Animal Welfare and Muslims

First published in Columnists by

What distinguishes human beings from the rest of the earth’s creatures is that we have been gifted with intellect and willpower.

Both of these characteristics bring about a certain level of responsibility.

In other words, mankind is considered the supreme creation of God, sent to the world as His vicegerent.

A teaching of the Prophet Muhammad says: “The merciful are treated mercifully by the Merciful. Be merciful to those on earth so that God will be Merciful to you in the heavens” (Al-Tabarāni).

Compassion towards others, including animals is an integral part of humanity. Studies show that many adult perpetrators of violent crime were often animal abusers when they were younger.

This suggests that to ensure a community of law-abiding adults, we must ensure that as children they are brought up to care for the well-being of animals.

Since Muslim households are generally not big on pets, many of you may believe that this article does not apply to you.

It is true that most Muslims do not own cats, and even fewer own dogs. Muslims also tend to live in urban and built-up areas where the chance of encountering farm animals is also slim. However, there are still many areas of our lives where we come into contact with animals; some more obvious than others. Think of the leather on your shoes, the medicine on your regular prescription. Do you have a fetish for fur? Think of your refrigerator: the eggs, the milk and the butter, and the fish, chicken and meat on your dinner plate! Thus, directly or indirectly, we encounter animals every day.

Around 32 million egg laying hens are kept in the UK , of which around 49 per cent (around 16 million) in 2011 were kept in cages.

These cages are often dark and cramped. One only has to think of “Chicken Run”, and then think of it on a mass scale of reality. And in reality, chickens don’t get away. And it’s not just eggs that chickens provide. Around 850 million meat chickens or ‘broilers’ are reared every year in the UK, far more than any other type of farmed animal (except farmed fish).

Sometimes these chickens are reared in spaces so small that it results in less space than the size of an A4 sheet of paper per bird. Lighting levels are also kept low to keep birds inactive and encourage them to eat more and fatten up faster.

Fish farms are another cause for concern. Stocking density (the weight of fish kept in a given volume of water) is often thought to have a big influence on their welfare. Having stocking densities that are too low can cause certain species of fish to become territorial and aggressive towards each other which is contrary to acceptable standards of Animal Welfare.

It is also estimated that more than 100 million animals are used in experiments each year across the world. Attitudes to animals, and the legislation in place regarding their use, vary widely between countries.

These animals are tested for anything from medicine and pesticides to cosmetics. Over 68,000 people have to date signed the RSPCA petition calling on the UK Government to work towards ending the use of animals in experiments, replacing them with humane alternatives, and to support the RSPCA position with regards to the new European laws (which would mean better regulation).

These are just a few ways in which animals impact our day to day lives.

It is our responsibility that their treatment is compassionate and humane.

Indeed, we believe that the Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to all of existence, and as Muslims we should strive to be vehicles of that compassion and mercy to all that we interact and come into contact with.

There are a multiple number of ways in which you can get involved to make Animal Welfare a concern in your life. The RSPCA’s “Freedom Food” assurance scheme encourages people to make ethical and informed choices about the food they buy. Look out for the “Freedom Food” logo, which ensures that the product has been brought about according to higher animal welfare standards.

If you can’t find the logo, then opt for free-range and organic produce.

Visit the RSPCA website (www.rspca.org.uk/freedomfood) to find out more about ethical consumer choices you can make; sign the petitions and get involved. Animal Welfare isn’t just an abstract concept, but rather is about the choices you make each day in what you buy and eat.

As a Muslim these choices are ultimately about gaining our Creator’s pleasure by being merciful to His creation, and avoiding practices which needlessly harm or oppress animals.

Fazila Bux writes on behalf of the 1st Ethical Charitable Trust, which encourages British Muslims to express their faith in ways which benefit wider society, thereby fostering improved social and religious cohesion. For more information, please visit www.1stethical.com

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