KINDNESS TO ANIMALS: AN ISLAMIC VIRTUE
In all religions kindness to animals is an exalted virtue. Because animals are God’s creations, the human being has a duty to look after them.
Islam regards animals as part of the Divine Plan. They are manifestations of God’s Compassion and Mercy. Over and over again the Qur’an invites the human being to contemplate on cattle, birds and insects to appreciate the power of God. It says for instance, “Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of (the air and) the sky? Nothing holds them up but (the power of) God. Verily in this are Signs for those who believe. (16:79).” It is worth observing that there are a number of Chapters in the Qur’an that are named after animals — the cow, cattle, bees, ants, the spider.
While the Qur’an reiterates the obvious, that animals have been created for the benefit of the human being, it is significant that it also acknowledges the rights that animals possess. This is illustrated in the story of the Prophet Salih and the people of Thamud ( 7:73 ; 11:64 ; 26:155-156; 54:23-31). The privileged among the people of Thamud usurped all rights to water and pasture. The Prophet intervened and asked that the rights of the poor and their cattle be respected. As a test, a she-camel was selected to be given access to those resources. But the privileged hamstrung the camel. For denying the rights of the poor and their animals, God destroyed Thamud.
It was partly because of the Qur’anic perspective on animals that early Muslim jurists formulated rules and regulations designed to protect the welfare of horses and camels, mules and donkeys, even cats and birds. The overloading of mules was forbidden. If a cat was starved for a certain period of time, its owner could be punished. The target killing of birds was discouraged as a sport. In fact, animal torture was explicitly prohibited in certain Muslim societies of yesteryear.
Indeed, protecting the rights of animals is integral to the trust placed upon the human being as khalifah or vicegerent. As khalifah, the human being has a responsibility towards the whole of creation, including the entire ecosystem and all the flora and fauna on this planet. Fulfilling this responsibility ( am-anah) is the essence of the human being’s mission on earth.
If animal welfare is so central to Islam why does the religion require animals to be slaughtered in a manner that certain animal rights activists regard as ‘cruel’? Since space does not permit a detailed discussion, it suffices to observe that scientific studies conducted in Germany and other places have shown that the Islamic method of slaughter in fact causes less pain and suffering to the animal. It is equally important to emphasize that the Qu’ranic stipulation to proclaim the name of God whenever one slaughters an animal is to make the human being aware that taking life is an awesome responsibility and a solemn trust.
Animal rights activists and the public in general are also somewhat mystified by the repugnance that a section of the Muslim community displays towards dogs. So strong is this aversion that one would be justified in describing it as a sort of ‘dogophobia’. Has dogophobia any basis in the Qu’ran or the authentic Sunnah ( the Way of the Prophet Muhammad)?
It is significant that the Qur’anic attitude towards the dog is positive, rather than negative. In a Chapter devoted to the principle of faith, a dog is mentioned a few of times as the companion to some pious youths who had taken refuge in a cave. (18: 18; 22). In another Chapter, the dog is alluded to as a hunting animal. ( 5: 4). The Prophet once related the story of a prostitute who on seeing a panting dog by a well, about to die of thirst, took off her shoe and tying it with her head-cover, drew out some water for the poor animal. Because of that good deed, the Prophet told his followers, God had forgiven the woman. The Sunnah also informs us of how the Prophet asked one of his companions to stand guard over a bitch and its litter of puppies because he was afraid that passers- by would accidentally hurt them.
Given these perspectives from the Qur’an and the authentic Sunnah, one is forced to conclude that dogophobia is perhaps the product of a certain stream of jurisprudence that has evolved through time wrongly inspired by a couple of hadiths ( sayings of the Prophet) which had rightly cautioned the faithful about the link between dog’s saliva and the spread of disease. Unfortunately, unthinking adherence to jurisprudential traditions perpetuated by mainstream ulama has created a situation today where some Muslim taxi drivers in Melbourne refuse to take blind passengers dependent upon guide dogs for their movements. Their attitude contradicts the kindness and compassion that the Qur’an expects us to show everyone especially those with disabilities.
It underscores yet again the urgent need for the Muslim community and the ulama in particular to undertake a serious evaluation of Islamic jurisprudence guided by the universal values and principles of the Qur’an.
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