What does Islam teach about animal rights?

God’s Mercy embraces not just humans, but the rest of His creation as well. Kind treatment to animals is part of Islam and has always been so. Animals are after all God’s Creation. Like us they have a similar origin from the Divine Will and have to be respected as such. In fact, animals were here on earth before man. When God created man, He placed him as His Vicegerent on earth. As such, man’s relation to that of the animal kingdom is only as a trustee, no more.

    True, humans have a distinct origin from other creatures in that they descend from a primeval ancestor created from a quintessence of clay as distinct from other life forms created from water, still this difference in our physical states is not very significant when you stop to think that we all share a common origin in being created from water. As the Qur’an says:

We created from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?

(The Prophets:30)

It is He Who has created man from water: then has He established relationships of lineage and marriage: for thy Lord has power (over all things)

(The Criterion:54)

Thus man and beast, bird and fish all have a similar origin from water which is in fact proven by modern science that tells us that protoplasm, the basis of all living matter, is largely made up of water.

In this sense all creatures are one large family. As our Prophet put it:

All creatures are like a family of God: and He loves most those who are the most beneficent to His family

(Mishkat al-Masabih)

Another saying of his has it:

If you want to be loved by your Creator, love His creatures


Humans, who have been endowed with greater intelligence than other creatures are obliged to be fair and just in their treatment of their fellow creatures. They are to take animal life only for their survival or in self-defence, but nothing else. In fact in Islam saving the life of an animal is a cause for entering heaven while cruelty to animals can be a reason for falling into the hellfire. Such is the stress Islam places on the value of animal life.

When one of his companions queried:

O God’s Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?

The Prophet replied:

(Yes) There is a reward for serving any living being

(Saheeh Muslim)

And to think these duties were laid down by Islam many, many centuries ago at a time when animals were mercilessly abused and exploited and well before the US or Europe ever thought of embracing the idea that animals too had rights, an idea that took root in the West from only about the beginning of the twentieth century.

Indeed Islam regards all of creation as Muslim, in the sense that they are all in a state of submission to God, following Divine laws throughout their lives:

Seest thou not that to God bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth,- the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals; and a great number among mankind?

(The Pilgrimage:18)

Seest thou not that it is God Whose praises 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 God knows well all that they do.

(The Light:41)

These beautiful verses show that animals are in a constant state of submission to God, each even having its own mode of prayer which man with his limited intellect cannot comprehend. What is also interesting is that while we are told that all animals bow down to God, it is not all but ‘a great number’ among mankind who do so.

   This is because unlike animals that follow the natural laws ordained by God, man, in view of his honoured position as Vicegerent of God on earth has been endowed with a certain amount of free will which he may use for better or worse. Thus a man or woman who listens to the call of the evil one and disobeys his or her Creator is even lower than the most seemingly insignificant creature on earth.

   But that’s not all. We are told that animals like humans form communities, which adds another dimension to man’s relationship with them – their rights:

There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, Nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms) communities like you.  Nothing have We omitted from the Book,  and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end

(The Cattle:38)

The Prophet once related a story of another prophet in the past. This prophet was stung by an ant and in anger, he ordered the ants’ nest to be burned. At this, God reprimanded this prophet with the words: Because one ant stung you, you have burned a whole community which glorified Me (Saheeh Muslim). It once happened that the Caliph Umar, in a fit of anger, ordered that a fighting cock be killed when he saw two men wagering over it, only to have a companion tell him: “Would you kill a creature that glorifies God?” . So Umar let the creature be (Adab Al Mufrad).

    Every community under God has certain rights, and animals being communities in their own right, also have rights. Animals are in a sense also ‘persons’ and God is concerned about their welfare, which is why though he has conceded man a certain authority over animals, allowing him to take animal life  for his sustenance or in self defence, he has also laid down rules governing them.

True the Qur’an says of man:

He (God) it is Who made you vicegerents on earth

(The Originator of Creation:39)

But this does not mean that man has been given unconditional domination over all other creatures on our planet. It can in no way be likened to the Judeo-Christian tradition of man’s relation to the rest of creation as told in Genesis:

And God said: Let us make man in Our Image, after Our Likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all creatures that crawl on the ground

(Genesis 1:26)

Rather, the Islamic view of the relationship between man and nature is one of custodianship, not dominance. In the Qur’an itself we are told:

And He it is who has spread out the earth for His creatures

(The Most Merciful: 10)

Here we are told that God has appointed the earth for all his creatures, and not just man. To humble man, God speaks of His providing sustenance to His other creatures even before mentioning man:

How many are the creatures that carry not their own sustenance?

It is God who feeds them and you

(The Spider:60)

But man by virtue of his dominant position and higher intellect has been entrusted by God Himself with the duty of looking after the rest of creation while taking care of his own needs. To abuse the power man holds by virtue of his physical and intellectual superiority over the rest of the animal world is to go against the trust God has placed upon us. As our Prophet put it:

The world is green and beautiful, and God has appointed you his guardian over it

(Saheeh Muslim)

That man has no arbitrary power over the rest of nature is also seen in the rights Islam gives our fellow creatures. Killing for any other purpose than food or self-defence, such as for sport or pleasure, is strictly prohibited in Islam. Such transgressors face Divine Retribution in the Hereafter.  As the Prophet once told his followers:

A woman was punished because of a cat which she had imprisoned till it died. She entered the (Hell) Fire because of it, for she neither gave it food nor water as she had imprisoned it, nor set it free to eat from the vermin of the earth

(Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

He also said in no uncertain terms:

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 Day of Judgment).

(Sunan Nasai)

If someone kills a sparrow for sport, the sparrow will cry out on the Day of Judgment, “O Lord!  That person killed me in vain!”


Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, God will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment

His companions asked:

O Messenger of God, what is a just cause?

He replied:

That he will kill it to eat, not simply to chop off its head and then throw it away


The Prophet taught us that every injustice will be recompensed on the Day of Judgment, even if were to just be one ram butting another with its horns:

In the hereafter you will render their rights to those to whom they are due. The hornless sheep even will receive its right by way of retaliation from a horned sheep that butted it

(Saheeh Muslim)

Thus one can only imagine the kind of punishment that awaits us for harming our fellow creatures for no cause. Betray that trust God has placed on you, and you may have hell to pay!   On the other hand, we are told that an act of kindness to an animal earns one the pleasure of God. The Prophet once said:

A prostitute was forgiven by God because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So God forgave her because of that

(Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

On another occasion he said:

A man saw a dog eating mud from (the severity of) thirst. So, that man took a shoe (and filled it) with water and kept on pouring the water for the dog till it quenched its thirst. So God approved of his deed and made him to enter Paradise.

(Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

Thus we find that even dogs, who are considered unclean on account of their saliva which is considered ritually polluting and who are not to be reared except as guard dogs or hunting dogs, are entitled to humane treatment, so much so that it is a cause for God to forgive a serious sin such as prostitution.

   So concerned was the Prophet about the welfare of animals that when his 10,000-strong army was marching towards Mecca for the final conquest, he spotted a bitch by the side of the road to the city with a litter of newly-born puppies she was feeding. He promptly ordered that the creatures were not to be disturbed by the passing army and even posted a sentry, Ju’ayl of Damar, to ensure that his orders were carried out.

   Besides the right to life except for purposes of food or self-defence, Islam also gave a number of other basic rights to animals. Like for instance to be free of bodily harm in any way. In the days of the Prophet people who used to cut off the limbs of animals for their meat while they were still alive. When the Prophet migrated to Medina he found the people there cutting off camels’ humps and the fat tails of sheep, the idea here was that the juicy humps and fatty tails of the animals could be eaten while they remained alive for future use. The Prophet upon learning of this barbaric practice put a stop to it. A companion of his named Ibn Umar tells us:

The Prophet cursed the one who cut off the limbs or other parts of an animal while it was still alive

(Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

He also declared such meat prohibited with a simple statement:

Whatever is cut off an animal while it is still alive, is carrion and is unlawful to eat


In this modern day and age, you will of course think it’s not possible that people can do such things, but do you know that even today fishermen in the Far East are in the habit of cutting off of the fins of sharks caught in the high seas and throwing them back so that they die a slow and lingering death at the bottom of the sea This is what goes to make the famous shark fin soup you will find being served in places like Taiwan and Hong Kong. A similar practice survived among some fisherwomen of Jaffna in Sri Lanka until quite recent times. They used to cut off parts off turtles while they were still alive to sell the flesh piecemeal while they underwent unspeakable suffering. Islam put an end to such barbarities well over a thousand years ago when people gave little thought to animal suffering.

   Yet another barbarity which man has subjected his fellow creatures to is castration, ostensibly to fatten them for the table. Pigs and roosters are to this day subjected to this barbaric mutilation at a very tender age with countries like France leading the way in capon production and consumption. Islam put a stop to such barbarism long ago. The Prophet condemned the castration of animals (Al-Bazzar). But that’s not all, he prohibited that animals be mutilated in any other way as well:

Do not clip the forelock of a horse, for a decency is attached to its forelock; nor its mane, for it protects it; nor its tail, for it is, its fly-flap

(Aboo Dawood)

Why, because God has in his wisdom created animals in a way that will benefit them. He has given horses hooves to run with, birds wings to fly with and fish fins to swim with. To change the creation is to go against God and join the legion of the Devil.

   Disfiguring animals is also prohibited in our faith. The Prophet forbade striking the face or branding the face of animals. Once he passed by a donkey with a branded face and said: “Have you not heard that I have cursed anyone who brands an animal on its face or who hits it on its face” (Aboo Dawood).

    Another abuse animals have been subjected to throughout the ages is being hunted for sport or for target practice which still exists in certain parts of the west such as the US where shooting birds or squirrels for sport is a popular pastime among some trigger-happy Americans of the Republican mould who think that because the Bible teaches that men have dominance over other creatures they could do as they please with them. Islam prohibited this barbaric practice very early in its history. When Ibn Umar saw some people practicing archery using a hen as a target, he told them: The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) cursed anyone who made a living thing into a target. When another companion Anas saw some boys shooting at a tied hen, he said: The Prophet has forbidden the shooting of tied or confined animals (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).

   Another barbarity to which animals have been subjected to over the ages is bloodsport – training animals to fight one another until one is killed or fatally wounded. Cocks for instance are known to be rather pugnacious by nature and so metal spurs are attached to their feet to do greater injury to their opponent. They are then put to fight each other, notwithstanding the suffering to the birds concerned. The cocks, once let loose, fight to the last, fighting on even when totally blinded or completely beakless. Even in a Buddhist country like Sri Lanka which prides itself in its animal loving tradition, one still finds people who wager on fighting cocks, the owner of the cock that loses putting an end to its life at the end of the fight if its not already dead. This practice too was forbidden by Islam. The Prophet forbade that animals be incited to fight one another (Tirmidhi & Aboo Dawood)  since people would goad animals into fighting each other until one of them was pecked or gored to death or else grievously injured as usually happens.

   Over-burdening or under-feeding animals is also strongly condemned in our religion. Whenever our Prophet saw an over-burdened or ill-fed animal he would pull up alongside the owner and say, “Fear God in your treatment of animals” (Aboo Dawood).

   Once when the Prophet was in a garden of a companion there was a camel there started tearing. He went to it, patted its head and told its owner:

“Are you not afraid of God who entrusted you with this camel? It complained to me that you beat it!”

On another occasion, when he saw a scraggy-looking camel, he said to its owner:

Fear God for these dumb animals. Do not let them stay hungry?

(Aboo Dawood)

He also forbade his followers from unnecessarily burdening them by mounting them and casually sitting on them as if they were chairs instead of riding them:

Do not use the backs of your animals as seats. God 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.

(Aboo Dawood)

Anas ibn Malik, a well known Companion of the Prophet tells us:

“Whenever we arrived at a stopping-place, we would never start the prayers until we had removed the loads from the pack-animals (and let them free to rest)”

(Aboo Dawood)

But that’s not all. Islam even went on to recognize the feelings of animals, especially towards their young and prohibited that they be taken away from their parents and be deprived of their affection.  It once happened that the companions went on a journey with the Prophet. He left them for a while and in his absence, they saw a bird called hummara with its young and took the little ones. The mother bird was soon circling above them in the air, beating its wings in grief. When the Prophet returned, he asked: “Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its young? Return them to her” (Saheeh Muslim). On another occasion a companion of the Prophet came to him carrying baby chicks in his clothing and mentioned that the mother bird had hovered over them all along. The Prophet directed him forthwith to return the chicks (Mishkat, Aboo Dawood). On yet another occasion, someone travelling with the Prophet gathered some birds’ eggs from a nest. The mother bird’s painful cries and commotion attracted the attention of the Prophet who immediately told the man to return the eggs to the nest (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).

   Indeed if we are to take Islamic teachings on animals to its logical conclusion, we would have to conclude that even locking up animals and birds in little cages and confining fish to little fish tanks is unislamic. How we may ask can we imprison members of a community that in its own way worships God just for our entertainment. Not only are such creatures confined to a very small area in cramped up conditions to waste away their life, but they are also often deprived of mates to procreate their species, their sad existence ending only with their death. So I think I’ll go along with that great poet William Blake who said: “A robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage”. Indeed, one wonders how people could commit such a crime against their fellow creatures when they themselves would not want such a fate to befall them or their children. Such is the folly of arrogance man falls victim to in his desire to live his way without a consideration for his dumb co-creatures. If nothing else, the fear of God will spur him to do the right thing!

    Islamic teachings on kindness to animals was reflected in the kind treatment its followers gave their fellow creatures, like the Turks who even founded special hospitals and pious foundations to take care of our animal friends which Western writers like Montaigne remarked on with marvel. There was even a hospital in Damascus, then part of the Ottoman Empire that treated not only sick cats, but also dogs of all descriptions while foundations established by well meaning people fed homeless animals. There was even a special area allocated for the grazing of sick or superannuated beasts of burden whose owners left them there to live in peace till their dying day, acts that would have been laughed at by their European contemporaries. This is what prompted the famous French poet Lamartine to remark:Muslims have good relations with all creatures, animate and inanimate: trees, birds, dogs, in short, they respect all the things God has created. They extend their compassion and kindness to all the species of wretched animals which in our countries are abandoned or ill-treated. In all the streets at specific intervals they leave bowls of water for the dogs of the district. Some Muslims found pious foundations at their deaths for the pigeons they have fed throughout their lives, thus ensuring that grain will be scattered (for the birds) after they have departed.

   One only has to look at the West’s track record of animal abuse to realize how much of its values it has lost in forgetting God. By this I mean the one True God who takes cognizance of everything and avenges the wrong done to even His teeniest creation, not the ‘god’ whom men like Paul made out to be, that Christ sacrificed himself for us to wipe out our sins.

    Take bull fighting, the national pastime of Catholic Spain which continues to this day in spite of the immense suffering it causes the creature, a slow, torturous death for the pleasure of the maddening crowd. For all its macho association, the fight is not even a fair one. It is not the man versus ferocious bull fight one is often told about. So let’s see how it’s done. First, to weaken the bull before the coup de grace at the hands of the Matador, the bull, once let loose into the arena, is stabbed by a person known as the Picador just behind the morillo, a mound of muscle on the fighting bull’s neck, weakening the neck muscles and leading to the animal’s first loss of blood. In the next stage, three more persons known as the banderilleros charge the bull with each one of them planting two banderillas, sharp barbed darts into the bull’s shoulders which further weaken it while at the same time provoking it further. The matador using his cape to attract the bull would then maneuvers it into a position to administer it the final thrust with his sword, plunging it through the heart.

   In the Spanish festival of Toro De La Vega, a horde of barbarians calling themselves men chase a bull through the streets armed with sharp lances, falling upon the poor creature and piercing its flesh before cutting off its testicles while still alive. At the Brazilian festival of Farra Do Boi, people torture oxen  to death, prolonging it for hours so that they suffer the most agonising  death possible including hacking off  the legs and slitting the chest open among other things. During the festival of Ukweshwama in South Africa, a terrified bull is set upon by a mob of youth who torment and kill it slowly by ripping out its tongue, gouging out his eyes, and mutilating its genitals.

   It’s not only for sport that animals are unnecessarily killed in the West, but also for trivial reasons, like when wild animals go out of the way to be nice to humans. In countries like the US and Canada animals in wildlife parks like elk or deer are put down for simply being friendly to people. Recently, a little buck was killed for rubbing its head against the boy at the Kalamalka Lake in Canada and in the Great Smokies National Park in the US a young elk was put down because he was seen playfully head-butting a photographer.

    That’s not all. Animals are also needlessly killed for the sake of the West’s capitalist economy, as a price control mechanism. In countries like the US, culling or wholesale destruction of livestock to control market prices still takes place with not a single cry raised against this wasteful practice. Say there is a glut in poultry production, the poultry producers would then agree among themselves to destroy their excess livestock rather than putting it to the market which could bring prices down. So rather than going along with a situation created by supply and demand they control market prices by artificial means, reducing animals to the status of a commodity or even less so since the animals concerned here are not even allowed to benefit humanity but treated as mere production material, their carcasses being buried or burned in mass graves.

    And then take dissection, that barbaric destruction of harmless animals in the name of science to study their anatomy, internal structure or bodily functions while they are still alive. This still happens at educational institutions such as schools and universities where millions of animals like cats and frogs are dissected in biology classes. This needless to say is a futile exercise in animal suffering since no new knowledge comes from it, being merely done to show students how the biological systems of lower animals function in spite of the fact that such knowledge is widely available in textbooks.

   Another area in which animals are severely abused is in animal experimentation. Did you know that every year millions of animals are infected, injected, gassed, burned and blinded in laboratories on college campuses and research facilities in countries like the U.S. in the name of science. In many such experiments man does not benefit at all despite the immense suffering it causes the animals involved. Take the case of some sick scientists of Illinois University who blinded newborn chimps by surgically removing their eyes just to find out how long it took them to locate their mother using the senses of smell and sound rather than sight. Like it or not, your hero, Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, gramophone and countless other inventions was no kindly man, but a ruthless businessman who not only patented his inventions to make money but even went to the extent of sponsoring public circus-like spectacles involving electrocuting to death animals like cats, dogs and old horses to prove the dangers of his rival Westinghouse’s Alternating Current as opposed to his Direct current model, The exercise gave rise to the word electrocution!

   Animals are also often used to test the safety of cosmetics and other vain consumer products.  Such animals are often put down at the end of the experimentation  The Laboratory Animal Euthanasia guidelines of the Australian National University goes to the extent of laying down that dependent neonates (newborns) of animals being killed must also be killed.

   Yet another Western practice that disregards animal life is euthanasia or mercy-killing. the act of putting an animal to death painlessly when it falls ill. This procedure commonly referred to by euphemisms such as put down or put to sleep involves killing domestic animals by lethal injection on such flimsy pretexts like the owners not wanting to look after a pet anymore or relocating elsewhere. Not only are disabled or sick animals destroyed in this manner, but also entire litters of unwanted pets. Horses who injure a leg and are no longer able to run in the races are often put down as maintaining such a horse does not make economic sense. The Spanish go one worse, kill their greyhounds once the hunting season is over as they do not wish to take care of them. It is customary for these barbarians to hang the poor creatures from a tree where they die a slow, agonizing death. There is even a statue in Spain celebrating these sick sadistic schweinhund.

   One has only to compare this attitude with the example of the Prophet who was so concerned about a donkey who served him that he made special provision for its upkeep when aged from the public treasury.

   There are however two exceptions where Islam permits taking animal like, that is for food and in self-defense. In killing animals for food, man follows the rest of the animal world for survival and nourishment. Animals hunt for food and men kill for food and this follows the natural order of things. It is killing for anything other than food that goes against the natural order just as homosexuality goes against the natural order that helps perpetuate the species. Man’s very dentition, his canine teeth bear witness to his intrinsically carnivorous nature though his molars suggest that he is also herbivorous.

   Thus man is omnivorous, needing both animal and vegetable food for his nourishment. It has been shown again and again that strict vegetarians suffer from protein deficiencies due to lack of meat. Although Soya meat has been made out to be a cheap source of vegetable protein, nutritionists today are becoming increasingly worried of its over-consumption which could be injurious to human health. Like all beans, they lack the amino acids Methionine and Cystine needed for good health.

    Studies also show that soy products increase the risk of breast cancer in women, brain damage in both men and women and abnormalities in infants, Soy products also contain phytates, which block the body’s uptake of minerals, enzyme Inhibitors, which hinder protein digestion and haemaglutin, which causes red blood cells to clump together and inhibits oxygen take-up and growth. Thus man needs both plant and animal matter to survive and enjoy good health. That’s the way he has been created.

   However at the same time Islam lays down strict rules to be followed in slaughtering animals for food. For one thing, the knife has to be exceedingly sharp so that the slaughter would be quick and as painless as possible for the animal. Further, one animal should not be slaughtered in front of another, so as to cause any animals witnessing the spectacle unnecessary distress.  As the Prophet instructed his followers:

God has ordained kindness (and excellence) in everything. If the killing (of animals) is to be done, do it in the best manner, and when you slaughter, do it in the best manner by first sharpening the knife, and putting the animal at ease

(Saheeh Muslim)

 Another saying of the Prophet has it:

When you set your dog (for the chase), mention the name of God, if he catches the game, and you reach it while it is still alive, cut, its throat quickly (so it won’t suffer)

(Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

Besides food, Islam permits us to take the life of harmful animals in defence of oneself or one’s family or community. Taking animal life to prevent a greater harm befalling the community is based on the saying of the Prophet:

Five kinds of animals are mischief-doers and can be killed even in the Sanctuary: They are the rat, the scorpion, the kite, the crow and the rabid dog

(Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

One simply cannot allow a rabid dog to roam about and infect people and animals with its virulently fatal bite. The only option would be to shoot it at sight. The same holds true of harmful animals such as the scorpion whose poisonous sting can cause people much suffering and even death. The same may well be applied to other noxious creatures such as venomous snakes and mosquitoes that cause disease. But even then the killing has to be done as swiftly and mercifully as possible, without causing the animal concerned any pain. Such is our concern for our fellow creatures, a concern that the West with all its needless talk of gay and other rights cannot match even in this modern age.


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