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Animals

Animal Welfare in Islam

Over the past half-century, pet ownership – and the global demand for ‘exotic pets’ – has expanded exponentially as have commercial operations providing ‘pampered pet’ services and products.

Growing populations placed demands on large scale cheap food production, resulting in ‘factory farming’. Animals were frequently involved in the testing of pharmaceuticals, skincare and cosmetic products. None of which have been ‘animal welfare friendly’. However attitudes are changing and the tide has turned to more responsible choices.

The interaction between humans and animals always has been – and always will be – complex. Attitudes are influenced by so many factors: are animals seen as potentially threatening to us, irrelevant to our life or requiring our protection? And what have our religion, culture or family taught us about our interaction with them?

People often speak of ‘animal rights’, but perhaps a more comprehensive concept is ‘animal welfare’. Because they have heard some Muslims say that ‘dogs are considered najis (literal meaning: ritually not clean or impure), or that they ‘shouldn’t be allowed inside the house’, many non-Muslims have the mistaken belief that animal welfare plays no part in Islam.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In many ways, it is Islam which has led the way in guiding humans to share the planet with animals: the Holy Quran, hadith and surrahs all offer guidance to man’s co-existence with animals.

The Quran encourages the treatment of all animals with compassion, free from abuse. More than 200 verses in the Quran deal with animals and six surrahs (chapters) of the Quran are named after animals.

When the Prophet was asked if Allah rewarded acts of charity to animals, he replied: ‘Yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive.’

The references to animals and their treatment are numerous:

‘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. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.’ Surat Al Rahman, Ayah 9

‘And the earth, He has assigned it to all living creatures.’ Surat Al Anam, Ayah 38

‘It is forbidden to beat animals unnecessarily, to brand them on the face, or to allow them to fight each other for human entertainment. They must not be mutilated while they are alive.’

The Prophet told his companions of a woman who would be sent to Hell for having locked up a cat, neither feeding it, nor releasing it so that it could feed itself. There was also the prostitute forgiven by God because she gave water to a dying dog by removing her shoe and tying it with her headscarf to draw water out of a well so it could drink.

The Prophet Mohammad criticised companions for removing young birds from their nest, distressing the mother bird. He told them to return the young to the nest.

‘A good deed done to a beast 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.’

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is also reported (by Ibn Omar and Abdallah bin Al As) to have said:

‘There is no man who kills [even] a sparrow or anything smaller, without its deserving it, but God will question him about it [on the judgment day]’ and ‘Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself.’

The Quran and Hadith make it clear that no Muslim should: treat animals cruelly; over‑work or over-load animals; neglect animals; hunt them for sport; cut the mane or tail of a horse; arrange animal fighting as a sport; or, by inference, practice factory farming.

‘And cattle He has created for you (men); from them ye derive warmth and numerous benefits, and of their (meat) ye eat.’ Surat Al Nahl 16:5

‘And they carry your heavy loads to lands that ye could not (otherwise) reach except with souls distressed: for your Lord is indeed Most Kind, Most Merciful.’ Surat Al Nahl 16:7

‘And (He has created) horses, mules, and donkeys, for you to ride and as an adornment; and he has created other things of which ye have no knowledge.’ Surat Al Nahl 16:8

‘There is not a moving (living) creature on earth, nor a bird that flies with its two wings, but are communities like you. We have neglected nothing in the Book, then unto their Lord they (all) shallbe gathered.’ Surat Al Anam 6:38

‘Seest thou not that it is Allah Whose praise all beings in the heavens and on earth do celebrate, and the birds (of the air) with wings outspread? Each one knows its own (mode of) prayer and praise, and Allah knows well all that they do.’ Surat Al Noor 24:41

Animals are seen to have their own lives and purpose, valuable to themselves and to Allah above and beyond any material value they may provide to humanity.

CatsCats have a special place in Islamic culture. Abu Hurarya is said to have loved his cat so much he cut off the sleeve of his robe, on which the cat was sleeping, rather than disturb the animal so that he could dress himself to pray.

Abd AlRahman ibn Sakhr Ad Dawsi Al Azdi (603–681), born ‘Abd ash-Shams, but better known as Abu Hurarya (Father of the Kitten), was a companion of Prophet Muhammad and the most prolific narrator of hadith in Sunni hadith compilations. Abu Hurarya spent two years in the company of Prophet Muhammad and went on expeditions and journeys with him.

Abu Hurarya was born in Baha, Yemen. His name at birth was Abd Al Shams (servant of the sun), however, as a child, he had a cat and became known as ‘Abu Hurarya, which literally means ‘Father of the Kitten’.

According to some versions of his life story, after embracing Islam, Abu Hurarya looked after a mosque where he made it a regular habit to give the left over food to the stray cats. Gradually the number of cats around the masjid (mosque) increased. He loved to caress and play with them. Hence he got the name Abu Hurarya.
The hadith also tell us that cats should not be sold for money or other traded goods.

‘The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) prohibited eating the cat and from its price.’

A cat’s saliva (unlike a dog’s) is considered ‘harmless’ unless the cat has ‘visible impurities’ in the mouth.

The Prophet said ‘Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, Allah will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment.’

But the Prophet explained that a killing would be for a just cause if it was for food, only by following these rules:

  • The animal must be killed by cutting the throat with a single motion of a sharp knife.
  • The cut must sever at least three of the trachea, oesophagus, and the two blood vessels on either side of the throat.
  • The spinal cord must not be cut.
  • Animals must be well treated before being killed.
  • Animals must not see other animals being killed.
  • The knife must not be sharpened in the animal’s presence.
  • The knife blade must be free of blemishes that might tear the wound.
  • The animal must not be in an uncomfortable position.

We also know that the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) established a hima or ‘nature reserve’ early in the 7th century in what is now Saudi Arabia.

‘Verily Abraham declared Makkah a sanctuary and I declare Al Madinah, that which lies between its two lava flows, to be a sanctuary; its trees shall not be cut and its game shall not be hunted,’ he told his followers.

The hima was an established concept on the Arabian Peninsula – but most had been used by tribal chiefs for hunting, or grazing of their own flocks, their boundaries determined ‘by how far away the tribal leader’s dog could be heard barking from a centrally located high point of land’.

An amazing 100-hectare hima was established in Damascus by Nur Al Din ibn Zangi, who reigned from 1146–1149 and is known as Nureddin in English literature. Close to the old town of Damascus and called Al Marj Al Akhdhar (meaning the green lush meadow), it was reserved solely for the care of aged, retired, horses and remained in use right through until around 1930 when Damascus started expanding beyond the old town.

Dogs roamed Cairo’s streets in the 16th–18th centuries, supported by religious endowments and government officials who valued them as consumers of garbage and a defence against rats. There were watering troughs and feeding stations for the dogs, even laws to protect them from human violence. Religious writings were quoted on the benefits of dogs. Yet by the 1800s attitudes changed in a single generation: an anti-canine philosophy developed, people attacked dogs on the streets, and comparing someone to a dog became the ultimate insult.

In the Qatar of the 19th century the population was largely dependent on harvesting food from the sea and the desert. Fish, sheep, camels and dates were important to their diet; the animals also provided wool for clothing and to make tents. If the people didn’t care for their animals they lost their sustenance. Even so, the Bedouin often had to hunt for food to survive.

M63 - Animal welfare in Islam - the david collection

Miniature painted on cotton ‘Man with a Saluki’, Iran, circa 1555, from The David Collection

Saluki (also known as the Arabian Greyhound) were the hunting dogs of choice in Qatar – perhaps by helping to add a juicy desert hare to what would otherwise be a meagre Bedouin cook-pot. Originally bred thousands of years ago in Iran and Egypt, the saluki (Arabic: saluqi) was subsequently considered ‘clean’ by the Bedouin and the only dogs allowed inside the women’s tents in the heat of the day.

During the 1930s the king of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, was renowned for the salukis, which accompanied him on hunting trips throughout the Arab world.

The Abu Dhabi Saluki Center still honours the desert traditions of hunting, training and breeding Salukis, inviting visitors to learn more about their unique traits and care. Saluki have been featured on stamps, and heritage events still stage saluki races and demonstrations of their skills.

The hunting dog is mentioned in the Holy Quran (5:4): ‘They ask you what is lawful (Arabic: uhilla) to them (as food). Say: lawful to you are (all) things good and pure: and what you have taught your trained hunting animals (to catch) (Arabic: mukalibeen) in the manner directed to you by God: eat what they catch for you, but pronounce the name of God over it: and fear God; for God is swift in taking account.’

The term mukalib/mukalibeen is derived from the root word kalb and literally translates as ‘one who trains dogs to hunt’.

An article in Saudi Arabia’s Aramco magazine highlighted the late King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz’s appreciation of salukis, gained as a child when he and his father ‘Abd al-Rahman Al Sa‘ud, lived with the Al Murrah tribe on the fringes of the Rub’ Al Khali.

‘To the Al Murrah, and indeed to all Bedouins, the saluki had nothing in common with the kalb, the rough watchdog that guarded their tents. Like the ancient Egyptians before them, the Bedouin honored the saluki as al hurr, “the noble one,” and poets called it “the prince of swiftness.”’

Many Muslims are aware of the Quranic narrative of the cave sleepers in Chapter 18 (Surrah Kahf) when a dog slept with them for ‘hundreds of years’. Allah kept the sleepers safe, but also the dog (18:18). In verse 22, the dog is always counted as one of their number.

Falcons also form an important part of Bedouin heritage. Although originally used to hunt for food, falconers also take part in modern heritage competitions and displays, their falcons invariably living in large well-appointed enclosures, but being taken into the majlis for early training and later to maintain the bond with their falconer. Highly trained vets care for the birds.

Al Khudaira Falcon Breeding Center in Qatar was established by HE Sheikh Muhammad bin Faisal Thani Jasim Al Thani and has been breeding falcons for over two decades, ensuring the protected birds are no longer illegally caught from the wild, as was the old Bedouin practice.

M63 - animal welfare in Islam - Fanar

Find out more about animals in Islam by downloading the free publication from Bin Ziad (aka Fanar, Qatar Islamic Cultural Center).


Author: Gina Coleman and Sarah Palmer

This article has been extracted from the ‘Special Features’ section from the Marhaba Information Guide Issue No 63 Autumn 2015. Grab the latest Marhaba issue from the nearest supermarket or bookstore near you.

Copyright © Marhaba Information Guide. Reproduction of material from Marhaba Information Guide’s book or website without written permission is strictly prohibited. Using Marhaba Information Guide’s material without authorisation constitutes as plagiarism as well as copyright infringement.

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error: Copyright © Marhaba Information Guide. Reproduction of material from Marhaba Information Guide’s book or website without written permission is strictly prohibited. Using Marhaba Information Guide’s material without authorisation constitutes as plagiarism as well as copyright infringement.