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Humane Religion Magazine

May - June 2008 Issue

THE STATUS OF ANIMALS IN ISLAM

By Riaz A. Malik, President, Mercy for All, Inc.

Islam arose in the seventh century in the desert of Arabia where animals were the main source of transportation as well as nourishment. It was a primitive and mainly meat-eating society and the general treatment of animals was harsh. The Arabs of that time counted their wealth in the number of animals owned, and their way to have a celebration, feasting or showing hospitality was to slaughter an animal. Naturally, it would have been completely impossible to prohibit the consumption of meat in that society at that time. The next best thing was to encourage the gentle and considerate treatment of animals and to provide philosophical underpinnings for the elimination of all cruelty and mistreatment of animals, so at some future time consumption of meat could be eliminated.

The following two verses of the Qur’an declare the status of animals on this earth as similar to that of humans, both in their spiritual connection to God and in their stature as social communities. They are also described as returning to God just like us. The question of the animals having souls is also answered in the affirmative.

“See you not that it is God Whose praises all beings in the heavens and on earth celebrate, and also the birds with wings outspread? Each one knows its own mode of prayer and praise, and God knows well all that they do." (Qur’an, 24:41)

"There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but forms part of communities like you. …and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end." (Qur’an, 6:38)

The creation of mankind and animals is also described from the same source, and they are all described together:

“And God has created all living things from water. Of them there are some that creep on their bellies, some that walk on two legs, and some that walk on four.” (Qur’an, 24:45)

Another very interesting example in the Qur’an is the use of the word “Wahy” (inspiration) for the members of the animal kingdom in the same manner as for the prophets of God. (Qur’an, 16:68) The use of that word suggests raising the status of animals as beings closer to the Divine in their psychological and spiritual aspects than most of the ordinary humans.

It is an established principle in Islam that the status of the human race as God’s khalifa or representative on this earth places on them the responsibility as protectors of all God’s creatures and their habitats, and human-beings are answerable to God for all their actions in respect to the animals.

A conclusion drawn from the life of the Prophet is very clearly stated in this manner: "A good deed done to an animal is as good as doing good to a human being; while an act of cruelty to a beast is as bad as an act of cruelty to human beings," and "Kindness to animals was promised by rewards in Life Hereafter" (Mishkat al-Masabih; Book 6; Chapter 7, 8:178). (Note: Mishkat is considered to be a somewhat authentic ancient text about the life of the Prophet. This reference has been quoted from a source on the internet and although I have not personally checked the original reference because of time constraints, yet I believe the gist of the statement is accurate. Riaz Malik)

There are numerous anecdotes and authentic stories about Prophet Muhammad reprimanding people for harsh treatment of animals, and here are presented a very small number to clarify his attitude towards animals.

He reprimanded his wife Ayesha for pulling her horse’s bridle abruptly and in a rough manner and making the horse uncomfortable.

He forbade the beating and branding of animals in general and especially on their faces or sensitive spots. On seeing a donkey branded on its face, he cursed whoever had done it.

The Arabs used to cut off the fatty tails from their live sheep and fatty humps from their camels and consume them. He prohibited strongly all such practices, and pronounced any part of the animal removed when it is alive as carrion and haram or forbidden.

He instructed people to have their knives very sharp so that the animal’s agony was not prolonged at the time of its slaughter. In addition, he instructed them not to inflict psychological cruelty on animals by sharpening their knives in their presence or killing an animal in the presence of another.

One other principle derived from his teachings is the religious edict issued by many scholars that if an animal has been maltreated or mutilated during any stage of its life and has not been given proper care then it is not permissible for slaughter, and its meat is not halal (or kosher).

Another important example is during Hajj pilgrimage, the Muslims are required to consecrate themselves by wearing Ihram (a special garb of two unstitched cotton sheets. During this period of consecration they are completely forbidden from harming any creatures or any wildlife. They are not allowed to pick any flowers, break any branches of trees or shrubs, kill any animals of any kind, even scorpions or snakes, because all animals are in the protection of God. The ban is even more stringent in terms of the wild-life, because they are considered the property of God, and harming them requires expiation by the individual and making an offering from his own possessions.

Unfortunately, like the majority of the followers of most religions, Muslims have ignored the ethical and moral teachings of their faith and continued their unethical and immoral practices in all respects, especially dealing with animals. One unfortunate example is the slaughter of more than 20 million animals (a very conservative estimate) sacrificed in the name of God every year at the occasion of Eid al-Adha. The Qur’an does not sanction this slaughter. We need to work dedicatedly to have this practice abolished. I will deal with this problem in some detail in the next issue of the Humane Religion.


Riaz Malik is a scholar of Islam, with advanced degrees in Islamic Studies from Lahore, Pakistan and Cambridge, England, and the organizer and president of Mercy for All, Inc. The specifically stated purpose of Mercy for All is to work for the abolition of animal sacrifice. He can be reached by email at: riazmalik@hotmail.com


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