BOOKS: Animal Welfare in Islamic Law

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2008:

Animal Welfare in Islamic Law by Kristen Stilt
94 pages. Hard copy: <>
PDF: <>

It would be difficult to review Animal
Welfare in Islamic Law more thoroughly, or to
praise it more strongly, than is already
accomplished in the preface by Al Azhar
University professor of Islamic law Abd Allah
Mahbrook Al-Najjar. The professor is a member of
the Council of Islamic Research at Al Azhar
University, which is widely viewed as the most
eminent institution of Islamic scholarship.
According to Abd Allah Mahbrook
Al-Najjar, Animal Welfare in Islamic Law author
Kristen Stilt “supported what she wrote that is
related to the principles of Islamic law with
sound legal rules from the Qur’an and the
Prophetic Sunna. She was faithful in her
treatment of these sources, interpreting them
correctly…Nothing in the book deviates from the
Islamic Sharia or contradicts its principles.”

Opens Stilt, “In my studies of Islamic
law, I have always been impressed by the
extensive rules that require humans to treat
animals kindly and with mercy. These rules are
wide ranging, and include significant
protections for work animals, requirements that
slaughtering be done in the most absolutely
merciful way possible, and commands to treat
dogs and cats kindly in all situationsÅ The rules
of Islamic law on animal welfare, established in
the seventh century, do more to protect animals
than the laws of any country today.”
Unfortunately, the statements and
examples cited by Mohammed himself on behalf of
animals are not as well known or widely observed
as he clearly meant them to be–especially in
some of the societies that most pretend to
observe sharia.
As Stilt explains, “Islam is based on
overarching principles of kindness, mercy,
compassion, justice, and doing good works.
These principles are seen pervasively throughout
the texts of the religionÅ For example, Aisha
[youngest of Mohammed’s wives] reported an
admonition of the Prophet: ‘Truly God is kind
and loves kindness. He rewards kindness and does
not reward violence.'”
Stilt examines Islamic laws addressing
slaughter, euthanasia, and the treatment of
work animals, the much misrepresented teachings
of Mohammed in favor of dogs, and the highly
favorable Islamic teachings and traditions
concerning cats.
Stilt over-reaches in a chapter on animal
welfare in Islamic history. “It was not
Europeans who established the first animal
welfare organizations and animal shelters,
rather it was Muslims,” she asserts. “In fact,
the Prophet was the first to call for kindness
and mercy to animals, and to call for humans to
provide animals with food and water and to treat
them kindly.”
Some of the Islamic cities had animal
welfare organizations and shelters centuries
before Europe, but the first animal welfare
organizations and animal shelters in recorded
history existed in India in the time of the
Buddha and Mahavir, the last prophet of the
Jains, 900 years before Mohammed’s time. Both
the Buddha and Mahavir taught kindness and mercy
toward animals, apparently building on older
traditions. The Hebrew prophet Moses also taught
that animals should be given adequate food and
water, and should receive merciful treatment,
as did Isaiah.
Except in the sweep of her historical
summary, however, Stilt tends toward
understatement. More vehement interpretations of
the sayings of Mohammed appear in the online
postings of Islamic animal advocates, who for
several years have been building an animal rights
movement with an Arabic accent through the
Internet. Young women in particular are
inhibited in much of the Islamic world from
organizing the rescue and protest activities that
characterize animal advocacy in the west and much
of Asia, but passionately discuss animal issues
online, with the Hadiths of Mohammed as their
chief philosophical foundation.
A favorite of many is Hadith 3208, from
Bukhari, who was among Mohammed’s closest
friends. In the conservative translation that
Stilt favors, “A prostitute passed by a dog near
the head of a well. The dog was panting and it
seemed that he was going to die of thirst. The
woman managed to give the dog water by filling up
her shoe with water. Her sins were forgiven for
doing that.”
Another common version stipulates that
the woman used her head covering to lower the
shoe into the well to get the water–which
strengthens the message that the act of kindness
matters more than the transgressions against
societal norms.
“This hadith is very powerful,” writes
Stilt. “Even a woman who had committed such a
sin was forgiven for saving the life of a dog.”
A broader reading is that adultery and any sin
lesser than adultery should be forgiven on behalf
of anyone who shows even routine kindness toward
Concludes Stilt, “Islam requires
kindness and compassion toward all animals in all
situations. I hope most fervently that these
rules can truly become a part of daily life.”
Published with the help of ANIMAL PEOPLE
and Marchig Animal Welfare Trust, the text of
Animal Welfare in Islamic Law appears in both
English and Arabic.

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