An American Muslim's Take on Animal Rights

The New Jersey legislature is considering a new bill (S241) which would make it a crime to taunt, torment, or threaten the life of an anim...

The New Jersey legislature is considering a new bill (S241) which would make it a crime to taunt, torment, or threaten the life of an animal owned or used by the police. As I read the text of the proposed legislation, recently, I found myself contemplating the right of all animals, irrespective of their ownership or use by law enforcement, to compassionate treatment.

Perhaps this belief is related to my upbringing in the Islamic faith.

On the subject of animal rights, most observant Muslims are familiar with three popular hadith, or narrations involving the Prophet Muhammad whom Muslims consider as the seal to God's long line of spiritual Messengers.

The first concerns a traveler who became parched during an arduous journey. He was fortunate to come across a well from which he drank to relieve his severe state of thirst.

According to the narration, as he drank from the well the traveler could not help but notice a dog panting nearby and desperately licking some mud in search of water, relief. The man recognized the dog's state of thirst as being similar to his own only a few moments earlier.

Exercising mercy and compassion towards the suffering creature, the traveler brought water from the well for the dog to drink. And, according to Islamic tradition, God forgave that man's sins for this single act of kindness.

The next well-known hadith concerns religious retribution for animal cruelty.

Specifically, this account related by the Prophet Muhammed concerns an anonymous woman who imprisoned her cat within the confines of her home without any means for its sustenance. Deprived of water and food, the cat eventually died.

The woman's neglect and callousness, inflicting suffering and causing the death of another living thing, is a deadly sin. If she could not provide the cat with requisite nourishment, she should have set her free to find food on its own.

In the third, and possibly most familiar tale, the Prophet Muhammed describes how God forgave the sins of a prostitute because she gave water to a dog on the verge of dying from thirst; the woman will be admitted to heaven, Muslims are taught.

Given Islam's premium on modesty in all of its adherents, this final narration underscores the spiritual value accorded to charity, benevolence and grace towards all living beings.

In addition to these particular narrations, the Islamic faith prohibits harming animals for sport; this includes inciting animals to fight one another for our entertainment (e.g. present day dog fights with betting).

During a state of war, soldiers are religiously prohibited from killing animals except if it is necessary for human consumption and even then, the slaughter must be performed in a manner that minimizes the animal's pain and suffering.

Indeed, compassion and kindness towards animals is an inseparable part of being Muslim.

Engy Abdelkader is a Legal Fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

From Huffington | 24th June 2011 | Engy Abdelkader


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