Animals in Islam - Part 1

The material in these sections is from the book Animals in Islam, written by the late Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri, the first Sunni Imam of the Shah Jehan mosque (Woking, U.K.) when it was the Islamic center of Europe. He was widely respected for the depth of his scholarship in this field. (An Imam is a scholar who has studied the Koran and memorized it in its entirety.)

Among the sources quoted in this book are the Qur'an Majeed, the first source of Islamic law (Shari'ah); Hadith or Tradition, the second source; and Ijtihad, inference by analogy, the third source. Together, these three sources make up Islamic case law or "Juristic Rules" (qwdidatul-fiqhiyah) that are the guidelines to be followed for any legal question. Many issues relating to animals, such as vivisection, factory farming, and animal rights did not exist 14 centuries ago and, therefore, no specific laws were passed about them. To decide on issues developed in recent times, Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) has left it to Muslim Jurists (fuqaha'a) to use their judgment by inference and analogy, based on the three above-mentioned sources

Dominion Over Animals

The Qur'an Majeed states that man has dominion over animals: "He (God) it is Who made you vicegerents on earth" (Qur'an 35:39), but makes clear that this responsibility is not unconditional and states what happens to those who misuse their freedom of choice and fail to conform to the conditions that limit this responsibility: "Then We reduce him (to the status of) the lowest of the low" (Qur'an 95:4,5). "…they are those whom Allah has rejected and whom He has condemned...because they served evil" (Qur'an 5:63). "…they have hearts wherewith they fail to comprehend, and eyes wherewith they fail to see, and ears wherewith they fail to hear….Such (humans) are far astray from the right path" (Qur'an 7:179).

There are…people who take the concept of man's dominion over animals as a licentious freedom to break all the established moral rules designed to protect animal rights. The Imam Hazrat Ali has this to say about (those who misuse their authority over the weak): "A savage and ferocious beast is better than a wicked and tyrant ruler" (Maxims, see Ref. No. 4, pp. 203, 381).

Again, the Qur'an Majeed urges in remonstrance: "And be not like those who say, 'We have heard,' while they do not hearken. Verily, the vilest of all creatures, in the sight of Allah, are those deaf and dumb ones who do not use their rationality" (Qur'an 8:21,22).

Animals Are Our Teachers

Muslims have often been advised by their mentors to learn lessons from some species of animal. For example, the Imam Hazrat Ali gives this piece of advice: "Be like a bee; anything he eats is clean, anything he drops is sweet and any branch he sits upon does not break." (Maxims of Ali; translated by Al-Halal from Nahj-ul-Balagha [in Arabic]; Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, Pakistan; p. 436. The Imam Hazrat Ali bin Abi Talib was the son-in-law of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, and the fourth Caliph [644-656 A.C. = 23-24 A.H.].)

Animals Are Members of Communities and the Family of God

The Holy Prophet Muhammad puts it in these words: "All creatures are like a family (Ayal) of God: and he loves the most those who are the most beneficent to His family." (Narrated by Anas. Mishkat al-Masabih,3:1392; quoted from Bukhari.)

The Qur'an Majeed says: "There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you" (Qur'an 6:38).

The Holy Prophet used to say: "Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself" (Wisdom of Prophet Mohammad; Muhammad Amin; The Lion Press, Lahore, Pakistan; 1945).

According to the learned commentators of the Qur'an Majeed, animals all live a life, individual and social, like members of a human commune. In other words, they are like communities in their own right and not in relation to human species or its values. These details have been mentioned to emphasize the point that even those species which are generally considered as insignificant or even dangerous deserve to be treated as communities; that their intrinsic and not perceptible values should be recognized, irrespective of their usefulness or their apparent harmfulness.

The significant point to note is that, physically, man has been put in the same bracket as all other species. The following Hadith leaves no ambiguity in the scene in which the Qur'an Majeed uses the word "community":

Abu Huraira reported the Prophet as telling of an incident that happened to another prophet in the past. This prophet was stung by an ant and, in anger, he ordered the whole of the ants' nest to be burned. At this, God reprimanded this prophet in these words: "Because one ant stung you, you have burned a whole community which glorified Me." (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Islamic law (Shari'ah) concerning the rights of animals are very elaborate and explicit. In the case of the ants' nest, the following Juristic Rule would apply:

Any damage or a damaging retaliation for a damage is forbidden.

(La zarara wa la zirar)

Human/Animal Communication

There are numerous legends about the Muslim saints and other holy men who could talk to animals. However, for lack of authentication, they are taken generally as mere fables. There is one statement in the Qur'an Majeed, though, which proves that man had acquired the lore of speech with animals as early as the time of King Solomon. Perhaps in those days human civilization was more in tune with nature than it is today. The Qur'anic verse runs like this: "And Solomon was David's heir, and he said: 'O ye people! We have been taught the speech of birds…'" (Qur'an 27:16).

The Qur'an Majeed tells us that God actually communicates with animals, as the following verse shows:

And your Lord revealed to the bee, saying: "make hives in the mountains and in the trees, and in (human) habitations." (Qur'an 16:68)

The Qur'an Majeed uses the same Arabic word "Wahi" for God's revelation to all His Prophets, including the Holy Prophet Muhammad, as it has been used in the case of the bee….it proves the basic fact that animals have a sufficient degree of psychic endowment to understand and follow God's messages — a faculty which is higher than instinct and intuition.

Animals Have Consciousness

Many passages from the Qur'an Majeed and Hadith state that all animals are endowed with spirit and mind and "…there is ample evidence in the Qur'an Majeed to suggest that animals' consciousness of spirit and mind is of a degree higher than mere instinct and intuition. We are told in the Qur'an Majeed that animals have a cognizance of their Creator and, hence, they pay their obeisance to Him by adoration and worship:

Seest thou not that it is Allah Whose praises are celebrated by all beings in the heavens and on earth, and by the birds with extended wings? Each one knows its prayer and psalm, And Allah is aware of what they do. (Qur'an 24:41)

It is worth noting the statement that "Each one knows its prayer and psalm...." The execution of a voluntary act, performed consciously and intentionally, requires a faculty higher than that of instinct and intuition. Lest some people should doubt that animals could have such a faculty, the following verse points out that it is human ignorance that prevents them from understanding this phenomenon:

The seven heavens and the earth and all things therein declare His glory. There is not a thing but celebrates His adoration; and yet ye mankind! ye understand not how do they declare His glory….(Qur'an 17:44)

The following verse tells us how all the elements of nature and all the animal kingdom function in harmony with God's laws; it is only some humans who infringe and, thus, bring affliction on themselves. The Qur'an Majeed dwells on this theme repeatedly to emphasize the point that man should bring himself into harmony with nature, according to the laws of God — as all other creation does:

Seest thou not that unto Allah payeth adoration all things that are in the heavens and on earth — the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the animals, and a large number among mankind? However, there are many (humans) who do not and deserve chastisement….(Qur'an 22:18)

A Dutch team of scientists has found scientific evidence of mental suffering in animals. They have discovered that, like the human brain, an animal's brain too releases a substance called 'Endorphin' to cope with emotional distress and pain, caused by frustration or conflict. This substance is 100 times more powerful than morphine. (This was reported in the newsletter of Compassion in World Farming Agscene, August 1985, 20 Lavant Street, Petersfield, Hants, England.)

Animals and Humans Must Share Natural Resources

Once it has been established that each species of animal is a "community" like the human community, it stands to reason that each and every creature on earth has, as its birthright, a share in all the natural resources. In other words, each animal is a tenant-in-common on this Planet with human species.

But "Man has always been in competition with animals for food, and the problem has been aggravated in the current world situation, especially because of modern agrarian mismanagement." The Qur'an Majeed has tried to allay this fear of man by reassuring him that God is not only the Creator but also the Sustainer and the Nourisher of all that He creates. However, the Qur'an Majeed lays down the condition that human beings, like all other creatures, shall have to work for their food, and that their share would be proportionate to their labor: "And that man shall have nothing, but what he strives for" (Qur'an 53:39).

The Qur'an Majeed repeatedly emphasizes that food and other resources of nature are there to be shared equitably with other creatures. Below are just a few of numerous such verses:

Then let man look at his food: how We pour out water in showers, then turn up the earth into furrow-slices and cause cereals to grow therein — grapes and green fodder; olive-trees and palm-trees; and luxuriant orchards, fruits and grasses...as Provision for you as well as for your cattle. (Qur'an 80:24-32)

Again, in the following verses, the bounties of nature are enumerated with the accent on animals' share in all of them. Everything was created for human AND non-human animals:

And He it is Who sends the winds, as glad tidings heralding His mercy. And We send down pure water from the clouds, that We may give life thereby, by watering the parched earth, and slake the thirst of those We have created — both the animals and the human beings in multitude. (Qur'an 25-48,49)

And do they not see that We meander water to a barren land and sprout forth from it crops, whereof their cattle as well as they themselves eat? Will they take no notice of it? (Qur'an 32:27)

We {God} brought forth from it {the earth} its waters and its pastures, and established the mountains firm — as a source of provision for you and for your animals. (Qur'an 79:31-33)

There is no doubt that the message includes all animals, not just domestic livestock, in whose welfare we have a vested interest:

There is no moving creature on earth, but Allah provides for its sustenance…. (Qur'an 11:6)

And the earth: He {God} has assigned to all living creatures. (Qur'an 55:10)

The essence of Islamic teachings on "Animal Rights" is that depriving animals of their fair share in the resources of nature is so serious a sin in the eyes of God that it is punishable by punitive retribution: The Qur'an Majeed describes how the people of Thamud demanded that the Prophet Saleh show them some sign to prove he was a prophet of God. (The tribe of Thamud were the descendants of Noah. They have also been mentioned in the Ptolemaic records of Alexander's astronomer of the 2nd century A.C.)

At the time of this incident, the tribe was experiencing a dearth of food and water and was, therefore, neglecting its livestock. It was revealed to Prophet Saleh to single out a she-camel as a symbol and ask his people to give her her fair share of water and fodder. The people of Thamud promised to do that but, later, killed the camel. As a retribution, the tribe was annihilated. This incident has been mentioned in the Qur'an Majeed many times in different contexts (Qur'an 7:73, 11:64, 26:155, 156; 54:27-31).





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