January 8, 2021

Animal Welfare in Islam

Dr. Bilal A. Bhat & Intizar Ahmad

The beautiful religion of Islam has always viewed animals as a special part of Allah’s creation. The Qur’an, the Hadith, and the history of Islamic civilization offer many examples of kindness, mercy, and compassion for animals. According to Census of Marine Life scientists, there are an estimated 8.7 million living species on earth, and yet the Quran teaches us that humans are the highest of creation. With this elevated status comes an elevated responsibility. This responsibility encompasses not only how we treat our own bodies, actions, and interactions with each other, but also how we treat other creations such as animals. Yes, animals have rights and a legitimate place in Islam. The Quran refers to animals as independent communities to be acknowledged and respected: “And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered” (Quran 6:38). At the same time, many animals serve numerous purposes; some of which are for our direct beneficial use, consumption, and companionship while others are part of the circle of life and benefit us indirectly. Regardless of whether we gain any benefit from the animals around us, the Islamic perspective on animal welfare includes treating all animals as independent communities sharing this earth, finding the balance between respecting their independence while at the same time enjoying their benefits and friendship as God intended, all the while avoiding any type of cruelty toward animals. Despite not having the free will or brain power that is bestowed upon humans, animals nonetheless live their lives the way God created them to obey His laws and follow the natural cycle of the earth. Because of Westernized factory-farming methods that are used in many parts of the world, animals suffer hideously in the industries that kill them to produce meat, milk, and eggs. These products not only bring pain and suffering to the animals themselves, they also are implicated in a variety of human diseases, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The intensive production of animals for food is also extremely damaging to the environment. Quran, says, “Do you not see that God is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and [by] the birds with wings spread [in flight]? Each [of them] has known his [means of] prayer and exalting [Him], and God is Knowing of what they do.” (Quran 24:41). This verse shows us that animals have duties and connections with the larger world, including praising God. Hence, we must respect their independent existence without infringing on their rights and responsibilities. When Prophet Nuh (Peace Be Upon Him)) built his ark, he was not only commanded to save the believers among his tribe, but also to preserve the existing animal species by collecting a pair of each. This shows us the importance and value of animals within our living cycle. Quran, says, “[So it was], until when Our command came and the oven overflowed, We said, ‘Load upon the ship of each [creature] two mates and your family, except those about whom the word has preceded, and [include] whoever has believed.’ But none had believed with him, except a few.” (Quran 11:40). In addition, many animals provide us with food, fertilize our plants, as well as inedible, yet similarly valuable products, such as wool, fur, and leather. These benefits are mentioned in the Quran: “Do you not see that God has made subject to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth and amply bestowed upon you His favors, [both] apparent and unapparent? But of the people is he who disputes about God without knowledge or guidance or an enlightening Book [from Him]. (Quran 31:20). An important piece of information here is that despite the overwhelming benefits we gain from animals, God has commanded us to nonetheless share the earth with all living creatures. Therefore, although we gain many benefits from animals, we must remember that we are obligated to care for them and treat them as blessings and with compassion, for the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Anyone who shows mercy, even to an animal meant for slaughtering, will be shown mercy by God on the Day of Rising.”–Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Book 20, Hadith 10. According to the Prophet’s (PBUH) teachings, farmers and caretakers must abide by certain guidelines when dealing with animals: (a) Provide appropriate food and fresh water (b) Provide a safe and comfortable shelter (c) Separate them from aggressive behaviors of each other (d) Allow males and females to mate during mating seasons (e) Not to harvest them for food faster than their ability to breed (f) Not to overburden them (g) Not to neglect them, especially in sickness and advanced age. These Islamic directives came to us over 700 years ago. Similarly, in more modern times, we have what is internationally known as the Five Freedoms outlining five aspects of animal welfare as developed in the United Kingdom in 1965 and formalized in 1979 by the United Kingdom Farm Animal Welfare Council. Subsequently, these Five Freedoms were adopted by internationally prominent animal welfare societies, including the World Organization for Animal Health and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Five Freedoms are: (a) Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor (b) Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area (c) Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment (d) Freedom to express normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind (e) Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering. When most people in the West hear the term, “animal protection from cruelty,” they may think of domestic pets such as dogs and cats with little to no regard for livestock, birds, and wild animals. It seems that these types of animals are held in less esteem since most of the time we see them not as living, breathing creatures, but as butchered pieces, packaged for sale, or hung up as hunting trophies. In Islam, we are taught that all animals—livestock, birds, pets, and wild—must be treated kindly and respectfully. Even the animals we slaughter have rights. Prophet (PBUH) said: “Indeed Allah has decreed Ihsan [responsibility to obtain excellence in worship] in everything. So when you kill, then do the killing well, and when you slaughter, then do the slaughtering well. Let one of you sharpen his blade, and let him comfort his animal (before slaughtering)”–Jami at-Tirmidhi, Vol. 3, Book 14, Hadith 1409. The provisions of respect and anti-cruelty also extend to animals that we do not consume. In some ways, hunting wild animals can be seen as a form of corruption since these animals are not hunted for sustenance, but for amusement and arrogance. It was narrated from Abdullah bin ‘Amr, who attributed it to the Messenger of God (PBUH), who said, “There is no person who kills a small bird or anything larger, for no just reason, but God will ask him about it.” The companions then asked, “O Messenger of God, what does ‘just reason’ mean?” He replied, “That you slaughter it and eat it, and do not cut off its head and throw it aside.”–Sunan An-Nasa’i, Chapter 42, Hadith 4450. Indeed, killing an animal for no beneficial reason, or treating them with cruelty is a sin and a violation of their rights. Even birds that are killed unjustly will come beseeching God for justice on the Day of Judgement. Messenger of Allah (PBUH) say, “Whoever kills a small bird for no reason, it will beseech God on the Day of Resurrection saying: O Lord, so and so killed me for no reason, and he did not kill me for any beneficial purpose.”–Sunan An-Nasa’i, Chapter 42, Hadith 4451. In another instance, it was narrated that Abdullah bin Ja’far said, “The Messenger of God (PBUH) passed by some people who were shooting arrows at a ram. He denounced that and said: ‘Do not disfigure animals (by using them as targets).’” –Sunan An-Nasa’i, Chapter 42, Hadith 4445. Indeed, cruelty against animals for the purpose of sports and entertainment is forbidden. Islam teaches us to be careful and respectful to our animals. There is a great reward for treating them kindly and great punishment for violating their rights. For example, it was narrated from Abu Huraira, that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “A prostitute was forgiven by God, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, God forgave her because of that.” –Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Book 54, Hadith 127. Despite her lifestyle, her mercy toward the dog elevated her in the eyes of God, as He rewarded her with forgiveness from her sins. Once, the Prophet of Mercy spoke of God’s forgiveness due to the humane treatment of animals. He told his companions the story of a man who got thirsty on his way. He found a well, climbed down inside it to the water, and quenched his thirst. When he came out he saw a panting dog licking on mud out of extreme thirst. The man thought to himself, ‘The dog has become as thirsty as I was!’
The man went down the well again and got some water for the dog. God appreciated his good work and forgave him. The companions asked, ‘O Prophet of God, do we get rewarded on humane treatment of animals?’ He said, ‘There is a reward in (doing good to) every living being. On another occasion, Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, described God’s punishment of a woman who was sent to Hell because of a cat. She kept her locked up, neither feeding her nor setting her free to feed herself. God, the Creator of human beings and animals, has made animals subservient to us. We depend on animals for the food we eat and the milk we drink. We bring animals into our homes for love and benefits. The mercy of Islam extends beyond human beings to all living creations of God. Islam prohibits cruelty to animals. Fourteen hundred years ago, long before the modern animal rights movement began with the publication of Peter Singer’s book, “Animal Liberation,” in 1975, Islam required kindness to animals and cruelty to them a sufficient reason for a person to be thrown into the Fire! Humane Islamic treatment of animals can be summarized by the following points: First, Islam requires that pets or farm animals be provided with proper food, water, and a place to live. Once the Prophet passed by an emaciated camel due to hunger, he said:”Fear God in regards to these animals who can not speak their will. If you ride them, treat them accordingly (by making them strong and fit for that), and if you [plan to] eat them, treat them accordingly (by making them fat and healthy).” (Abu Dawud) Second, an animal should not be beaten or tortured. Once the Prophet of Mercy passed by an animal branded on his face. He said, ‘Has it not reached you that I have cursed the one who brands an animal’s face or hits it on its face?’ The Prophet of Mercy advised his wife to treat an unruly camel that she was riding kindly. Making animals fight one another for entertainment was also forbidden by the Prophet. Third, Islam forbids using animals or birds for targets when practicing shooting. When Ibn Umar, one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad saw some people practicing archery using a hen as a target, he said: “The Prophet cursed anyone who made a living thing into a target (for practice).” Fourth, separating nestling birds from their mothers is not allowed in Islam. Fifth, it is forbidden to mutilate an animal by cutting off its ears, tails or other body parts without just reason. Sixth, a sick animal under one’s care should be treated properly. Through these rules and regulations legislated in regards to animals, the Muslims gains the respect and understanding that other creatures are not to be used and abused as one wills, but that they, like humans, have rights which must be given in order to ensure that the justice and mercy of Islam be met to all which inhabit this earth. The winter in Kashmir doesn’t only bring only hardships to the common people but to the animals and birds who find it difficult to survive in crucial winter months. The animals and birds face food scarcity in winters and situation gets worse when snow covers the land. The migratory birds in earlier times used to visit remote paddy fields of Kashmir to feed on leftovers grains, but that habit are not noticed anymore due to so called development and industrialization. It is responsibility of people to feed animals and birds during tough times by leaving some grains or leftover food at suitable places for animals and birds so that they don’t face any difficulty in searching for food and survival. All living creatures are created to survive and communicate under certain guidelines and ethics; this most prominently includes the wide array of animals who function seamlessly in a circle of life. Before the boom of human civilization, animals and other living habitats did not have to suffer from overfishing, hunting, destruction of habitats, human agriculture, urbanization, and the use of toxins such as pesticides and herbicides. Animal extinction is an unfortunate side effect of our own sprawling existence. Despite all of this, many animals learn to adapt and even thrive. By God’s grace and wisdom, he continues to show us our elevated status among living things by having other species adapt to our continuously evolving lifestyles. Therefore, it is our responsibility to return not with arrogance and a sense of superiority, but with compassion and deference to our fellow creatures. In the end, animal welfare is not only a valid topic of discussion, but a serious issue we must address and ponder within our lifestyles. No animal or any of Allah’s creation has been cursed in any way. In Surah Kaf, mention is made about the companions of the cave and their dog (S18:18-22). We would love Allah to bestow His mercy on us, so let’s show mercy and compassion to his creation. We must take our place in this circle of life and try to leave it behind a little better than what we inherit. May Allah guide us all towards peace… Ameen!
( The authors write regularly on Islamic topics for “Kashmir Horizon” exclusively. Views are their own) [email protected]

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