their home or farm. "All of these guys are either absconders or have shady sponsors," he says. "They hide their knives until they find a client. Many of them will just bury it in the sand out here."
Allahtaq Mohammed, also from Pakistan, says illegal slaughtering helps make ends meet since his sponsor abandoned him."I don't think what I'm doing is harming anyone," he says. "There is nothing strange or taboo about it. Besides, God will protect His faithful. If you get sick, this is God's will. God gives Ajir [rewards] to the sickly."
Mr Al Shammari has a less optimistic view. "You are inviting strangers into your home, people you don't know if you can trust," he says. "They might be criminals."
And, he warns, if the butcher is not a Muslim then your meat is not halal. "Many people do not know the proper procedure to ensure meat is halal. Something as simple as the knives they used were blunt and caused unnecessary pain to the animal - that makes the meat not halal."
That message has reached Abdulla Hassan from Al Warqa, for one. "We used to slaughter at home, many years ago," says the Emirati father of seven. "It was part of our culture and heritage. But these days I just don't find it convenient, and the health and hygiene of the animal is not something I'm willing to risk my family's well-being on."
Visit consumerrights.ae or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on municipal slaughterhouses in Dubai, call 800 900, or for Abu Dhabi call 800 22220.