By Aisha Stacey at OnIslam.net
When we mention the religion of Islam, often the first word that comes to mind is peace. The word Islam is derived from the infinitive sa-la-ma which also is the root for the word salam, which means peace. Islam is a way of life that promotes peace, dignity, respect, tolerance, justice and mercy. All of these qualities are tempered with serenity, or calmness, that comes from submission to Allah. Perhaps the greatest of these qualities is mercy. It is one of the overriding themes throughout the Qur’an.
وَلَقَدْ جِئْنَاهُم بِكِتَابٍ فَصَّلْنَاهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ هُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
Certainly, We have brought them a Book which We have explained in detail with knowledge – guidance and a mercy to a people who believe.
[Surah Al-A’raf 7:52]
Mercy is that ethereal quality that embodies gentleness, piety, care, consideration, love, and forgiveness. When these qualities are observable in this world, they are a mere reflection of Allah’s mercy towards His creation. Allah the Almighty said clearly that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was a mercy for all creation, not just for his family and friends, for the Arab nation, for the people of his generation, or for human beings alone.
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ
We have not sent you but as a mercy for all creatures.
[Surah Al-Anbiya 21:107]
Prophet Muhammad was the embodiment of mercy, he showed compassion to all those around him, family, orphans, friends, strangers and even enemies. He also treated the environment and animals with respect and mercy. He taught his followers that because animals were part of Allah’s creation they should be treated with dignity and due care.
The traditions of Prophet Muhammad remind us that humankind was put on this earth to be the custodian of Allah’s creation. Treating animals with kindness and mercy is just one of the responsibilities embedded in that custodianship. Prophet Muhammad’s words and behavior make it clear that causing defenseless creatures pain and suffering is not only completely unacceptable, but we will also be answerable to Allah the Almighty for such actions.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said:
مَنْ قَتَلَ عُصْفُورًا عَبَثًا عَجَّ إِلَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يَقُولُ يَا رَبِّ إِنَّ فُلَانًا قَتَلَنِي عَبَثًا وَلَمْ يَقْتُلْنِي لِمَنْفَعَةٍ
Whoever kills so much as a sparrow for no reason will have it pleading to Allah on the Day of Resurrection, saying: O Lord, so-and-so killed me for no reason, and he did not kill be for any beneficial purpose.
[Sunan An-Nasa’i, Book of Sacrifices, Number 4446, Hasan]
And he said:
مَنْ قَتَلَ عُصْفُورًا فَمَا فَوْقَهَا بِغَيْرِ حَقِّهَا سَأَلَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ عَنْهَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ
If someone kills so much as a sparrow or anything larger without a just cause, then Allah the Exalted will ask him about it on the Day of Resurrection.
It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, what is a just cause?” He replied:
حَقُّهَا أَنْ تَذْبَحَهَا فَتَأْكُلَهَا وَلَا تَقْطَعْ رَأْسَهَا فَيُرْمَى بِهَا
A just cause is that you slaughter it for food, but you should not cut off its head and throw it aside.
[Sunan An-Nasa’i, Book of Sacrifices, Number 4445, Hasan]
Islam expects humankind to treat all animals, including all living creatures – birds, sea creatures, and insects, with respect and dignity. Prophet Muhammad continuously advised people to show kindness. He forbade the practice of cutting tails and manes of horses, of branding animals at any soft spot, and of keeping horses saddled unnecessarily [Sahih Muslim]. If the Prophet saw any animal over-burdened or ill-fed he would speak mildly to the owner and say:
اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ فِي هَذِهِ الْبَهَائِمِ الْمُعْجَمَةِ
Fear Allah regarding your animals.
[Sunan Abu Dawud, Book of Jihad, Number 2548, Sahih]
However, refraining from physical cruelty is not enough; abstaining from mental cruelty is equally important. Even a bird’s emotional distress should be treated seriously. One of Prophet Muhammad’s companions narrates: We were on a journey and during the Prophet’s absence, we saw a bird with its two chicks; we took them. The mother bird was circling above us in the air, beating its wings in grief. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, returned to us, he said:
مَنْ فَجَعَ هَذِهِ بِوَلَدِهَا رُدُّوا وَلَدَهَا إِلَيْهَا
Who has upset her by taking her children? Give her children back to her.
[Sunan Abu Dawud, Book of Manners, Number 5268, Hasan]
In pre- Islamic times, pagan superstitions and polytheistic practices included acts of torture and cruelty to animals. Islam condemned this and put a stop to all such practices. When Prophet Muhammad and his companions migrated to Medina, they noticed that people used to cut off camels’ humps and the fat tails of sheep for food. The Prophet forbade them from doing this and he said:
مَا قُطِعَ مِنْ الْبَهِيمَةِ وَهِيَ حَيَّةٌ فَهِيَ مَيْتَةٌ
Whatever is cut from an animal while it is alive is unlawful carrion.
[Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Book of Food, Number 1480, Hasan]
In Islam, the rules pertaining to slaughtering animals are very strict and fixed. Protecting animals from pain and undue suffering is paramount:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَتَبَ الْإِحْسَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ فَإِذَا قَتَلْتُمْ فَأَحْسِنُوا الْقِتْلَةَ وَإِذَا ذَبَحْتُمْ فَأَحْسِنُوا الذَّبْحَ وَلْيُحِدَّ أَحَدُكُمْ شَفْرَتَهُ فَلْيُرِحْ ذَبِيحَتَهُ
Indeed, Allah has prescribed excellence in everything; so if you kill, then kill well; and if you slaughter, then slaughter well. Let one of you sharpen his knife so his animal feels no pain.
[Sahih Muslim, Book 21, Number 4810]
Humankind must strike a balance in their treatment of animals. All living creatures were put on this earth by Allah for our benefit. They are not at the same level as human beings but neither should they be treated cruelly. It is humankind’s responsibility to see that they have food, water, and shelter from the elements. Living creatures must not be overburdened, abused, or tortured and doing so will surely result in Allah’s just punishment. A true believer in Allah demonstrates his or her belief by respecting the entire creation, and Prophet Muhammad’s character and actions are a shining example of respect for all that exists.
(www.faithinallah.org / 01.09.2012)