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Animal Welfare

What does Islam say about how Muslims should treat animals?

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Stray dogs near a trash pile in Cairo, Egypt - February 2011

Stray dogs near a trash pile in Cairo, Egypt - February 2011

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
In Islam, mistreating an animal is considered a sin. The Quran and guidance from the Prophet Muhammad, as recorded in hadith, give many examples and directives about how Muslims should treat animals.

Animal Communities

The Quran describes that animals form communities, just as humans do: "There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end" (Quran 6:38).

The Quran further describes animals, and all living things, as muslim - in the sense that they live in the way that Allah created them to live, and obey Allah's laws in the natural world. Although animals do not have free will, they follow their natural, God-given instincts - and in that sense they "submit to God's will," which is Islam. “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.” (Quran 24:41)

These verses remind us that animals are living creatures with feelings and connections to the larger spiritual and physical world. We must consider their lives as worthwhile and cherished. "And the earth, He has assigned it to all living creatures" (Quran 55:10).

Kindness to Animals

It is forbidden in Islam to treat an animal cruelly, or to kill it except as needed for food. The Prophet Muhammad often chastised his Companions who mistreated animals, and spoke to them about the need for mercy and kindness. Here are several examples of hadith which instruct Muslims about how to treat animals.

  • Reward for mercy: It is related from Abu Umama that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Whoever is merciful even to a sparrow, Allah will be merciful to him on the Day of Judgment."
  • Animals are like humans: “A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being."
  • Animals cannot speak up for themselves: It is related from Sahl ibn Al-Handhaliyya that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, once passed by a camel that was so emaciated that its back had almost reached its stomach. He said, "Fear Allah in these beasts who cannot speak." (Abu Dawud)
  • Mental cruelty also forbidden: It is related from AbdulRahman bin Abdullah that a group of Companions were once on a journey with the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and he left them for a while. During his absence, they saw a bird with its two young, and they took the young ones from the nest. The mother bird was circling above in the air, beating its wings in grief, when the Prophet came back. He said, "Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its young? Return them to her." (Muslim)
  • Forgiveness of sins: It is related from Abu Hurayra, from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, that a prostitute once saw a dog on a very hot day going round and round a well, lolling its tongue because of its thirst. She drew some water for it using her shoe, and for this action all her sins were forgiven her. (Muslim)
  • Mistreatment is a sin: It is related from Jabir that the Messenger of Allah, once saw a donkey which had been branded on its face and he said, "May Allah curse the one who branded it." (Muslim)
  • Give rest to beasts of burden: It is related from Abu Hurayra that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Do not use the backs of your animals as chairs. Allah 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." (Abu Dawud)

Pets

A Muslim who chooses to keep a pet takes on the responsbility of the animal's care and well-being. They must be provided with appropriate food, water, and shelter. The Prophet Muhammad described the punishment of a person who neglected to care for a pet:

It is related from Abdullah ibn Umar that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "A woman was once punished after death because of a cat which she had kept confined until it died, and because of this she entered the Fire. She had neither given it food or drink while confining it, nor had she let it free to eat the creatures of the earth." (Muslim)

Hunting/Sport

In Islam, hunting for sport is prohibited. Muslims may only hunt as is needed to meet their requirements for food. This was common during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and he condemned it at every opportunity:
  • It is narrated from Ibn Umar that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, cursed those who used any living thing as a target. (Muslim)
  • It is related from Ibn Abbas that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, forbade inciting animals to fight one another. (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
  • It is related from Abu Al-Darda' that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, forbade eating mujaththama animals, that is, animals which have been tied up and shot with arrows. (Tirmidhi)

Slaughter for Food

Islamic dietary law allows Muslims to eat meat. Certain animals are not allowed to be used as food, and when slaughtering, several guidelines must be followed to minimize the animal's suffering. Muslims are to recognize that when slaughtering, one is taking a life only by the permission of Allah in order to meet the need for food.

Cultural Misguidance

As we have seen, all animals are to be treated with respect and kindness. Unfortunately, in some Muslim communities these guidelines are not followed. Some people mistakenly believe that since humans needs take priority, animal rights are not an urgent issue. Others find excuses to mistreat certain animals, such as dogs. These actions fly in the face of Islamic teachings, and the best way to combat such ignorance is through education and good example. Individuals and governments have an important role to play in educating the public about the care of animals, and establishing institutions to support animal welfare.
"Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself." -The Prophet Muhammad
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