Islam And Animal Welfare: A Brief Review
In contemporary controversies about animal welfare, it can be easy (and lazy) to lean on criticizing the differences in practices among different cultural and national views of animal care and treatment. Rather than criticizing our own practices, it is easier to point to other countries, and spot the differences. One particular flashpoint for this type of criticism in recent years has been the criticism of religious practices, such as kosher and halal slaughter. Animal welfare under kosher and Halal systems has some key differences from ‘secular’ systems, though as researchers point out “the future best interest of animals is most likely served not by conflict among their caregivers but by finding points of agreement.” At Faunalytics, this is a bridge we’ve been trying to build, notably with our recent work with the Palestinian Animal League.
The purpose of this review was to show an historic overview of of the status of animal welfare in Islam, and look at how its history can “inform modern advancements and dialog in animal care and handling.” To do this, scholars examined the Quran and Hadith, in tandem with The Five Freedoms: Freedom from thirst and hunger; Freedom from discomfort; Freedom from pain, injury, and disease; Freedom to express most normal behavior; and Freedom from fear and distress.
Based on their review, the authors found that “there is historic Islamic text that supports every one of the Five Freedoms,” and that there are two overarching themes in Islamic teachings as they apply to animal welfare. Firstly, they note that in Islam, “animals are individuals that experience life in a way parallel to human,” which means they deserve like consideration to humans. Secondly, they note that “humans were given a greater gift of cognitive understanding” than animals, which means we have special rights and responsibilities over animals, especially those who are killed for food.
Though the review is by no means a definitive one, it offers some interesting points for advocates to consider. The authors emphasize that principles from early Islamic teachings make it possible “to open a supportive dialog between science and faith that can lead to animal welfare improvements without antagonism.” For animal advocates this is a balance that is forever difficult to strike.