The Messenger of God (ﷺ) and the Struggle for Animal Rights

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Animal Rights in İslam

One of the most vital principles, perhaps the foremost, at the core of the understanding of existence and the relationship with living and non-living entities presented by the Qur’an and Sunnah, is the concept of “rights.” In this context, just as God has rights over every created being, every entity also has certain mutual rights over each other. The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) emphasized this when he said, “Indeed, God has granted every right holder their due right…”1

This underscores the importance of this principle. The defining element in interactions and relationships is these rights, which must not be overstepped or violated. It is incumbent upon everyone to respect and fulfill these rights. In this sense, knowing one’s limits in interactions with other entities to avoid injustice and wrongdoing is not a virtue but an obligation.

One of the greatest missions of the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), who was sent as a mercy to the worlds, especially to humanity, is to establish a life system based on rights and justice, in addition to conveying divine truths. In this context, while reconstructing and reviving the concept of “rights” that had been completely lost in the lifestyle of the Age of Ignorance under the guidance of the Qur’an, he also made several “religious, moral, and legal” regulations concerning animal rights, alongside rights pertaining to God, humans, and the public.

Reforming and Establishing the Perspective on Animals

As with every issue, the first thing the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) addressed regarding animal rights was the perspective on and the status of animals. First and foremost, like humans, animals were created by God for various purposes, and in terms of “being created,” there is equality. They are not ownerless. While some animals are made subservient to humans for their meat, milk, wool, products, transportation, and hunting, and others serve specific roles within the ecosystem, humans do not have unlimited and unregulated authority over them. As emphasized initially, animals also have certain rights that must be respected, protected, and fulfilled, and no one can unlawfully violate these rights.

Secondly, as clearly stated in the Qur’an, they too are a community: “There is no creature on earth or bird that flies with its wings but they are communities like you…” 2 This aspect must never be overlooked when considering the treatment of animals; genocide must be avoided. The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) frequently emphasized this point in his rulings, reminding that the permission to kill certain animals is not absolute and is only valid when they become harmful. He listed killing animals unnecessarily or for arbitrary reasons among the major sins.3

Thirdly, animals also have a spiritual dimension, and even if humans cannot comprehend it, they glorify God in their own way: “Do you not see that to God prostrates whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth, and the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures, and many of the people?” 4, and “Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth makes obeisance to God, whether moving creatures or the angels, and they do not disdain to worship Him” 5. This aspect must also be considered when making decisions regarding animals.

Not Harming Their Lives

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) declared that the lives of animals should not be harmed except in situations where it becomes necessary to protect oneself from their harm. He prohibited unnecessary and arbitrary killing of animals: “Whoever kills a bird or anything smaller without a just cause, Allah will hold him accountable for it.”6 He did not approve of hunting animals for entertainment and pleasure, saying, “Whoever pursues game will become heedless.”7

In this context, he warned that even a person who unjustly kills a sparrow will be questioned, and the sparrow will say, “O Lord! This person killed me for no reason. He neither benefited from my death nor spared me to live on the earth.”8

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) frequently addressed this issue to raise awareness among believers. He stated that a woman who imprisoned a cat, preventing it from eating and drinking until it died, would face divine punishment. He explicitly forbade the killing of harmless animals such as ants, bees, and frogs. He recounted the story of a prophet who, after being bitten by an ant, angrily burned the ant’s nest, and was reprimanded by God: “Because one ant bit you, you have burned a community among the nations that glorifies Me.”9 Indeed, during one of his journeys, when he saw that an ant nest had been set on fire, he immediately commanded that the fire be extinguished.10

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) did not command the killing of predatory animals unless they posed a threat to human life. He permitted the eradication of animals living around and within settlements that, due to illness, became harmful to humans if there was no other way to protect against their harm. For instance, at one time, he allowed the culling of rabid dogs in Medina but prohibited killing them once the danger had passed.11 He said, “If dogs were not a community among the communities, I would have ordered their killing,”12 reminding us that they are also a community. He clarified that the order to kill was limited to harmful species carrying diseases or attacking settlements.13 He stated that there is no harm in keeping dogs as guards, for agriculture, hunting, or herding.14

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) did not stop at words; he supported his teachings with his actions and examples. He related that a person who quenched a dog’s thirst and saved its life attained divine mercy and earned Paradise through this act.15 On his way to confront

the Meccans who had violated the Hudaybiyyah Treaty and killed twenty-three members of the Khuzaʿah tribe, he encountered a dog nursing her puppies. He called upon Juayl ibn Suraqah and assigned him to stand guard over the nursing dog, instructing the army not to disturb the mother and her pups.16

It is also permitted the killing of harmful animals, such as venomous snakes. When the Companions attempted to kill a snake that appeared in Mina, the snake escaped into a hole. Witnessing this, the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “It has escaped your harm, and you have escaped its harm.”17 This reminded them that the permission to kill snakes, like the permission regarding dogs, was not absolute and depended on conditions such as danger and aggression.

Preservation of Generations

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) was also very sensitive about the preservation of animal species. In this context, he did not approve of the castration of animals except for legitimate reasons, to ensure that their reproduction and proliferation continue naturally.18 To protect their rights and prevent their extinction, he disapproved of destroying nests where young animals grow and develop, as well as taking young ones from their nests and depriving them of their mothers’ care and protection. During a journey, some people took two chicks from a bird’s nest. The mother bird began to fly around and flutter anxiously. Noticing this, the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Who has hurt this poor bird by taking its young? Return them to her immediately!”19

On another occasion, a man came to the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) with something covered in his hand and said, “O Messenger of God! (peace and blessings be upon him) When I saw you, I came here. On my way, I passed by a grove and heard the sounds of some bird chicks. I immediately took them and wrapped them in my garment. Then their mother came and started to circle above my head. Eventually, I uncovered the chicks, and the mother bird settled on them. I covered them again, and now I have brought the chicks with me.” The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Release them immediately!” At that moment, seeing the mother bird frantically searching, he used the situation for guidance and asked, “Are you surprised at the compassion of this mother for her young?” They replied, “Yes, O Messenger of God! (peace and blessings be upon him)” He then said, “I swear by God, who sent me with the truth, His mercy towards His servants is greater than this mother’s compassion for her chicks.” Then he turned to the man and said, “Take them back and put them where you found them, with their mother.”20

He instructed that attention should be paid to the feeding of young animals so they can thrive and develop. He emphasized that while milking their mothers, their share/right must always be respected.21 He prohibited the slaughter and hunting of animals that are nursing their young because otherwise, the offspring would be deprived of sustenance and struggle to survive.

Similarly, he prohibited the slaughter of animals that are nursing their young to protect their offspring’s generations. One day, he visited Jabir. Jabir decided to slaughter a goat to serve the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) heard the bleating sound, he recognized it as the cry of a young goat and instructed Jabir, “O Jabir! Do not slaughter a young animal that is still nursing.”22

Opposition to their Exploitation

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) regarded the exploitation of animals as a violation of their rights and did not permit it in any form. He mobilized his knowledge and wisdom to ensure their lives were lived and their rights were protected; he watched over them and closely attended to their concerns. One day, he entered a garden and saw a camel there. Upon seeing him, the camel began to moan and shed tears. He approached it and compassionately stroked behind its ears. When the camel calmed down, he asked, “Who is the owner of this camel?” A young man approached and said, “It’s mine, O Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him)!” Upon this, the Mercy to the Worlds (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Are you not afraid of God concerning this animal He has entrusted to you as a possession? It complains to me that you leave it hungry and overburden it.”23

He also warned against using animals for purposes other than their natural roles and essential needs. On one occasion, he saw people mounted on animals that were standing idle while they engaged in conversation. Approaching them, he cautioned, “Beware of using your animals’ backs as chairs for your conversations. God has entrusted them to you to carry you to places where you cannot easily reach on foot. The earth has been made a place of prostration for you, so fulfill your needs on it.”24

He admonished them and reminded them of their responsibilities towards animals. Indeed, his warnings like these fostered an awareness among the companions regarding animal rights. For instance, the respected Enes ibn Malik reflected this consciousness when he reported, “Whenever we camped somewhere, we would not engage in the remembrance and worship of Allah. unless we unload the burdens from the camels and relieve them “25

One evening, a woman from the Ansar was taken captive. She managed to untie the rope binding her and rode off on one of the camels left to rest by her captors. They noticed and chased after her but couldn’t catch her. On the way, she vowed that if she escaped, she would sacrifice the camel for the sake of God. When news of the woman’s escape and vow reached the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), he exclaimed, “Subhanallah! How terrible is the reward she gave to the little camel? God has saved her through it, and she goes and intends to slaughter it, is that so?”26 He prevented the camel, which had facilitated her escape, from being slaughtered. On another occasion, he saw a camel unable to rise due to being overloaded. He advised, “May God bless you concerning these speechless animals; load them with what they can bear.”27

Not Intervening in their Habitats

The respected Aisha immediately released a gift animal given to her in the Haram.28 This action illustrates that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) disapproved of depriving wild animals of their freedom and removing them from their natural habitats, which goes against their rights and justice. During his farewell pilgrimage, he came across a wounded gazelle sleeping in Usayya. He instructed the respected Abu Bakr to stand guard over it until the caravan of tens of thousands of pilgrims had passed, ensuring no one disturbed it.29 He stated, “…The road is a sanctuary and a habitat for creatures during the night…”30 and prohibited resting on roads during night travels in a manner that would disturb insects.

As mentioned above, he forbade the burning of animals’ habitats and the removal of young from their natural habitats. He said, “After the feet are withdrawn [from the Prayer], reduce walking outside and wandering around, for there are creatures of God that come out of their nests at this time and roam about.”31 He disliked walking around during times when animals might emerge from their nests or burrows, as this could potentially harm them. He designated certain places (like Mecca, Medina, Taif) as natural reserves or prohibited areas, where touching the plants and trees was forbidden, as these areas were also habitats for many animals. He also specifically prohibited the killing of animals living in these areas.32

Autor: Yücel Men

Footnotes:

1. Tirmidhi, Wills 5

2. Surah Al-An’am, 6:38

3. See Hakim, Mustadrak 2/198 (2743); Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra 7/394 (14395)

4. Surah Al-Hajj, 22:18

5. Surah An-Nahl, 16:49

6. Nasa’i, Sacrifices 42; Hunts and Slaughters 34; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad 2/197

7. Nasa’i, Hunts and Slaughters 24

8. Nasa’i, Sacrifices 42

9. Bukhari, Jihad 152, Creation 16

10. Haythami, Majma’ al-Zawaid 4/44

11. See Muslim, Partnerships 47/1572

12. Abu Dawud, Hunts 1

13. See Bukhari, Creation 16

14.See Bukhari, Agriculture 3; Hunts 6; Muslim, Partnerships 50/1574; Abu Dawud, Hunts 1; Tirmidhi, Judgments 4

15. See Bukhari, Ablution 33; Creation 16

16. See Waqidi, Campaigns 2/244

17. Bukhari, Commentary 77

18. See Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad 3/86 (4873); Haythami, Majma’ al-Zawaid 5/268

19. Abu Dawud, Jihad, 112; Etiquette 163-164

20.Abu Dawud, Funerals 1

21. See Haythami, Majma’ al-Zawaid 8/196

22.See Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad 23/412

23.Abu Dawud, Jihad 44

24.Abu Dawud, Jihad 55

25. Abu Dawud, Jihad 44

26.Muslim, Vows 3 (8); Abu Dawud, Oaths 28

27.Ibn Hajar, Al-Isabah fi Tamyiz al-Sahabah 2/156

28.Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra 5/334

29.Nasa’i, Rituals of Hajj 78; Malik, Muwatta, Hajj 79; Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra 6/283; Ibn Hibban, Sahih 11/512; Abd al-Razzaq, Musannaf 4/431; Tabarani, Al-Kabir 5/259

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