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The rights of animals in Islam

February 29, 2016

Every living creature reward for charity hadith

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Islam upholds the rights of animals to kind treatment and justice the same as it does for human being. Animals should not be abused or taken for granted. Allah has informed us that the animals are communities like human beings and have similar rights.

Allah said:

وَمَا مِن دَابَّةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلَّا أُمَمٌ أَمْثَالُكُم

There is no creature on the earth or bird that flies with its wings but that they are communities like you.

Surat al-An’am 6:38

Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying:

هُمْ جَمَاعَاتٌ مِثْلُكُمْ فِي أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ خَلَقَهُمْ وَتَكَفَّلَ بِأَرْزَاقِهِمْ وَعَدَلَ عَلَيْهِمْ فَلَا يَنْبَغِي أَنْ تَظْلِمُوهُمْ وَلَا تُجَاوِزُوا فِيهِمْ مَا أُمِرْتُمْ بِهِ

They are groups like you in that Allah the Exalted has created them, provides for them, and makes justice between them. Thus, you should not wrong them or transgress the limits that you have been commanded.

Source: al-Jāmi’ li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān 6:38

As we are held responsible for our behavior towards other people, so are we held responsible for our behavior towards animals.

On the Day of Judgment, Allah will restore the rights of every creature including the animals. If we had violated the rights of an animal in the world, then Allah will take retribution on their behalf in the Hereafter.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لَتُؤَدُّنَّ الْحُقُوقَ إِلَى أَهْلِهَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ حَتَّى يُقَادَ لِلشَّاةِ الْجَلْحَاءِ مِنْ الشَّاةِ الْقَرْنَاءِ

The rights of everyone will be restored on the Day of Resurrection until justice is fulfilled, even between the hornless sheep and the horned sheep.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2582, Grade: Sahih

Abu Huraira, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

يَحْشُرُ اللَّهُ الْخَلْقَ كُلَّهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ الْبَهَائِمَ وَالدَّوَابَّ وَالطَّيْرَ وَكُلَّ شَيْءٍ فَيَبْلُغُ مِنْ عَدْلِ اللَّهِ يَوْمَئِذٍ أَنْ يَأْخُذَ لِلْجَمَّاءِ مِنَ الْقَرْنَاءِ

Allah will gather the creation altogether on the Day of Resurrection: the beasts, the creatures, the birds, everything. Then they will seek the justice of Allah on that day, even between the hornless sheep and the horned sheep.

Source: Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī 6:38

One of the most important rights that belong to animals is that they are entitled to our good treatment. Allah rewards our acts of charity that we do for any living creature, all human and animals included. In fact, Allah appreciates mercy, kindness, and empathy for the animals so much that it can result in the forgiveness of our sins.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

بَيْنَمَا رَجُلٌ يَمْشِي بِطَرِيقٍ اشْتَدَّ عَلَيْهِ الْعَطَشُ فَوَجَدَ بِئْرًا فَنَزَلَ فِيهَا فَشَرِبَ ثُمَّ خَرَجَ فَإِذَا كَلْبٌ يَلْهَثُ يَأْكُلُ الثَّرَى مِنْ الْعَطَشِ فَقَالَ الرَّجُلُ لَقَدْ بَلَغَ هَذَا الْكَلْبَ مِنْ الْعَطَشِ مِثْلُ الَّذِي كَانَ بَلَغَ مِنِّي فَنَزَلَ الْبِئْرَ فَمَلَأَ خُفَّهُ مَاءً ثُمَّ أَمْسَكَهُ بِفِيهِ حَتَّى رَقِيَ فَسَقَى الْكَلْبَ فَشَكَرَ اللَّهُ لَهُ فَغَفَرَ لَهُ

Once a man suffered from thirst while he was walking on a journey. When he found a well, he climbed down into it and drank from it. Then he came out and saw a dog lolling its tongue from thirst and licking the ground. The man said: This dog has suffered thirst just as I have suffered from it. He climbed down into the well, filled his shoe with water, and caught it in his mouth as he climbed up. Then he gave the dog a drink. Allah appreciated this deed, so he forgave him.

It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, is there a reward for charity even for the animals?”

The Prophet said:

فِي كُلِّ كَبِدٍ رَطْبَةٍ أَجْرٌ

In every living being there is a reward for charity.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5663, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

In another narration, the Prophet said:

غُفِرَ لِامْرَأَةٍ مُومِسَةٍ مَرَّتْ بِكَلْبٍ عَلَى رَأْسِ رَكِيٍّ يَلْهَثُ قَالَ كَادَ يَقْتُلُهُ الْعَطَشُ فَنَزَعَتْ خُفَّهَا فَأَوْثَقَتْهُ بِخِمَارِهَا فَنَزَعَتْ لَهُ مِنْ الْمَاءِ فَغُفِرَ لَهَا بِذَلِكَ

Allah had once forgiven a prostitute. She passed by a dog panting near a well. Seeing that thirst had nearly killed him, she took off her shoe, tied it to her scarf, and drew up some water. Allah forgave her for that.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 3143, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

This great reward for charity to animals will apply to any animal regardless of whether they are officially under our care or not.

Anas bin Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

مَا مِنْ مُسْلِمٍ يَغْرِسُ غَرْسًا أَوْ يَزْرَعُ زَرْعًا فَيَأْكُلُ مِنْهُ طَيْرٌ أَوْ إِنْسَانٌ أَوْ بَهِيمَةٌ إِلَّا كَانَ لَهُ بِهِ صَدَقَةٌ

There is no Muslim who plants a tree or sows seeds and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats from it except that it is regarded as a charity for him.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2195, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi 

Suraqa ibn Ju’shum reported: I asked the Prophet about a lost camel that comes to drink from my cisterns I have prepared for my own camels, “Will I be rewarded if I give it some water to drink?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

نَعَمْ فِي كُلِّ ذَاتِ كَبِدٍ حَرَّى أَجْرٌ

Yes, in every living being there is a reward for charity.

Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 3686, Grade: Sahih

We have to be gentle with the animals even when we have to discipline them. Sometimes it is necessary to strike the animal lightly in order to train it in some task, but we should only do so to the minimum extent needed and never harm the animal in the process.

Aisha reported: I was upon a camel that was misbehaving, so I started to beat it. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said to me:

عَلَيْكِ بِالرِّفْقِ فَإِنَّ الرِّفْقَ لَا يَكُونُ فِي شَيْءٍ إِلَّا زَانَهُ وَلَا يُنْزَعُ مِنْ شَيْءٍ إِلَّا شَانَهُ

You must be gentle. Verily, gentleness is not in anything except that it beautifies it, and it is not removed from anything except that it disgraces it.

Source: Musnad Aḥmad 24417, Grade: Sahih

There are times when we need to slaughter an animal for its meat or for its hide to make clothing. It is permissible to do so when necessary, but even in this situation we have to take care of them in the best way. We must make sure they are slaughtered in a way that does not cause pain or distress, lest their meat be tainted with sin.

Shaddad ibn Aws reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَتَبَ الْإِحْسَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ فَإِذَا قَتَلْتُمْ فَأَحْسِنُوا الْقِتْلَةَ وَإِذَا ذَبَحْتُمْ فَأَحْسِنُوا الذَّبْحَ وَلْيُحِدَّ أَحَدُكُمْ شَفْرَتَهُ فَلْيُرِحْ ذَبِيحَتَهُ

Verily, Allah has prescribed excellence in everything. If you have to kill, then kill in the best manner. If you slaughter, then slaughter in the best manner. Let one of you sharpen his knife so his animal feels no pain.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1955, Grade: Sahih

In another narration, the Prophet said:

وَإِذَا قَتَلْتُمْ فَأَحْسِنُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ مُحْسِنٌ يُحِبُّ الإِحْسَانَ

If you have to kill, then kill in the best manner. Verily, Allah the Exalted is excellent and He loves excellence.

Source: al-Mu’jam al-Awsaṭ 5884, Grade: Hasan

If we can avoid slaughtering the animals when there is no need, then it is better to let them continue to graze. Allah will appreciate and reward such acts of mercy.

Qurra ibn Iyas reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, I would have slaughtered a sheep but I had mercy on it.” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

وَالشَّاةُ إِنْ رَحِمْتَهَا رَحِمَكَ اللَّهُ مَرَّتَيْنِ‏

If you had mercy on the sheep, then Allah will have mercy on you twice.

Source: al-Adab al-Mufrad 368, Grade: Sahih

Killing an animal for no beneficial reason or behaving in a cruel manner is a major sin and a violation of the rights conferred upon them by Allah. Even the small birds that are killed unjustly will come pleading for justice on the Day of Judgement.

Abdullah ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

مَنْ قَتَلَ عُصْفُورًا فَمَا فَوْقَهَا بِغَيْرِ حَقِّهَا سَأَلَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ عَنْهَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ

If someone kills so much as a sparrow or anything larger without a just cause, then Allah the Exalted will ask him about it on the Day of Resurrection.

Source: Sunan al-Nasā’ī 4445, Grade: Sahih

Sharid reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

مَنْ قَتَلَ عُصْفُورًا عَبَثًا عَجَّ إِلَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يَقُولُ يَا رَبِّ إِنَّ فُلَانًا قَتَلَنِي عَبَثًا وَلَمْ يَقْتُلْنِي لِمَنْفَعَةٍ

Whoever kills so much as a sparrow unjustly will have it pleading to Allah on the Day of Resurrection, saying: O Lord, he killed me for no reason, and he did not kill be for any beneficial purpose.

Source: Sunan al-Nasā’ī 4446, Grade: Hasan

Abdullah ibn Ja’far reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, entered a garden among the Ansar. When a camel saw the Prophet, it started weeping and making sounds as its tears flowed. The Prophet came to it and patted it on the head, so it became silent. The Prophet said:

مَنْ رَبُّ هَذَا الْجَمَلِ لِمَنْ هَذَا الْجَمَلُ

Who is the master of this camel? To whom does it belong?

A young man from the Ansar came and said, “This is mine, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet said:

أَفَلَا تَتَّقِي اللَّهَ فِي هَذِهِ الْبَهِيمَةِ الَّتِي مَلَّكَكَ اللَّهُ إِيَّاهَا فَإِنَّهُ شَكَا إِلَيَّ أَنَّكَ تُجِيعُهُ وَتُدْئِبُهُ

Do you not fear Allah regarding this animal that Allah has put in your possession? Verily, she has complained to me that you keep her hungry and tired.

Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 2549, Grade: Sahih

Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

لَوْ مَاتَتْ شَاةٌ عَلَى شَطِّ الْفُرَاتِ ضَائِعَةً لَظَنَنْتُ أَنَّ اللَّهَ تَعَالَى سَائِلِي عَنْهَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ

If a lost sheep under my care were to die on the banks of the Euphrates, I would expect Allah the Exalted to question me about it on the Day of Resurrection.

Source: Hilyat al-Awliyā’ 137

Likewise, unwarranted cruelty against animals for the purpose of sports and entertainment is forbidden.

Sa’eed ibn Jubair reported: I was in the presence of Ibn Umar when we passed by a group who had tied down a chicken and they were using it as a target. When they saw Ibn Umar, they fled and left it behind. Ibn Umar said:

مَنْ فَعَلَ هَذَا إِنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَعَنَ مَنْ فَعَلَ هَذَا

Whoever has done this, then the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, has cursed whoever has done this.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5196, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi 

In another narration, Ibn Umar said:

إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَعَنَ مَنْ اتَّخَذَ شَيْئًا فِيهِ الرُّوحُ غَرَضًا

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, has cursed who takes something with a soul as his target.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1958, Grade: Sahih

Abdullah ibn Ja’far reported: The Prophet passed by some people who were shooting arrows at a ram for sport. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, hated it and he said:

لَا تَمْثُلُوا بِالْبَهَائِمِ

Do not mutilate your animals.

Source: Sunan al-Nasā’ī 4440, Grade: Sahih

Indeed, merely distressing an animal without a just cause is a violation of their rights. The Prophet once reprimanded his companions when they disturbed the next of a mother bird.

Abdullah reported: We were on a journey and we saw a red sparrow that had two chicks with her. We took her chicks, so the sparrow started to flap her wings. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, came to us and he said:

مَنْ فَجَعَ هَذِهِ بِوَلَدِهَا رُدُّوا وَلَدَهَا

Who has upset her by taking her children? Give her children back to her.

Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 5268, Grade: Sahih

Not only walking or flying animals, but insects as well should left alone as long as they are not harming anyone. On one occasion, Allah had criticized a prophet who had burn the entire home of an ant colony only because one any had bitten him.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

نَزَلَ نَبِيٌّ مِنْ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ تَحْتَ شَجَرَةٍ فَلَدَغَتْهُ نَمْلَةٌ فَأَمَرَ بِجَهَازِهِ فَأُخْرِجَ مِنْ تَحْتِهَا ثُمَّ أَمَرَ بِبَيْتِهَا فَأُحْرِقَ بِالنَّارِ فَأَوْحَى اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِ فَهَلَّا نَمْلَةً وَاحِدَةً

Once there was a prophet who was resting under a tree when an ant bit him, so he ordered that his luggage be taken away and the ant’s dwelling burned with fire. Allah revealed to him: Was one ant not enough?

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 3141, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

In another narration, the Prophet said:

فَأَوْحَى اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِ أَفِي أَنْ قَرَصَتْكَ نَمْلَةٌ أَهْلَكْتَ أُمَّةً مِنْ الْأُمَمِ تُسَبِّحُ

Allah revealed to him: A single ant has bitten you, yet you have destroyed a nation that glorifies Allah?

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2241, Grade: Sahih

An added benefit to be derived from this tradition is the prohibition of collective punishment in Islamic law.

The classical scholars often included the rights of animals in their treatises of law and ethics. Meant for the farmer and caretaker, they would prescribe good practices based on kind treatment and prohibit bad practices based on cruelty.

‘Izz ud-Deen ibn Abdi Salaam writes:

حُقُوقُ الْبَهَائِمِ وَالْحَيَوَانِ عَلَى الْإِنْسَانِ وَذَلِكَ أَنْ يُنْفِقَ عَلَيْهَا نَفَقَةَ مِثْلِهَا وَلَوْ زَمِنَتْ أَوْ مَرِضَتْ بِحَيْثُ لَا يَنْتَفِعُ بِهَا وَأَلَّا يُحَمِّلَهَا مَا لَا تُطِيقُ وَلَا يَجْمَعَ بَيْنَهَا وَبَيْنَ مَا يُؤْذِيهَا مِنْ جِنْسِهَا أَوْ مِنْ غَيْرِ جِنْسِهَا بِكَسْرٍ أَوْ نَطْحٍ أَوْ جُرْحٍ وَأَنْ يُحْسِنَ ذَبْحَهَا إذَا ذَبَحَهَا وَلَا يُمَزِّقَ جِلْدَهَا وَلَا يَكْسِرَ عَظْمَهَا حَتَّى تَبْرُدَ وَتَزُولَ حَيَاتُهَا وَأَلَّا يَذْبَحَ أَوْلَادَهَا بِمَرْأَى مِنْهَا وَأَنْ يُفْرِدَهَا وَيُحْسِنَ مَبَارِكَهَا وَأَعْطَانَهَا وَأَنْ يَجْمَعَ بَيْنَ ذُكُورِهَا وَإِنَاثِهَا فِي إبَّانِ إتْيَانِهَا وَأَنْ لَا يَحْذِفَ صَيْدَهَا وَلَا يَرْمِيَهُ بِمَا يَكْسِرُ عَظْمَهُ أَوْ يُرْدِيهِ بِمَا لَا يُحَلِّلُ لَحْمَهُ

The rights of creatures and animals over humanity are the following: that he provides for them as they require, even if they have aged or sickened such that no benefit comes from them; that he not burden them beyond what they can bear; that he not put them together with another creature that could injure it, whether of their own kind or other species, whether by breaking their bones or butting or wounding them; that he slaughters them with gentleness and he does not flay their skins or break their bones until their bodies have become cold and passed away; that he not slaughter their young within their sight but rather he does so in solitude; that he makes their resting and watering places comfortable; that he puts the males and females together during their mating seasons; that he does not discard what he has hunted; and that he does not shoot them with anything that breaks their bones or harms them by any means that would render their meat forbidden to eat.

Source: Qawā’id al-Aḥkām fī Iṣlāḥ al-Anām 1/167

As we can see, Islam teaches us to be very careful in our behavior with animals and all living creatures, as there is a great reward for treating them kindly and a great punishment for violating their rights. If this is the case with animals, then how much more are we held responsible towards people? How much worse is it to violate the rights of someone whom Allah loves?

Fudayl ibn Iyad, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

وَاللَّهِ مَا يَحِلُّ لَكَ أَنْ تُؤْذِيَ كَلْبًا وَلَا خِنْزِيرًا بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ فَكَيْفَ تُؤْذِي مُسْلِمًا

By Allah, it is not lawful for you to harm a dog or a pig without a just cause, so how can you harm a Muslim?

Source: Siyar Aʻlām al-Nubalāʼ 8/427

In sum, we should treat animals well and give them consideration just as if they were people. We should not transgress the limits set by Allah in slaughtering them and using them for manual labor. If devote a portion of our charity to animals, then this just might be enough to tip the scale of our deeds in favor of Paradise on the Day of Judgement.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.