Islam and animals

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The Qur'an strongly enjoins Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them. The animals, together with all creatures, are believed to praise God, even if this praise is not expressed in human language.[1][2]

The Qur'an explicitly allows the eating of the meat of certain halal animals.[2][3] Although some Sufis have practiced vegetarianism, there has been no serious discourse on the possibility of vegetarian interpretations.[2] Certain animals can be eaten under the condition that they are slaughtered in a specified way.[4] Prohibitions include swine, carrion,[5] and animals dhabihah (ritual slaughter) in the name of someone other than God.[4] The Qur'an also states "eat of that over which the name of God (Arabic: اللهAllāh), hath been mentioned".[6]


Animals in pre-Islamic Arabia

In pre-Islamic Arabia, Arab Bedouin, like other people, attributed the qualities and the faults of humans to animals (e.g. generosity was attributed to the cock, perfidy to the lizard, stupidity to the bustard and boldness to the lion).[7]

Based on the facts that the names of certain tribes bear the names of animals, survivals of animal cults, prohibitions of certain foods and other indications, W. R. Smith argued for the practice of totemism by certain tribes of Arabia. Others have argued that these evidences may only imply practice of a form of animalism. In support of this, for example, it was believed that upon one's death, the soul departs from the body in the form of a bird (usually a sort of owl). The soul flies for some time around the tomb and on occasion cries out for vengeance. Although the Islamic prophet Muhammad rejected this belief it lived under Islam in various forms.[7]


Although over two hundred verses in the Qur'an deal with animals and six suras (chapters) of the Qur'an are named after the animals, animal life is not a predominant theme in the Qur'an.[8] The Arabic term for the "animal" (i.e. haywan) in its only one appearance in the Qur'an means "animal"haywan,plural->haywanat) r.[7][8] On the other hand, the Qur'an uses the term dābba which is not typically used in medieval Arabic works on zoology. However, animals are not a major theme of the Qur'an, nor are they described in detail. Animals are usually seen in relation to humans. This has created a tendency towards anthropocentrism.[8] Muslims believe the Quran to be a revelation to humans, not animals, and a book concerning humans.

The Qur'an applies the word "Muslim" not only to humans but also to animals and the inanimate world. "The divine will manifests itself in the form of laws both in human society and in the world of nature." In Islamic terminology, for example, a bee is a Muslim precisely because it lives and dies obeying the sharia that God has prescribed for the community of bees, just as a person is a Muslim by virtue of the fact that he or she submits to the revealed sharia ordained for humans in the Qur'an and Sunnah.[9]

The Quran strongly enjoins Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them. The Qur'an states that all creation praises God, even if this praise is not expressed in human language.[1][2] In verse 6:38, the Qur'an applies the term ummah, generally used to mean "a human religious community", for genera of animals. The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an states that this verse has been "far reaching in its moral and ecological implications."[10]

There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.

According to many verses of the Qur'an,[11] the consumption of pork is sinful, except in extreme circumstances,[5] such as in times of war or famine, if there is no other alternative to eat to avoid dying of hunger.[12]


Sunnah refer to the traditional biographies of Muhammad wherein the example of his conduct and sayings attributed to him have been recorded. Sunni and Shi'a hadith differ vastly, with Shi'a hadith generally contain more anthropomorphism and praise of animals.

Treatment of animals

It is forbidden to beat animals unnecessarily, to brand them on the face, or to allow them to fight each other for human entertainment. "They must not be mutilated while they are alive."[13]

Muhammad is also reported (Narrated by Ibn Omar and Abdallah bin Al-As) to have said: "There is no man who kills [even] a sparrow or anything smaller, without its deserving it, but God will question him about it [on the judgment day]," and "Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself."[2][14]

A hadith is reported[by whom?] from Muhammad that he issued advice to kill the fawasiq (or harmful) animal within the holy area (haram) of Mecca, such as the rat and the scorpion. Killing animals that are non-domesticated such as zebras and birds in this area is forbidden.[15]

Conversation with animals

In both Sunni and Shi'a accounts, Muhammad is said to have conversed nonchalantly with camels, birds and other species. Shi'a accounts also extend this to include the Imams. In one account, a camel is said to have come to Muhammad and complained that despite service to his owner, the animal was about to be killed. Muhammad summoned the owner and ordered the man to spare the camel.[16] There are also accounts in Sura an-Naml in the Qur'an of Sulaymaan (Solomon) talking to ants[17] and birds,[18] and the Twelver and Ismaili Shi'a Imams declared that they could communicate with anything that had a soul.

Hunting and slaughter

Muslims are required to sharpen the blade when slaughtering animals.[19] Muhammad is reported[by whom?] to have said:"For [charity shown to] each creature which has a wet heart (i.e. is alive), there is a reward."[2] Muhammad opposed recreational hunting saying: "Whoever shoots at a living creature for sport is cursed."[2] He is also reported to have said: "There is no man who kills [even] a sparrow or anything smaller, without its deserving it, but God will question him about it [on the judgment day]," and "Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself."[2][14]

Views regarding particular animals

Certain animals in Islamic traditions are mentioned or have a particular view attached to them:


According to a generally unaccepted Sunni tradition attributed to Muhammad, black dogs are evil, or even devils, in animal form. This report reflects the pre-Islamic Arab mythology and the vast majority of Ulema (Muslim jurists) viewed it to be falsely attributed to Muhammad.[23]

Another Sunni tradition attributed to Muhammad commands Muslims not to trade or deal in dogs.[24] According to El Fadl, this shows the cultural biases against dogs as a source of moral danger.[23] However, the Hanafi scholars, the largest school of ritual law in Sunni Islam, allow all trading in dogs.

According to one story, Muhammad is said to have informed a prostitute who had seen a thirsty dog hanging about a well and given it water to drink, that God forgave her because of that good deed.[13][25]

In a tradition found in the Sunni hadith book, al-Muwatta, Muhammad states that the company of dogs voids a portion of a Muslim’s good deeds.[26]

Dogs, outside the ritual legal discourse, were often portrayed in the literature as a symbol of highly esteemed virtues such as self-sacrifice and loyalty or on the other hand as an oppressive instrument in the hands of despotic and unjust rulers.[23]

The historian William Montgomery Watt states that Muhammad's kindness to animals was remarkable for the social context of his upbringing. He cites an instance of Muhammed posting sentries to ensure that a female dog with newborn puppies was not disturbed by his army traveling to Mecca in the year 630.[27]

The majority of both Sunni and Shi'a Muslim jurists consider dogs to be ritually unclean (Najis).[23]. Outside their ritual uncleanness, individual Islamic fatāwā, or rulings, have expressed that dogs be treated kindly or else be freed.[28]

Religious impurity

The majority of Muslim jurists consider dogs to be ritually unclean, though jurists from the Sunni Maliki school disagree.[23] However, outside their ritual uncleanness, Islamic fatāwā, or rulings, enjoin that dogs be treated kindly or else be freed.[29]

Muslims generally cast dogs in a negative light because of their ritual impurity. The story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus in the Qur'an (and also the role of the dog in early Christianity) is one of the striking exceptions.[30]. Though dogs are not recommended as pets, they are allowed to be kept, especially if used for work and protection, such as guarding the house or farm, or when used for hunting purposes.

Muslims and sniffer dogs

In Britain, police sniffer dogs trained to spot terrorists at train stations may no longer come into contact with Muslim passengers, following complaints that it was offensive to their religion.[31] Sniffer dogs used by police to search mosques and Muslim homes are fitted with leather bootees to cover their paws so that they don't offend Muslims. [32] Muslim prisoners in Britain are given fresh clothes and bedding after sniffer dogs search their cells, because Muslim inmates claim that according to Islamic law they are now unclean. Wardens must hand out replacement sets after random drug searches to avoid religious discrimination claims. The dogs have also been banned from touching copies of the Quran and other religious items.[33]

Muslim cultures

Usually in Muslim majority cultures animals have names (one animal may be given several names), which are often interchangeable with names of people. Muslim names like asad and ghadanfar (Arabic for lion), shir and arslan (Persian and Turkish for lion, respectively) are common in the Muslim world. Prominent Muslims with animal names include: Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib (called "Asad Allah", God's lion), Abd al-Rahman ibn Sakhr Al-Azdi ( called "Abu Hurairah", the Father of the kitten), Abdul-Qadir Gilani (called al-baz al-ashhab, the white falcon) and Lal Shahbaz Qalander of Sehwan (called "red falcon").[34]

Islamic literature contains many stories of animals. Arabic and Persian literature boast a large number of animal fables. The most famous, Kalilah wa-Dimnah or Panchatantra, translated into Arabic by Abd-Allāh Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ in the 8th century, was also known in Europe. In the 12th century Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawadi wrote many short stories of animals. At about the same time, in north-eastern Iran, Attar Neyshapuri (Farid al-Din Attar) composed the epic poem Mantiq al-Tayr (meaning The Conference of the Birds).[34]

It has even been alleged that the Reynard cycle, a satirical set of fables set in a kingdom of animals, was inspired by similar Arab legends.[citation needed]

Modern debates

The ritual method of slaughter as practiced in Islam and Judaism has been decried as inhumane by some animal welfare organisations in the United Kingdom who have stated that it "causes severe suffering to animals."[35][36] Cattle require up to two minutes to bleed to death when such means are employed, according to the Chairperson of the Farm Animal Welfare Council Judy MacArthur Clark. She adds, "This is a major incision into the animal and to say that it doesn't suffer is quite ridiculous." Majid Katme of the Muslim Council of Britain disagrees, stating that "[i]t's a sudden and quick haemorrhage. A quick loss of blood pressure and the brain is instantaneously starved of blood and there is no time to start feeling any pain."[36]

A study done by Professor Wilhelm Schulze et al.. at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Germany in 1978 concluded that "[t]he slaughter in the form of ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to the EEG recordings and the missing defensive actions."[37] This study is cited by the German Constitutional Court in its permitting of dhabiha slaughtering.[38] Muslims and Jews have also argued that in the traditional British methods of slaughter, "animals are sometimes rendered physically immobile, although with full consciousness and sensation. The application of a sharp knife in shechita and dhabh, by contrast, ensures that no pain is felt: the wound inflicted is clean, and the loss of blood causes the animal to lose consciousness within seconds."[39]

See also


  1. ^ a b See Quran 17:44)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, Islam, Animals, and Vegetarianism
  3. ^ See Quran 5:1)
  4. ^ a b Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (2001): The Dietary Laws
  5. ^ a b John Esposito (2002b), p.111
  6. ^ See Quran 6:118)
  7. ^ a b c Hayawān, Encyclopaedia of Islam
  8. ^ a b c Animal life, Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an
  9. ^ Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, Islam,p.464
  10. ^ Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an, Community and Society and Qur'an, Vol. 1, p.371
  11. ^ See Quran 2:173 and Quran 6:145)
  12. ^ “He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of God. But if one is forced by necessity, without wilful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits,- then is he guiltless. For God is Oft-forgiving Most Merciful.”[Quran 2:173]
  13. ^ a b Susan J. Armstrong, Richard G. Botzler, The Animal Ethics Reader, p.237, Routledge (UK) Press
  14. ^ a b c Encyclopaedia of Islam, Haywan article, p.308, vol.3, p.308
  15. ^ a b c Jürgen Wasim Frembgen, Völkerkundemuseum. "The Scorpion in Muslim Folklore". Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 63, 2004: 95-123. Munich, Germany.
  16. ^ Foltz (2006), pg.22-23
  17. ^ See Quran 27:18
  18. ^ See Quran 27:20
  19. ^ P. Aarne Vesilind, Alastair S. Gunn, Engineering, Ethics, and the Environment, Cambridge University Press, p.301
  20. ^ Nahjul Balagha by ʻAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥusayn Sharīf al-Raḍī, Ali Ibn Abu Talib, Mohammad Askari Jafery, ʻAlam al-Hudá ʻAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn Sharīf al-Murtaḍá
  21. ^ a b Minou Reeves, Muhammad in Europe, New York University (NYU) Press, p.52
  22. ^ Cats
  23. ^ a b c d e Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, s.v. "Dogs in the Islamic Tradition and Nature." New York: Continuum International, forthcoming 2004. By: Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl
  24. ^ Ahmad Ibn Shu‘ayb al-Nisa’i, Sunan al-Nisa’i (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, n.d.), 7: 309 (The commentaries by al-Suyuti and al-Sanadi are in the margins). Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 4:426. All reported in El Fadl.
  25. ^ Sahih Bukhari 4.56.673
  26. ^ Malik ibn Anas, al-Muwatta (Egypt: al-Babi al-Halabi, n.d.), 2:969. Reported in El Fadl
  27. ^ William Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, Oxford University Press, 1961, [1]
  28. ^ ['Aalim Network QR] Dogs / Pets
  29. ^ ['Aalim Network QR] Dogs / Pets
  30. ^ David Gordon White, Encyclopedia of Religion, Dog, p.2393
  31. ^
  32. ^ Smith, Graham. "Police sniffer dogs to wear bootees during house searches to avoid offending Muslims". Daily Mail (London). 
  33. ^
  34. ^ a b Annemarie Schimmel. Islam and The Wonders of Creation: The Animal Kingdom. Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2003. Pages 2-4
  35. ^ Blackstock, Colin (May 15, 2003). "Halal killing may be banned". The Guardian (London).,3604,956385,00.html. Retrieved May 5, 2010. 
  36. ^ a b "Halal and Kosher slaughter 'must end'". BBC News. June 10, 2003. Retrieved May 5, 2010. 
  37. ^ Schulze W, Schultze-Petzold H, Hazem AS, Gross R. Experiments for the objectification of pain and consciousness during conventional (captive bolt stunning) and religiously mandated (“ritual cutting”) slaughter procedures for sheep and calves. Deutsche Tierärztliche Wochenschrift 1978 February 5;85(2):62-6. English translation by Dr Sahib M. Bleher
  38. ^ Das Bundesverfassungsgericht
  39. ^ Gerald Parsons, The Growth of Religious Diversity: Britain from 1945, Routledge Press, p.69


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