DO NOT ABUSE ANIMALS, THEY HAVE RIGHTS – Exemplary Message of the Sunnah

The Islamic calendar marks at this time the occasion of Eid ul Adha, a festivity of which the sacrifice of animals – ‘Qurbani’ or ‘Udhiyah’- is central. The Islamic rules of slaughtering livestock, whether sacrificial or otherwise, ensure the killing is performed in an ethical and humane manner. Kindness to animals in the process of slaughtering them for food consumption is part of the same broader picture of treatment to animals promulgated by the Islamic shariah. Indeed, on the perspective of respecting the rights of animals, the ideal of Islam is unmatched when compared to other cultures.

Animals’ similarity to humans

Our attitude toward animals becomes more caring and protective when we view them as similar to humans in terms of their nature and feelings. No other scripture has characterized this similarity of animals to humankind as did the glorious Quran. We are told in the Holy Book, “There is not a moving (living) creature on Earth, nor a bird that flies with its two wings, but are communities like you.”1           

Reduce the stress

The following episode in the Sunnah* of the Prophet (s.a.w.*) emphasizes the need to reduce the stress of the animal about to be slaughtered. Once the noble Prophet (s.a.w.) passed by a man who placed his foot on the side of a sheep’s neck and was sharpening his blade while the sheep was looking towards it. The Messenger (s.a.w.) asked him, “Do you want it to die two deaths? Why did you not sharpen your knife before you lay it down for slaughter?2 Another well-known hadith* underscores this point: “Verily Allah has prescribed proficiency in all things. Thus, if you kill, kill well; and if you slaughter, slaughter well. Let each of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.”3

Fear God

Animals are made to serve us in many roles, including that of transport.4 We are subjected to the Islamic guidelines in using animals as beasts of burden to carry our loads. The Prophet (s.a.w.) prohibited users from overburdening them. One specific prohibition is disallowing them to stand for long hours with a heavy burden on their backs. Also, in driving them, we are cautioned not to strike them severely. On observing an emaciated camel, the merciful Prophet (s.a.w.) uttered the following words: “Fear God in regard to these animals who cannot speak their will.  If you ride them, treat them accordingly (by making them strong and fit for that), and if you [plan to] eat them, treat them accordingly (by making them fat and healthy)”5

 Reward or Punishment

The unrivaled importance to which Islam views one’s behavior towards animals can be understood from two hadiths. One narration describes a simple act of kindness, that of an individual giving a thirsty dog water, resulting in the reward of a paradise of endless happiness in the Afterlife. The people said, “O Allah’s Apostle, is there a reward for us in serving animals?” He (s.a.w.) replied, “Yes, there is a reward for serving any living thing.”Conversely, another report gives the narration of an individual tying a cat and preventing it from seeking its food. This is no small matter in the Deen*; the gravity of the act was such that it caused the perpetrator to earn the severe punishment of Hell in the Hereafter.7

Animals’ testimony

cows walking together

It was well understood by the early generations of Muslims that animals can be a testimony against anyone who maltreats them. The esteemed sahabiy*Abu Darda (r.a.*) is reported to have said at his deathbed to his camel, “O camel! Do not complain to your lord about me, for I have not overburden you above what you can bear.”8We find in the Sunnah an animal complaining to the Prophet (s.a.w.) about its owner’s harsh treatment. The Messenger (s.a.w.) addressed the owner in return, saying, “Do you not fear Allah who has given you authority over it?9 Targeting animals for sport is also condemned by our beloved Prophet (s.a.w.). Among his statements in this regard is, “If someone kills a sparrow for sport, on the Day of Judgment, the sparrow will cry out, ‘O Lord, that person killed me in vain. He did not kill me for any useful purpose.”10Other prohibitions on preventing pain and suffering to animals also emanate from the teachings of Muhammad (s.a.w.). They include the branding of animals on their faces and removing the young bird from its mother’s nest.

Depth of the Problem

The statistics on animal abuse reveal the depth of the problem. In the United States, it is estimated that 10 million animals die yearly from abuse, mostly dogs, cats, and livestock.11 Studies have shown that most deaths come from neglect, while others are a result of stabbing or mutilation. Animal cruelty includes domesticated and non-domesticated animals. Poaching for illegal trade of fur, tusk, or skin abuses wildlife, and kills thousands of animals each year.12

Mercy for the Ālamīn

Allah (swt*), mentions in His Divine Book that Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was sent as a “Mercy for the Ālamīn (mankind, jinn and all that exist).”13One aspect of this mercy is the care and protection of animals in Islam. The Prophet’s legacy of kindness to animals was demonstrated at a time when animal rights were unknown. Our Prophet’s examples and admonitions are sorely needed in today’s world where abuse of animals exists in different corners of the globe. Whether that be for pleasure or profit, or out of neglect.


Sunnah– the way of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)

Hadith– Saying or Tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)

Deen– religion

Sahabiy– A Companion of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)


  1. Quran, 6:38     2. Hadith – Tabarani       3. Hadith- Muslim
  2. Quran, 16:7     5. Hadith- Abu Dawud   6. Hadith- Bukhari
  3. Hadith- Muslim  8. Hadith source: Al Arabiya Bayna Yadayk bk 3, unit 10

       9.     Hadith source: Al Arabiya Bayna Yadaik bk3, unit 10

       10.  Hadith- AnNasa’i

  1. Animal Abuse Statistics: State Rankings and Nationwide Data –
  2. When the Animals Testify (Against Animal Cruelty) – Muslim American

13  Quran, 21:107 – translation by Al-Hilall/Muhsin Khan

S. Imtiaz Zaman

S. Imtiaz Zaman, B.Sc., M.A., Dip. Ed. is a retired NYC public high school science teacher with 30 years of service. His expertise is in Earth Science, Biology, and AP Environmental Science. He also holds an educational Diploma in Administration and Supervision. Before migrating from Guyana, he served as an Environmental Officer in a government agency, and taught in the public high school. Bro Imtiaz has long been involved with the work of the local Muslim community in Georgetown, Guyana and New York. Part of his contribution included the role of a weekend Islamic school teacher. Currently he participates in the leadership of the localized NYC Muslim community.

S. Imtiaz Zaman

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