At a time when Muslims are preparing for the qurbani, EMERITUS PROFESSOR SULEMAN DANGOR turns his focus on the slaughtering of animals.
THERE are more than 200 verses in the Quran dealing with animals. A total of 31 animals are mentioned by name. Six chapters of the Quran are named after animals or insects: Surah 2, Al Baqarah (The Cow); Surah 6, Al An’am (The Cattle), Surah 16, Al Nahl (The Bees); Surah 27, Al Naml (The Ants); Surah 29, Al Ankabut (The Spider); and Surah 105, Al Fil (The Elephant).
Animals have been used in different contexts in the Quran. They are sometimes mentioned in terms of their lawfulness or unlawfulness, as part of a narrative of events in the life of one of the prophets, in the form of metaphors or similes to get across a reality or in the context of the narration of a story about nations and people in the past. The Quran also talks about the worship and glorification of animals.
The proper treatment of animals is an issue that is hardly discussed since most of us neither possess animals nor deal with animals, except at the time of Eid. I have seen animals being kept in appalling conditions in a zoo, and dogs being treated with utmost cruelty in a Middle East country. This does not accord with Prophetic teachings as will be indicated below.
When it comes to slaughtering, many current practices are not in accordance with Islamic teachings and may result in great cruelty to animals. Handling of animals before and during transport is often cruel. Here are some examples of cruelty to animals: marched on foot for several days during which they may be beaten continuously; not fed and watered; tied in twos and fours in order to reduce the number of animal minders on the trail; beaten and forced to move quickly in order to reach markets and abattoirs on time; transported three or four days together in overcrowded, ill-ventilated, trucks, especially in hot, humid weather; held in primitive facilities without shade; restrained by short tethers; struck and beaten to make them enter the slaughter facilities.
Sadly, in many Muslim countries, cruelty is routinely inflicted on animals during transport, at pre-slaughter and at slaughter. Nearer home, it has been observed that in some cases, those who slaughter the animals, especially cattle, cause severe stress to these animals before slaughter because they do not possess the know-how of how to handle cattle. In other cases, sheep are not slaughtered properly – because of the inexperience of the slaughterer – which means that the knife has to be passed over their necks again.
There is, therefore, an urgent need for us to comprehend the teachings on animal welfare in the Quran and the Hadith. Islam is explicit with regard to using animals for human purposes. To begin with, Islamic law prescribes the humane treatment of animals. The killing of animals for meat and hides by halaal methods is obligatory. But halaal should not be confined to the method of slaughtering. Even if these animals have been slaughtered in the strictest Islamic manner, if they were subjected to cruelty, their flesh is still forbidden (makruh).
Islam emphasises the importance of animal welfare. The Quran is explicit with regard to the use of animals for human purposes. There are a number of ahadith which deal with Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) concern for animals. The following are Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) directives in relation to animal welfare:
- He condemned the beating of animals and forbade striking, branding or marking them on the face.
- He cursed and chastised those who mistreated animals, and praised those who showed kindness to them.
- He commanded that when we slaughter, we should slaughter in a ‘good way’ and allow the slaughtered animal to die comfortably.
- He stated that a good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.
- He disapproved of the cruel practices of notching and slitting of ears of animals, and the practice of putting rings around the necks of camels.
- He declared it a great sin to imprison animals which are in the power of human beings.
- He described those who cause the beasts to crush or bruise one another as the worst of ‘shepherds’.
- He warned that anyone who kills a sparrow (or anything beyond that) without just cause will be answerable before Allah.
- He cursed those who maim animals.
- He stated that whoever is kind to Allah’s creatures is kind to himself.
- He explained that if one plants trees or sows seeds, and birds or human beings or animals eat from them, it is regarded as a charitable gift for him.
These examples clearly illustrate that though we are free to use animals for food and transport, Islam condemns the mistreatment of animals and demands that animals be treated with compassion.
- Emeritus Professor Suleman Dangor is a columnist for Muslim Views.