What distinguishes human beings from the rest of the earth’s creatures
is that we have been gifted with intellect and willpower; both of these
characteristics bring about a certain level of responsibility. In other words,
mankind is considered the supreme creation of God, sent to the world as His
vicegerent. A teaching of the Prophet Muhammad says: “The merciful are
treated mercifully by the Merciful. Be merciful to those on earth so that God
will be Merciful to you in the heavens” (Al-Tabarāni). Compassion
towards others, including animals is an integral part of humanity. Studies show
that many adult perpetrators of violent crime were often animal abusers when
they were younger. This suggests that to ensure a community of law-abiding
adults, we must ensure that as children they are brought up to care for the
well-being of animals.
households are generally not big on pets, many of you may believe that this
article does not apply to you. It is true that most Muslims do not own cats,
and even fewer own dogs. Muslims also tend to live in urban and built-up areas
where the chance of encountering farm animals is also slim. However,
there are still many areas of our lives where we come into contact with
animals; some more obvious than others. Think of the leather on your shoes, the
medicine on your regular prescription. Do you have a fetish for fur?
Think of your refrigerator: the eggs, the milk and the butter, and the
fish, chicken and meat on your dinner plate! Thus, directly or indirectly, we
encounter animals every day.
Around 32 million egg
laying hens are kept in the UK
, of which around 49 per cent (around 16 million) in 2011 were kept in cages.
These cages are often dark and cramped. One only has to think of “Chicken Run”,
and then think of it on a mass scale of reality. And in reality, chickens don’t
get away. And it’s not just eggs that chickens provide. Around 850 million meat
chickens or ‘broilers’ are reared every year in the UK, far more than any other
type of farmed animal (except farmed fish). Sometimes these chickens are reared
in spaces so small that it results in less space than the size of an A4 sheet
of paper per bird. Lighting levels are also kept low to keep birds inactive and
encourage them to eat more and fatten up faster.
Fish farms are another
cause for concern. Stocking density (the weight of fish kept in a given volume
of water) is often thought to have a big influence on their welfare. Having
stocking densities that are too low can cause certain species of fish to become
territorial and aggressive towards each other which is contrary to acceptable standards
of Animal Welfare.
It is also estimated
that more than 100 million animals are used in experiments each year across the
world. Attitudes to animals, and the legislation in place regarding their use,
vary widely between countries. These animals are tested for anything from
medicine and pesticides to cosmetics. Over 68,000 people have to date signed
the RSPCA petition calling on the UK Government to work towards ending the use
of animals in experiments, replacing them with humane alternatives, and to support
the RSPCA position with regards to the new European laws (which would mean
These are just a few
ways in which animals impact our day to day lives. It is our responsibility
that their treatment is compassionate and humane. Indeed, we believe that the
Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to all of existence, and as Muslims we
should strive to be vehicles of that compassion and mercy to all that we
interact and come into contact with.
There are a multiple
number of ways in which you can get involved to make Animal Welfare a concern
in your life. The RSPCA’s “Freedom Food” assurance scheme encourages people to
make ethical and informed choices about the food they buy. Look out for the
“Freedom Food” logo, which ensures that the product has been brought about
according to higher animal welfare standards. If you can’t find the logo, then
opt for free-range and organic produce. Animal
Welfare isn’t just an abstract concept, but rather is about the
choices you make each day in what you buy and eat. As a Muslim these choices
are ultimately about gaining our Creator’s pleasure by being merciful to His
creation, and avoiding practices which needlessly harm or oppress animals.