Islamic Sufism Spirituality

Animal Rights – from Islamic Perspective

Posted on: June 10, 2008

We live in a world inhabited not only by humans but also by countless other creatures that share the world with us. Animals provide resources and services that we use. They form part of the life-support system of the earth on which all life depends. Every kind of thing is produced on the earth in due balance and measure. The mineral kingdom supports the vegetable, which in turn support the animal kingdom, and there is a link of mutual dependence between them, in a chain of gradation and interdependence. This ecological and organic vision of the world is amply described by the Qur’an: [The earth We have spread out (like a carpet); set thereon mountains firm and immovable: and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance] (Al-Hijr 15:19).

What should be our relationship with creatures in the animal world? The Islamic view of human relation with animals cannot be evaluated in isolation from its tawheedi worldview. Islam inculcates a faith in the Eternal, Transcendental Creator, Who created according to a plan and purpose. From the smallest particle to the large galaxies, all the flora and fauna fulfill their assigned role in a unified divine scheme: [Do you not see that God is He, Whom obeys whoever is in the heavens and whoever is in the earth, and the sun and the moon and the stars, and the mountains and the trees, and the animals and many of the people] (Al-Hajj 22:18).

We see that each animal has been created with a specific purpose, either to benefit human beings directly, or as symbols for people to ponder over God’s greatness (An-Nahl 16:5,8, An-Naziat 79; An-Noor 24:45). The existence of animals is proof for the very existence of God (An-Noor 24:45). Even animals’ geographical distribution is ordained by God (Al-Jathiya 45:4, 29). Any beholder can see the simple homely things of life in which human beings receive so many benefits from divine mercy (Ya-Seen 36:71-73). The Qur’an invites man to contemplate the cattle, sheep, horses, camels, mules, and other domestic animals, the birds of the sky, and all the innumerable species and genera that they comprise (Al-Ghashiya 88:17; Ya-Seen 36:71; and An-Noor 24:41). The way in which the birds fly and stay in the air is a sign of God in which there is guidance for humankind (Al-Insan 67:19; An-Nahl 16:79). God established and maintained a balance between all His creations (Ar-Rahman 55:7-10). God alone is the real Sustainer and Provider. He has taken upon Himself the responsibility to provide for every living creature (Hud 11:6; Adh-Dhariyat 51:58; Al-Hijr 15:19-21; Al-`Ankaboot 29:60).

By creating right instincts, God has bestowed a balanced chain so that food is available for everyone. Terrible consequences will follow if this chain is broken (Ar-Rahman 55:8; Ar-Room 30:41). By over-killing and destroying, man has exterminated magnificent creatures in the wild. He has almost wiped out whales in the northern hemisphere and is continuing in the other. Widespread beating, kicking, overriding, torturing, cruel slaughtering methods and vivisection, causing animal pain and suffering have created an enlightened demand for more humane ethics. Philosopher Charles Hartshorne expressed the need thus: “We need new ethical and practical ideas to mediate between ultimate ideas and our concrete situation.”1

The Islamic worldview and guidelines give sufficient basis for a humane treatment of animals. If one compares Islam with other worldviews, one can see different approaches to such concepts. For example, a pantheistic worldview of reality will have problems in fighting against pain, cruelty, and injustice since, ultimately, these things are only part of the reality that is “god” in the pantheistic sense. One major objective of Islam is that it seeks to make the human being kind hearted towards fellow creatures. Kindness is an important ingredient of the human conscience. God Himself is compassionate and kind and wants man, His vicegerent on earth, to be kindhearted towards all living creatures.

Animal Rights Through History

For centuries man has been pitting animal against animal in the name of sport, with gambling often a driving force. Added to the list are bullfights and cockfights. Cruelty to animals has provided a major outlet for redirected aggression from the times of the earliest civilization right up to the present day. From the slaughters of the Roman amphitheatres, to the bear-baiting of the Middle Ages and the bull- and cockfighting of modern times, the infliction of pain on animals undeniably has had a mass appeal. St. Augustine (354-430) argued that “since beasts lack reason we need not concern ourselves with their suffering. And that is why they have no rights.”2 To Galen (130 BC–199 BC) and his heirs, animals had value only as a source of medical ingredients and as experimental models. This position was compounded by the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who maintained that animals had no souls and no inherent rights, and stated that “irrational creatures can have no fellowship in human life which is regulated by reason. Hence, friendship with irrational creatures is impossible.” He argued that there was no way of distinguishing animals from machines. They only moved “through sense and appetite … so that the body is projected with powers directed to its being moved rather than with powers of moving.”3 C. W. Hume indicates that Cartesian attitudes, which were heavily influenced by Thomist philosophy, led to horrifying practices. People “dissected dogs without pity to observe the circulation of the blood” and the animals screams were simply some sounds4. But one has to remember that St. Thomas Aquinas held that the person who feels pity for the suffering animals is more likely to have compassion for his fellows. The righteous man will treat his beasts well5.” Clarke has pointed out that in the 18th century the same people who spoke against slavery “were also active in the cause of animals.6”

The Renaissance, while being the cradle of enlightenment in Europe, was also a period of superstition, during which millions of cats and women were burned for being agents of the Devil. Some individuals, such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) spoke out against cruelty to and exploitation of animals. Against that, Rene Descartes (1596–1650), who maintained that animals have neither thought nor understanding, and are thus incapable of feeling pleasure or pain, followed them shortly after. Cartesian philosophy had a huge impact, particularly on the way in which experimental animals were mistreated during the rise of European science. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) observed, “As far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties. Animals are not self-conscious, and are there merely as means to an end.”

But thoughts and actions against the cruelties towards animals began long back. As early as 1641, the Massachusetts Bay Colony formulated The Body of Liberties, which stated “No man shall exercise any tyranny and cruelty towards any creature which was usually kept for man’s use.” Since then, legislations have been passed and societies have been formed to guard against cruelties to animals. Eminent religious personalities such as John Wesley (1703–1791) and Bishop Butler preached the need for a humane attitude to animals. In the late 19th century when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) asked for support, Pope Pius IX (1876–1958 ) refused it, on the ground that human beings owe no duty to the lower animals and that ill treating animals is not sinful. He said, “Society for such a purpose could not be sanctioned in Rome7.” Philosopher Schopenhauer (1788–1860) complained that “Christianity contains, in fact, great and essential imperfection in limiting its precepts to man, and in refusing rights to the entire animals’ world.8”

It is with the advancement of physiological and neurological information that modern movements for animal rights began. Professor Peter Singer, one of the leading advocates of animal rights states, “Although there are one or two nineteenth century thinkers who assert that animals have rights, the serious movement for animal liberation is very young, a product of the 1970’s.9”

Animals in the Qur’an

The animal world too has its own rights, just like that of the human world. Animals have similar characteristics, peculiarities, temperaments, and consciousness of their own. They have the ability to experience what we all consider to be morally relevant states of consciousness such as pain, distress, fear, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, joy, and pleasure. Many animal species other than mammals share abilities we thought made humankind singular, such as communications, tool using and tool making, love and nurturing a partner and family. Altruism has been observed in most species. This modern ethological finding is reflected in the Qur’anic concept of animals as an ummah (community) just like mankind is: [there is no creature on earth, nor a bird which flies on wings, but they are communities like you] (Al-An`aam 6:38 ). This verse elegantly speaks also of the sanctity of life.

From the Qur’an, it is evident that natural instinctive knowledge has been given to each creature according to its characteristics (An-Nahl 16:68; Al-A`la 87:2–3). Each kind of animal has been given instinctive knowledge, on the basis of which fish swim, birds fly, and bees make hives. The Qur’an relates the story of an ant addressing Prophet Solomon (An-Noor 24:18). Modern entomology has discovered a sophisticated chemical system of communication among ants. The Qur’an categorically declares (Al-Baqara 2:26) that there is nothing undistinguished in the mention of creatures, such as the fly and the gnat, because God is the Lord of the small and the big, the Creator of the gnat and whale. All are under divine mercy: [And there is no creature that crawls on the earth, but its sustenance rests with God, He knows its dwelling place and its repository. All has been recorded in a Manifest Book] (Hud 11:6).

It is from God that each creature derives its form and nature (Ta-Ha 20:50). God endows them with faculties exactly suited to them, and characteristics to the environments in which life will be cast, giving to everything due order and proportion (Al-A`la 87:1–3). God endows every creature with forms, faculties, order, and measure. He has measured exactly the needs of all, and given instincts and physical predispositions (Al-Qamar 54:49; Ta-Ha 20:50). Life and the conditions here on earth are mutually balanced for the creatures (Ar-Rahman 55:10–12). The Qur’an mentions the dog that faithfully kept company with the companions of the cave (Al-Kahf 18:18–22). The camel is mentioned as a sign of God’s creative power (Al-Ghashiya 88:17). Birds, like everything in the cosmos, adore and worship the Lord (An-Noor 24:41; Saba 34:10; Sad 38:19). The Qur’an informs that bees are imparted with divine inspirations (An-Nahl 16:68–69). It speaks of extending charity not only to all men including believers and unbelievers (Al-Baqara 2:272), but also to the dumb creation (Adh-Dhariyat 51:19, Al-Insan 76:8). The Qur’an condemns the Arabs of jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic ignorance) for their superstitious slitting of the ears of cattle, calling this a practice inspired by Satan (Al-Nisa 4:119).

Reflecting the prominence of animals in the divine scheme of things, many surahs are named after animals in the Qur’an: The Cow (surah 2), The Cattle (surah 6), The Bee (surah 16), The Ant (surah 27), The Spider (surah 29), The Elephant (surah 105). Thus we see that Islam sanctifies life in all its aspects, omitting nothing from its embrace.

One widespread view is that talk of rights cannot be separated from mutuality of duties or contracts. From this it is deduced that since, in general, animals cannot enter into contract with us, it is inappropriate to talk of rights to them. But Islam does not agree with the idea. In the Qur’an, dabbah (a moving thing) is applied to both man and animal (Al-`Ankaboot 29:60; Hud 11:6). The Qur’an categorically states that the earth belongs to God and serves the purpose of providing subsistence to all living creatures (Ar-Rahman 55:10). Huquq Allah (the rights of Allah) partly implies the right of mankind and other creatures of God, particularly the weak and disadvantaged (An-Naziat 79:33; Al-Nisa 4:75; Abasa 80:25–32). People and their cattle have a right to water. Most often when the Qur’an mentions how God has made provisions for man, animals also get mentioned (Hud 11:6; Al-Furqan 25:47–49; Al-`Ankaboot 29:60; Al-Hijr 15:20; Ta-Ha 20:54; Al-Ahqaf 46:4; Abasa 80:24–32).

The Concept of Steward

Animals have been created mostly for the benefit of mankind; men are the masters of them (Ya-Seen 36:71; Al-Baqara 2:29). God has created cattle for men10, in which there is a sign of God (Al-An`aam 6:142; An-Nahl 16:66; Al-Mu’menoon 23:21). Cattle have been made for man to ride on and to serve as food and for various other advantages (Ghafir 40:79; An-Nahl 16:8, 66). Man can make use of the flesh, skin, feathers, and bones of animals (Al-An`aam 6:143). The Qur’an approves dogs to be used for hunting (Al-Maeda 5:4). It points out that man, through the application of his skill and intelligence, has been able to make multiple uses of the skin and hair of animals for his comforts and conveniences (An-Nahl 16:80). There is a utilitarian aspect for the care of animals. For example, the value of bees and wasps for pollination cannot be underestimated. Microbes play a role in the replenishing of the soil for the plants.

As the animals have been created for the service of man and are a boon to him, they must be utilized in the name of God. Man should make judicious use of them for his benefit and must be grateful to God (Ya-Seen 36:71–73). Man tames and uses the animals for his benefit even as he may tame other forces of nature. But due care should be there. There is a hierarchical ranking and distinction between living beings. The animals are superior to plants, which can be sacrificed for them, while plants and animals can be sacrificed for man. Only the prescribed and permitted animals can be sacrificed (Al-An`aam 6:145; Al-Maeda 5:3, 96; Al-An`aam 6:121; Ghafir 40:79–81) for man in a prescribed manner, which includes thanking God for the permission. Mankind should remember that the earth belongs to all living creatures: [And He has set out the earth for all creatures] (Ar-Rahman 55:10; italics added).

Men are put on earth also to manage all the resources on God’s behalf. The wrongful dominion of, cruelty to, and exploitation of animals by man create a moral taint. Human responsibility to animal beings is to feed them, maintain them, and use them in suitable ways with kindness. All creation, living and non-living, participates in the divine eternal plan and, therefore, merit appropriate care and attention from the humans who are commissioned to tend it.

The ancient nation of Thamud was warned that even a thirsty camel has its own drinking rights (Al-Qamar 54:23–30). The story of Prophet Salih and the people of Thamud illustrates the moral that denying animals their basic right to pasture and spring for food and water is a heinous sin in divine vision (Al-A`raf 7:73, Hud 11:64, Ash-Shura 26:155–156). The Thamud had arrogated all rights of water and pasture to themselves. On Prophet Salih’s intervention, the due of the poor and their cattle was given to each in turn. As a test case, a she-camel was selected, which, according to the agreement, would enjoy free access to the spring and the pasture. But the privileged people killed the she-camel, which caused their destruction by an earthquake.

One of the messages in the story is that all animals have their rights in the resources of nature and that man can only deny them at his own peril. In the anecdotes of Noah and his ark, Noah was directed to [load (in the ark) from everything a pair, male and female] (Hud 11:40). This is indicative of the divine scheme of life on earth, which for balance requires preservation of all types of animals. According to the celebrated commentator of the Qur’an, Imam Fakr Ad-Din Ar-Razi, “the expression ‘what your right hands own’ (malakkat ayrnanukum), stands for all those that have no civil rights including the dumb animal.”11 Thus the Qur’anic verse 30:28, lays down the duty of being good towards, and doing good to, the animals. God loves those who are kind and enjoin kindness (An-Nahl 16:90; 31:17). People should not kill a living creature, which God has made sacrosanct, except for a justifiable reason (Al-An`aam 6:152; Al-Isra’ 17:33). The faithful are specifically enjoined not to kill game while in the sacred precincts in pilgrim’s garb (Al-Maeda 5:96). To be a slave of one’s desires is actually worse than being a beast (Al-Furqan 25:43–44). No animal will overstep the limits set by God. Every animal eats what God has fixed for it; it performs only those functions that are allotted to it. A man who worships his own passions, impulses, and desires is the most hopeless steward.

Unparalleled Guidelines

It was from the prophethood of Muhammad that the real emancipation movement of animals began. He gave more detailed ethics, throwing light on all aspects of animal rights. The Qur’an declares that Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to the whole world, including human beings and other living creatures: [We have not sent you (Muhammad) but as a mercy to the worlds] (21:107). The sphere of human responsibility is extended to all living things. Prophet Muhammad declared, “All creatures of God form the family of God and he is the best loved of God who loves best His creatures” (Al-Baihaqi).

Islam has strictly prohibited tampering with the lives of animals and inflicting torture upon them just for the sake of fun. Setting animals against each other, such as cocks, oxen, or sheep, for the sake of fun or for any other reason, is completely forbidden in Islam. Using an animal as a target for shooting practice with a gun or bow is forbidden. “The Prophet cursed one who kills a living creature as a mere sport (as in hunting)” (Muslim). The Prophet prohibited the setting of animals so as to fight one another (as a sport) (At-Tirmidhi). The birds, which are flying beauties, are not to be harmed for the sake of fun, since the Prophet said, “A sparrow that was killed just for fun would on the Day of Judgment complain (to God) against the person who did so, just for fun and not for any material gain.”

The Prophet admonished us to avoid “the seven abominations” (sins), and for one of the sins he recited the following verse of the Qur’an: [Kill not a living creature, which God has made sacrosanct, except for a justifiable reason] (Al-An`aam 6:152, Al-Isra’ 17:33; reported by Al-Nasai). “One who kills even a sparrow or anything smaller, without a justifiable reason, will be answerable to God.” When asked what would be a justifiable reason, he (the Prophet) replied, “To slaughter it for food—not to kill and discard it” (Ahmad). The Prophet prohibited stoning animals even with pebbles: “Even if it does not kill or bleed, it may harm their eyes and teeth” (Muslim). “One who is enslaved to hunting is a ghaafil (i.e., lost to religion)” (At-Tirmidhi). “He shall not enter into Paradise who ill treats those under his possession” (At-Tirmidhi).

Many animals are hunted so that their skins may adorn some fashionable ladies. Islam shuns such wasteful pursuits. The Prophet admonished, “Do not ride on silk stuff and panther skins” (Abu Dawud). He forbade the use of the skins of beasts of prey (Abu Dawud). The Prophet beautifully defined the concept of stewardship thus: “Every one of you is a steward and is accountable for that which is committed to one’s charge” (Al-Bukhari).

Showing mercy is the way to get divine mercy: “The merciful shall have mercy from the Most Merciful. Show mercy to those on earth and you shall have mercy from Him” (Abu Dawud). “God has divided mercy into 100 parts and He kept 99 parts with Him and sent down one part of these on the earth, and because of that (one single part), His creatures are merciful to each other, so that even the mare lifts up its hoof away from its baby animal, lest it should trample on it” (Al-Bukhari 8:29). “God loves that one should be kind and lenient in all matters” (Al-Bukhari 8:53). “He who is deprived of tenderly feeling is, in fact, deprived of good” (Muslim).

The Prophet equated the benefit accrued from expending from one’s resource in this way: “If a Muslim plants a tree, then whatever is eaten from it by birds is a charity and whatever is stolen is a charity” (Muslim). When Prophet Muhammad was asked by his Companions whether kindness to animals would be rewarded in the life hereafter, he replied, “Yes, there is a meritorious reward for kindness to every living creature” (Al-Bukhari).

Since animals are communities, just as mankind is (Al-An`aam 6:38), they, too, deserve mercy and affection. The Prophet said, “Our Most Merciful God showers His mercy on those who are themselves merciful. One who has been endowed with a gentle nature has received a portion of the goodness of this world and the next” (Ahmad). He categorically declared, “If you want to be loved by your Creator, love His creatures” (At-Tirmidhi). “God says: If you are anxious to receive kindness from Me, offer kindness to My creatures” (Ad-Dailami). “God is not merciful to a person who is not merciful towards other” (Muslim). When the Messenger of God was asked about a donkey, he replied, “Nothing particular was revealed to me regarding them except this general unique verse which is applicable to everything: [Whoever does good equal to weight of an atom shall see it and who ever does evil, equal to the weight of an atom shall see it] [99:7–8]” (Al-Bukhari). This means that if someone treats his donkey kindly and does not overburden it, he will be rewarded for that in the Hereafter, and if he does the opposite, he will gain the fruit of his ill behavior.

Zoo officials who keep animals confined in limited space do not consider the agony of the animal. They can take a clue from this prophetic message of Muhammad: “It is a great sin for man to imprison those animals which are in his power” (Muslim). “Do not withhold the superfluous water, for that will prevent people from grazing their cattle” (Al-Bukhari). This means that if one has a well near which there is a pasture and there is no other source of water nearby, one should not withhold the water from the grazing animals.

There are many hadiths that reflect the environmental vision about animals. For example, “The Prophet disallowed the killing of the following: ants, honeybees, hoopoes, and sparrows” (Abu Dawud). What it signifies is that such birds, insects, or animals that are not to be used for food or that are harmless, should not be killed. In the hadith recorded by An-Nasa’i, it is narrated that frogs should not be killed in that they glorify God. The Prophet once said, “Let the birds stay in their nests” (Abu Dawud). Long before the concept of reserve sanctuaries began, Prophet Muhammad declared the territory of Madinah between Aeer (southern hill) and Thawr (northern hill) as a city sacrosanct (Al-Bukhari).

In the course of Hajj, peace is the dominant theme: peace with one another and with animals, peace with birds and even with insects. To disturb the peace of anyone or any creature in any shape or form is strongly prohibited. Al-Haram is an inviolable territory in which animal hunting is strictly prohibited. When the Prophet learned about a mother bird whose baby bird was caught by his disciples, he reprimanded them saying, “Who has troubled it? Restore to it its babies” (Abu Dawud). “God’s Messenger had forbidden the killing of domestic snakes” (Muslim). He prohibited the eating of all beasts of prey with canine teeth (Al-Bukhari), birds of prey with a claw (Abu Dawud), the ass (Muslim), and the mule (Abu Dawud). The list of animals prohibited for food also includes hyenas, foxes, kites, pelicans, weasels, elephants, crows, ravens, crocodiles, wasps, and insects (Al-Hidaya).

The Prophet prohibited all forms of physical injuries to animals. “Cutting of camel’s juicy humps and fatty tails of rams for food while these animals were still alive was forbidden” (At-Tirmidhi). This was a usual practice in Madinah at the time of the arrival of the Prophet. “He condemned those who mutilate any part of an animal’s body while it is alive” (Ahmad). He also forbade the pre-Islamic practice of cutting the tails and manes of horses. The Prophet forbade the beating of an animal that is branded on the face and said, “May God condemn the one who branded it” (Muslim). When passing by a camel that was so emaciated that its back had shrunk to its belly, the Prophet said, “Fear God in these beasts; ride them in good health” (Abu Dawud). “He strongly condemned the castration of animals” (Al-Bazzar). “No one but God has the right to inflict the treatment of fire on a creature” (Abu Dawud).

Islam has declared that if a man—however great he may be—ill-treats the dumb animals, he can even earn the punishment of Hellfire. The Prophet narrated a story of a woman who was thrown into Hell because she had tied a cat, which she neither fed nor set free (Al-Bukhari). Imam Ab-Nawawi (d. 1277 CE), the famous Islamic scholar, deduced from this hadith that the owners of animals will be held responsible for the subsistence of the animals (Sharhan Nawawi, 2/237). On the other hand, showing kindness to animals is an act of great virtue and can lead to the forgiveness of sin. The event has been mentioned by the Prophet, thus: “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 good deed” (Al-Bukhari).

“If you must kill, kill them without torture” (Al-Bukhari). While pronouncing this dictum, the Prophet did not name any animal as an exception, not even any noxious or venomous creatures such as scorpions and snakes. In a famous hadith, Abu Hurayrah reports to have heard the Messenger of God saying, “A certain prophet was resting under the shade of a tree. An ant bit him. He instructed his belongings to be removed from there and immediately ordered the heap of ants to be turned. God revealed to him, ‘Was it not an ant that hurt you and you have ordered a full nation of ants to be destroyed who are engaged in the invocation of God? Was it not a single ant?’”

Whenever the Prophet prayed to God for rain, he would implore Him to provide water for people and animals (Malik). It is because of animals that God still showers His blessings, in spite of people’s disobedience: “If people should withhold zakah, you should realize that this has never happened without the rain being stopped from falling, and were it not for the animals’ sake it would never rain again” (lbn Majah).

Regarding the general treatment of animals, the following hadiths are important to notice: “Do not treat the backs of your beasts as pulpits, for God has made them subject to you only to convey you to a town which you cannot reach without difficulty” (Abu Dawud). “O bondmen of God! Fear God, use the animals to the capacity, but do not overburden them. Feed them properly and provide them rest before they are exhausted and tired” (Abu Dawud). “Upon seeing a feeble camel, the Prophet said to the owner, ‘Do you not fear God in the matter of these beasts of which He has made you the owner? This camel complains to me that you starve it and work it hard’” (Abu Dawud). Imran ibn Husain reported: “We were with God’s Messenger in some of his journey and there was a woman from the Ansar riding a she-camel that shied and she invoked a curse upon that. God’s Messenger heard it and said, ‘Unload that and set it free, for it is accursed’” (Muslim). “When you ride on those speechless animals, let them rest at their halting places, and should the land there be barren and void of vegetation, take them away and make it obligatory to travel by night, for distances are not so well traveled during day as during night” (Malik).

Martin Lings, a modern biographer of the Prophet, explains this by quoting original sources thus: “During the march on one of these days (the expedition to conquer Mecca) the Prophet saw a bitch lying by the side of the road with a litter of recently born pups which she was feeding, and he (the Prophet) was afraid that she might be molested by one or another of the men. So he told Ju’ayl of Damrah (a disciple) to stand on guard beside her until every contingent had passed.11”

Glimpses From Islamic History

The following guidelines were part of the instructions made by Caliph Abu Bakr (ruled 632-636 CE) given to the first expedition into Syria: “Slaughter not the sheep or cows or camels except for purposes of food.12”

The law of war as enunciated by an Islamic jurist Imam Malik in Al-Muwatta’ forbids the slaying of the flock and the destruction of beehives. Imam Shafi`i (768-820 CE) was of the view that “animals were to be destroyed only if they would strengthen the enemy.”

`Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph, saw a person dragging a goat by its leg to slaughter it. He said to him, “Ruin overtakes thee, if thou wouldst take it to its death. Let it be in the proper manner13”. `Umar issued instruction to the common people to the effect that animals should not be put to hardship and given trouble and they should be treated kindly. He expressed his concern and anguish in these words: “If a camel was to stumble in Euphrates valley, I fear that God will question me about it.14”

`Umar ibn `Abdul `Aziz (682-720 CE), renowned as “the second `Umar,” instructed the governors to stop people from whipping their horses and goading them with pricks. He “fixed the maximum weight to be loaded on camels on the banks of Nile. It was reported to him that in Egypt the transport camels were loaded with 1000 pounds. He ordered that the camels must not be loaded with more than 600 pounds load15.” The most graphic description of a Muslim ruler has been given by the celebrated theologian Hasan Al-Basri in his reply to the question posed by the great `Umar ibn `Abdul `Aziz: “The just ruler, O commander of the believers, is like a herdsman, solicitous for the camels he tends, desiring the sweetest pleasures for them, driving them away from any dangerous grazing place, protecting them from beasts of prey and shielding them from harms of heat and cold.16”

Now let us see certain observations made on the treatment of animals in the Islamic Civilization by some of the objective historians and sociologists. Rev. R. Bosworth Smith declared that Prophet Muhammad was the real upholder of the liberation of animals, “nor does Muhammad omit to lay stress on what I venture to think is a crucial test of a moral code, and even of a religion, as is the treatment of the poor and the weak—I mean the duties we owe to what we call the lower animals. There is no religion which has taken a higher view in its authoritative documents of animal life and none wherein the precept has been so much honored by its practical observance.17” “Such is the value and consideration which Islam shows towards animals. It is the result of Islamic teachings that the animals have been treated with utmost kindness and love throughout the Muslim world.18” “An Arab cannot ill treat his horse; and Lane bears emphatic testimony to the fact that in his long residence in Egypt he never saw an ass or a dog treated with cruelty, except in those cities which were overrun by Europeans. … The sympathy of the prophet for his domestic animals is well known. There is a great variety of traditions respecting his horses, his mules, his milch and riding camels and his goats.19”

Rev. D. S. Margoliouth (1858–1940), formerly professor of Arabic at Oxford University, says of the Prophet’s vision of the animal world: “His humanity even extended itself to the lower creation. He forbade the employment of living birds as targets for marksmen (Musnad, 1,273) and remonstrated some of his followers had set fire to an anthill he compelled them to extinguish it (Musnad, 1,396).20”

N. K. Singh, Director of International Centre for Religions Studies, after an in-depth analysis of social justice and human rights in Islam, goes on to say, “The spirit of Islam guarantees the well being of workers. It guarantees the same tranquility even to animals. Imam Ahmad said that it is incumbent upon the Muhtassib to forbid persons possessing animals to use them in work which they cannot accomplish.21”

In her brilliant exposition of the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, an agnostic Western scholar, Karen Armstrong, calls attention to certain areas of his life that were most often overlooked. She states, “Over the centuries, in the west, we have tended to think of Muhammad as a grim figure, a cruel warrior, a callous politician. But he has a great kindness and sensibility. He loved animals, for example, if he saw a cat asleep on his cloak he would not dream of disturbing it. It has been said that one of the tests of a society is its attitude towards animals.22” She goes on, “During the Jahiliyah the Arabs had treated animals very cruelly. They used to cut off lumps of flesh to eat while the beast were still alive and put painful branding or organized animal fights. One tradition has him telling a story in which a man who gave water to a dog on a thirsty day was sent to Paradise and a woman who starved her cat to death was sent to hell. The preservation of these traditions shows how important the value had become in the Muslim world and how quickly the community had advanced towards a more humane and compassionate vision.23”

In Defense of Halal Method of Slaughter

Peter Singer (b. 1946) in his classic work Animal Liberation commented: “Slaughter according to a religious ritual need not comply with the provision that the animal be stunned before being killed. Orthodox Jewish and Moslem dietary laws forbid the consumption of meat from an animal ‘who is not healthy and moving’ when killed. Stunning, which is thought to cause injury prior to cutting the throat, is therefore unacceptable. At the time this method of slaughter was laid in Jewish law it was probably more humane than any alternative; now, however, it is less humane, under the best circumstances, than, for example, the use of the captive bolt pistol to render an animal instantly insensible.24”

To answer the question as to which method is more humane, in the absence of a common language between man and animal, one has to look for a comparable human model. Experience suggests that the sharper the blade used in shaving, the less the pain. The human model demonstrates that an everyday shaving cut is not in itself painful. Profuse bleeding leads to a gradual decrease in blood pressure. Eventually, consciousness is lost, accompanied psychologically by a resigned, peaceful feeling. When an animal is slaughtered according to the halal method, the big blood vessels in the throat—the carotid arteries and the jugular veins—are cut, terminating the blood supply to the brain and causing an immediate loss of consciousness. The cut produces instant shock, rendering the animal unconscious, and since the heart is still beating, heavy blood loss occurs under high pressure. The animal remains motionless for about 90 seconds and is then subject to involuntary spasm caused by lack of oxygen in the brain. It is believed that sensation ceases upon the initial cut. Some people think that it is cruel only because of their ignorance of the actual processes involved.

Professor Schultz and Dr. Hazim of Hanover University, Germany, proved through an experiment using an EEG and ECG that the halal method is a more humane method of slaughter than the captive bolt stunning practiced in the West. In the first three seconds from the time of halal slaughter, the EEG recording did not show any change from before slaughter, indicating that the animal did not feel any pain during or immediately after the incision. For the following three seconds, the EEG recorded a condition of deep sleep unconsciousness. This is due to a large quantity of blood gushing out from the body. After these six seconds, the EEG recorded zero level, showing no feeling of pain at all. As the EEG dropped to zero level, the heart was still pounding and the body convulsing vigorously (a reflex action of the spinal cord), driving maximum blood from the body and resulting in hygienic meat for the consumer. In the captive bolt stunning, the EEG showed severe pain. Immediately after stunning, the animal’s heart stopped beating. This is clearly unhygienic for the consumer. Thus the animal rights campaigner’s concept of mercy in the slaughterhouse does not correlate to the animal’s physiological responses, as it increases the animal’s suffering rather than reducing it.

There are various other methods such as killing by strangulation and beating the animal to death with a blunt stick. All these techniques are more painful and allow the animal to die before complete bleeding, with the result that the flesh of the animal posses the characteristic of a dead meat. The oral intake of blood is poisonous and so the Qur’an completely bans the oral intake of free blood as well as the eating of meat wherein free blood has coagulated (Al-An`aam 6:121, 145; Al-Maeda 5:3, 5).

People in the West are often horrified at the thought of animal sacrifice and regard it as cruelty and a barbaric practice. They are confusing Islamic slaughter with the ancient practice of offering blood to deities. They forget that it was Prophet Muhammad who stopped the practice of spattering the blood of the sacrificial animals on the walls of the Ka`bah and throwing their flesh at its door. The Qur’an declares: [It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches God; it is piety that reaches Him] (22:37).

The Qur’an specifically mentions the attitude of humanity while slaughtering (22:36). Sacrificing an animal represents sacrificing all worldly desires and ambitions to show one’s total devotion and submission to God. A creature that God has made sacrosanct (Al-Furqan 25:68 ) is being slaughtered for the benefit of man. As animals are valuable assets to us, sacrifice of them should be imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice. The act is an outward symbol of one’s readiness to lay down one’s life and to sacrifice all one’s interests and desires for the cause of Truth. That the slaughter is intended as a sacrifice is clear from the Qur’anic dictum that if a Muslim proposes to take advantage of both `Umrah and Hajj, an animal should be slaughtered, and if such an animal is not available, fast is prescribed for ten days (Al-Baqara 2:196). The slaughter of animals for food for the poor, which is one of the ceremonies of the Muslim pilgrimage, is not a propitiatory sacrifice, but is in commemoration of the sacrifice of Abraham, which marked the end of human sacrifice among the Semitic race, and which made it clear that the only sacrifice that God requires of man is the surrender of his will and purpose. The God of Abraham does not need the blood of man or animals (Al-Baqara 2:37; 37:99–111). The repeated Qur’anic insistence on pronouncing the name of God whenever one slaughters an animal is meant to make the believers, as Pickthal notes, “to realize the awfulness of taking life and the solemn nature of the trust which God has conferred upon them in the permission to eat the flesh of animals.25” Taking the life of an animal and shedding of its blood does not make men ferocious, but rather creates humility in their minds.

The fact that animals react to pain such as we do is, of course, no proof that they are conscious. As C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) pointed out, “It is certainly difficult to suppose that the apes, the elephant, and the higher domestic animals, have not, in some degree, a self or soul which connects experiences and gives rise to rudimentary individuality. But at least a great deal of what appears to be animal suffering need not be suffering in any real sense. It may be that we have invented the ‘suffering’ by the pathetic fallacy of reading into the beast a self for which there is no real evidence.26” “About human pain we know, about animal pain we only speculate.27” A modem biologist’s view of animal pain is also worth reading: “If animal consciousness is at all relevant, it is important to point out that we do not know what kind of mental states animals are capable of. Present day neurobiology is incapable of discerning which neural processes result in conscious thought (of whatever type) and which do not.28”

We regularly witness that weak animals are thrown into trucks and taken to slaughterhouses hundreds of miles away. These poor creatures, goats, sheep and buffaloes, are piled up into the trucks just like lifeless goods, one on top of the other. These are all against Islamic teachings.

The Prophet taught the slaughter method in detail: “God has prescribed benevolence towards everything. When you must kill a living thing, do it in the best manner and so also when you slaughter an animal. Sharpen your knife and reduce its suffering” (Muslim). “If one wishes to slaughter an animal, let him prepare for it” (Ibn Majah). Animals should not be killed in front of each other. lbn `Abbas once recorded that the Prophet saw a man who was sharpening his knife after laying down a sheep to be slaughtered. He rebuked him saying, “Did you intend to make it die two deaths? Why did you not sharpen your knife before laying it down?” (Al-Hakim). “He has forbidden to keep waiting of a quadruped for any other animal for slaughter” (Al-Baihaqi). “When you will show mercy on an animal, God will show mercy on you” (Al-Hakim).

A Theology of Vivisection

The use of animals by doctors and scientists to understand the physiology of human beings is not unique to this century. Animals have been used in medical research for at least 2,000 years. Records indicate that in the third century B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt, the philosopher scientist Erasistratus used animals to study body function. Greek physician Galan used apes to prove his theory that veins carry blood rather than air. Since the 19th century, man began widespread use of animals in experimentation. This proved to be highly rewarding in the development of modern physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and immunology. Medical colleges, hospitals, and private laboratories use monkeys, dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, rats, and frogs for biomedical researches. More than 15 million animals are tortured and killed in laboratories every year to test the “safety” of cosmetics and household products.

It is the infliction of avoidable pain that is morally reprehensible. A tiger disemboweling another animal may cause far more sufferings than the ill-aimed shot of the hunter, but only the hunter can be accused of cruelty. Thus avoidable pain is clearly a category that must be seen to be dealt with in both law and practice. As Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) pointed out long ago, “The question is not can they reason? Nor can they can talk but, can they suffer?29” At least for the vertebrates (whose nervous systems resemble ours), our answer must be clearly affirmative. While accepting the reality of animal suffering, are we forced to endorse Peter Singer’s conclusions “that animal and human have similar and equal consideration for suffering30”?

“The anti-vivisectionist’s general attitude can be summed up in the words of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), who said, if you cannot attain knowledge without torturing a dog, you must do without knowledge31” (italics added). Many of the greatest and ultimately most beneficial discoveries are made as a result of animal experiments in pure rather than applied research.

One cannot ignore the vast amount of good that has resulted from such research, including vaccines, treatment, surgical techniques, and procedures developed in laboratories that have increased life expectancies dramatically in the past century. Vaccines were originally developed in animals, with great benefits for both man and animals. For example, the anthrax vaccine was produced by Pasteur (1822-1895) in 1881.

Peter Singer considers that animal experimentation might be permissible if the resultant medical advances should be shown to relieve more human suffering than was caused to the animals used. At the same time, he argues, man ought to be willing to experiment upon humans for the benefit of other human beings or even of animals, if the suffering equations so indicate. This means that, no differentiation in status or rights between man and animals is admissible! But the Qur’an says that mankind was created “in the image of God” (Al-Hijr 15:29), as a result of which he has the potential for spiritual as well as animal life. In the Qur’anic view, animals are not our little brothers in the fundamental sense; even though both man and animal have value, mankind is in a special category (Al-Sajda 32:7–9). The extreme anti-vivisectionist view that it is better for a child to die or suffer agonies than for living animals used for experimental research reveals a startlingly callous attitude towards human life.

Upon closer examination, one can find that even Peter Singer limits equality of consideration to sentient animals (in essence, those able to show signs of pain), thereby excluding bacteria, protozoa, and lower invertebrates. One can argue that this is arbitrary since there is no sharp division between sentient and non-sentient. Of course it is wrong to treat other species as if they existed only for our sake and as if they could be destroyed disregarding consequences. The meaning of the dominion given to mankind is much better expressed in servantship and stewardship than in exploitation. And there is a broad consensus that causing unnecessary suffering to animals is morally wrong, despite disagreement as to what constitute “necessity.”

The humane treatment of animals requires that we seek a procedure of experiment involving least suffering. Russell and Burch’s work in 1959 first drew attention to the need to have ethical constraints in dealing with animals32. They suggested the three Rs: replacement, reduction, and refinement. Unnecessary wastage of life occurs because experiments are poorly designed, have inadequate controls, or employ unnecessarily large number of animals. Alternatives to most of the experiments on animals that are being carried out at the moment do exist. Some medicines can be designed using computers. Computer programs, films, slides, charts, and diagrams are effective ways to teach physiology and anatomy without killing animals.

May we legitimately and morally experiment on animals? The Qur’anic theology mandates the use of animals that is as gentle, respectful, and humane as possible. A Muslim realizes that it is inhuman, impious, and unjust to treat animals with cruelty.

The human being has been authorized to press into his service all the living creatures like all other objects of nature (Ash-Shura 26:71-73). But he is not permitted either to ill-treat the animals or to task them beyond their capacity, for that would amount to an act of wantonness (israf), which is forbidden. But a Muslim is not required to place the life of animals on an equal or higher plane than the lives of fellow humans. Any experimentation solely for reasons of luxury is forbidden in Islam. Muslims should enquire carefully whether the products they buy have been produced by halal methods—those that do not inflict suffering or cruelty.

God loves every creature that He has created, but we must preserve a sense of proportion, and in the divine scale there is nothing as important as a human soul. All living things have intrinsic value. Not only are they of instrumental value to one another and to us, they also have value in and of themselves. Animal suffering must be kept to a minimum. A Muslim researcher should use the minimum number of animals and treat them as humanely as possible. Experiments should be designed to minimize animal suffering. Where there is a choice of animals to be used he should choose lower animals in preference to the higher.

The Attitude of Moderation

Britain’s recent outbreak of mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) has brought a long-standing fact of animal husbandry to the fore. Some scientists have developed animal feed with rudiments of meat products including dried blood, crushed bone, ground up intestines, spinal cords, brains, tracheas, and abdominal organs such as pancreas, and kidneys, disregarding the fact that those animals are herbivore, not carnivore. The purpose was to accelerate animal growth and increase profitability. This unnatural feeding habit was proven to be the reason behind mad cow disease.

The Qur’an clearly forbids eating the meat of animals found dead (2:173; Al-An`aam 6:145; An-Nahl 16:115) and, as logically follows, not to feed animals from which we directly get food items, with dead animals. It also follows that no animal that feeds on the blood of other animals may be eaten. Muslims are ordered not to eat carnivorous animals like lions, tigers, dogs, eagles, and the like. The Qur’an also subtly indicates that cattle are exclusively herbivorous (An-Nahl 16:10; As-Sajda 32:27; An-Naziat 79:31-33; Abasa 80:27-32).

Muslims have been aware of the division of animals into carnivorous and herbivorous, and of having been asked to feed and encourage the natural foods like grass, plants, and vegetables to all cattle and poultry as they are herbivorous. But human greed devised unnatural methods, which resulted in the havoc.

There are two extreme views on the status of animals. In the first concept, animals are just unfeeling automata. The second concept is better summarized by eco-feminist Anne Primavesi. She suggests that we should not claim God’s love as exclusive for humans, but should “resoul” nature allowing the non-humans the same rights before God that human have33.

In the Middle Ages, cows, sheep, and cats were treated for such crimes as stubbornness, damage to property, lack of respect by hanging, flogging, and whipping. It is the unfeeling automata concept that has driven animals and birds to extinction by reckless killing for the fun of hunting. Food requirements for an animal’s body are limited, but the sky is the limit for a poacher’s greed.

The ancient thinkers held that animals were mere living tools without the higher faculties, but the Qur’an recognizes the higher status of animals by referring to them as communities like human beings (Al-An`aam 6:38) and even tells about communication in animals (27:18). The Qur’an permits man to eat meat (Al-Maeda 5:1; An-Nahl 16:5; Al-Mu’menoon 23:21). Eating meat is not always bad for man. Fish eaters suffer no more heart disease than vegetarians. A now famous ten-year study of 2,000 Greenland Eskimos who subsist mainly on fish and wild marine mammals reported not a single heart attack. There are even reports about a mental illness that comes from dietary inadequacy caused by long-term vegetarian habits34.

Like pure carnivores, man lacks enzymes to make the amino acid taurine; it exists abundantly in meat. By comparison, herbivores have high levels of other enzymes, including those for converting beta-carotene into vitamin A, and lengthening 18-carbon fatty acid from plants into the 20- and 22-carbon fatty acids that animals need. Even the structure of man’s gut differs slightly from those of the great apes; man has a shorter colon and a longer small intestine, more like a carnivore. Man has flat teeth as well as pointed teeth suited to becoming an omnivorous being.

An ethical vegetarian should not use leather shoes, belts, watch straps, or balls. If it is unethical to kill animals, then one should not eat foods that contain even the smallest proportion of animal tissues, which include foods with gelatin from bones such as jellies and sweets, cheese made with rennet, and lecithin in chocolates. Even drinking milk presents moral problems for ethical vegetarians. In the Vedic religion, the eating of beef, previously countenanced, is later prohibited. But the Brahmins of Bengal and Kashmir still are not vegetarians. In the Mahabharata, as Nehru points out in The Discovery of India, there are references to beef or veal being offered to honored guests. References to animal sacrifice are to be found in the Rig Veda (Rig 1.22.6-7).

We should not fall into the trap of treating animals as though they are essentially the same as human beings nor into the trap of considering them as mere automata and overexploit them. The moral justification for animal experimentation requires a belief that there is a fundamental difference between animals and humans. There are varying degrees of life and of consciousness in them. Even in the amoeba “there is a centre of activity of curiosity, of exploration, of planning; there is an explorer, the animal mind.35” Any animal that is hunted for food is being exploited in a relative sense. Also, any domesticated animal that is farmed for milk, wool, or slaughter is being exploited.

But humans were given such a right under khilafah (vicegerency; An-Nahl 16:4-8). As a vicegerent of God man is in an exalted position and at the same time a humble servant, as the executer of the will of God on earth. Only moderation should be there (An-Nahl 6:141; Ghafir 7:3; Al-Isra’ 17:29). Animals, like humans, have appetites and therefore, as a husbandman, man should supply their natural wants. They should be routinely provided with food, protection from predators and precarious disease. Unnecessary suffering should be avoided in any way. Failure to do so is seen by Islam as cruelty towards those domesticated animals.

Is the Status of Humans and Animals at Par?

Any sharp distinction between humans and animals, Peter Singer dismisses as “speciesism,” which he says “is as indefensible as the most blatant racism.36” Tom Regan argues that since man instinctively considers mentally deranged people as humans, so he ought equally to value higher animals: It is not true that such humans—the retarded child for example and the mentally deranged—have less inherent “value than you or I.37” Animal rights activists argue that “We (man) have no extra standing in the world.38” Their literature is full of statements that refuse to draw any sharp distinction between animals and people. Since great apes (gorillas, chimps, and orangutans) appear to have consciousness or self-awareness like humans, so the argument goes, man ought to include them in the moral sphere. They point out that chimp DNA is 98.4 percent the same as human DNA.

New Scientist has pointed out the fallacy of this argument: “This misses the point: genomes are not cake recipes. A few tiny changes in a handful of genes controlling the development of the Cortes could easily have a misappropriate impact. A creature that shares 98.4% of its DNA with humans is not 98.4% human, any more than a fish that shares, say 40% of its DNA with us is 40% human” (II February 1993, p. 3). Even a 1.6% difference still represents huge amounts of information (something like 150 large books). Humans speak and write language, think complicated thoughts, can remember the past and project themselves into the future, have imagination, enjoy planning and seeing themselves as parts of the universe. They are self-conscious and other-conscious in ways that no other animals are.

Despite the superficial similarities of anatomy (based upon a common plan of economy in the mind of the Planner) and physiology (based upon the common needs of mammals in atmospheric breathing, digestion, defecation, reproduction), man is in a class apart, both physically and mentally. Compare the most beautiful bird songs with a Beethovan Symphony. The bird’s best efforts are always the same. Spiders build unique but constant webs; they seldom vary. But man has original ideas; he can create new things and does so constantly. Tim Ingold, of the Department of Social Anthropology, Manchester University, has pointed out, “the beaver (which constructs dams) does not and cannot construct an imaginary blue print of his future accommodation, where this is something of which even the most ‘primitive’ human is capable.39”

The naturalistic biologist of Harvard University, Simpson, argued that “good and evil, right and wrong, concepts irrelevant in nature except from the human viewpoint, became real and pressing features of the whole cosmos as viewed by man—the only possible way in which the cosmos can be viewed morally because morals arise only in man.40” According to Koestler (1905-1983), “the emergence of symbolic language, first spoken, and then written, represents the sharpest break between animals and man.41” Biologist Dobzhansky (1900-1975) gives this important distinction to the human being: “Man is the only living species who feels an ultimate concern. Man is aware of himself, he can objectify himself and his own action.42” As Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) plainly stated, “Animals are happy so long as they have health and enough to eat.43” But man feels fear, anxiety, and death awareness.

According to the Qur’an, the human’s special attribute of being created “in the image of God” (Al-Hijr 15:29; Ghafir 40:64; At-Taghabun 64:3) is reflected not only in speech but in such matters as personality, will, God-consciousness, and morality. Animals lack the capacity for moral agency. Man alone experiences a sense of guilt when he does wrong, as he is a moral being (Ash-Shams 91:8–9). Being a moral agent means being able to choose between right and wrong and being able to act on that choice. As Albert Camus (1913-1960) mentioned, “An animal does not revolt against his animal fate. Man is the only animal who refuses to be so, and revolt.”

Humans are trustees responsible to God for the care of their fellow creatures (Al-Baqara 2:30; Al-An`aam 6:165). Man possesses a differentiating element of the divine spirit (Sad 38:71–72). Man’s animal passions will not come in his way if he can manage to bring them under his control. In a sense, animal instincts are the human’s essential assets and contribute to his growth when properly regulated. Among the innumerable creations, man is the noblest. God has created him as superior to angels, even as they bowed before him (Al-Baqara 2:34). In scientific parlance the energy of intelligence in man is superior in form to that of the energy endowed to angels (Al-Sajda 32:9). The angels’ bowing to man implies the superiority of the human over the angelic.

God has exalted man over many of His creations (Al-Isra’ 17:70). Man was created in the noblest image (At-Tin 95:4). According to the Qur’an, the origin of language and writing is divine and every human being has a spark of the divine in him (Al-Hijr 15:26–29; Al-Sajda 32:9; Ar-Rahman 55:4; Al-Qalam 68:4; Al-`Alaq 96:4). The human soul is the bearer of human dignity and the responsibility. As the bearer of a great responsibility (amanah), man has been gifted with the intellect to probe into the mysteries of the universe (Al-Ahzab 33:72). He has to answer and give account before his Creator (Al-Isra’ 17:36). This means that humans are created with intellect, volition, emotion, conscience, art, language, creativity, and with both a capacity and a responsibility for making moral and spiritual choices. Man can be moral only because he is rational.

Mankind was honored above all creations by God breathing into him the divine spirit, which, if used properly, elevates him above all creation (Al-Hijr 15:26–30). Man can make of himself a cultural being in distinction to the animal, which is created by its environment or heredity. Man alone of the living things has shown himself capable of knowledge required to give him a certain mastery over his environment; this is clearly an ontological leap among the animal kingdom. Indicating the distinctive features of man over animals, Bertrand Russell writes, “There is no evidence that they [animals] possess anything analogous to narrative. We may say, therefore, without exaggeration, that language is a human prerogative, and probably the chief habit in which we are superior to the ‘dumb’ animals.”44

Unlike men, animals are simply in the world; incapable of objectifying either themselves or the world, they live a life without time, submerged in life with no possibility of emerging from it, adjusting and adhering to reality. Man is not only “a being that knows” but also “a being that knows he knows.” As the great Islamic philosopher Al-Ghazzali (1058-1111) writes, “The distinguishing quality of knowledge lifts him [man] up to the celestial world.”45


The Qur’an is primarily a scripture of guidance, and not a book of any physical or social sciences. It provides broad guidelines concerning the spiritual and material aspects of life. Modern animal rights activists should, perhaps, take a leaf out of the Qur’an’s outline for the goal of a society that is marked by greater compassion for every living thing, as the Qur’an speaks of the sanctity of life (Al-An`aam 6:38). The primary significance of Islam is in the making of peace (Al-Baqara 2:126; 8:61; 10:25; 19:62; 39:58). A Muslim is the one who has submitted to the decrees of God and has made peace with His creations. The Muslim’s primary duty is to promote what is right and to prevent what is wrong (Ghafir 7:157).

While using animals for his service, man should not unnecessarily hurt or harm them. Although the plants and the animals are created for the benefit of mankind, the sacrifice of their lives is subjected to the condition laid down by the Qur’an: The true servant of the Merciful are [those who do not slay such life which God has made sacred except for just cause] (Al-Furqan 25:68). All living things are the result of divine works and, as such, are to be treated as a sacred trust entrusted to man for the sake of his own ability, and for him to know God and His immutable principles and qualities manifested through them. A true believer in the unity of God will show deep respect for His entire creation. If nature is, “red in tooth and claw,” it is for humans to oppose nature in the name of goodness and love. Until recently the world could not even imagine that animals could be deserving of mercy and affection. More than a thousand years before any societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals were established, Islam made kindness to animals a part of its faith, and cruelty to them a sufficient reason for a person to be thrown into Hell. With guidance of the divine revelation in almost every sphere of human activity and with minute details of Muhammad’s noble life and practice recorded in history to serve as a beacon light for posterity, the function of prophethood had its final expression.

The Qur’anic position, as of anything, is in the middle. One extreme view insists that men have no moral obligation whatsoever to non-humans. Even idle torture of them is not morally wrong because of any alleged moral rights non-humans posses; such actions might even be a cruelty towards fellow humans. The claim that all life is sacred and those animals have inviolable rights strikes us as being impossible.

It is ethically wrong to see animals as worthless life forms that can be mistreated at will and that have no ecological space of their own. We must not forget that without animal experimentation by Koch (1843- 1910), Pasteur, Lister, and Edward Jenner, one would never have learned about how living organisms work, how blood circulates, how drugs act, how diseases get cured. It is one thing to make life-saving remedies derived from animal serum, and quite another to make mice capriciously suffer in order to test cosmetics for eye irritation. In the field of education, there has been unnecessary replication of demonstrations involving considerable suffering. There would seem to be scope for use of filmed demonstrations.

Muslim scientists must respect animals as created beings and not merely as laboratory tools. Muslim scientists have an ethical obligation to ensure that their research aims cannot be achieved in other ways. Whether a product is worth the animal suffering that it engenders is a matter to be decided by society at large, but if substances are to be produced for human use, it is necessary that they be tested. As moral beings, man should not even countenance suffering on the part of animals except when it serves a clearly defined, higher purpose such as saving of precious life. In general, animal experimentation should take place when and where there are no real alternatives. The triad of reduction, refinement, and replacement in animal procedures should be an integral part of any scientific research project, to help to minimize animal use and suffering.


2 Responses to "Animal Rights – from Islamic Perspective"

Assalamualaikum brother,

First of all I would like to say that most of your articles are very informative and provide revealing insight into the true islam.Well, talking about animal rights in Malaysia there no place for that. there are many societies such as animal welfare,SPCA,PAWS etc. but in name only not in performance. people of this country ignore this important matter they treat animals especially cats inhumanely no matter if they are muslims or non-muslims.
i often found them leaving cats or kitten in places where the animals unfamiliar with or more correctly places like roadside,wet market,neighbourhood and so on.malays (mostly are muslims)
who have cats also do the same thing.they expel an excess of cats or kittens from their life. about those who have no cat if they are suddenly visited by this guest begging for some food
or safe place the dwellers show no mercy they try hard to eliminate it by leaving it alone in another place. if the guest is a tiny kitten the result is still same. recently in my neighbourhood there was hard-hearted person silently left a she-cat and her new-born babies placedv into a small box under a car. once the malaysian reality tv program have unveiled the truth about cruelty to animals in spca. the program showed cold-blooded spca workers who were dragging animals which were already have been killed.they killed them by constricting their throat,beating them severely or suffocating them.that program also showed discovery of mass grave of these animals. as a citizen i began to hate this country,its people,its goverment.the govrment or any organisation connected with animal rights never take any actions.the gov. only concern about humans by giving them more privileges and special attention than animals no matter if they are good or evil like such workers.the gov never pay attention to animals condition never! never recorded in u know what i feel i want to flee from this country to the country where its people treat their animal much better!

Dear Brother Taj,

It’s same here in my country as well! when i was reading your comments for a time i fell like you are writing about my country. I wish we humans becomes civilized. This is not civilization. And i am wonder what the hell other animal protection organizations are doing, just sitting in air con. rooms drinking mineral water and just talk talk talk and no proper actions or work to do!

I was looking for some contributors, i have an idea that i will going to start a blog about animal protection in which we will going to launch campaign about animal rights, education humans that animals do live, they fell, they can fell pain, they can feel joy they do everything we do… They do whatever we do, they think they act….

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I would like to make clear all the visitors of my blog that I am not Rqaqi, Aamil, or Spiritual Healer. Any Raaqi you contact via my blog, know they do not represent this blog or me.


In my knowledge these are few dedicated places where you can get your spiritual healing according to Quran and Sunnah. I can recommend these places as in my knowledge they works according to Quran and Sunnah; but I cannot be made responsible either individually or severally for any untoward incidents.


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