On a recent shopping trip, I happened to pass by a pet shop, where a big monkey in a small cage outside the entrance broke my heart. I gathered up the guts to enter the shop, only to leave in tears deeply saddened by what I had seen. Poor, helpless animals imprisoned in tiny cages without even enough space to turn around. Their sad, pleading eyes haunted me as I fought the urge to set them free. I wondered if the pet shop owner ever thought about what it would be like to be paralyzed, as he has incarcerated birds in little cages. And for what beneficial purpose? Weren’t birds meant to fly? Maybe only a fellow animal lover would really understand what I felt that day, yet the importance of kindness to animals is something every Muslim should understand as a part of his worldview. It is such a serious matter that in Islam, it is understood that one could gain Heaven or Hell due to one’s treatment of animals.
Mistreating animals is considered a sin in Islam. A Muslim is responsible for the care of animals so much so that an ill-treated animal will testify against the one who abused it on the Day of Judgment. Islam forbids branding animals and killing them in vain, such as for sport. The Prophet Muhammad forbade people to capture birds, burn anthills, and whip animals. Even in slaughtering animals for food, Islam requires that the slaughtering be done according to Islamic procedure, which is humane and aims to cause the animals as little suffering as possible. As humans, we have a responsibility towards every living creature.
As I left the shop, tears streamed down my face and I wondered, “Where are the people of the Sunnah? Has Allah plucked the mercy from the hearts of people to make them so cold that they lack an ounce of sympathy for one of Allah’s beautiful creatures though they see it so helpless and pitiful? Where are the Abu Hurayrahs of today?”
Abu Hurayrah was a close Companion of the Prophet Muhammad and has narrated more hadiths, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, than any other Companion. He was known for being very sympathetic and loving towards animals so much so that although his name was `Abdur-Rahman, he was known as Abu Hurayrah, meaning “father of the kitten.” He was called so because of a small cat that he used to feed and care for and carry with him everywhere he went.
Cats in Islam
The Prophet Muhammad taught mercy to all of God’s creation. There are many reports of his love for cats resulting in their historical acceptance among Muslims. Cats were very common among the people during the time of the Prophet, and he said, “They (cats) are not impure and they intermingle with you.”1 The cat is such a clean animal that according to authentic narrations one may make ablution for Prayer with the same water that a cat drank from. Yet, it is known that some people nowadays have opposed the traditions of the Prophet by taking up the evil practices of torturing and poisoning cats. In Islam, punishment for such acts is severe. Both Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported a hadith regarding a woman who locked up a cat, refusing to feed it and not releasing it so that it could feed itself. The Prophet Muhammad said that her punishment on the Day of Judgment will be torture and Hell.
Dogs in Islam
Many Muslims have misunderstood Islam’s teachings regarding dogs, and this misunderstanding has led to the mistreatment of these animals. The Prophet said, “Purifying a container that a dog has licked (in order for human’s to use it) is done by washing it seven times, the first washing being with dirt.”2 However, according to some scholars, a dog’s fur is considered pure3. Nonetheless, Muslims are discouraged from keeping dogs inside their homes, as the Prophet has been reported as saying that angels do not enter into a house that has a dog4.
However, just because one does not keep a dog inside the home and doesn’t drink after it, that does not give one the right to neglect it, mistreat it, or kill it. The usefulness of this creature of God is indisputable. No other animal can compete with it in its loyalty to its caregiver, its abilities as a guard, and its talent for hunting. In fact, the Qur’an narrates in Surat Al-Kahf, or “The Cave,” the story of some pious youths who took refuge in a cave from the persecution and violence of the unbelievers. That these righteous people had a dog with them, and the fact that Allah mentions the dog and counts the dog among them, indicates that dogs are permitted to live among people. [And you would have thought them awake, whereas they were asleep. And We turned them on their right and on their left sides, and their dog stretching forth his two forelegs at the entrance (of the cave as a guard)] (Al-Kahf 18:18).
So dogs may be used for guards as well as for hunting, as the Qur’an also states: [They ask you about what is lawful for them (as food); Say: Lawful unto you are (all) things good and pure: and those beasts and birds of prey which you have trained as hounds, training and teaching them (to catch) in a manner as directed to you by Allah; so eat what they catch for you, but pronounce the name of Allah over it and fear Allah, for Allah is swift in reckoning] (Al-Ma’idah 5:4).
In two separate hadiths narrated by Abu Hurayrah (the cat-loving Companion), the Prophet told his Companions of the virtue of saving the life of a dog by giving it water and quenching its thirst: one referred to was a man who was blessed by Allah for giving water to a thirsty dog. The other was a prostitute, who filled her shoe with water and gave it to a dog that was lolling its tongue in thirst. For this deed she was granted the ultimate reward: eternal Paradise.
Islam asks people to reflect upon this and be aware of each person’s duty toward God’s creatures, which He has put on earth for our use, not for our abuse. When the Prophet was asked if God rewarded acts of charity to the animals, he replied, “Yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive.”
Hediyah Al-Amin is a Muslim-American teacher of Islamic Studies and Islamic Culture at the Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam.
 Narrated by Abu Dawud.
 Narrated by Muslim.
 See Fiqh Us-Sunnah by Sayyid Sabiq.
 Narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.