One of the bonuses of working in the live export industry is that you get to meet some really interesting people from totally different cultures. Mohammad Gadafi Haji Mokti (Gadafi) is one of those.
Gadafi began his career in the livestock and meat industries when he became a slaughterman in Brunei at the government owned Malaut abattoir in 1994. In late ‘94 he moved to Fred McDonald’s Batchelor abattoir south of Darwin to certify their Halal slaughter to allow imports of these products into Brunei. Imagine the culture shock for a young Muslim on his first trip outside Brunei to a rural Northern Territory abattoir. Brunei’s Halal certification standards are different to other Muslim countries, so they require their own specific type of religious supervision and certification before imports are approved. After a brief return to the Brunei abattoir, he spent 3 years at numerous Australian processing plants certifying and accrediting halal slaughter practices, finishing with 2 years at the Glenco abattoir in Tennant Creek. The end of 1998 brought a new operational role with the Glenco team facilitating the export of live animals including cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, deer and camels from Darwin to Brunei. From 2000 to 2018 Gadafi was the resident manager of the Sultan of Brunei’s Opium Creek station east of Darwin where cattle and buffalo were produced and prepared for live export. As a live export veterinarian I visited the station on many occasions to inspect and treat stock prior to export. Gadafi and his wife were always the most welcoming of hosts and a meal at their homestead was a special treat.
In 2019 Gadafi and his wife left the station and opened the Lakim Halal butcher shop in the Oasis shopping centre in Palmerston, Darwin. As seen in the photo below, the shop is in the traditional Australian style, servicing both Muslim (~40%) and non-Muslim customers with a full range of products excluding pork. Gadafi explained that many non-Muslim customers are wholly unfamiliar with the meaning of halal food. When one customer advised him that she couldn’t buy his meat because it was halal, he took the time to explain that all meat (except for the pork) in the Coles supermarket in the same complex was also halal. As a matter of fact, the majority of large meat and poultry processors in Australia use halal slaughter certification in their facilities because it allows Muslims to be included in their customer base without any negative impact for non-Muslim consumers or the slaughter process. In order to achieve this Halal certification in Australia, stock are first stunned with either a mushroom stunner or electric shock; rendering them unconscious (but still alive) with a prayer of thanks to God being said by the Muslim slaughterman before the blood vessels in the throat are severed. The primary difference with non-Muslim slaughter is that animals are killed outright using a penetrating bolt to the brain immediately before their blood vessels are cut. The origin of this halal process is a very logical mechanism to prevent people from being offered meat from animals that were found dead. In ancient times, when diseases transmissible from animals to man such as Anthrax were present, the only way to ensure people were sold meat from healthy animals was to make a rule that only healthy animals that had then been dispatched by having their throat cut by a trusted Muslim butcher would be approved as safe to eat. The word halal in Arabic means ‘lawful’ or ‘permitted’ so Muslims are permitted to eat any meat from approved species prepared in this way – this excludes pork in all its forms. In ancient times pigs and other scavenging animals would commonly feed on dead animals so it was a sensible practice to not eat these species in case their flesh could pass on the diseases that had killed the dead animals they ate. The Jewish Kosher food preparation rules had a similar intent to ensure that Jewish consumers only ate food that was safe for human consumption. While Halal and Kosher are based on religious law, they also represented some of the earliest examples of logical food safety regulations and quality assurance.
Darwin has a large Muslim community serviced by two mosques with around one thousand regular worshipers. Lakim is the most recent of three halal butcher shops in Darwin: the other two specialist shops chiefly servicing their own cultural groups with specific ethnic meat cuts and dry goods. Gadafi, on the other hand, has created a traditional western style halal butcher shop with an Aussie-style meat and poultry offering, as well as a large presentation of cuts and products favoured by Asian consumers such as goat meat, offals, buffalo, beef rashers (bacon made from beef not pork), sausages made with natural casings and occasionally camel. Gadafi is the quintessential Aussie butcher. A big, cheerful, friendly person with an infectious smile who enjoys chatting with his customers as much as selling them his products. The Lakim shop itself is a real family affair; both his wife and their four children all work in the business (when they are not at school in Darwin). Mrs Mokti is well known as an outstanding cook and often provides copies of her special recipes to assist her customers to make the best of their purchases.