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Are Muslims Cruel to Animals?

07 September, 2016
Q During your Hajj, one of the main rituals is to slaughter animals. Why are you Muslims cruel to animals?


Salam Dear Brother,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

If we begin by remembering that Muslims share with the rest of mankind the imperfections inherent in being human, then yes, we may expect that some Muslims are cruel to animals. However, in these cases, Islam stands to condemn such cruelty and to correct such perverseness.

For example, it has been narrated that a camel once approached the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) showing clear signs of distress and abuse. The Prophet rubbed its ears and calmed it down before inquiring about its owner. When the owner appeared, the Prophet admonished him saying:

“Don’t you fear God? This beast which God has let you own has complained to me that you starve and overwork it!” (Ahmad)

Cruelty to animals is unacceptable in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad taught us that a woman who starved her cat to death would be punished on the Day of Judgment, “for neither did she feed it, nor did she leave it roam freely to find its own food” (Al-Bukhari).

The Prophet Muhammad also taught us that God forgave all the sins of a prostitute who gave water to a dog on the verge of dying from thirst (Al-Bukhari).

In a culture that considered it commonplace to hunt animals for game, the Prophet taught a universal lesson for all of mankind:

“Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger without a just cause, Allah will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment.”  A person asked, “O Messenger of Allah, what is a just cause?” He replied, “That he will kill it to eat, not simply to chop off its head and then throw it away.” (An-Nasai)

Even when one is taking the life of an animal for the purpose of eating it, Islam teaches that it must be conducted in a compassionate manner. The Prophet Muhammad taught:

“Allah has ordained kindness (and excellence) in everything. If the killing (of animals) is to be done, do it in the best manner, and when you slaughter, do it in the best manner by first sharpening the knife, and putting the animal at ease.” (Muslim)

Having said that, some people may consider that the very act of slaughtering animals is cruel. This is a question that all of us, as human beings, must wrestle with. Is it right or wrong that millions of animals are sacrificed (or exploited) every year for research purposes?

Is it considered cruel to kill billions of insects and rodents annually so that our crops and interests are preserved? And yes, is the current manner and rate of meat consumption acceptable or not?

This brings us to a philosophical question regarding the very definition of cruelty, and whether some forms of “cruelty” are acceptable or not.

If the questioner happens to be one with strong beliefs regarding animal rights that go as far as advocating that no pain be inflicted on any animals whatsoever, then they must realize that they are in the company of a moral minority.

Historically, such moral pioneers existed in every tradition and civilization, such as those who advocated acknowledging the rights of women, the moral imperative of abolitionism, and unacceptability of weapons of mass destruction.

Nevertheless, despite their minority position, they are able to articulate their views from within their tradition, including the Muslim tradition for Muslims.

Thus, Islam saw Muslims advocating for women rights sanctioned by God and denied by society, advocating against slavery when it was commonplace, and even promoting non-violent civil disobedience in a world that understands violence as the means to settling disputes.

If the questioner is of that moral minority, then I would remind them that they are engaging in a struggle to promote what they believe is morally correct, and if doing so with a sincere intention to God, could result in the utmost fulfillment in this life and abundant reward in the Hereafter.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.