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Animals in Islam

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Animals in Islam

In Islam, the Qur'an strongly enjoins Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them. All creatures are believed to praise God, even if this praise is not expressed in human language.[1][2]

The Qur'an explicitly allows the eating of the meat of certain halal (lawful) animals..[2][3] Although some Sufis have practiced vegetarianism, there has been no serious discourse on the possibility of vegetarian interpretations.[2] Certain animals can be eaten under the condition that they are slaughtered in a specified way,[4] which has been criticised by animal rights activists. Prohibitions include swine, carrion,[5] and animals dhabihah (ritual slaughter) in the name of someone other than God.[4] The Qur'an also states "eat of that over which the name of God (Arabic: اللهAllāh), hath been mentioned".[6]

Animals in pre-Islamic Arabia

In pre-Islamic Arabia, Arab Bedouin, like other people, attributed the qualities and the faults of humans to animals. Generosity, for example, was attributed to the cock; perfidy to the lizard; stupidity to the bustard; and boldness to the lion.[7]

Based on the facts that the names of certain tribes bear the names of animals, survivals of animal cults, prohibitions of certain foods and other indications, W. R. Smith argued for the practice of totemism by certain tribes of Arabia. Others have argued that these evidences may only imply practice of a form of animalism. In support of this, for example, it was believed that upon one's death, the soul departs from the body in the form of a bird (usually a sort of owl); the soul-as-bird then flies about the tomb for some time, occasionally crying out (for vengeance). Although the prophet Muhammad rejected this belief, it persisted under Islam in various forms ("All creatures on earth are sentient beings. There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings – but they are communities like you.").[7]


Although over two hundred verses in the Qur'an deal with animals and six suras (chapters) of the Qur'an are named after animals, animal life is not a predominant theme in the Qur'an;[8] haywan, the Arabic word meaning "animal" (plural haywanat) makes one appearance.[7][8] On the other hand, the term dābba, usually taken to mean "beast of burden", occurs a number of times in the Qur'an while remaining rare in medieval Arabic works on zoology. By implication, animals in the Qur'an and early Muslim thought are usually seen solely in terms of their relation to human beings, producing a tendency toward anthropocentrism.[8]

The Qur'an applies the word "Muslim" not only to humans but also to other animals and the inanimate world. "The divine will manifests itself in the form of laws both in human society and in the world of nature." In Islamic terminology, for example, a bee is a Muslim precisely because it lives and dies obeying the sharia that God has prescribed for the community of bees, just as a person is a Muslim by virtue of the fact that he or she submits to the revealed sharia ordained for humans in the Qur'an and Sunnah.[9]

The Quran strongly enjoins Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them. The Qur'an states that all creation praises God, even if this praise is not expressed in human language.[1][2] In verse 6:38, the Qur'an applies the term ummah, generally used to mean "a human religious community", for genera of animals. The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an states that this verse has been "far reaching in its moral and ecological implications."[10]

There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.
Quran 6:38

According to many verses of the Qur'an,[11] the consumption of pork is sinful,[5] unless there is no alternative other than starving to death (in times, for example, of war or famine).[12]

Some animals' appearances in the Qur'an

Animal Sura : Ayah
Termite 34:14
Crow 5:31
Hoopoe 27:20
Serpent 7:107
Sheep 6:143
Quail 20:80


Sunnah refers to the traditional biographies of Muhammad wherein examples of sayings attributed to him and his conduct have been recorded. Sunni and Shi'a hadith (anecdotes about Muhammad) differ vastly, with Shi'a hadith generally containing more anthropomorphism and praise of animals.

Treatment of animals

It is forbidden to beat animals unnecessarily, to brand them on the face, or to allow them to fight each other for human entertainment. "They must not be mutilated while they are alive."[13]

Muhammad is also reported (by Ibn Omar and Abdallah bin Al-As) to have said: "There is no man who kills [even] a sparrow or anything smaller, without its deserving it, but God will question him about it [on the judgment day]" and "Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself."[2][7]

According to another hadith, Muhammad issued advice to kill fawasiq ("harmful") animals, such as the rat and the scorpion, within the holy area (haram) of Mecca. Killing other non-domesticated animals in this area, such as zebras and birds, is forbidden.[14]

Conversation with animals

In both Muslim accounts, Muhammad is said to have conversed nonchalantly with camels, birds and other species. Shi'a accounts also extend this to include the Imams. In one account, a camel is said to have come to Muhammad to complain that despite its service to its owner, it was due to be killed. Muhammad summoned the owner and ordered the man to spare the camel.[15] There is also an account in the Qur'an sura an-Naml of Sulaymaan (Solomon) talking to ants.[16] and birds,[17] The Twelver and Ismaili Shi'a Imams declared that they could communicate with anything that had a soul.

Hunting and slaughter

Muslims are required to sharpen the blade when slaughtering animals.[18] Muhammad is reported to have said: "For [charity shown to] each creature which has a wet heart [i.e. is alive], there is a reward."[2] Muhammad opposed recreational hunting saying: "Whoever shoots at a living creature for sport is cursed."[2]

Views regarding particular animals

Certain animals in Islamic traditions are mentioned or have a particular view attached to them:

In Shi'a hadith, bats are praised as a miracle of nature.[14]
Birds are commonly revered in Islamic literature, especially in the Sufi tradition, where they are a metaphor for the soul's divine journey to God (e.g. in The Conference of the Birds). In the Nahj al-Balagha, the Shi'a book of the sayings of Ali, an entire sermon is dedicated to praising peacocks.[19]
Reportedly, Muhammad's camel Qaswa was very dear to him.[20] Muhammad is also reported as having reprimanded some men who were sitting idly on their camels in a marketplace, saying "either ride them or leave them alone".[2][7]
Cats have a special place in Islamic culture. Muhammad is said to have loved his cat Muezza[21] to the extent that "he would do without his cloak rather than disturb one that was sleeping on it."[20]
Pork is haraam (forbidden). One reason for this is that pigs are omnivorous, not herbivorous.
Snakes are considered to represent viciousness.[14]


The historian William Montgomery Watt states that Muhammad's kindness to animals was remarkable given the social context of his upbringing. He cites an instance of Muhammed, while traveling with his army to Mecca in 630 CE, posting sentries to ensure that a female dog and her newborn puppies were not disturbed.[22] On the other hand, in a tradition found in the Sunni hadith book al-Muwatta, Muhammad is reported as saying that the company of dogs voids a portion of a Muslim’s good deeds.[23] However, in "two separate narrations by Abu Hurayrah, the Prophet told his companions of the virtue of saving the life of a dog by giving it water and quenching its thirst. One story referred to a man who was blessed by Allah for giving water to a thirsty dog, the other was a prostitute who filled her shoe with water and gave it to a dog, who had its tongue lolling out from thirst. For this deed she was granted the ultimate reward, the eternal Paradise under which rivers flow, to live therein forever."[24]

According to a Sunni narration classified as authentic by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, black dogs are a manifestation of evil in animal form;[25] Khaled Abou El Fadl states that the majority of scholars regard this to be "pre-Islamic Arab mythology" and "a tradition to be falsely attributed to the Prophet".[26]

Another tradition attributed to Muhammad commands Muslims not to trade or deal in dogs.[27] The Hanafi school, however – the largest school of ritual law in Sunni Islam – dismisses this claim and permits dog trading.

Many Muslim jurists consider dogs to be ritually unclean. (najis)[28] However, "jurists from the Sunni Maliki School disagree with the idea that dogs are unclean."[29] Individual fatāwā ("rulings") have indicated that dogs be treated kindly or otherwise released[30] and earlier Islamic literature often portrayed dogs as symbols of highly esteemed virtues such as self-sacrifice and loyalty, which, in the hands of despotic and unjust rulers, become oppressive instruments.[28]

Abou El Fadl "found it hard to believe that the same God who created such companionable creatures would have his prophet declare them 'unclean', stating that animosity towards dogs "reflected views far more consistent with pre-Islamic Arab customs and attitudes".[31] Furthermore, "he found that a hadith from one of the most trustworthy sources tells how the Prophet himself had prayed in the presence of his playfully cavorting dogs."[31]

Dogs in the Qurʼān

The Qurʼān contains three mentions of dogs:

  • Verse 5:4 says "Lawful for you are all good things, and [the prey] that trained [hunting] dogs and falcons catch for you."
  • Verse 7:176 says that if you drive a dog away, it lolls out its tongue, panting, but if you leave it alone, it lolls out its tongue anyhow.
  • Verse 18:18 describes the Companions of the Cave, a group of saintly young men presented in the Qurʼān as exemplars of religion, sleeping with "their dog stretching out its forelegs at the threshold." Further on, in verse 22, the dog is always counted as one of their number, no matter how they are numbered. In Muslim folklore, affectionate legends have grown around the loyal and protective qualities of this dog, whose name in legend is Qiṭmīr.[32][33][34]

Trained hunting dogs and the dog of the Companions of the Cave are described in a positive light, and the companionship of these dogs is mentioned with approval. The Qurʼān thus contains not even a hint of the condemnation of dogs found in certain ḥadīths.[35]

Dogs in ḥadīths

(1) Ibn Mughaffal reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) ordered killing of the dogs, and then said: What about them, i. e. about other dogs? and then granted concession (to keep) the dog for hunting and the dog for (the security) of the herd, and said: When the dog licks the utensil, wash it seven times, and rub it with earth the eighth time. (Muslim Book #002, Hadith #0551)

(4) Ibn 'Umar (Allah be pleased with them) reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) giving command for killing dogs. (Muslim Book #010, Hadith #3809)

Some Muslim commentators (e.g. Bassam Zawadi) suggest however that these killings were to be limited to rabid dogs.[36]

(5) A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that.

    • Bukhari 4:538 This is an extraordinary hadith, because following the Sunnah of Muhammad, prostitutes can be extremely despised figures among most Muslims, yet it expresses the idea that even someone working in one of the most despised of professions, in showing mercy to an animal, can merit the forgiveness of Allah, and the wise.

As epithet

There can be some unfortunate problems associated with the word kalb (كلب meaning "dog") because it can be used as an epithet, especially in compound terms such as beni-el-kalb ("sons of dogs") or ibn-al-kalb ("son of a dog").

Religious impurity

The majority of Muslim jurists consider dogs to be ritually unclean, though jurists from the Sunni Maliki school disagree.[28] However, outside their ritual uncleanness, Islamic fatāwā, or rulings, enjoin that dogs be treated kindly or else be freed.[37]

Muslims generally cast dogs in a negative light because of their ritual impurity. The story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus in the Qur'an (and also the role of the dog in early Christianity) is one of the striking exceptions.[38] Though dogs are not recommended as pets, they are allowed to be kept, especially if used for work and protection, such as guarding the house or farm, or when used for hunting purposes.

Muslims and sniffer dogs

Despite a reporting suggesting that sniffer dogs trained to detect explosives should no longer come into contact with Muslim passengers, the British Transport Police insisted it would still use them with any passengers, though handlers would remain aware of “cultural sensitivities”.[39]

A proposal was made from the Association of Chief Police Officers that sniffer dogs used to search mosques and Muslim homes should be fitted with leather bootees to cover their paws and thereby avoid causing offence.[40] Muslim convicts in British prisons are entitled to fresh clothes and linen if they feel these may have been in contact with canine saliva. Copies of the Quran and other religious items are checked by hand.[41]

Muslim cultures

Usually in Muslim majority cultures animals have names (one animal may be given several names), which are often interchangeable with names of people. Muslim names like asad and ghadanfar (Arabic for lion), shir and arslan (Persian and Turkish for lion, respectively) are common in the Muslim world. Prominent Muslims with animal names include: Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib (called "Asad Allah", God's lion), Abd al-Rahman ibn Sakhr Al-Azdi ( called "Abu Hurairah", the Father of the kitten), Abdul-Qadir Gilani (called al-baz al-ashhab, the white falcon) and Lal Shahbaz Qalander of Sehwan (called "red falcon").[42]

Islamic literature contains many stories of animals. Arabic and Persian literature boast a large number of animal fables. The most famous, Kalilah wa-Dimnah or Panchatantra, translated into Arabic by Abd-Allāh Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ in the 8th century, was also known in Europe. In the 12th century Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawadi wrote many short stories of animals. At about the same time, in north-eastern Iran, Attar Neyshapuri (Farid al-Din Attar) composed the epic poem Mantiq al-Tayr (meaning The Conference of the Birds).[42]

It has even been alleged that the Reynard cycle, a satirical set of fables set in a kingdom of animals, was inspired by similar Arab legends.


Ritual slaughter

The ritual methods of slaughter practiced in Islam ([43][44] According to Judy MacArthur Clark, Chairperson of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, cattle require up to two minutes to bleed to death when halal or kosher means of slaughter are used: "This is a major incision into the animal and to say that it doesn't suffer is quite ridiculous." In response, Majid Katme of the Muslim Council of Britain stated that "[i]t's a sudden and quick haemorrhage. A quick loss of blood pressure and the brain is instantaneously starved of blood and there is no time to start feeling any pain."[44]

In permitting dhabiha, the German Constitutional Court cited[45] the 1978 study led by Professor Wilhelm Schulze at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover which concluded that "[t]he slaughter in the form of ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to the EEG recordings and the missing defensive actions."[46] Muslims and Jews have also argued that traditional British methods of slaughter have meant that "animals are sometimes rendered physically immobile, although with full consciousness and sensation. The application of a sharp knife in shechita and dhabh, by contrast, ensures that no pain is felt: the wound inflicted is clean, and the loss of blood causes the animal to lose consciousness within seconds."[47]

See also


  1. ^ a b See Quran 17:44
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Islam, Animals, and Vegetarianism" in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (Bron Taylor (chief ed.), Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2008).
  3. ^ See Quran 5:1
  4. ^ a b Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (2001): The Dietary Laws
  5. ^ a b John Esposito (2002b), p.111
  6. ^ See Quran 6:118
  7. ^ a b c d e "Hayawān" ("Haywan") in the Encyclopaedia of Islam (vol. 3, p. 308).
  8. ^ a b c "Animal life" in the Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an.
  9. ^ "Islam" in the Encyclopedia of Science and Religion (op. cit.)
  10. ^ "Community and Society and Qur'an" in the Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an (vol. 1, p. 371)
  11. ^ See Quran 2:173 and Quran 6:145)
  12. ^ “He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of God. But if one is forced by necessity, without wilful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits, then is he guiltless. For God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”[Quran 2:173]
  13. ^ Susan J. Armstrong, Richard G. Botzler, The Animal Ethics Reader, p.237, Routledge (UK) Press
  14. ^ a b c Jürgen Wasim Frembgen (Völkerkundemuseum), "The Scorpion in Muslim Folklore", Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 63 (2004), p. 95-123.
  15. ^ Foltz (2006), pg.22-23
  16. ^ See Quran 27:18
  17. ^ See Quran 27:20
  18. ^ P. Aarne Vesilind, Alastair S. Gunn, Engineering, Ethics, and the Environment, Cambridge University Press, p. 301.
  19. ^ Nahjul Balagha by ʻAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥusayn Sharīf al-Raḍī, Ali Ibn Abu Talib, Mohammad Askari Jafery, ʻAlam al-Hudá ʻAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn Sharīf al-Murtaḍá
  20. ^ a b Minou Reeves, Muhammad in Europe, New York University (NYU) Press, p.52
  21. ^ Cats
  22. ^ William Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, Oxford University Press, 1961, [1]
  23. ^ Malik ibn Anas, al-Muwatta (Egypt: al-Babi al-Halabi, n.d.), 2:969.
  24. ^ "Islam teaches the love of animals". IslamWeb. 12 January 2004. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  25. ^ Saheeh Muslim hadith no. 1032.
  26. ^ Khaled Abou El Fadl (2004). "Dogs in the Islamic Tradition and Nature". Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. New York: Scholar of the House. 
  27. ^ Ahmad Ibn Shu‘ayb al-Nisa’i, Sunan al-Nisa’i (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, n.d.), 7: 309 (The commentaries by al-Suyuti and al-Sanadi are in the margins). Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 4:426. All reported in El Fadl.
  28. ^ a b c Khaled Abou El Fadl, "Dogs in the Islamic Tradition and Nature" in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, New York: Continuum International.
  29. ^ Coren, Stanley (23 March 2010). "Dogs and Islam: The Devil and the Seeing-Eye Dog". Psychology Today. Psychology Today. 
  30. ^ ['Aalim Network QR] Dogs / Pets
  31. ^ a b Banderker, Ayoub M. (15 April 2002). "Dogs in Islam". Newsweek. Islamic Concern. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  32. ^  
  33. ^ Bahjat, Ahmad (2002). "The Dog of the People of the Cave". Animals in the Glorious Qurʼan: Relating Their Own Stories. Cairo: Islamic Inc.; Dar al-Tawzīʻ wa-al-Nashr al-Islāmīyah. pp. 247–267.  
  34. ^ Tlili, Sarra (2012). Animals in the Qurʼan. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 250.  
  35. ^ "Are dogs prohibited in the Quran?". Retrieved February 16, 2014. 
  36. ^ Answering Christianity
  37. ^ ['Aalim Network QR] Dogs / Pets
  38. ^ David Gordon White, Encyclopedia of Religion, Dog, p.2393
  39. ^
  40. ^ Smith, Graham. "Police sniffer dogs to wear bootees during house searches to avoid offending Muslims". Daily Mail (London). 
  41. ^
  42. ^ a b Annemarie Schimmel. Islam and The Wonders of Creation: The Animal Kingdom. Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2003. Pages 2-4
  43. ^ Blackstock, Colin (May 15, 2003). "Halal killing may be banned". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 5, 2010. 
  44. ^ a b "'"Halal and Kosher slaughter 'must end. BBC News. June 10, 2003. Retrieved May 5, 2010. 
  45. ^ Das Bundesverfassungsgericht
  46. ^ Schulze W, Schultze-Petzold H, Hazem AS, Gross R. "Experiments for the objectification of pain and consciousness during conventional (captive bolt-stunning) and religiously mandated (“ritual cutting”) slaughter procedures for sheep and calves", Deutsche Tierärztliche Wochenschrift, 5;85(2) (February 1978), pp. 62-6. English translation
  47. ^ Gerald Parsons, The Growth of Religious Diversity: Britain from 1945, Routledge Press, p.69


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