Aug 27, 2014

Environmental Issues Series: Animal Rights in Islam - Part 1

By Tara Alomari

Why should Muslims care Part 1 | Why should Muslims care Part 2 | Water Conservation Part 1 | Water Conservation Part 2 | Animal Rights Part 2


For centuries, it has been well known in Islamic scholarship that animals have their own complex lives, their own “languages”, and a variety of social structures and communities that is perfectly suited to the nature of each species. The Qur'an itself states that:

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. (6:38)

This is a fact has only recently been discovered by modern science, which has typically studied and documented animals as purely instinctual creatures. However, that view is starting to change. From the Humpback Whale, whose songs carry all the intricate sound patterns of a symphony and the clever crows who trick their fellows by pretending to hide food in the wrong place, to the many examples of animals “adopting” or befriending others outside their species, the animal kingdom is bursting with examples of intelligent, deliberate, even what could only be called compassionate action. 

Recently, it was even observed that the bacteria in our guts (the beneficial varieties) gang up and attack harmful bacteria in ways which resemble intentional, directed, concerted actions. They’re not just floating around there randomly going this way and that. All of this demonstrates the fact that animals are not just biological machines eating and defecating and mating their way towards oblivion: they have lives, they praise Allah, and they fear death. Allah says in the Quran:

The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts [ Allah ] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting. (17:44)

Animal Rights:

Based upon the above mentioned verses, which established that animals have their own communities and also worship Allah through their very nature or in ways which are imperceptible to us, what is the correct way that we, being the khalifas of creation, should deal with them? 

Domesticated Animals:

First, we must distinguish between the rights of domesticated animals and wild animals. Many ahadith point to the supreme importance of caring and providing for the animals which live under one’s care. Here are some of the basic rights Islam gives to domesticated animals:

1: They must be given adequate food, water, and space to move.

"A woman was once punished after death because of a cat which she had kept confined until it died, and because of this she entered the Fire. She had neither given it food or drink while confining it, nor had she let it free to eat the creatures of the earth." (Muslim)

2: They must not be abused (ie: unjustly beaten, threatened or deprived of their needs)

the Messenger of Allah, sal Allahu aleyhi wa sallam, once saw a donkey which had been branded on its face and he said, "May Allah curse the one who branded it." (Muslim)

3: Beasts of burden must not be overburdened.

"Do not use the backs of your animals as chairs. Allah has made them subject to you, so that by them you can reach places that you would not otherwise be able to reach except with great fatigue." (Abu Dawud)

4: They must not be incited to fight one another (for example, chickens and dogs). (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi).

This is a particularly disgusting act as it is often done purely for human entertainment and usually involves gambling, and results in creating whole breeds of dogs and chickens which are trained and bred purely for their strength, aggressiveness, and bloodlust. 

5: Animals that are permissible to be eaten as food have the right to be slaughtered in the halal way.

While it may be surprising to some to say that halal slaughter is an animal’s right, it is in fact the most merciful way in which to carry out the act, and as such has been specifically made obligatory for us by Islam. What is our obligation is their right. We must also keep in mind that, when slaughtering, we are taking the life of another being only by the permission of Allah and in order to meet the need for food.

Furthermore, since all animals in our care have the right to be kept in decent conditions, as stated above, with adequate food, water, and space to move, then much of our modern industrial farming would be considered severely un-Islamic. To truly follow Islam and uphold the rights of domesticated animals, we should be careful to buy meat, eggs, milk, etc. that is free-range and organic as much as possible.

Here we have examined the rights of animals and domestic animals in particular. This discussion will be continued in part 4 where we will look at wild animals and their rights upon us inshaAllah.

I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please leave comments in the section below!


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