Allah (swt) says of animals in the Qur'an - specifically Qurbani animals - 'Thus We have subjected them to you, that you may be grateful'. [The Noble Qur'an, 22:36]
Animals play a significant role in our lives, from providing food and transport to giving us emotional support and joy. But what does Islam have to say about the significance and benefits of animals and our responsibility towards them?
This article will cover animal welfare according to the Qur'an and Sunnah, what beliefs Muslims hold about animals, the benefits of animals as laid out by Allah and, finally, how our principle of kindness towards animals impacts how we sacrifice them on Eid al-Adha.
One: What does Islam say about animal rights?
Protecting animal welfare is highlighted in Islam as one of the qualities of a believer. Here's what the Prophet (saw) said about kindness towards animals:
Firstly, we should not cause them any pain.
Abdullah (ra) reported, 'We were on a journey and we saw a red sparrow that had two chicks with her. We took her chicks, so the sparrow started to flap her wings. The Prophet (saw) came to us and he said, "Who has upset her by taking her children? Give her children back to her"'. [Abu Dawud]
The Prophet (saw) was 'a mercy to the worlds' [The Noble Qur'an, 21:107] - thus, he showed compassion to animals too, not just people. We should not consider their pain to be any less than ours; they deserve to be treated with gentleness.
Secondly, active kindness towards animals carries great rewards.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, 'Once a man suffered from thirst while he was walking on a journey. When he found a well, he climbed down into it and drank from it. Then he came out and saw a dog lolling its tongue from thirst and licking the ground. The man said, "This dog has suffered thirst just as I have suffered from it". He climbed down into the well, filled his shoe with water, and caught it in his mouth as he climbed up. Then he gave the dog a drink. Allah appreciated this deed, so He forgave him'. [Bukhari]
SubhanAllah, he (saw) said that Allah 'appreciates' us giving water to animals! Having consideration for their suffering, especially during the heat we are currently experiencing, shows the softness of your heart, and it can extinguish your sins, just like charity to people. It can even be a Sadaqah Jariyah for you:
Thirdly, we will be held accountable for our cruelty towards animals.
Abdullah ibn Jafar (ra) reported, 'The Prophet (saw) entered a garden among the Ansar. When a camel saw the Prophet (saw), it started weeping and making sounds as its tears flowed. The Prophet came to it and patted it on the head, so it became silent. The Prophet said, "Who is the master of this camel? To whom does it belong?" A young man from the Ansar came and said, "This is mine, O Messenger of Allah".
The Prophet said, "Do you not fear Allah regarding this animal that Allah has put into your possession? For indeed, she has complained to me that you keep her hungry and tired"'. [Abu Dawud]
Cruelty towards animals is displeasing to Allah - in fact, He describes one of the Prophet's opponents as someone who 'strives throughout the land to cause corruption therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption'. [The Noble Qur'an, 2:205]
In this day and age, there are many ways we can indirectly be cruel towards animals. It is imperative that we make sure we are doing our best to protect our wildlife and preserve our ecosystems, from raising awareness about these issues, to withdrawing our support from companies which create toxic waste, perpetuate deforestation etc.
These animals are not directly under our care, but they are still our responsibility; they are vulnerable creatures who rely on us for protection, and if they are injured or killed by our neglect, we should fear Allah questioning us about it:
Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) said, 'If a lost sheep under my care were to die on the banks of the Euphrates, I would expect Allah the Exalted to question me about it on the Day of Resurrection'. [Hilyat al-Awliya]
Two: What are some Muslim beliefs regarding animals?
Firstly, Muslims believe that, just like us, animals have communities and they worship Allah.
Allah says, 'And there is no creature on the earth or bird that flies with its wings except that they are communities like you…' [The Noble Quran 6:38]
Al-Qurtubi (rh) commented on this verse, 'They are groups like you in that Allah the Exalted has created them, provides for them, and makes justice between them. Thus, you should not wrong them or transgress the limits that you have been commanded'. [Al-Jami li-Ahkam al-Qur'an]
SubhanAllah, if Allah has called them communities and recorded their matters Himself, who are we to deny them respect, dignity and mercy? We should definitely not see their communities as beneath us just because they aren't human.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) taught us, 'Once there was a prophet who was resting under a tree when an ant bit him, so he ordered that his luggage be taken away from underneath it (the tree) and the ant’s dwelling burned with fire. Allah revealed to him: "A single ant has bitten you, yet you have destroyed a nation that glorifies Allah?"' [Bukhari]
If we imagined that even the ants, spiders and moths are quietly worshipping Allah in their own way, it would completely change our perspective on them and our treatment of them.
Secondly, Muslims believe that animals have the ability to understand the world around them and they communicate more deeply than we might imagine!
The most well-known examples of this come from the life of Prophet Sulaiman (as). The hoopoe bird is mentioned in the Qur'an as bringing a comprehensive message to Sulaiman (as) from the land of Sheba, saying:
'I have encompassed (in knowledge) that which you have not encompassed, and I have come to you from Sheba with certain news. Indeed, I found (there) a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne. I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allah, and Shaitan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from (Allah's) way, so they are not guided…' [The Noble Qur'an, 27:22-24]
The above verses show a deep understanding from the hoopoe bird. The hoopoe knew what it meant to be a human leader, the significance of her 'great throne' and even the reason behind why people stray from worshipping Allah. SubhanAllah!
In the same Surah, Allah also describes how the army of Sulaiman were marching 'until, when they came upon the valley of the ants, an ant said, "O ants, enter your dwellings, that you may not be crushed by Sulaiman and his soldiers while they perceive not"'. [The Noble Qur'an, 27:18]
This conveys to us that this tiny ant was not only aware of who was approaching the valley (Sulaiman's army), but also understood that the soldiers would not be able to 'perceive' the ants, and would crush them simply because they were too small to see.
This Surah and many other quotes from the Qur'an and Sunnah show the awareness of animals towards the human world, and this reminds us that they are conscious beings whose rights should not be violated.
Three: What are the benefits of animals in the Qur'an and Sunnah?
There are many animals which play a significant role in our day-to-day lives - and Allah specifically calls them a blessing and a sign for us.
Firstly, they provide us with transport, labour and security.
Animals are still used for load-bearing and farming work in many parts of the world. This includes horses, donkeys, mules, oxen, cows, camels and even elephants.
Moreover, animals like dogs provide us with security. Dogs are used for hunting, shepherding and guarding by many people - even Muslims, who don't usually keep dogs as pets, due to the hadith: 'Whoever acquires a dog - with the exception of a dog to guard livestock, a hunting dog, or a farm dog - each day a Qirat (portion) is deducted from his reward'. [Tirmidhi]
Many of the animals which assist us in this way are mentioned in the Qur'an. For example, a dog is mentioned in Surah Kahf as being among the People of the Cave, a group of believers who sought shelter in a cave [The Noble Qur'an, 18:18]. Horses, mules and donkeys are also mentioned as riding animals [The Noble Qur'an, 16:8] and cattle are mentioned in numerous verses. These are all animals which Allah has subjugated to us out of mercy for us, to support us in daily labour.
Secondly, they provide us with food.
Animals directly give us milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, honey and meat. Moreover, insects like bees and butterflies supply us with fruit indirectly, through helping to pollinate plants.
Every time we eat the nutritious food, we should not only remember Allah's favour to us - it should also remind us of our responsibility towards the animals who are serving us. We should always strive to ensure they are being reared with kindness and treated ethically.
Allah specifically says in the Qur'an: 'So eat of the halal and tayyib food which Allah has provided for you...' [The Noble Qur'an, 16:114]
This is a growing concern for halal meat consumers today - we want to make sure that our meat is tayyib (good), which means that that the animal is not merely sacrificed correctly, it is also treated with excellence while it is being reared. Many Muslims are turning to organic meat, as factory-farming is not an Islamic practice and they are concerned that its meat isn't tayyib.
Thirdly, animals provide us with clothes and furnishings.
Allah says, 'And Allah has made your homes a place of rest for you and made dwellings for you out of the hides of cattle (i.e. tents), which you find so light when you travel and when you camp; and from their wool, fur and hair is furnishing and enjoyment for a time'. [The Noble Qur'an, 16:80]
From sheep to silkworms, animals allow us to protect and beautify ourselves with clothing - and this is a blessing from our Lord. Therefore, every time we do something as mundane as pulling on some woollen socks, we should remember that Allah has provided us with this warmth through the animals he has created.
Finally, animals give us emotional support and joy.
Animals can be playful, loyal, funny, affectionate and cute. They are our pets, our friends and our selfie partners. The happiness we feel from watching all kinds of animals, from elephants to bunnies, is a blessing rarely acknowledged, despite how important it is in our day to day lives.
This is not just true in the age of the Internet and YouTube compilations - it was also true in the time of the Prophet (saw)!
Abdullah ibn Rafi (ra) reported, 'I said to Abu Hurairah (ra), "Why were you nicknamed Abu Hurairah?” Abu Hurairah said, “I would tend to the sheep of my people and I had a small kitten. I used to place it in a tree at night and during the day I would take it and play with it. So they nicknamed me Abu Hurairah, ‘Father of the Kitten"'. [Tirmidhi]
SubhanAllah, when we think of just how much animals are benefitting us on a day-to-day basis, it should make us even more conscious of our responsibility towards them. From being selective about where we eat to researching the ethics of companies we buy from, there are many ways we can help the animals around us. Every choice we make adds up to making the world a better place for them.
Four: What does Islam say about animal sacrifice?
We mentioned earlier how the Prophet (saw) taught us to be actively kind to animals and refrain from causing them pain. Of course, this also extends to how we sacrifice them.
Our global teams are currently in the midst of preparing the Qurbani animals according to Islamic guidelines. They are ensuring they are being given high quality food and regular veterinary checks and, in the heat of summer, farmers are sheltering and bathing them to keep them cool.
When Eid al-Adha arrives, our mercy and gentleness towards these sacrificial animals only increases.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, 'Indeed, Allah has prescribed excellence in everything. If you have to kill, then kill in the best manner. If you slaughter, then slaughter in the best manner. Let one of you sharpen his knife so his animal feels no pain'. [Muslim]
It is imperative that we ensure the animals feel no fear or pain at any point during the Qurbani process. This includes not sharpening the knife in front of them and not sacrificing animals in front of each other, because this would distress them.
During the Eid al-Adha sacrifice, the animal is laid down to face the Qiblah and the name of Allah is recited over them. This ritual is a reminder of the reason we are doing this and should make us even more conscious of being gentle towards the animal.
It is important to remember that at no other time of the year is such an extensive sacrifice encouraged in Islam. In fact, the Prophet (saw) rarely ate meat himself, unless he was hosting someone else or he was a guest. But the sacrifice on Eid al-Adha is not only symbolic of our surrender to Allah, the meat is shared with the poor and vulnerable in our community:
'And the camels and cattle - We have made them for you as among the symbols of Allah; there is good in them for you. So mention the name of Allah over them when they are lined up (for sacrifice); and when they are (sacrificed) on their sides, then eat from them, and feed the needy and the beggar. Thus We have subjected them to you, that you may be grateful'. [The Noble Qur'an, 22:36]
We hope this article was helpful to you! Remember: Eid al-Adha is on 19th or 20th July 2021, depending on the moon sighting, so don't forget to order your Qurbani. Muslim Hands have been carrying out sacrifices for over 25 years and locations include Pakistan, Yemen and the UK. May Allah accept your sacrifice from you, amin!