Early on Friday mornings during Ramadan, Mustafa Nassar, a Miami Lakes carpet salesman, drives to a slaughterhouse on Okeechobee Road to buy 10 lambs and a cow. One at a time, he draws a knife swiftly across their throats in a single motion, reciting words that make the kill lawful in Islam: Bismallah, Allau-akhbar. ''In the name of God, God is great.”
Nassar, who learned the ritual as a boy in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem, makes sure the blood drains completely from each carcass before it's dressed and the meat cut and packaged. Then he delivers it to Masjid Shamsuddin, a tiny storefront mosque in North Miami Beach, where Una Mohammed-Khan sees that it's distributed to needy Muslim families.
“We're encouraging them this way to eat halal,” said Mohammed-Khan, a Trinidadian-born nurse who lives in Miramar.
Halal, the Muslim equivalent of kosher, follows the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed: Animals must be killed in God's name with a sharp knife as painlessly as possible, and all the blood must be drained. Pork, carrion and alcohol are forbidden.
Ten years ago, access to halal meat was so limited in South Florida that hand slaughter or vegetarian meals were among the few ways Muslims here could remain faithful to Islam's dietary laws -- a vital consideration during the holy month of Ramadan, when daily fasts are broken with evening feasts.
“It was a huge problem,” said Altaf Ali, the South Florida director for the Council for American Islamic Relations. ''You would find a lot of Muslims eating kosher because the resources were so limited.”