By Nilofar Ahmed, SouthAsia Global Affairs, November 2011
Islam sets the creation of animals at a very high pedestal. However, time and again, Muslims have refused to acknowledge this importance. It seems that this verse has been widely misunderstood by Muslims. When somebody is gifted with something, he is supposed to cherish, nurture and take care of that gift and is not to misuse or destroy it. But it seems that generally Muslims are not inclined to cherish and protect the innumerable species of animals gifted to them in this world.
There are six surahs in the Quran whose titles are based on the names of animals. Besides, the mention of animals is found throughout the Book. In Surah Al-Anaam it is said, “There is no animal walking on the earth nor a bird flying on its two wings, except that they are (part of) communities like you” (6: 38). God, in His infinite wisdom, has organized even the most humble of creatures, like the birds, the bees and the ants into communities so that they can work, communicate and survive according to strict ethical and organizational rules, without any deviation. All the creatures in the world, including the animals, glorify their Lord and “sing His praises” (17: 44). The living sing with their tongues, while the non-living with the tacit acquiescence of their condition.
Prophet Nuh was asked to build a large boat under divine instructions: “Construct a boat under Our supervision and by Our inspiration” (11: 38). The ones to be saved from the flood were the believers as well as a pair of every species of animals: “… We said, ‘Load aboard (animals), of every pair two… And (load) those who have come to believe”(11: 40). The command to save the animals came before the command to save the believers, pointing to the importance of the animals who had become endangered species.
The Quran relates the story of the Thamud, Prophet Salih’s nation, to whom he had been sent to call towards the One God and to supervise the equitable distribution of their means of subsistence. They reached an agreement that the people and the she-camel, who was sent as a miracle from God, would take turns to consume the water. They were also asked to share the pastures. “Indeed, there has come to you a miracle from your Lord, this is God’s she-camel, a clear sign. Let her graze freely in God’s earth. Do not touch her with bad intentions, or you will get caught in painful retribution” (6: 73). But they broke their promise and killed her (7: 77-78). Since the whole nation had colluded in this, the whole nation was destroyed. The immediate and obvious cause of their destruction was that they harmed a she-camel.
Prophet Sulaiman had recruited animals in his army and the hoopoe acted as his courier. Prophet Yunus left his people in despair even before God commanded him to leave his nation. On the way, he was thrown out of the boat and a whale swallowed him. The whale carried him in its belly for a long time, keeping its mouth open, allowing him to breathe fresh air. He kept repenting and asking God for forgiveness. Finally, the fish threw him out onto a piece of land. Here the fish plays the central role of a savior for a prophet.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported to have said that if the smallest of birds is killed without its right and thrown away, this act will be questioned as a crime. He explained that the right of any animal was that it should be slaughtered, only in case of the need for food, by asking God’s permission through performing zibah in the prescribed manner (Mishkat). The hunting of animals simply for pleasure derived from a sharp-shooting spree is not considered lawful. He also instructed that the knife for slaughter should be sharp so that the animal does not suffer. Once, during a camp, somebody lighted a fire near an ant-hill. He at once asked for it to be put off. Once somebody caught two little baby birds whose mother started to circle above them with cries of pain. When the Prophet saw this, he asked the person to set them free (Bukhari).
The Prophet once related the story of the person who specially went down a well in order to quench the thirst of a thirsty dog. At the Conquest of Makkah the Prophet led an army of ten thousand men. On the way he saw a female dog nursing its puppies. He was afraid that someone might tease or disturb her, so he appointed one of his men to stand guard until the whole army had passed. He said that treating any and every living creature with kindness is a case for reward (Bukhari).
The Prophet forbade the hitting of animals on their faces and branding them (Abu Dawud). He forbade sports based on animal fights (Abu Dawud). The Prophet instructed his followers to let the animals take advantage of the greenery on the way, but to make them move fast in dry weather, to shorten their agony (Muslim). The Prophet affectionately gave the title of ‘Abu Hurairah,’ meaning ‘father of cats,’ to one of his companions because he was fond of cats and carried them around in his sleeve.
Once a pilgrim puts on the ihram and makes the intention for the umrah or the hajj, the pilgrim enters a state of consecration, in which certain lawful things become unlawful (5: 97). The killing of animals, no matter how small becomes unlawful in the area of the sanctuary (5: 95-97), which is about 50,000 sq km around the Ka’aba.
The Quran mentions some of the great signs of nature: “… in your creation and in the spreading of the animals are signs for those who possess firm faith” (45: 4). The importance of the creation of human beings is equated with the importance of the creation of animals. Belief in the importance of animals is a sign of firm faith.