May 2, 2011
Historical statements and contemporary references on animals.
“It is frequently claimed that one position or another represents ‘true’ Islam. Nevertheless, there exists no unified Islamic or Muslim view of nonhuman animals.” —Richard Folz, "Dimension of Animals in Islamic Tradition and Muslim Culture," in A Communion of Subjects, Waldau and Patton, 2006.
With roots beginning in 7th century A.D., Islam (literally “submission”) is one of the worlds largest monotheistic traditions. Originating with Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh, Islam is centered within the Qur’anic text believed by Muslims to be the verbatim word of God spoken through the Prophet.
Practitioners of Islam, called Muslims, not only look to the Qur’an but to the teachings and examples of Muhammad in the Sunnah and Hadith. Muhammad is believed to be the last prophet of Islam living between 570 and 632 B.C.
The majority of Muslims fall into one of two denominations. Sunni (80-90 percent) and Shia (10-20 percent). Islam is the second largest religion and has followers throughout the world.
Indonesia holds largest Muslim population at 13 percent with the rest being divided throughout South Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Islam continues to be one of the fastest growing religions and today there are roughly 1.5 billion Muslims throughout the world.
In the Qu'ran
Since Islam is such a text-bound religion it is important to understand the place that animals hold within the Qu’ran. Numerous types of animals are mentioned throughout the text and out of 114 sūras, or Qu’ranic chapters, there are six named after animals. These include the Cow (sūra 2), the Cattle (sūra 6), the Bee (sūra 16), the Ant (sūra 28), the Spider (sūra 29) and the Elephant (sūra 105). Although both humans and non-human animals are said to be creations of God, humans are often distinguished as “the speaking animal” (hayawān al-nātiq). While this may be true, the Qu’ran also acknowledges that nonhuman animals have the ability to speak.
This can be seen in sūra 27:16:
“Solomon succeeded David. He said: ‘Know, you people, we have been taught the tongue of birds and endowed with all good things. Surely this is the signal favour.’”
Muhammad enjoined many of his followers to show kindness towards animals and only use them for necessary purposes. In one hadith, he is seen reprimanding several of his followers for sitting idly on their camels in the market saying:
“Do not treat the backs of your animals as pulpits, for God Most high has made them subject to you only to convey you to a place which you could not otherwise have reached without much difficulty.”
Muhammad forbade hunting for sport and the branding or hitting of animals in the face.
For more on Islam and animals, including sections on eating meat, slaughter and vivisection, read our PDF.