Animals have equal rights like human beings to live freely on this planet without the fear of getting killed or tortured. Today people consume meat and fish, use leather products, wear woolen and silk clothes without thinking about the effects these actions have on animals. Animals should be given their due rights and space because this planet belongs to them as much as it belongs to human beings. Based on the principle of equality, animals deserve to get equal consideration rather than equal treatment. This is an important matter when talking about animal rights. Animals should not be exploited under any circumstances. Whether animals can talk or whether they can reason cannot be a matter of consideration, because animals have equal capacity like human beings to feel pain, sorrow, love, frustration, fear and pleasure. As human beings, people have the moral obligation to think twice before engaging in any sort of activities that will damage the environment and basic needs of animals. People who support the rights of animals believe that animals have worth that is inherent and it is completely separate from their usefulness and service to human beings. They believe that every living being on earth has the will to live and so should be given rights and freedom to live life on their own terms that is devoid of pain and suffering. Animal rights is not only a subject for philosophy, it is a moral issue that challenges the traditional belief of the society that animals are born on this planet only to serve human kind in various manner. Ingrid Newkirk who is the founder of PETA (People for the ethical treatment of animals) said that “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife.” Human beings because of their own prejudices refuse to believe that other living beings have equal rights and so do not hesitate to eat the meat of animals.
Human beings have the tendency to show respect and love to animals according to their own convenience and moral thinking. While in some cases they show moral support to certain animals, at other times they turn blind eye to the cruelty and suffering inflicted on animals. For example, people demonstrate anger when they hear about “puppy mills”, because they feel that dogs are not given proper treatment by the operators of such places. On the other hand, when people hear about the bad conditions of factory farms which are even worse than puppy mills, they do not show much concern believing that they are mere animals and do not deserve much attention. The philosophical perspective of human beings towards moral rights of animals can be divided into three categories – Indirect theories, direct but unequal theories, and moral equality theories. Under indirect theory, animals are not given equal consideration and moral rights because of their inability to reason or express their needs. However, the animals are not harmed due to moral awareness of people. Under direct but unequal theory, animals are given some amount of moral status. They are still denied full moral rights because of their inability to respect the rights of others. Here, the capacity of animals to feel pain is considered and so they are not directly harmed. Under moral equality theory, animals are given equal rights and moral considerations by considering the fact that they have equal responsiveness, alertness and mental capacities like infants or disabled persons.
In Defense of Animals (IDA) is a non-government organisation which was set up in order to protect the moral rights of animals. There are various goals of this organisation – 1) to provide adequate infrastructure for shelter and ambulance to animals who are injured, 2) to modify the existing animal laws to make them more effective in dealing with animal rights, 3) to rescue animals who are being abused, 4) to fight for animal rights and their acknowledgement both in national and international levels, 5) to promote the habit of vegetarianism, 6) to promote measure to control animal birth and to reduce capturing of stray animals .
Animal rights laws focus on rights of animals for long-term and also on short-term basis. The short-term laws can be called “welfarist” in nature. The main concern when establishing animal rights laws is to formulate the laws in the manner that are both effective and can display moral integrity. The long-term laws stress on promoting vegetarianism as their motto is “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or exploit for entertainment.” Reducing suffering of animals and enlarging the cages are some factors that are stressed by short-term animal rights laws. In the United States, there is a law that prohibits any kind of cruelty to animals. These laws give legal protection to animals and do not focus on animal rights. Under this law, any person inflicting physical torture and cruelty on animals are penalized. The Animal Welfare Act established in 1966 provides guidelines for research with animals and shelters for animals. This Act also helps in releasing stolen animals and transportation of animals. This paper focuses on animal rights in three major religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam and finally concludes the Islam is more liberal in its views with respect to Animal Rights.
Animal Rights in Human made Laws and Religious Laws
Every religion in this world has their own sets of rules, beliefs and practices. The different practices maintained by different religions cover many spectrums like marriage and divorce, consummation of alcohol, places and norms of worship and physical appearance. Very often, national laws which are imposed by the government for human and animal welfare clash with these religious laws. The religious groups often have to break national laws to maintain their religious faith. One such example is whether non-Muslim people should be permitted to consume alcohol in Muslim countries or whether Islamic law courts be allowed in Canada and United Kingdom. Similarly, these religious laws also override the terms of Animal welfare laws imposed by governments when religious groups slaughter animals in the name of sacrifice.
In March, 2008 some 400 to 500 corpses of deer, turtles and many other animals were found in a house in Philadelphia. Investigators came to the conclusion that this was due to some kind of religious ritual. The bodies were so badly decomposed that only after forensic examination, the species could be identified. The chief inspector was quoted as saying “There is no law against sacrificing animals for religious purposes as long as it is done humanely”. This statement cannot be regarded as a technically correct statement because there is a law in the United States that prohibits killing of animals and this law makes no exception for religious practices. However, the statement can be considered as a misconception of the fact that this same law tolerates some forms of killing of animals. These forms of killings include animals killed for research purposes, eradication of pests, control of overpopulation of pet animals, hunting, food production which includes kosher slaughter. Many religious groups view animals as beings placed on earth for the purpose of serving mankind in whatever way the religious leaders guide people. Many religious courts support this assumption and allow violation of national welfare laws for animals unless major demonstrable harm can be shown. In Holland, the animal welfare law prohibits slaughtering of animals for religious rituals unless the animals are stunned before killing. This is another way of banning all religious slaughtering of animals as religious laws of the Jews and the Muslims require animals to be fully conscious before killing. The religious leaders regard this as violation of “human liberty and tolerance” as the law curbs their religious freedom in the name of animal welfare.
Animal Rights in Christianity
Perspective towards animals
Christianity is one of most wide populated religion in this world and since most of history this religion has always ignored the suffering of animals. The Christians believe that they do not have any moral obligations towards animals and consider that human beings are far more superior to animals. They think that human beings have the right to treat animals in any bad manner without considering that the animals have equal capacities to feel pain like human beings. However, the modern Christians hold a more sympathetic view of animals and they think that “any unnecessary mistreatment of animals is both sinful and morally wrong”.
In the Christian theology it is stated that animals can be hunted and eaten by human beings. The Christian hold the belief that animals have been sent by God on this earth to serve the human beings and as such all human beings have the right to exploit the animals in every possible way. Christians believe that animals are inferior beings and do not deserve any moral obligations from human beings because – 1) animals do not have souls like human beings and 2) animals do not have the reasoning power like human beings. The Christian perspective of animals is profoundly “human-centric” and does not consider animals as separate living beings. Even though most of the theologians of Christian community refuse to accept that animals have rights, some theologians do believe that animals have the awareness and so deserve fair consideration on moral terms. However, history has proved that every Christian did not disparage animals. There were many saints who have demonstrated that pious Christians behave in a kind and humane manner with animals and they show moral respect towards animals. One example of such animal loving saints is St Francis of Assisi who was regarded as a popular animal lover as he preached to the birds. Other examples are St Brigit who protected the cows and St Columba who requested his monks to look after a crane. In modern times, the attitude of Christians towards animals has softened to a great extent. Modern Christians do not consider that animals have lesser rights than human beings to live freely without the fear of being tortured. They now acknowledge the fact that animals deserve moral consideration as they are conscious and aware of their existence on this earth. Fewer Christians now believe that nature and animals exist to serve mankind. Christians now treat animals kindly keeping in view that the Bible has stated that God has made covenant with both animals and human beings. Some other ideas that Christians follow that are supportive of animals are that God has created animals and so God will not want his creation to suffer in the hands of his other creation that is human being. Jesus Christ has told his followers to be kind to anyone who is weak and helpless, and animals are considered weaker than human beings. Bible has also said to love someone even if that person cannot give equal love in return which is equivalent to loving animals those do not have the capacity to demonstrate equal kind of love like human beings. These ideas inculcate love and compassion for animals within the Christian community.
Christianity is a religion that preaches compassion which is limited not only to any tribe or nation, but it also extends to the “extreme limit of life and sense”. The lesson of compassion in Christian religion teaches human beings to show compassion to every non-human being on earth which includes animals. When human beings treat animals cruelly, they call upon themselves extreme abhorrence from the Creator. In Christianity, it is preached that man is sent by God to act as His co-worker so that man must spread love and mercy, which are the holiest acts of God, to every being created by God. In that sense Christians show equal love and mercy to animals as they show to their fellowmen. Christians today believe that every being that creeps and crawls, even if it seems insignificant because of its size and power, is created by the same Source that creates human beings. England has seen many able advocates who have preached religion and morality, but till the beginning of nineteenth century, humanity towards animals was not advocated in the larger sense. Only from the beginning of nineteenth century, men in England began to comprehend that they have moral obligations towards the animals and they deserve love, mercy and compassion. Animals have equal passion and sensibilities like men and even in torture and death they have indomitable “paternal and maternal affections”.
Many animals like the dogs can portray immense gratefulness to their benefactors. Animals serve mankind in many ways, not only by being source of food and entertainment, but also their obedience, strength and fleetness are useful to men like the dogs can be used to for guarding houses and hounding criminals. Even the insects serve mankind in their own ways like the honeybees provides honey and silkworms provide silk for clothing. All these benefits that human beings derive from animals must teach men to reciprocate with kindness and benevolence The Roman Catholics say that although animals should be given fair and just treatment, but this should not be done at the cost of human misery. It is not wise and worthy to spend money on animals when the priority is to spend the money for relief of human misery. People should love animals, but they should not love them in the manner they love their own fellowmen.
In the Christian theology it has been stated that human beings are by birth far more superior to any other living being on this earth because human beings are different and unique in the spiritual sense. The power of reasoning and the capacity to demonstrate love and kindness make human being a unique species on earth. Human beings are unique is proved by the fact that God is visualized as human form and not as any animal form. This status is enjoyed only by human beings and not any other living being. This principle in Christian theology proves that human beings are morally different than any other creation by God. However, in Genesis which is the first book of the Bible, it is said that God did not create animals for the purpose of serving human beings. It says that animals cannot be used for scientific experiments, entertainment, and food or for any other purpose. In Genesis, it is said that the source of food for human beings comes from fruits and their seeds and not the flesh of animals, and it also says that skins of animals cannot be used for making clothes. This philosophy faces a challenge because of economic disparities that exist in the society. The objection states that this philosophy of animal rights can be preached to the rich people who have the financial capacity to avail themselves of other means, but the poor and starving masses of the world can only afford animals as source of food and clothing.
Animal Rights in Judaism
Views of Judaism
Judaism is a religion that preaches animals are created by God and so they must be given humane treatment. The Jews say that human beings must absolutely avoid tzar balei chaim which means they must avoid all acts of cruelty to animals and must not inflict any pain on them. God has His own duty towards animals which is same as His duty towards human beings. There are special texts in the Talmud that specifically instructs human beings to treat animals with compassion. The leading figures of Judaism have exhibited immense acts of generosity and compassion towards animals, and their kindness has been mentioned in the form of stories in the Bible. There is a clear indication in the Torah that human beings can have “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth”, yet the Jewish law states that the rights and privileges of animals must be respected and adhered to.
Since animals are also created by God, therefore, people must treat them with compassion and justice. It must not be ignored that animals possess the capacity to feel pain. There is also an alternative instruction in the Talmud that says it is acceptable if animals are killed or harmed if these actions are the only ways to accomplish the essential and basic needs of men. This is because it is mentioned in the Bible that human beings hold a superior position over animals and the power to control all non-human beings has been bestowed upon human beings by God. Following this text in the Bible, human beings can without any repentance use animals as source of food and clothing. The skin of animals can also be used as parchment on which Bible can be written. In the book of Genesis, it is said that God has given power to human beings to dominate all other living beings on earth. The fear of human beings shall be upon all non-human beings on earth. It is the duty of all living beings to serve mankind, and human beings have to take care of all living creatures. In Judaism, it is forbidden to hunt animals or birds for sports. Many rabbis strongly protest where animals are made to fight with each other for the purpose of entertainment.
According to the Bible, hunting is a shameful act and hunters should hide any evidence of such acts. They should also pour the blood of the dead animals on the surface of the earth. Jewish teachings permit scientific experiments with animals as long as the results of the experiments will prove to be beneficial to human beings and the animals do not have to go through unnecessary pain and suffering. Until the eighteenth century, the general consideration among the people was that animals do not have any rights nor do they have any feelings. During the period Augustus Caesar reigned, there was slaughtering of some 3000 animals. The Roman people enjoyed this spectacle. Judaism law allows animals to be killed by human beings as source of food. In Judaism, there are several instructions for this purpose like the Jews can never sever a limb from an animal that is alive and eat it. The Jews cannot kill a calf on the same day they kill a cow. This is because they believe that animals have powerful family relationships. The Jews also cannot harness an ox and a donkey together. Jewish law also states that it is a sin to emotionally torture an animal because such action is against the will of the God. There are many examples in the Torah where renowned rabbis suffered from excruciating physical pains over a long period of time because they emotionally tortured animals.
Jewish law regarding pet animals
There is no prohibitions in the Jewish law regarding animals that are kept as pet by the Jews. It has been seen as fact that many pious Jews keep dogs, cats and other domestic animals as pets. Jewish law, however, provide some restriction for people who keep animals as pets. There are several instructions in the Jewish law on animal welfare regarding pets which are to be followed by all human beings who keep pets – 1) A person must give food to his animal before he takes his own meals and make arrangements to feed the animal, 2) All animals must be permitted to take rest on the Sabbath and must not be allowed to do the regular chores like bringing a newspaper from another room, 3) If an animal is suffering, then it must be seen that its suffering is relieved. Some sources of Jewish law require pet owners to consider their pet animals as muktzeh which means “they cannot be handled on Shabbath”.
Although there is no clear idea about this instruction, but it is seen in some cases that if a pet animal escapes on the day of Shabbath, then it cannot be trapped to bring it back. For the welfare of the pet animal, the Jewish law says that if a pet owner cannot provide sufficient food to his pet, then he must sell the animal to any non-Jew for a temporary period till the pet owner can arrange for proper food. The Jewish law prohibits castration of the males of any species of animals which are kept as pet. Although the Torah, which is comprised of first five books of the Jewish Bible, does not say anything regarding neutering of the female animals, the general animal laws prohibit neutering of female animals keeping in view the welfare of animals. The Jewish law allows a man to own a pet that has already been neutered although he cannot himself neuter an animal after he starts owning it. Under Jewish law, a pet owner cannot alter the physical appearance of his pet animal like declawing cats, although the law allows a person to own an animal whose appearance has been altered by any previous owner. The Jewish law also permits the use of skin and horns of animals. The Torah itself was written on parchment which is made out of skins of animals.
Method of killing animals
Jewish teachings also dictate on the ways animals must be killed for their meat or poultry. The Jews to maintain their custom must kill the animals approved by Jewish law, called shechita. However, the animal rights activists strongly protest against the method of killing of animals by the pious Jews, claiming that the method is inhumane and barbaric. The Jews disagree with these activists because they believe that their method of killing animals is designed in the manner that reduces the pain and suffering of the animals. According to animal laws, slaughtering of animals must be done by a Jew who has been specially trained for this purpose, and such Jews are called shochets. In UK, a shochet needs to hold a religious licence and a civil licence before he can slaughter animals. Under Jewish custom, the throat of the animal must be cut with a single stroke with an instrument called chalaf which must be extremely sharp and smooth. It is then the duty of the shochet to examine that the animal is dead and did not suffer from any abnormality as this would make the animal unkosher or unsuitable for eating. There are mixed opinions among the experts about the brutality of this method of killing. According to some experts, in this method, animals lose consciousness before the brain can distinguish any hurt There are other people who believe that animals remain conscious long enough to feel the extreme pain.
The secular method of killing animals include ‘stunning’ them before killing, but this method is not approved by the Jews in Israel. This is because animals have to be injured to stun them, and injuries are not allowed in Jewish custom at the time of killing. However, the Jews believe that animals lose consciousness before feeling any pain which is equivalent to pre-stunning.
Animal Rights in Islam
The religion of Islam believes that Allah has given human beings the power to dominate animals. It is stated in the Quran Majeed that this responsibility of being able to dominate is not without conditions and those who do not follow the rules or take wrongful advantage of their freedom of choice and do not abide by the conditions are reduced to the lowest level in the eyes of Allah. These people are considered as evildoers and are condemned by Allah and so are rejected by Him. According to Islam belief, human beings and animals were created so that they exist in “perfect harmonious balance”. Islam law instructs the Muslims to protect the balance by treating animals with their due respect and compassion. The Muslims believe that any action they do which goes against the animal rights, will be witnessed by the Creator and such people will be judged by God on the day of Final Judgement.
The Quran Majeed says that those human beings who show cruelty to animals and do not acknowledge animal rights have “hearts that fail to comprehend, eyes wherewith they fail to see, and ears wherewith they fail to hear”. Such human beings have steered away from the path of righteousness and are immersed in sinful activities. Many people exist in this world who takes improper advantage of the power bestowed on them by Allah to dominate animals. Such people do not feel merciful towards animals and hence breaks all moral rules that are made to protect the rights of animals. Imam Hazrat Ali once commented on this matter and said that “A savage and ferocious beast is better than a wicked and tyrant ruler.”
In the eyes of Allah, the vilest people are those who do not use their rational thinking while dealing with animals. The leaders of the Muslim religion even preach human beings to learn morality from some species of animals like Imam Hazrat Ali advised that “Be like a bee; anything he heats is clean, anything he drops is sweet and any branch he sits upon does not break.” People often consider dogs as examples of beings that demonstrate deep faithfulness towards their masters.
Animals and human beings belong to one community
According to the Holy Prophet Mohammad all living beings on this earth belong to one family of God. All animals and birds are communities like human beings. The Quran Majeed says that all animals have their own individual and social life just like the human beings. Animals exist as a separate community from human beings and so their existence is not dependent on human beings.
All animals, irrespective of their significance because of their size and strength or even if there seem dangerous to human beings should be given respect as separate communities. This is because all animals have intrinsic values even if those values are apparently not perceptible. Even those animals that cannot provide any useful service to mankind deserve fair and just consideration from human beings. The Quran Majeed justifies that all human beings fall in the same community as any other living being. The Islamic law is very specific and elaborate about the rights of animals. Islamic law states a rule that “Any damage or a damaging retaliation for damage is forbidden”.
An incident is given as an example wherein a prophet was stung by an ant. The prophet in a fit of anger ordered that the entire nest of ants be burnt. At that moment, God condemned him and said that he cannot burn an entire community of ants because of a single ant. Every living being, even if it is as insignificant as an ant, is created by God and so should be considered as equal. According to the Quran Majeed, God makes actual communication with animals and it is He who chose habitats for all animals, like He said to the bees to make hives in places like mountains, treetops and in the human habitat. All animals are gifted with a spirit and mind which give them the power for psychic understanding to comprehend and follow the messages of God. Such comprehension is more than any instinct or intuition of human beings. The animals have a deep acknowledgement of Allah as their creator, and so they have their own ways to show their obeisance to Him by “worship and adoration”. Animals can feel mental suffering because of frustration and pain has been proved by some Dutch scientists. Since the Muslims believe that human beings and animals belong to the same community, so they also believe that animals have equal rights and opportunities to use the natural recourses of the earth. It is the birth right of the animals as much as it is for human beings. The Quran Majeed has strictly emphasised that human beings should share all food and natural resources equally with animals. This law has been contradicted in the real world as in many countries agriculture is the primary source of occupation and agriculture takes up land areas which were previously inhabited by animals.
Islamic tradition strictly prohibits all kinds of experiments on animals that are unnecessary and are done to satisfy the curiosity of human beings. Most scientific experiments are conducted to find medicines for certain diseases which are mostly self-induced because of the irregular and hectic lifestyle of human beings. Today people face many physical, mental and spiritual problems for which they cannot blame the animals. Therefore, it is unethical and against the Islamic law to experiment on animals for fanciful reasons. In many cases experiments are done to find a new kind of medicine whose alternative is already available in the market. It is mentioned in the Islamic law that procuring materials gains including food by means of unethical experiments on animals is a sin in the eyes of Allah. Islamic law emphatically states that animals cannot be used or killed for purposes that are unnecessary or for products whose alternatives are available. For example large scale carnage of animals who have fur on their bodies is violation of Islamic law. Human beings can no longer pretend that materials made out of fur are essential for them because modern technology can make synthetic materials at a cheaper price. Islamic law also prohibits fights between animals especially if such fights are encouraged by human beings for pleasure or entertainment. In Islam, it is a sinful act to eat the meat of an animal which has been killed as a result of a fight with another animal.
It is not mentioned anywhere in Islam law that consuming meat will enhance the “physical, mental and spiritual” health of human beings. Those who have meat on regular basis are instructed to consume meat moderately. There are also laws in Islam that regulate the kind of treatment to be given to the animals that are to be used for procuring meat. Islamic law explicitly and elaborately explains how animals are to be reared, slaughtered and maintained after slaughter. In Islam law the person who slaughters animals does not need to be a trained person like the Jewish slaughterer. The Islamic law does not strictly prohibit stunning of animals before slaughter. The Muslims can eat the meat of animals who have been ‘stunned’ before being slaughtered, because the Islamic law allows them to eat meat from animals that were alive during slaughtering.
There are many regulations in the Islamic law that governs the humane way of slaughtering animals for the purpose of food. The knife that is to be used must be sharp like a razor so that it causes minimum pain to the animal to be slaughtered. The knife should be pre-sharpened and should be avoided being sharpened in front of the animal. No other animals should be present near the place where slaughtering of an animal will take place. Through these rules the Muslims ensure that no animal goes through the emotional agony of watching another animal die. Since, there is a possibility of the animal to be alive, so it is forbidden in Islamic law to skin or slice the cadaver as long as it is warm and the rigor mortis does not set in.
Any unnecessary killing and slaughtering of animals are considered as sinful acts. Islamic law states that any physical beatings like slapping on the face, making the animal work even if it is exhausted, putting more loads on the animal than it can comfortably carry and not quenching its thirst are sinful acts and cannot be pardoned by Allah.
Animals used for service to mankind
Whenever animals are to be used by human beings for the purpose of service like carrying heavy loads, the most important thing that men should do is to see that the animals are comfortable at any point of time during the carriage of loads. Animals that are kept as pets should be sufficiently taken care of and should be fed with proper food at proper times. Islamic law says that a pet owner will be pushed into Hell-fire if he or she doesn’t take decent care of pet animals or ignore them for own comfort.
According to the teachings of Islamic law, any kind of cruel treatment or pain inflicted on animals, even if such actions are unavoidable, are not justifiable in the eyes of Allah. This is because the animals are considered as innocent beings that cannot defend themselves against human beings. Islamic law commands human beings to act positively towards animals and not take unethical advantage of human powers gifted by Allah to control and dominate the animals and should treat them equally. It is also an abominable act to capture birds and put them into cages without any reasonable cause. Holy Prophet Mohammad says that “If you must kill, kill without torture”. Islam law does not only mention about physical torture, it also forbids human beings to inflict any kind of emotional torture on animals. Islamic law has also forbidden animals to be killed during wars except for the purpose of food.
Islam on animal rights – from history to modern times
For centuries men have shown cruelty towards animals and used them against each other in the name of sport. Bullfights and cockfights have been sources of entertainment since ancient times. Manhandling of animals has been an outlet for aggression from early civilization to modern times. This is because the general feeling has always been that animals cannot reason and so their suffering is not the concern of human beings. Many religious preachers compounded this belief by saying that animals have no inherent rights and so it makes no difference how human beings behave with them. In ancient times dogs were dissected to observe the process of blood circulation. There was no pity among the men when the dogs screamed in pain which were nothing but mere sounds to them. The Renaissance period was an era of enlightenment for Europe, but still prejudices regarding animals continued to exist in major forms. Many animals like cats and even women were burned alive because of the prevalent belief that they were advocates of the Devil. During that period one philosopher stated that human beings have no duty towards animals as they are not conscious of their existence. Only in the middle of the seventeenth century, people began to protest and raise voices against cruelty towards animals. Since then many laws covering the rights of animals were formed and general people began to demonstrate protests against inhuman torture to animals. The Quran has always states that animals have inherent rights. They have distinct characteristics and temperaments. They can also feel the gamut of emotions like human beings like “pain, fear, joy, loneliness and pleasure”. Muslims consider animals and human beings as a single community. This concept has been quoted in the Quran as “there is no creature on earth, nor a bird which flies on wings, but they are communities like you”.
Islam perspective on animal rights have always been moralistic and non-human centric. The Muslims have always, even in the ancient times, displayed “caring approach” towards all non-human beings like animals despite their ritual of slaughtering animals for procuring Halaal food. The Quran has preached since ancient times that human beings are gifted with an “ingrained ethic of stewardship” and the Muslims are guided towards maintaining “harmony with the environment” all through their lives. From Sufi teaching, it can be learnt that Islam law has always instructed the Muslims to protect all non-human beings like animals, birds and even insects. Quran has always viewed animals as prominent beings in the divine scheme of God. That is the reason why in the Quran, many surahs (chapters) have been named after different animals like “The Cow (surah 2), The Cattle (surah 6), The Bee (surah 16), The Ant (surah 27), The Spider (surah 29), The Elephant (surah 105)”. Thus, it can be seen that the Muslims have always honored and given due respect and compassion to animals and embraced them even in the Ancient age. The Quran has stated without any arguments that this earth is the property of God and the earth provides food and water for life of all living creatures. The Quran has also preached that the earth belongs to the animals as much as it belongs to human beings. This has been quoted as “And He has set out the earth for all creatures”.
The Quran also stated that God has given equal provisions to human beings and animals. The Quran has also explained the “Concept of Steward”. God has created animals mostly for service to mankind. Human beings can use animals for their flesh, skin and feathers. People can also use dogs for the purpose of hunting. This is because, the Quran says that man is bestowed with the skill and wisdom to make use of all products procured from animals in variety of ways for convenience. There are also natural benefits from caring of animals. The bees and wasps play an important role in pollination. The Quran has stated that since human beings can gain numerous services from the animals, so human beings must use them wisely and with compassion. Human beings can control animals but must do so with love and due care. According to the Quran there is a “hierarchical ranking and distinction between living beings.”
Animals are considered as superior beings to plants and so plants can be sacrificed for animals. In the same way, human beings are the supreme power on earth and so animals and plants can be sacrificed for the benefit of mankind. God has created human beings to act as God’s agent on earth and so man must manage all the natural resources on His behalf. If man wrongfully destroys natural resources or treat animals and birds with cruelty, then he will be morally tainted in the eyes of God. The ancient nation of Thamud has argued that all animals and other non-human beings have basic right to food and water. If human beings deny the basic rights of animals, then they are doing “heinous sin in divine vision”.
From ancient times, Quran has maintained that the earth and all living beings are created by God and to maintain them it is essential to preserve all kinds of living beings. Torturing animals, mortifying them and ceaseless killing them will disturb the balance of nature. In the eyes of God all beings are equally sacrosanct and so human beings should not kill non-human beings without valid reasons. No living being has the right to cross the limits set by God and should eat only those food which God has allotted for each living being on earth. In ancient history, Caliph Abu Bakr (rules 632-636 CE) set up many guidelines as instructions to human beings on the subject of treatment of animals. He said that no sheep, cows or camels can be slaughtered except for the purpose of food. The Islamic jurist Imam Malik has forbidden “the slaying of flock and destruction of beehives”.
Many other Islamic leaders of ancient times preached about the welfare of the animals. They said that animals can be killed only if they proved beneficial to enemies. They instructed that human beings should not make animals carry heavy loads or make them overwork and should show kindness to them at all times. The second Caliph, Umar ibn Ali Khattab once saw a person who was taking a goat to the place of slaughter by cruelly dragging it. He said to that person “Ruin overtakes thee, if thou wouldst take it to its death. Let it be in the proper manner”.
The Quran rejected the beliefs of the ancient thinkers that animals are only tools in the hands of human beings to be used for selfish purposes. Many historians and sociologists have made various observations on how animals were treated and cared for in the Islamic civilization. Prophet Mohammad was an advocator of liberation of animals and their rights. He said that it is the duty of human beings to give compassionate treatment to the poor and weak. Since animals are weaker and defenseless than human beings, man is obliged to take care of them. Islamic law holds the highest position in regard to holding high esteem of animals. The practical observance of ancient Muslims also proves that this religion exceeds any other religion in the matter of animal values and consideration. It is the effect of all the teachings of the ancient Islam preachers that in the modern world of today, Muslims in all countries have a deep sympathetic and kind relationship with animals. An Arabian person can never give cruel treatment to his horse. Traditionally, for centuries, the Muslims have been inculcated with love and kindness for animals and this gets reflected in the modern world of Muslims. Prophet Mohammad also preached kindness towards birds which are even lower creation than animals. He strictly prohibited birds to be used as practice for targets by marksmen. He even punished some of his followers because they had burnt down a hill of ants. In ancient age, Prophet Mohammad took many initiatives to preach the love for animals to his followers. He was an extremely strong advocator of animal rights. He even, in one instance, did not disturb a cat because it fell asleep on his cloak. He argues that a man can get respectable position in the society only by proving that his love for animals is authentic. He took several tests of a society in relation to treatment of animals. There are many traditional stories which tell about the love for animals among Muslim. It is said that one man who quenched the thirst of a dog by giving it water was sent to Paradise, while another woman who did not give food to her cat and let it die of starvation was sent to Hell. These traditional values have been highly and deeply maintained by Muslims throughout centuries and hence in the modern world the Muslim community is known for its humane and compassionate treatment towards animals.
In today’s modern world there are many incidents of animal cruelty. Human beings all over the world still harbor innumerous prejudices that make them behave cruelly and violently towards animals. The physical and emotional pains of animal are still ignored at large in many communities all over the world. Many animals are packed into trucks in inhumane fashion to take them to slaughterhouses. These poor and defenseless animals like goats, sheep, cows and buffaloes are piled up into trucks like inanimate objects. Although slaughtering is a compulsory religious ritual among Muslims, still this brutal way of transportation of animals is against their ethics and traditional preaching. The Quran has explained that animals should not be treated as though they are of equal status with human beings, but they should be given their due love and compassion. Their individuality must be respected and they must be taken care of. In the Quran, it is said that human beings are created as supreme beings on earth and so God puts His trust into them and has given them the responsibility to take care of all other creatures. Every human being has animal passions and it is up to him to keep his animal passions in control. The essential asset of human characteristics is animal instinct and a man must use it in a positive way to contribute to his growth.
The principles of Islamic law state that human beings have no right to do anything with animals and other living beings and must kill them only if there are real requirements. According to Islam law, human beings can manipulate animals only if necessary and that too only to some extent. Hence medical experiments with animals must be done in strategically so that number of animals that needs to be killed is kept at minimum. Islam law has stipulated many other regulations on animal manipulation. One regulation is that after honey is collected there should be enough honey left in a honeycomb so that the honeybees can feed themselves and this quantity must be higher in winter. There are also restrictions on riding animals and how much load an animal must be allowed to carry. Abu Harirah quoted “Ride animals as much as it is necessary for your needs and do not use animals as your sedan chairs”.
Ali Ibn Abu Talib instructed his agents “do not ride an animal as much as it can no longer bear your load, and be fair to animals….if an animal is exhausted, it must take some rest”. Then there are restrictions on hunting. Islamic law has prohibited hunting at night as Allah has allotted the nights for living creatures to take rest and sleep. The weapon used for hunting should be sharp and made of iron so that the suffering of animals can be minimised. Hunting must not be done solely for recreation and any person who will hunt for fun will be committing a grave sin. There is also prohibition in the Islamic law on using animals for sports as it violates animal rights. There are races of horses and camels in Muslim communities because such sports do not harm the animals in any way. Modern animal right activists follow many preaching of Muslim prophets. The perspectives of modern animal right advocates are that human beings must not use animals for personal gain in laboratories or farms. They advocate animals to be handled humanely to maintain the well-being of animals. Animals should not be treated cruelly without any real reasons.
Modern Debate on how Islam treats animals
Ritual slaughtering of animals
In general, Muslims all over the world hold a humane perspective on animals. Islam law does not allow the Muslims to inflict any sort of torture on animals, whether physical or emotional. They do not believe in unnecessary killing of animals. However, the method of how animals are slaughtered by the Muslims as part of their ritual has been under debate in the modern times. Many animal welfare organisations demonstrate to express their protests over the inhuman treatment of animals when they are slaughtered. In 2003, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) vehemently opposed the way Kosher and Halal meat is produced by cruelly torturing animals to death. Laws of animal rights prohibit any kind of cruelty on animals and instructs the animals to be stunned before slaughtering them, but such laws generally makes exception for the ritual slaughtering of animals by the Muslims and Jews for the production of Kosher and Halal meat. FAWC demanded to lift these exemptions allowed on ritual slaughtering. FAWC says that the animals go through immense pain and suffering if they are not stunned before being slaughtered. The organisation stated that “cattle can take up to two minutes to bleed to death” which means the animals suffers badly before they die. Compassion in World Farming supported the view of FAWC and demanded that changes must be made in the animal welfare laws so that it becomes compulsory to stun animals before slaughtering them.
The Humanists movement claims that ethical values must be given preference over religious values. They say that the Muslims must altogether stop eating meat if they do not agree to eat meat procured in normal ways. However, the Muslim communities held a completely different view on this. They defended their method of ritual slaughtering by demanding that an animal is slaughtered by a single stroke to the throat with an extremely sharp instrument, and this reduces the suffering of the animal. They do not use the more popular method of “stunning with a bolt into the head”.
The Muslims say that their method of slaughtering animals causes “sudden loss of blood” from their head, and so there remains no time for the animal to feel any amount of pain or suffering before dying. The Halal butchers protest strongly whenever animal rights organisations say that there is cruelty in the method of their ritual killings of animals. The Muslims have claimed that in Britain, there is a traditional method applied for slaughtering of animals. Animals are made immobile physically, although they remain fully alert before slaughter and their sensations also remain very much alive. Since the animal is killed by a sudden and single stroke with a very sharp instrument, so the animal can virtually feel no pain. The cut is cleanly done and the animal becomes unconscious within seconds of the stroke.
Secular laws vs Islamic law
Secular laws have very stringent rules regarding welfare of animals. People who treat animals with cruelty or torture them are strictly punished. However, any law can become effective on the society only if implementation of the law is done with proper strategy. The effectiveness of any law is not same for every country. It has been seen in Pakistan, the secular laws regarding animal rights are not implemented in the proper way and hence the guidelines are more often ignored and offences which would be considered as criminal activities in other countries remain unpunished in Pakistan. This is because in Pakistan, the rules that have been implemented during the British reign are still being adhered to. Only mild punishments are doled out to the people who violate the laws of animal rights which virtually do not put fear into the minds of the people to respect animal rights. Compared to the secular laws in Pakistan, it has been seen that Islamic laws are far more stringent where animal rights are concerned. Any person who does not abide by the Islamic laws of animal rights is severely punished.
Exceptions in government laws for Islamic practices
Every country has various laws regarding animal rights which most of the time clash with the religious rituals of different religions, especially the Muslims and Jews. Governments feel that the rules and regulations of all laws regarding animal rights should be equal for all religions and there should not be exceptions for any religion which includes the Muslims. Such exceptions will be unfair for those people who do not believe in religious rituals and think that laws should be changed. Opposed to this view, the Muslims believe that they have all the rights to follow their religious practices and the government has no rights to hinder their practices. The pious Muslims say that government should interfere only if any religious practice has any serious threat on the well-being of human beings. Animal slaughtering is one ritual that is followed both by the Muslims and the Jews and this brings no harm to people and so should be allowed without any intervention.
Today people are becoming more and more conscious of the fact that animals or any other non-human beings on earth have the same rights as mankind to live freely on this earth. Every religious leader in their preaching gives emphasis on animal rights and their virtues. Today, fight for animal rights are based on moral grounds and human beings are becoming aware that although God has given them more powers than animals, they must use this privilege bestowed on them to take care of animals and other living beings instead of dominating them and forcing them to serve mankind. Every religion has their own perspectives on animal rights which have their own pros and cons. However, it can be seen that Muslims hold a more liberal and moralistic view on animals and their rights. The Christians have a more human-centric approach towards animals which makes them believe that animals are here on earth with the sole purpose of serving human beings and as such they deserve any kind of treatment doled out to them. The Christians do not give them the status of a separate living being. Although this perspective on animals is changing among modern Christians, but traditional beliefs still exist among many Christians. Contrary to the Christians, the Muslims have a more moralistic approach towards animals. In Islam law it is believed that all living beings from human beings to animals comprise one family and that family belongs to the Creator. The Muslims believe that animals have their social life which is very separate from human beings. They do not believe that animals are here on earth only to serve human beings, and so they show equal love and compassion to all animals irrespective of their usefulness to mankind. The Christians consider animals as inferior beings because they do not have souls like human being while the Muslims believe that animals have the spirit and mind to read the messages of God, thereby acting as intermediaries between the Creator and human beings. The traditional belief of the Jews is that animals do not have any feelings and so they used to slaughter animals by thousands, until this concept changed among the Jews during the eighteenth century. The Muslims, however, always believed that animals are deeply aware of the fact that they have been created by God and hence animals show obeisance to Him. Both Judaism and Islam religions have the common ritual of slaughtering animals to procure kosher and halaal meat. The secular laws demand that an animal be pre-stunned at the time of slaughter so that the animals do not feel the pain. This law has been strongly rejected by the Jews as they believe that the animal cannot be injured before slaughter. The Muslims, however, have shown liberal views on this rule. Many Muslims agree to pre-stun animals and remain satisfied that the animal is alive at the time of slaughter. Today, human right activists should learn from the lessons of the Quran as they speak of a peaceful where every human being should show compassion to every other living being.
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