Animal care: anthropocentric in Islam?

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I have added writing a longer article on this on my to-do list, but thought I would quickly share this extract from a discussion on LinkedIn. An article in EcoMENA on ‘Animal Welfare: Guiding Principles in Islam’ includes the quote that Islam teaches that they [animals] are created specifically in our service.” According to someone on the discussion “This is an anthropocentric position, it must be clear, and it has its critics (see: ecology and animal rights movement scholars). It is a value-laden position that ought to ought to be questioned or at least understood as a ‘value position’. A critical, open discussion about religions’ (monotheistic ones, in particular) place in the critical environmental debate is necessary, in my view.

I agree the Quran is necessarily targeted at the human species as target reader (having free will, always good to get a ‘manual’ to choose to follow or not), which upon casual reading can suggest a solely anthropocentric purpose for animals, but I would say there are so many that are of no (direct) ‘use’ to us, but then even more important to take up our stewardship role (we might have a selfish reason to look after elements of Creation that directly benefit us… true care comes from being a good steward for all creation)

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The role of animals as a sustainable solution in humanitarian and development programmes

World Animal Protection and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are today jointly hosting a special disaster risk reduction event exploring the role animals play in food security, livelihoods, poverty alleviation and resilience building, within communities and across nations. The opening session will be led by Ms. Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction and will be hosted at IFRC headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland.

Wish I could have attended; looking forward to the webcast promised to be made available after the event (on both World Animal Protection and IFRC websites). Another occasion to reflect on learning that in the run up to the tsunami, certain animals in the areas to be affected ‘knew’ something was up and already moved to higher areas.

Islam and animals

Today is World Animal Day. Today is also a day when many Muslims will be sacrificing (oft via a charity to implement it in a poorer country; due to Islam using a lunar calendar, some will be commemorating/ celebrating Eid Al-Adha, or Big Eid, on 5 or even 6 October*) an animal to commemorate Abraham being willing to sacrifice his (then only) son to God (but God’s mercy replaced it with an animal at the last moment). The basis for the observance comes from the 196th verse of Al-Baqara (the Cow), the second chapter of the Quran. The word “Eid” appears once in Al-Maida (the Table Spread), the fifth chapter of the Quran, with the meaning “solemn festival”. The animals (can be camels, cows – each counting for 7 Qurbanis – or sheep or goats – each counting for 1 Qurbani) have to meet certain age (not too young) and quality (not ill etc) standards or else the animal is considered an unacceptable sacrifice. The animals also need to be fed and watered properly beforehand, they shouldn’t see/ hear their fellow animals being killed and if killed, needs to be as merciful as possible: as quick and painless as possible (e.g. God has ordained kindness (and excellence) in everything. If the killing (of animals) is to be done, do it in the best manner, and when you slaughter, do it in the best manner by first sharpening the knife, and putting the animal at ease (Muslim).)

Some confuse this with a ‘barbaric religion’, or Muslims more generally being pro-killing. However, the Prophet said, “Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, God will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment.”  The listeners asked, “O Messenger of God, what is a just cause?” He replied, “That he will kill it to eat, not simply to chop off its head and then throw it away.” (Nisai, Hakim).

Also there is significant misunderstanding that because the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The superiority of Aisha to other ladies is like the superiority of Tharid (i.e., a meat and bread dish) to other meals.” When one first reads the above Hadith, it appears to be non-controversial and simply stated to honour a strong and blessed Muslim woman. A vegetarian reading it might have trouble accepting the fact that the Prophet himself (pbuh) elevated a meat dish to such a high rank among foods. However, some carnivores have taken this literally and ‘to be eating what the Prophet loved’, they degrade it to a staple dish.

On the other hand, vegetarians would be pleased with a Hadith related by Yahya that states that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Beware of meat. It has addictiveness like the addictiveness of wine” (Malik). This view syncs well with the example of the Prophet (pbuh). The Quran (7:31) says, “Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for God loves not the wasters.” Muhammad (pbuh) elaborated on this verse when he said (narrated by Yahya), “What is this, Amir al-muminin?” “We desired meat and I bought some meat for a dirham,” Umar said. “Does one of you want to fill his belly apart from his neighbour or nephew? How can you overlook this ayat: ‘You squandered your good things in the life of this world and sought comfort in them’ ” (Quran, 46:20). In this Hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) seems to imply that eating meat in excess is an act of selfishness.

We are allowed to eat animals, but it is not necessary to eat them (e.g. those who don’t eat carrots, have they made carrots haram [forbidden]?)

* many countries now follow Saudi-Arabia due to hajj, but actually Eid is older than hajj, but that’s perhaps for another discussion