The concept of animal rights in the west has evolved slowly over the centuries, following much the same course as that of children’s rights. Both involve putting the welfare of a being who cannot explicitly complain over the direct monetary and social needs of the person responsible for them.
In 1825, the House of Refuge in America was founded, which was the first institution in the US to help take care of severely abused and abandoned children.
After the Industrial Revolution had started to help people meet their basic needs with ease, they had the luxury to turn their minds to other issues, such as caring for those less fortunate. It is just around this time that animal welfare started to be discussed.
Long before “Animal Rights” was incorporated in our contemporary world; Prophet Muhammad established extensive guidelines to treat animals.
The Quran says that Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to the worlds. His kindness knew no limits, which included animals.
Before Islam Arabs, like all ignorant and illiterate people, were very cruel to animals. It was very common in Arabia to put a ring round the neck of a camel, but this practice was stopped on Prophet Muhammad orders.
When people needed meat for eating they used to cut pieces of flesh from living animals. This barbaric practice was forbidden by the Prophet. He also forbade people to keep animals in their working equipment for a long time and said, “Don’t make the backs of animals your chairs.” Animal fights were also made unlawful. Another custom was to tie up an animal and practice arrow shooting on it. This was also prohibited.
Once Muhammad saw a donkey that was branded on its face, and said, “God’s curse is on him who branded it.” As people had to brand their camels and sheep in order to know them, they were told to brand them on parts which were not so tender. Anas reported that he went into a herd of sheep and saw God’s Messenger branding them on the ears.
Once the Prophet was on a journey with his companions and they stopped for rest at a place. In a tree nearby, a bird had laid an egg. A man took the egg and the bird began beating her wings in a state of great distress. Muhammad enquired who had tormented the bird her by taking her egg. The man said, “O God’s Messenger, I have done this.” The Prophet told him to put it back immediately.
A companion who had some baby birds wrapped in a piece of cloth came to Muhammad . On enquiry, he told Muhammad , “I heard a noise from a bush, went there, saw these babies, and took them out. When their mother saw what had happened, she began to fly round my head.” Muhammad told him to go back and return the birds.
Once the Prophet saw a camel on the road, whose belly and back, through extreme hunger, had become one. He said, “Fear God in your treatment of these animals who cannot speak.”
The Prophet once told a story to his companions. There was a man who went on a journey and on his way he felt very thirsty. He found a well and went down into the well and drank water. When he came out of the well he saw a dog that was very thirsty and was licking the salty ground. He thought that the animal was thirsty like him, so he again went down into the well and filled his leather socks with water and gave it to the dog. God accepted this action of the man and sent him to Paradise.
Humane procedures to slaughter the animals for human food consumption were instituted by Prophet Muhammad . Animals were given water to drink before slaughtering and he told his companions to slaughter animals with the sharpest knife, causing the minimum pain and suffering to the animal. He also forbade them to sharpen the weapon in front of the animal or when the animal was ready for slaughter, but told them to do these preliminaries before the animal was brought for slaughter.
Muhammad showed people by word and deed to be kind and friendly to everyone. Abu Hurairah reported the Prophet as saying, “A believer is friendly (and kind).” Anas and Abdullah ibn Masud reported God’s Messenger as saying, “All creatures are God’s children, those dearest to God are the ones who treat His children, kindly.” A’isha reported God’s Messenger as saying, “God is gentle and likes gentleness. He gives for gentleness what He does not give for harshness and what He does not give for anything else.” Abdullah ibn Masud reported God’s Messenger as saying, “Shall I not tell you who is kept away from Hell and from whom Hell is kept away? From everyone who is gentle and kind, approachable and of an easy disposition.
Muhammad , by his own example, had ingrained this kind of behavior in the hearts of his companions, who, after him set an example for other people. This is shown by the following.
It is reported by Abdullah ibn Jaffer that he passed by a grazing field and saw an Abyssinia slave guarding a herd of goats. After awhile a dog came and sat in front of the Abyssinian. He took of a loaf of bread and gave it to the dog that ate it. He then took out a second and third loaf of bread and gave them also to the dog which proceeded to eat all of them.
After witnessing this, Abdullah enquired from the slave how many loaves of bread he received every day from his master. The slave replied that he got as many as he saw. At this, he asked why he gave all his bread to the dog. The slave replied that was not the place the dog belonged and he must have come looking for food from a great distance, and he did not want his effort to be wasted.
Abdullah said that he was so impressed with his action that he paid the slave owner to free him, and along with that bought all the goats and the grazing field from his master, and gave it to the Abyssinian. The slave thanked him and prayed for him and gave all the goats and the grazing field to charity and went away from that place.
Adapted from ‘Muhammad – Encyclopedia of Seerah’ by Afzalur Rahman