Animal Rights in ISLAM

Humans, as the best creatures of all kinds in all established religions, have a special dignity and therefore have a lot of duties and responsibilities. However, it’s not only humans who have different rights, all creations on the earth such as mountains, seas, animals and plants have some rights. It has been a few years that there are some Animal Protection Organizations all over the world which have noticed the rights of animals and dealt with this issue. The first animal protection organization was founded in England in 1824, while in Islam many centuries earlier this issue had been dealt with utmost precision and delicacy in the Holy Quran and helping animals is considered as a good deed and cruelty toward them a sin. In addition to that we can find many instances in which the rights of plants have been mentioned in narrations and Hadith. You just need to open a book from the category of religious jurisprudence and take a look at the titles. The rights which Quran considers for animals include: the right to live, the right for food, health, shelter, justice, reproduction, respect, fair treatment, ownership, logical and proper application… Among others Imam Ali (PBUH) almost comprehensively and in a detailed way has dealt with such issues in his sermons and letters.

Imam Ali (PBUH) in a letter to one of his agents responsible for collecting alms as prescribed by Islam, besides emphasizing the observation of human rights, mentions the way animals’ rights should be observed:

Regulating the manner of getting in the circle of animals:

Imam emphasizes that we should not enter the circle of animals like he who wants to overwhelm and harm them:

«فَإنْ كَانَتْ لَهُ مَاشِيَةٌ أَوْ إِبِلٌ فَلاَ تَدْخُلْهَا إِلاَّ بِإِذْنِهِ، فَإِنَّ أَكْثَرَهَا لَهُ، فَإِذَا أَتَيْتَهَا فَلاَ تَدْخُلْها دُخُولَ مُتَسَلِّط عَلَيْهِ وَلاَ عَنِيف بِهِ، وَلاَ تُنَفِّرَنَّ بَهِيمَةً وَلاَ تُفْزِعَنَّهَا…»

Avoiding to separate the animals and their babies: in the same letter Imam recommends to his agent that in case the payers of alms tended to pay the alms of camels and sheep he act this way: “Do not separate the mother camel and her baby, and don’t milk it in a way that little milk is left for the baby”.

Fairness in treating animals:

With regard to this issue, Imam says: if the animal is used for ridding, we shouldn’t wear it out. He also emphasizes the observation of fairness in treating animals: “Among that ridding camel and other camels establish a fair treatment and let the weary camel relax and ride the one which is less weary and ride it slowly.” He emphasizes on feeding, satiating and resting the animals.

«وَلْيُورِدْهَا مَا تَمُرُّ بِهِ مِنَ الْغُدُرِ، وَلاَ يَعْدِلْ بِهَا عَنْ نَبْتِ الاَْرْضِ إِلَى جَوَادِّ الطُّرُقِ، وَلْيُرَوِّحْهَا فِي السَّاعَاتِ، وَلْـيُمْهِلْهَا عِنْدَ النِّطَافِ وَالاَْعْشَابِ، حَتَّى تَأْتِيَنَا بِإِذْنِ اللهِ بُدَّناً مُنْقِيَات، غَيْرَ مُتْعَبَات وَلاَ مَجْهُودَات، لِنَقْسِمَهَا عَلَى كِتَابِ اللهِ وَسُنَّةِ نَبِيِّهِ‌عليه السلام».

Amir al-Momenin Ali (PBUH) paid attention to sick, weary or lame animals and interdict taking such animals as alms: since doing so requires moving the animal in long roads and certainly such an animal will be tormented all the time:

«وَلاَ تَأْخُذَنَّ عَوْداً، وَلاَ هَرِمَةً، وَلاَ مَكْسُورَةً، وَلاَ مَهْلُوسَةً، وَلاَ ذَاتَ عَوَار».

Imam Ali (PBUH) recommends to his agent that he give the animals to a kind righteous and trustworthy person who does not harm them: “Give them to a person who is kind and a righteous guard who does not harm them nor wear them out nor torment them.”

In a Hadith by Amir al-Momenin (PBUH) we read: “Do not slaughter sheep among other sheep and camels among other camels, while other camels and sheep see their kind being slaughtered.” It implies the fact that we should consider the animals’ feelings. He also emphasizes keeping animals: “The best thing that one can provide for his family is a sheep. He whoever has a sheep in his house, the angles of God will revere him twice.”

Some of the rights considered for animals in Islam:

  • Provision of food and water, if someone owns an animal, he has to provide its provisions and this rule is the same for all creatures, since all animals are deferent. The prophet (PBUH) said about a woman who had tormented a cat, denied food and caused the death of the cat that she would go to hell. The listeners mentioned that she had always said her prayers and fasted but the Holly prophet restated that she would go to hell.
  • While traveling, wherever you stop for taking a rest you should first give food and water to your animal. For example if you travel by horses, after you stop you should give water and fodder to the horses then you can rest and do other things.
  • If milking is harmful for an animal we shouldn’t do it. If the animal which is milked has babies, we should milk the animal in a way that there remains some milk for the baby.
  • Paying attention to the animal and their habitat is necessary because animals are irritated by a sordid environment. Imam Sadeq (PBUH) quoted the prophet that: “Clean the keeping area and the sheepfold and clean the rheum of the sheep. The keeping area of an animal should be that clean so one can say his prayers there.
  • Creating a place for animals to rest and have peace. With regard to Islam, like humans who need a quiet and safe place to live in, animals should enjoy a suitable place to live in.
  • Animals should be treated in a fair manner and they shouldn’t be tormented or harmed. In Islam it is foul and disgusting to impose cruelty to animals and it is always recommended to be kind and fair toward animals. It is also forbidden to insult animals. Among the rights that Imam Sadeq (PBUH) mentions for animals are: (the right) the owner should consider is that he should not sit on the animal and make a long speech. It seems that Imam is rejecting and scolding those who very calmly disregard the weariness of the animal and sit on its back and continue their long and sometimes futile conversations.
  • We should not put the animal into work beyond its capabilities such as loading the animal too excessively or riding the animal more than one person, animals should be applied for the things they have been created for, not more than that. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: “Put the loads on the back part of the animal since the front limbs of the animal are weaker and the feet are strong.” A person who had reached his destination but left the animals and the camels unloaded and himself had gone away to rest was said by the prophet to be ready for punishment in the after world.
  • We should not hit the animals in the face… and every organ which has a spirit and feels pain should not be tormented.
  • Moslems have been prohibited to emasculate animals because animals simply have the right of reproduction. A man from Najran accompanied the prophet (PBUH) in one of the battles. This man had a horse to whose neigh the Prophet had got used to. Then the horse got away and was not seen and the neigh was neither heard. The Prophet asked for the man and said to him: “What did you do to your horse?” “It was a passionate horse”- he replied, “I emasculated it.” The Prophet said: “You castrated it? Castrated it? It is written ‘benevolent’ on the forehead of the horse and horses bring about prosperity and bounty. The mane of a horse is its gravity and its forehead is its beauty and its tail is its power.”
  • It is recommended that the milk of the animal be not taken to the last drop and the person should cut his nails so that she doesn’t hurt the animal.
  • It is not fair to behead the animal while another animal looks at it and it is not admissible to skin the animal unless the body becomes cool. Therefore it is not Halal to eat the animal or some parts of it if those parts are not cool enough before skinning. And another thing about dead animals is the fact that they should be buried and shouldn’t be mutilated.

قال الصادق(ع): ما اشترى احد دابة الّا قالت: اللهم اجعله بى رحيما.)

The above quotation means that no one buys an animal unless the animal says: “O God! Put this person kind to me!”

Even the way in which the animal is slaughtered has certain rules according which the animal suffers less pain. The manner in which animals are slaughtered is called “Zibh” (Arabic: ذبح).

According to Islamic rules humans can consume the meat, milk and other products of an animal and put them into service. But these things never permit insulting these creatures and neglecting their divine deference. A man went to the prophet and said hello to him, the Prophet (PBUH) replied him by saying “Hello to you” (addressed him in a plural pronoun). The man said: “O the messenger of Allah! I am not more than one person” the prophet said: “I said hello to you and your horse.”

It is foul that one beheads the animal which he has raised himself. Also if an animal takes refuge to one’s house we should not force the animal to go away unless the person does not have the ability to keep it. The Imam about a pigeon which had taken refuge to a person’s house said that the pigeon should not be eaten because it had taken refuge there and disrespecting and eating the pigeon was not right.

We should not sharpen the knife and other tools for beheading the animal in its presence because it understands this and suffers from this.

If we provoke an animal into doing something by fodder we should definitely give him the fodder during the time the action is being done.

With regard to vets and the owners of domesticated animals it is recommended that they not have solely profit making or financial aims and their jobs should not be just for pleasure in which the deference of animals is not observed. While in communism the animals and plants are considered just with regard to profit and personal gains and there is no deference for the nature. The nature and the environment face many dangers due to the trading rules.

Moslems are like this; they respect plants, animals and humans and do not damage the environment.

Imam Ali (PBUH) swore to Allah in his Nahj al-Balaghah that he wouldn’t accept the power as big as the Universe if that included taking a wheat seed from an ant’s mouth… this is the value of respecting animals’ rights in Shia branch of Islam.

It is recommended to use the nature, plants and animals but it is said that we should be moderate for instance we should not eat meat every day but this should not go on for forty days. Islam does not want us to stay away from meat but at the same time doesn’t want to witness that we destroy all animals and the nature for our profit, for example it is not right to encage a hen to lay eggs for us, and a hen should have the freedom to wander around in the nature…

Allah will admonish humans for all this, for places, the environment, humans, animals, things and birds… and humans will be asked how they have acted, if they had held any respect or not? Regarding plants, there are many recommendations in Islam. Regarding plants, the prophet asked the people if they respect their “aunts”, they wondered “aunts”? He said: “The grape trees and date trees are one’s relatives, and therefore you should be compassionate toward your aunts and plants.” In a Hadith by the Holy Prophet we read that if you have a sapling in your hand and you are at the verge of the resurrection and you have the mere time of planting it, plant it. The Grand Prophet was asked about destroying a tree and the quotation is that if someone (without any reason) cuts a Cedar Tree, Allah will put his head in fire.

In Islamic jurisprudence it is recommended to plant fruit trees and cutting fruit trees is reproached. This respect toward nature is to the extent that if there is no solid soil available for saying prayers we can use the leaf of a tree. This is why Shiites usually plant trees such as mulberry, date, walnut and fig on the roads to shrines and selling them is not good. Sometimes we help animals because of our own feelings which this doesn’t have a moral value but if we help an animal for itself and for the respect of life and nature this would be fit.

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