On a recent shopping trip, I happened to pass by a pet shop, where a big monkey in a small cage outside the entrance broke my heart. I gathered up the guts to enter the shop, only to leave in tears, deeply saddened by what I had seen. Poor, helpless animals imprisoned in tiny cages without even enough space to turn around; their sad, pleading eyes haunted me as I fought the urge to set them free, assured that none would be able to explain for what crime they had been incarcerated in such inhumane and unnatural ‘habitats’. I wondered if the pet shop owner ever thought about what it would be like to be paralyzed; in the same way as he had kidnapped birds and put them in little cages. Maybe only a fellow animal lover would really understand what I felt that day, yet the importance of kindness to animals is something every Muslim should understand as a part of his way of life.
It is such a serious matter that one could gain Heaven or Hell due to his treatment of animals. Mistreating animals is considered a major sin in Islam, as explained in the famous Book of Major Sins by Imam Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab . Certainly, a Muslim is responsible for the treatment of animals, because an ill-treated animal will testify against the one who abused it on the Day of Judgment. Islam forbids branding animals and killing them in vain, such as for sport. The Prophet forbade people from capturing birds, burning anthills and whipping animals. Even when slaughtering animals for food, Islam requires that the slaughtering be done according to approved Islamic procedures, which are humane and reduce suffering. As Allah’s representatives on earth, human beings have a responsibility towards every living creature.
As I left the pet shop that day, I felt like a traitor knowing that these animals have feelings just as real as those of humans. I walked away leaving my fellow creatures in their state of oppression. Outside the shop I stepped off the curb to head across the street, when just at my feet lay a tiny newborn kitten, perfectly positioned for a parking car to run over it. I stood there blocking the space from desperate drivers demanding the parking spot, while I motioned for the pet shop worker; I thought he would certainly be someone who cared for and sympathized with animals. He came out, glanced down at the animal, replied: “It’s not ours” and walked back inside. I stood there for fifteen minutes before I was able to get one of the many passers-by to get something with which to pick up the baby kitten to move it to a safe place. Tears streamed down my face as I wondered: “Where are the people of the Sunnah? (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad ) Has Allah plucked the mercy from the hearts of people to make them so cold that they lack an ounce of sympathy for one of Allah’s beautiful creatures, although they see it so helpless and pitiful? I remembered Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, a close companion of the Noble Messenger of Allah who narrated more Hadeeths (traditions) than any other companion. He was known for being very sympathetic and loving towards animals. Though his name was ‘Abdur Rahman, he was known as Abu Hurayrah (meaning father of the kitten) because of a small cat that he used to feed and care for and carry with him everywhere he went.
Cats in Islam
The Messenger of Allah taught Muslims to have mercy for all of Allah’s creation. There are many reports of his love for cats, resulting in their historical acceptance among Muslims. Cats were very common amongst the people during the time of the Prophet and he said: “They (cats) are not impure and they intermingle with you.” The cat is such a clean animal that according to authentic narrations one may make ablution for prayer with the same water that a cat drank from. Yet, it is known that some people nowadays have opposed the traditions of the Prophet by taking up the evil practices of torturing and poisoning cats. Do they think that Allah will not punish them for this? Certainly Allah’s punishment for such acts is severe, if we bear in mind the Hadeeth of Allah’s Messenger as reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim regarding a woman who locked up a cat, refused to feed it and did not release it so that it could feed itself. Allah’s Messenger said of her punishment that she was tortured and put in Hellfire.
Dogs in Islam
There is hardly a domestic animal more ill-treated these days than dogs. The Messenger of Allah said: “Purifying a container that a dog has licked (in order for humans to use it) is done by washing it seven times, the first washing being with dirt.” [Muslim]. A Muslim should not keep a dog inside his home since the Prophet has informed us that angels do not enter into a house where there is a dog [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. Does this mean that dogs are to be despised or mistreated? Certainly not. Just because one does not keep a dog inside his home and doesn’t drink after it, doesn’t give him the right to neglect it, mistreat it or kill it. The usefulness of this creature of Allah is indisputable. No other animal can compete with it in its loyalty to its caregiver, its abilities as a guard and its talent for hunting.
In fact, in the chapter “The Cave”, the Quran reveals the story of some youths who had faith and trust in Allah, who took refuge in a cave from the persecution and violence of the unbelievers of their day. That these righteous people had a dog with them, and the fact that Allah mentions the dog and counts the dog among them, indicates that dogs are permitted to live among people.
The Quran says (what means): “And you would think them awake, while they were asleep. And We turned them to the right and to the left, while their dog stretched his two forelegs at the entrance (of the cave as a guard)…” [Quran 18:18]
Thus, dogs may be used for guards as well as for hunting as the Noble Quran also states (what means): “They ask you, (O Muhammad), what has been made lawful for them. Say: ‘Lawful for you are (all) good foods and (game caught by) what you have trained of hunting, animals which you train as Allah has taught you. So eat of what they catch for you, and mention the name of Allah upon it, and fear Allah.’ Indeed Allah is swift in account.” [Quran 5:4]
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. [Muslim]
Let us reflect upon this and beware of our duty towards Allah’s creatures, which He has put on earth for our use and not for our abuse. When the Prophet was asked if Allah rewarded acts of charity to the animals, he replied: “Yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive.” Let us fear Allah with regard to His creatures, lest we earn His Wrath. Let us go forth in support and love for animals, knowing that Allah, The Most High, considers such a deed done for His Sake as being worthy of the reward of Paradise.