We were travelling with the apostle of God and he left us for a while. During his absence we saw a bird named Hummara with her two youngsters and took them from her. The motherbird was flying circles above our heads, flapping her wings from grief. When the apostle returned he said: ‘Who harmed the feelings of this bird by taking her young from her? Give them back to her at once.’
(Rahman bin Abdullah bin Mas’ud. Muslim)
By Titus Rivas
Pro-animal rights activists justifiably do not agree with the bloody phenomenon of ritual slaughter. Unfortunately this fact is frequently exploited by racist groups as a handy argument to ban Muslims as much as possible and to push them out of the western society. Muslims are said to not be tolerant towards people with different opinions and to sexual minorities, but especially they are said to be cruel towards animals. Hopefully many Western people know already that Islamic faith is not equal to fundamental terrorism, but also knows progressive humane and mystic varieties. It is probably less known that there is a fundamental Islam tradition with respect for animals.
Islamic attitude towards animals
The last and most prominent prophet of Islam, Muhammed, was known for his compassion with animals. He even would have mainly eaten vegetarian food. This is the exact opposite of the caricature that racists make of this religion. During the Foot and Mouth disease the Dutch Muslim Broadcast dedicated a programme on the contrast between the shameless reducing of animals to objects and Islamic vision on animals. In this programme they spoke out explicitly against factory farming and the farming policy nowadays which leads to such gruesome measures as massive removal of agricultural cattle. It is remarkable that the DMB spoke out so explicitly, because this shows that her views in a way spring automatically from Islamic tradition. Islamic religious figures and scholarly persons which were interviewed all agreed that although animals may be used for human consumption, this should happen definitely with respect for the perception of the animal. Their views relate largely on the same level as the free range movement.
By its followers, Islam is experienced as a universal and rational religion, which, just like Judaism and Christianity, acknowledges only one God; Allah. Also, the religion elaborates on these other monotheist religions and acknowledges its teachers, like Jesus, as prophets. The 7th century Arab prophet Muhammed is added, to whom the Qur’an, the infallible word of Allah, would have been revealed. The Arab word ‘Islam’ means submission to Allah and a ‘Muslim’ is a person who surrenders to Allah.
During my quest through various websites about Islam, I noticed specifically that the slaughter of animals is not a duty for Muslims. Even during the pilgrimage to Mekka, one does not have to sacrifice a sheep. The slaughter of sacrificial animals goes way back until the pre-Islamic cultural tradition. The Qur’an plays in on this tradition by reforming and restraining practice. Because of this, the sacrifice of animals purely maintains a symbolic meaning, whereas in ‘heathen’ traditions it merely functioned as a means to put the Gods in a favourable mood. As it shows, the sacrifice is a ritual one can do without.
Ritual slaughter is a method to kill animals as quickly and painless as possible. Doing this, one calls the name of Allah, to express ones consciousness about the holiness of life and to prevent unnecessary cruelty, both physically and mentally. Sacrificial animals should have led a good life in a natural environment. In practice however, according to certain Muslim writers, many slaughterhouses that act on so called ‘Halal’ principles, are almost as cruel as ‘normal’, Western slaughterhouses. That’s why these authorities plead in favour of a vegetarian or vegan way of life, for Muslims living in Western countries. Apart from the conditions in slaughterhouses, they say that also the circumstances of transportation of living animals isn’t Halal.
Some Muslim scholars point also to the fact that the method of slaughtering an animal is not about the specific ritual, but about the principle of extending as little sorrow as possible. When modern slaughter techniques cause less pain than the traditional way, a Muslim should favour that method.
Almost all so-called soera’s (chapters) of the Qur’an, start with the words: ‘Allah has mercy and is charitable.’ The mercy of God is an important model for his followers. Muslims should treat all fellow men, including non-Muslims, as if they were brothers and sisters. According to popular tradition, Muhammed would explicitly have forbidden cruelty to animals and would have said amongst other things: A good deed in favour of an animal is just as good as doing good deeds in favour of your fellow man, whilst a deed of cruelty towards an animal is just as evil as a deed of cruelty to a human being.’
Islamic legislature, Shariah, is very explicit and elaborate when it comes to the rights of animals. Spectacles concerning the killing of animals to amuse the audience, like bull fights, are forbidden for Muslims and it’s Haram to eat the meat of animals killed this way.
Torturing and unnecessary killing of animals in general is seen within Islamic tradition as a big sin, for which one should account for on judgement day. On the other hand, protecting animals and treating them well, are things that count as good deeds when a soul is judged by God.
Following this tradition of empathy and charitableness, many Shi-ite Muslims and Islamic mystics, among which the Sufi’s like the wise man Kabir, who lived in the 15th century, look upon the vegetarian way of life as the ideal eating pattern.Just like Christians and Jews, Muslims are free to make their own choice to eat meat or not. They have no duty to do so, so Islamic views can very well be consistent with a vegetarian of vegan way of life. From this point of view, some organisations for vegetarian Muslims have been founded. Especially the website www.islamicconcern.com is very interesting.