Islam and the Animal Kingdom

Human-Animal Relationship

Islam has enjoined upon Muslims the correct relationship with animals. They are asked to treat animals well, and they are not allowed to kill animals except for food. The latter permission has to be carried out in accordance with the shari'ah (Islamic law-code). Only in limited cases some animals are allowed to be killed when they endanger the life of the human.

To slaughter an animal, one has to use sharp object that will save the animal the pain associated with the use of a blunted object. Shaddad Ibn Aws (RA) reported that the Prophet [S.A.W] said: "…and excel in slaughtering; sharpen your blade [so you may] relieve your slaughtered [animal]." (Muslim)

In fact, Islam goes beyond any expectations and demands that the psyche of the animal be taken into consideration. Prophet Muhammad [S.A.W] made it imperative to sharpen the blades and to hide it from the sight of other animals. Ibn 'Abbas (RA) reported that once a man laid down a sheep whilst still sharpening his blade; the Prophet [S.A.W] saw and asked: "Would like to it to die twice? Why didn't you sharpen your blade before laying it down?" (Al-Hakim)


Whilst hunting is permitted in principle, it becomes prohibited under certain conditions. Ibn Taymiyyah pronounced: "Hunting out of necessity is permitted; if it is for fun and playing, it is detested; and if it causes injustice to people, by destroying their fields and property, it is prohibited." (al-Fatawa; vol. 4, p. 619)

Hunting should be done out of necessity; where necessity is defined in terms of need for food, where other means are not possible. One should also take into consideration hunting seasons and the kind and number of animals and birds allowed to be hunted. Hunting tools that cause great pain are prohibited. The latter include traps that lock on the leg of the animal causing pain and bleeding until the hunter returns, which could be for days!

Frivolous Hunting

Moreover, one should not take lightly the issue of killing, without any justification, even if the victim is a very small animal or bird. 'Abdullah Ibn 'Amr reported that the Prophet [S.A.W] said: "No human being kills a sparrow or [something] larger, without right, except that Allah will ask him about it (hold him responsible!) on the Day of Judgement." It was said: O Prophet of Allah! What is its right? He said: " Its right is that you slaughter it and eat it, not that you decapitate it!" (Al-Nasa'i, 7/ 207)

Animal rights groups deduce that it is imperative to respect all living creatures, to protect their life, and not to touch them except for a need. Ecologists see the necessity to preserve the components of the environment, and not to allow destructive playing which will lead to the annihilation and extinction of these components without any reason. As for Muslim economists, they understand that it is imperative to protect all resources. They should not be wasted in vain without any economic return. Killing an edible animal without eating it means the loss of a part of the national resources, albeit small.

Another area of prohibition covers the hunting of wild animals for reasons other than food, e.g. for fur. Mu'awiya [RA] reported that the Prophet [S.A.W] said: "Do not "ride" on silk and tiger fur"(Abu Dawud, # 4129) The prohibition of the use of silk and tiger fur, for seating, whither on saddles or in homes, is to prevent pompous life styles. One can deduce, by analogy, that the fur of all wild cats can not be used. This might come in handy to help in the protection of the endangered Asian tigers that face the extinction though for a different reason. Many people in South East Asia and the Far East believe in the existence of Aphrodisiac foods that are associated with "strong" animals including parts of tigers…etc.

Unjustified Killing

In addition, Islam prohibits the use of animals as targets for shooting. Ibn 'Umar passed by a group of youth, from the tribe of Quraish, who were shooting their arrows at a bird; whenever any one missed the aim, the owner of the bird took the arrow for himself. When they saw Ibn 'Umar they dispersed. He exclaimed on seeing the bird: "Who did this? May he be cursed!" (Al-Lu'lu' wal-Marjan, # 1279) Any unjustified killing of an animal, direct or indirect is prohibited. There is a great punishment awaiting those who do so. Ibn 'Umar reported that the Prophet [S.A.W] said: "A woman who tied a cat will go to Hellfire; she neither fed it, nor allowed it to find food on its own." (Al-Bukhari)

Furthermore, hitting animals and marking them in the face is prohibited. Jabir (RA) reports that one should look for alternative ways to mark animals such as non-poisonous. It is also prohibited to set animals against one another. This practice is associated nowadays with gambling. Ibn 'Abbas reports a hadith in which the Prophet [S.A.W] prohibited this practice. (Abu Dawud, # 2556)

Animal Abuse

The shari'ah aims to protect animal abuse in the name of having fun or sport. It is clear that "wrestling" bulls, cannot be accepted from an Islamic perspective as a sport. One should seriously reconsider harming oneself or others, be it humans [e.g. boxing, wrestling] or animals.

To further protect animals, Islam has also looked into the load an animal can carry without harm. The Prophet [S.A.W] prohibited riding on weak animals. (Abu Dawud, # 2548) Imam Malik reported that 'Umar Ibn Al-Kattab, when he was a Caliph, passed by a donkey with mud blocks on it. He assessed that the load was excessive and unloaded two blocks. The lady who owned the donkey asked 'Umar: "Do you have an authority over my donkey?" He answered: "What do you think I am doing in this position?" 'Umar Ibn 'Abd Al-'Aziz sent a letter to the governor of Egypt asking him to reduce the load of a camel from one thousand to six hundred pounds.

Not only physical harm to animals is prohibited, but also insulting or cursing. 'Imran Ibn Al-Hasin narrates that the Messenger of Allah [S.A.W] was travelling once [with a group of Companions which included] a woman from amongst the Ansar on a camel. [It seems that at one point driving her camel became difficult] she was annoyed, and cursed the camel! The Messenger of Allah heard her and said: "Now that it is cursed, unload it and allow it [to roam free]." (Muslim, # 2595)

Charity Upon Animals

Voluntary almsgiving can be lavished upon animals too. Ibn Taymiyyah has said that being good to animals is one way of Worshipping Allah. All this is in line with the hadith of the Prophet [S.A.W]: "There is reward in [caring for] every living being." (Muslim, 7:44)

It should not come as a surprise if we know that one of the Prophets of Islam, Suleiman [PBUH] changed the path of his army to avoid hurting ants. (Qur'an, 27:18-19) This position towards the ants is further confirmed in a hadith narrated by Abu Dawud, that Ibn 'Abbas reported that the Prophet [S.A.W] prohibited the killing of four creatures: "The ant, the bee, the hoopoe and the sparrow-hawk."

The story of Prophet Nuh and the Flood also confirms the utmost care to prevent the extinction of any species. Allah commanded him to carry a pair of every species in the ark: "…We said: "Embark therein, of each kind two, male and female…" Qur'an, 11:40

Times of Killing

Yet, when an animal is proven to be a source of danger or harm, it is permitted to kill it. The Messenger [S.A.W] said: "Five creatures, all harmful, can be killed in the Haram (holy precincts): the crow, the kite, the scorpion, the mouse and the dog that bites [people without being provoked]".

If it were not for the harm, actual or anticipated, there would be no permission to kill animals, rodents, insects and birds. Animals have set living patterns as mankind, and reference to this is contained in the Qur'an: "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…" (Qur'an, 6:38)

Also cutting the trees of the Haram (Noble Sanctuary in Makkah) is prohibited. The Haram might be considered the first protected "natural reservation" in the history of humanity. To emphasise the sanctity of the Haram, Allah prescribes a punishment for those who desecrates its boundaries: "O ye who believe! Kill not game while in the Sacred precincts or in pilgrim garb. If any of you doth so intentionally, the compensation is an offering…….." (Qur'an, 5:98)

Was Salaam

Jamiatul Ulama (KZN),