Zahoor Ahmad Shah
The voiceless sufferers of covid-19: Islam and Animal care
The Corona virus has locked people inside their homes and has caused the death of thousands of individuals. Apart from taking a heavy toll of human lives, it has paralyzed all the vital sectors of life, like trade and commerce, education, communication and transport. On the socio-cultural grounds it has created a serious trauma and has led to psychosomatic disturbances. The social web or fabric has seen a great set back and challenges due to the ongoing pandemic. But humans are not the lone sufferers of this crisis as it is now badly hurting animals as well. These helpless creatures are suffering as the lockdown has left them wandering on the streets for food. While the world fights Covid-19, the needy animals and birds from the streets require food. As we know thousands of stray cats, cows and dogs in India depend on food and waste from markets, restaurants and grocery shops. But with corona virus sending people into isolation and public establishments shutting down, strays are having a hard time finding food. As per some reports many stray animals have died due to starvation. Some disturbing pictures of animals like cats and dogs, panting, licking mud and biting shoes can be seen on social media. This speaks a lot about the pathetic conditions of these animals and seriously these creatures are going through the troubled times. As more and more people fall sick, the more rapidly, stray animals and birds are being ignored. The people are advised to stay home to avoid the spread of corona virus but the homeless, unvoiced and abandoned animals have been left at the mercy of their lord. These creatures need our care and attention. It is our collective job and obligation to feed these living beings. To be gentle and humane to all creatures of God is the universal message of all religions but Islam in particular is very clear about animal care and has guided its followers to take due care of every creature on earth.
The Islamic view of the natural order and the environment, as everything else that is Islamic, has its roots in the Quran, the very Word of the God, which is the central theophany of Islam. The Quran addresses not only men and women but the Whole of the cosmos. Humans in Islam are the central creatures of the earthly sphere, but can exercise power over things only in obedience to God’s laws. And divine law (al-shari`ah) specifically includes duties to the natural environment. Laws forbid pollution and instruct the planting of trees and gentle treatment of animals.
The concept of environment in Quran is distinct enough. It has given the values of unity, balance, order and harmony. The balance not only governs the structuring of the universe, it has specified each element with its proper place and definite function. The law of structural balance of the environment is often referred in the Quran by the words ‘Balance,’ ‘proportion,’ or ‘measure’. The Quran presents the whole material world and the animal kingdom in particular, as a divine miracle to which man must respond with self-restrain. As one sonorous verse puts it: “Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whoever within the heavens and on the earth, and by the birds with wings spread? Each of them has known his means of prayer and exalting.” (Quran 24:41)
In mediaeval times, writes historian Gustave le Bon, “Animals enjoyed heaven in the Muslim world.” Trusts were solely devoted to sick and vulnerable creatures. The Muslims in 18th century Cairo, setup bread and water foundations for dogs. In Damascus, a municipal area was dedicated to ageing horses where they could pasture in dignity until the end of their lives, which continued until the 20th century.
From the start of an animal’s life to its end, there were clear rules on maintaining its welfare. Mercy to animals goes hand in hand with faith as Prophet’s (Pbuh) words articulate, “He who take pity even on a sparrow and spares its life, God will be merciful to him on the day of judgment.”
Islam talks a lot about the Ummah or global community of believers; some interpretations give the term a broader meaning, embracing humanity as a whole. As eco-Muslims often recall, the Quran also insists that other species constitute Ummah-like communities, which are correspondingly worth of respect. “There is no creature on earth, nor any bird that flies with its wings, but are communities (Ummah) like you. We neglected nothing in the scripture. Then to their lord they will be gathered.” (Quran: 6:38)
Furthermore, Muslims believe that all creations of Allah, including animals and trees, glorify God in their own way. “Seest thou not that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth, the sun; the moon; the stars; the hills; the trees; the animals; and a great number among mankind?” (Quran 22:18) Islam also teaches humans that all creatures of God, whether it is the tiny ant or the huge lion, serve a certain purpose in the large scheme of God’s world. “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. (Quran 6:38)
The Prophet (Pbuh) said, “Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, Allah will hold him accountable on the day of judgment.” The listeners asked, “O Messenger of Allah, what is a just cause? The Prophet (Pbuh) replied, “That he will kill it to eat, not simply to chop off its head and then throws it away.” (Sunan Abu Dawud-2/11)
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (Pbuh) said, “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way; there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did.” So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it with his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him.” The Companions said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for serving any living being.” (Bukhari)
Teasing or mutilating any living being, be that an animal or a bird is disapproved and abhorred in Islam. The Prophet (Pbuh) says, “May God curse anyone who maims animals”? (Bukhari) While as good and humane treatment is applauded in Islam, “Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to Himself.”(Bukhari) On discovering a companion had caused distress to a bird by taking her young, Mohammad (Pbuh) ordered him to return them at once. (Sahi Muslim)Hence irresponsible wanton killing of even the tiniest of God’s creatures is strongly discouraged in Islam. He (Pbuh) even reprimanded those who sat idly on their camels and horses with the warning, “Do not treat the backs of animals as chairs. “God gave these to your command only on the condition that you may go with them easily to places you would not been able to go by yourself without extreme trouble.”(Abu Dawud, 61, )
Animals should be cared for; Abdullah Ibn Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet said, “ A women entered the (Hell) fire because of a cat which she had tied , neither giving it food nor setting it free to eat from the vermin of the earth.”[Bukhari…Narrated by Abdullah bin Omar].
We have seen that there are clear references in Holy Scriptures of Islam about the due place and position of animals and birds in the Gods scheme of the world. And the believers have been guided and instructed to be gentle and humane towards these creatures of God. There is a due reward for feeding a starving being be it an animal or a bird. As the Prophet of Allah (Pbuh) has said, “There is a reward for serving any living being”. Along with taking care of poor and needy it is our duty to serve animals living around us. The crisis will not remain longer but our attitude and character shown to helpless and voiceless will be remembered for long.
Published in: Modern Diplomacy, April 28, 2020