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Engy Abdelkader: An American Muslim’s Take on Animal Rights

25 June 2011 Huffington Post 4 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

The New Jersey legislature is considering a new bill (S241) which would make it a crime to taunt, torment, or threaten the life of an animal owned or used by the police. As I read the text of the proposed legislation, recently, I found myself contemplating the right of all animals, irrespective of their ownership or use by law enforcement, to compassionate treatment.

Perhaps this belief is related to my upbringing in the Islamic faith.

On the subject of animal rights, most observant Muslims are familiar with three popular hadith, or narrations involving the Prophet Muhammad whom Muslims consider as the seal to God’s long line of spiritual Messengers.

The first concerns a traveler who became parched during an arduous journey. He was fortunate to come across a well from which he drank to relieve his severe state of thirst.

According to the narration, as he drank from the well the traveler could not help but notice a dog panting nearby and desperately licking some mud in search of water, relief. The man recognized the dog’s state of thirst as being similar to his own only a few moments earlier.

Exercising mercy and compassion towards the suffering creature, the traveler brought water from the well for the dog to drink. And, according to Islamic tradition, God forgave that man’s sins for this single act of kindness.

The next well-known hadith concerns religious retribution for animal cruelty.

Specifically, this account related by the Prophet Muhammed concerns an anonymous woman who imprisoned her cat within the confines of her home without any means for its sustenance. Deprived of water and food, the cat eventually died.

The woman’s neglect and callousness, inflicting suffering and causing the death of another living thing, is a deadly sin. If she could not provide the cat with requisite nourishment, she should have set her free to find food on its own.

In the third, and possibly most familiar tale, the Prophet Muhammed describes how God forgave the sins of a prostitute because she gave water to a dog on the verge of dying from thirst; the woman will be admitted to heaven, Muslims are taught.

Given Islam’s premium on modesty in all of its adherents, this final narration underscores the spiritual value accorded to charity, benevolence and grace towards all living beings.

In addition to these particular narrations, the Islamic faith prohibits harming animals for sport; this includes inciting animals to fight one another for our entertainment (e.g. present day dog fights with betting).

During a state of war, soldiers are religiously prohibited from killing animals except if it is necessary for human consumption and even then, the slaughter must be performed in a manner that minimizes the animal’s pain and suffering.

Indeed, compassion and kindness towards animals is an inseparable part of being Muslim.

Engy Abdelkader is a Legal Fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

Original post: An American Muslim’s Take on Animal Rights


  1. This is a wonderful article and I love these hadiths! Our Christian traditions should have such teachings in them, as these are very specific and beautiful.

  2. Animal rights in Islam?
    Earlier this year the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), aired an undercover documentary on its highly awarded ‘Four Corners’ programme, entitled ‘A Bloody Business’. The documentary took an in-depth look at the Halal slaughter industry of live-export beef cattle from Australia to Indonesia. The graphic and disturbing content showed what could only be termed as abject torture of these animals. The footage was provided by Australian animal rights lobby group Animal Australia.
    Also, in 2006 Animal Australia captured footage of animal abuse in slaughterhouses in Cairo and again as recently as last year, across the Middle East with the mistreatment of sheep during Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice).

  3. joan,

    perhaps christ should have talked with the animals the way muhammad did. see: Conversation with animals

  4. joan,

    don’t sacrifice any animals after having come from the salon.
    Book 022, Number 4871:
    Umm Salama reported (these words) directly from Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him): If anyone has in his possession a sacrificial animal to offer as a sacrifice (on ‘Id al-Adha), he should not get his hair cut and nails trimmed after he has entered the first days of Dhu’l Hijja.

    as for “Given Islam’s premium on modesty in all of its adherents, this final narration underscores the spiritual value accorded to charity, benevolence and grace towards all living beings.” well not ALL living beings?
    Book 017, Number 4196:
    Abu Huraira reported that a person from amongst the Muslims came to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) while he was in the mosque. He called him saying: Allah’s Messenger. I have committed adultery. He (the Holy Prophet) turned away from him, He (again) came round facing him and said to him: Allah’s Messenger, I have committed adultery. He (the Holy Prophet) turned away until he did that four times, and as he testified four times against his own self, Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) called him and said: Are you mad? He said: No. He (again) said: Are you married? He said: Yes. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Take him and stone him. Ibn Shihab (one of the narrators) said: One who had heard Jabir b. ‘Abdullah saying this informed me thus: I was one of those who stoned him. We stoned him at the place of prayer (either that of ‘Id or a funeral). When the stones hurt him, he ran away. We caught him in the Harra and stoned him (to death). This hadith has been narrated through another chain of transmitters.

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