In Med‑O‑Med we are aware of the importance of fauna, not only as an element of our planet’s biodiversity, but also as a complement and a living part of landscape. We don’t tire also of reminding Islam’s relation with nature, and in this case with animals, and its recognition as beings holders of inalienable rights.
From a contemporary approach, the International League of Animal Rights adopted the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights in 1977. This Declaration was soon afterwards adopted by the United Nations, although non‑bindingly, and more specifically by the UNESCO. This did not only guarantee the protection of animals – those living beings that do not have a voice to protest against human barbarity –, but it also highlighted their importance in our lives.
Nonetheless, we can note also how Islam, sixteen centuries before this, did not only stipulated those same rights, but granted animals the status of living beings at the same level as the rest of beings of the Creation, human beings included.
“And there is no creature on the earth or bird that flies with its wings but forms part of communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered.” Surah Al‑An’am, 38.
Animals are even liable to participate of some kind of spirituality. According to the Quran,”even the birds that go about spreading their wings in flight, extol His glory”. Thesacred book grants them much importance in the life of the community, as an example of the reflection of the divine greatness, and of gratitude for the utility they enclose.
Islam, through its Prophet, urges to respect animals unequivocally through a compassionate treatment. There are many traditions, or hadiths referring to the Messenger of Allah, that confirm their rights. For instance, on one occasion the Prophet entered a garden where there was an undernourished camel. When it saw the Messenger it whined and wept. Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) approached the camel and pet it, calming it. He then reprehended the owner severely for the maltreatment. In the same way, he prohibited the use of mounts as “a chair used to chat on the streets and markets”. “The mount might be better than the rider”, he claimed. A revolutionary statement for the time, where not long ago even humans were inheritable goods.
Furthermore, the Prophet of Islam stated that animals would have the chance of complaining to the Creator on the Final Judgement Day for the mistreatment suffered.
This mercy carried on, as could not have been otherwise, during the ruling of the first Caliphs. Thus, Bujari and Muslim tell that Ibn Umar once passed by a group of young men from Quraish who were using a bird as a target to throw arrows at, as an entertainment. When they saw Ibn Umar they dispersed. Ibn Umar claimed “Who did this! May Allah curse those who have done this, because the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, cursed those who took any living being as a target!”
In fact, birds are still protected in Turkey, where the Waqf (Islamic Charity Fund) assigns an annual budget to the feeding of wild birds in its natural habitat during the snow seasons.
These and many other elements allow us to say that animal rights were born in Islam in the 7th century, and that, beyond compulsory compassion, the preservation of animal diversity is an unequivocal duty for the Islamic community.