Animal Rights in Islam
By Sh. Ahmed Arafat
Remarkably, the Quran turns our attention to the fact that all living creatures, including animals, birds, insects, make independent nations in the same way humans do. Animals eat, drink, multiply, fall sick, get well, communicate, grow old, and die. The Quran says: “All living beings roaming the earth and winged birds soaring in the sky are communities like yourselves. We have left nothing out of the Record. Then to their Lord, they will be gathered all together” (Quran 6: 38).
Interestingly enough, the Quran records an incident about Prophet Sulaiman as he miraculously understands the way some ants communicate: “When they reached the Valley of the Ants, an ant exclaimed: ‘O ants! Enter your dwellings lest Sulaiman and his armies crush you, unperceiving’” (Quran 27:18). In other words, each living creature is a tenant-in-common on earth with human species.
In his biographical work al-Wafi bi al-Wafayat, al-Safadi writes that it once happened that Imam Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi, a famous Shafi’i jurist of the fifth century of Hijrah, was walking accompanied by one of his students. Suddenly, a dog appeared beside them. The Imam’s students scolded the dog. Upon this, the Imam responded: “Did you not know that this dog has a share in the street?”
Spiritually, Allah emphasizes the particular relation that connects Muslims with animals and the universe. The Quran teaches us that birds glorify Allah in a way humans do not know: “Do you not see that Allah is glorified by all those in the heavens and the earth, even the birds as they soar? Each [instinctively] knows their manner of prayer and glorification. Moreover, Allah has [perfect] knowledge of all they do” (Quran 24:41). The Quran asserts that “There is nothing but glorifies Him as Holy, but you do not understand their glorification” (Quran 17: 44), and that “To Allah submits all the living creatures in the heavens and the earth, and so do the angels, and they show no arrogance” (Quran 16: 49).
Furthermore, the Quran considers animals as signs for humans to ponder on. The creation of animals alongside the creation of the sky. The earth and the mountains are subjects for meditation, and thereby humans can easily recognize the power of the Creator. Allah said: “Will they not regard the camels, how they are created? The heaven, how it is raised? The hills, how they are set up? The earth, how is it spread? (Quran 88: 18-20).
Furthermore, “And your Lord has inspired bees to take dwellings in mountains and trees, and what [people] construct. Then eat of all the fruits and go through the pathways made smooth by your Lord. There comes from its bellies a beverage of different colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed, this is a sign for those who reflect” (Quran 16: 68-69). It is also interesting to mention that the Quran states that humans learned to bury the dead from ravens. When Cain killed Abel, the Quran explains, “Then Allah sent a raven scratching up the ground, to show him how to hide his brother’s naked corpse. He said: Woe unto me! Am I not able to be as this raven and so hide my brother’s naked corpse? And he became repentant” (Quran 5:3).
Consequently, the Quran acknowledges animals’ birth-right to enjoy Allah’s blessings on this earth and share its natural resources with humans. The Quran reads: “It is He [Allah] Who has made the earth for you, and made for you therein paths and sent down water from the sky, and thereby brought different kinds of vegetation. Eat and pasture your cattle; indeed, therein are signs for those who reflect” (Quran 20: 53-54).
In another situation, the Quran states: “He brought from it its water and pasturage, and he made the mountains firm, as a provision for you and your cattle” (Quran 79: 31-33). Similarly, the Quran instructs: “Then let man look at his food: how We pour out water in showers, then turn up the earth into furrow-slices and cause grains to grow therein – grapes and green fodder; olive-trees and palm-trees; and luxuriant orchards, fruits, and grasses….as provision for you as well as for your cattle” (Quran 80: 24-32).
As we can see, all living creations, no matter their size or position, have substantial roles and rights in Islam. Besides, each is worthy of attention and respect. For our role as the top of creation, we are responsible for what is under our control, including animals. Islam urges us to treat animals with compassion and never to abuse them. All creation praises Allah, even if we do not comprehend all forms of praise. Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) often spoke about the need for mercy and kindness toward animals. Time and again, the Quran, Hadith, and Islamic history teach us to be mindful, kind, and compassionate toward animals. According to Islamic principles, animals have a unique position in the creation hierarchy, and we are accountable for their well-being. May Allah make us worthy and capable of this responsibility.