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Animal Rights: An Islamic Perspective

Sep 20, 2007
By V.A. Mohamad Ashrof

We live in a world inhabited not only by humans but also by countless other creatures that share the world with us. Animals provide resources and services that we use. They form part of the life-support system of the earth on which all life depends. Every kind of thing is produced on the earth in due balance and measure. The mineral kingdom supports the vegetable, which in turn support the animal kingdom, and there is a link of mutual dependence between them, in a chain of gradation and interdependence. This ecological and organic vision of the world is amply described by the Qur'an: [The earth We have spread out (like a carpet); set thereon mountains firm and immovable: and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance] (Al-Hijr 15:19).

What should be our relationship with creatures in the animal world?
The Islamic view of human relation with animals cannot be evaluated in isolation from its tawheedi worldview. Islam inculcates a faith in the Eternal, Transcendental Creator, Who created according to a plan and purpose. From the smallest particle to the large galaxies, all the flora and fauna fulfill their assigned role in a unified divine scheme: [Do you not see that Allah is He, Whom obeys whoever is in the heavens and whoever is in the earth, and the sun and the moon and the stars, and the mountains and the trees, and the animals and many of the people] (Al-Hajj 22:18).

We see that each animal has been created with a specific purpose, either to benefit human beings directly, or as symbols for people to ponder over Allah's greatness (An-Nahl 16:5,8, An-Naziat 79; An-Noor 24:45). The existence of animals is proof for the very existence of Allah (An-Noor 24:45). Even animals' geographical distribution is ordained by Allah (Al-Jathiya 45:4 , 29). Any beholder can see the simple homely things of life in which human beings receive so many benefits from divine mercy (Ya-Seen 36:71-73). The Qur'an invites man to contemplate the cattle, sheep, horses, camels, mules, and other domestic animals, the birds of the sky, and all the innumerable species and genera that they comprise (Al-Ghashiya 88:17; Ya-Seen 36:71; and An-Noor 24:41). The way in which the birds fly and stay in the air is a sign of Allah in which there is guidance for humankind (Al-Insan 67:19; An-Nahl 16:79). Allah established and maintained a balance between all His creations (Ar-Rahman 55:7-10). Allah alone is the real Sustainer and Provider. He has taken upon Himself the responsibility to provide for every living creature (Hud 11:6; Adh-Dhariyat 51:58; Al-Hijr 15:19-21; Al-`Ankaboot 29:60).

By creating right instincts, Allah has bestowed a balanced chain so that food is available for everyone. Terrible consequences will follow if this chain is broken (Ar-Rahman 55:8; Ar-Room 30:41). By over-killing and destroying, man has exterminated magnificent creatures in the wild. He has almost wiped out whales in the northern hemisphere and is continuing in the other. Widespread beating, kicking, overriding, torturing, cruel slaughtering methods and vivisection, causing animal pain and suffering have created an enlightened demand for more humane ethics. Philosopher Charles Hartshorne expressed the need thus: “We need new ethical and practical ideas to mediate between ultimate ideas and our concrete situation.”

The Islamic worldview and guidelines give sufficient basis for a humane treatment of animals. If one compares Islam with other worldviews, one can see different approaches to such concepts. For example, a pantheistic worldview of reality will have problems in fighting against pain, cruelty, and injustice since; ultimately, these things are only part of the reality that is “Allah” in the pantheistic sense. One major objective of Islam is that it seeks to make the human being kind hearted towards fellow creatures. Kindness is an important ingredient of the human conscience. Allah Himself is compassionate and kind and wants man, His vicegerent on earth, to be kind-hearted towards all living creatures.

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