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This article is about animals in Islamic thought. The Qur'an has a tendency towards anthropocentrism[1] and assigns a superior status to humans in comparison with animals. It nevertheless strongly enjoins Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them. The animals, together with all the creation, are believed to praise God, even if this praise is not expressed in human language.[2][3] The Qur'an explicitly allows the eating of the meat of animals.[3][4] Although some Sufis have practiced vegetarianism, there has been no serious discourse on the possibility of vegetarianism interpretations.[3] Certain animals can be eaten under the condition that they are slaughtered in a specified way.[5] Prohibitions include swine, carrion,[6] and animals dhabihah (ritual slaughter) in the name of someone other than God.[5] The Qur'an also states "eat of that over which the name of Allah hath been mentioned",[7] so prohibition includes that over which Allah's name has not been mentioned. Carnivorous land animals and birds with talons are forbidden. This prohibition does not extend towards marine animals, though Shia Muslims only allow marine animals with scales, in addition to shrimp and prawn.

Animals in the pre-Islamic Arabia

In pre-Islamic Arabia Arab Bedouin, like other people, attributed the qualities and the faults of humans to animals (e.g. generosity was attributed to the cock, perfidy to the lizard, stupidity to the bustard and boldness to the lion).[8]

Based on the facts that the name of certain tribes bear the names of animals, survivals of animal cults, prohibitions of certain foods and other indications, W. R. Smith argued for the practice of totemism by certain tribes of Arabia. Others have argued that these evidences may only imply practice of a form of animalism. In support of this, for example, it was believed that upon one's death, the soul departs from the body in the form of a bird (usually a sort of owl). The soul flies for some time around the tomb and on occasion cries out for vengeance. Although the Islamic prophet Muhammad rejected this belief it lived under Islam in various forms.[8]


Although over two hundred verses in the Qur'an deal with animals and six suras (chapters) of the Qur'an are named after the animals, animal life is not a predominant theme in the Qur'an.[1] The Arabic term for the "animal" (i.e. haywan) in its only one appearance in the Qur'an means "the true life" rather than "animal" and refers to the life of those who were true believers after resurrection using a dual noun to connote satiety, encourage and emphasize that it is the life ambitions should seek and the pious ones should aim (singular->haya, dual->haywan,plural->haywat) r.[1][8] On the other hand, the Qur'an uses the term dābba which is not typically used in medieval Arabic works on zoology. However, animals are not a major theme of the Qur'an, nor are they described in detail. Animals are usually seen in relation to humans. This has created a tendency towards anthropocentrism.[1]

The Qur'an applies the word "Muslim" not only to humans but also to animals and the inanimate world. "The divine will manifests itself in the form of laws both in human society and in the world of nature." In Islamic terminology, for example, a bee is a Muslim precisely because it lives and dies obeying the sharia that God has prescribed for the community of bees, just as a person is a Muslim by virtue of the fact that he or she submits to the revealed sharia ordained for humans in the Qur'an and Sunnah.[9]

Although the Qur'an considers humans to occupy the highest place, it nevertheless strongly enjoins Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them. The Qur'an states that all creation praises God, even if this praise is not expressed in human language.[10][3] In verse 6:38, the Qur'an applies the term ummah, generally used to mean "a human religious community", for genera of animals. The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an states that this verse have been "far reaching in its moral and ecological implications."[11]

There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.

According to many verses of the Qur'an,[12] the consumption of pork is forbidden, except in extreme circumstances,[6] such as in times of war or famine, if there is no other alternative to eat to avoid dying of hunger.[13]


Sunnah refer to the traditional biographies of Muhammad wherein the example of his conduct and sayings attributed to him have been recorded. Sunni and Shi'a hadith differ vastly, with Shi'a hadith generally contain more anthropomorphism and praise of animals.

Treatment of animals

It is forbidden to cage animals, to beat them unnecessarily, to brand them on the face, or to allow them to fight each other for human entertainment. "They must not be mutilated while they are alive."[14]

Muhammad is also reported[by whom?] to have said: "There is no man who kills [even] a sparrow or anything smaller, without its deserving it, but Allah will question him about it [on the judgment day]," and "Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself."[3][15]

A hadith is reported[by whom?] from Muhammad that he issued advice to kill the sinful (fawasiq) animal within the holy area (haram) of Mecca, such as the rat and the scorpion. Killing animals that are non-domesticated such as zebras and birds in this area is forbidden.[16]

Conversation with animals

In both Sunni and Shi'a accounts, Muhammad is said to have conversed nonchalantly with camels, birds and other species. Shi'a accounts also extend this to include the Imams. In one account, a camel is said to have come to Muhammad and complained that despite service to his owner, the animal was about to be killed. Muhammad summoned the owner and ordered the man to spare the camel.[17] There are also accounts in Sura an-Naml in the Qur'an of Sulaiman talking to ants[18] and birds,[19] and the Twelver and Ismaili Shi'a Imams declared that they could communicate with anything that had a soul.

Hunting and slaughter

Muslims are required to sharpen the blade when slaughtering animals.[20] Muhammad is reported[by whom?] to have said:"For [charity shown to] each creature which has a wet heart (i.e. is alive), there is a reward."[3] Muhammad opposed recreational hunting saying: "whoever shoots at a living creature for sport is cursed."[3] He is also reported to have said: "There is no man who kills [even] a sparrow or anything smaller, without its deserving it, but Allah will question him about it [on the judgment day]," and "Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself."[3][15]

Views regarding particular animals

Certain animals in Islamic traditions are mentioned or have a particular view attached to them:

  • Bats: In Shiite hadith, bats are praised as a miracle of nature.[16] In other Muslim literature, however, they represent danger.
  • Birds: Birds are commonly revered in Islamic literature, especially in Sufi tradition where they are a metaphor for the soul's divine journey to God, such as in The Conference of the Birds. In the Shi'a book of the sayings of Ali, Nahj al-Balagha, an entire sermon is dedicated to praising peacocks.[21]
  • Camels: Muhammad's camel, Qaswa, was very dear to him.[22] Muhammad is reported as having reprimanded some men who were sitting idly on their camels in a marketplace, saying "either ride them or leave them alone".[3][15]
  • Cats:Muhammad is said to have loved his cat Muezza[23] so much that "he would do without his cloak rather than disturb one that was sleeping on it."[22]
  • Dogs: see below.
  • Hyenas: In Muslim culture, they are considered ugly. Unusually, however, Striped Hyena meat is considered Halal (permissible) in places such as Sistan, Kohat, Bannu, and Cholistan, due to the fact that the animal is an omnivore, rather than a purely carnivorous animal.[24]
  • Sheep: Muhammad prided himself in being part of a rich tradition of prophets who found their means of livelihood as being shepherds.
  • Snakes: Snakes are considered to represent viciousness.[16]


The majority of both Sunni and Shi'a Muslim jurists consider dogs to be ritually unclean, though jurists from the Sunni Maliki school disagree.[25] However, outside their ritual uncleanness, Islamic fatāwā, or rulings, enjoin that dogs be treated kindly or else be freed.[26]

Muslims generally cast dogs in a negative light because of their ritual impurity. The story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus in the Qur'an (and also role of the dog in early Christianity) is one of the striking exceptions.[27] Muhammad didn't like dogs according to Sunni tradition, and most practicing Muslims do not have dogs as pets.[14] It is said that angels do not enter a house which contains a dog. Though dogs are not allowed for pets, they are allowed to be kept if used for work, such as guarding your house or farm, or when used for hunting purposes.

According to a generally unaccepted Sunni tradition attributed to Muhammad, black dogs are evil, or even devils, in animal form. This report reflects the pre-Islamic Arab mythology and the vast majority of Ulema (Muslim jurists) viewed it to be falsely attributed to Muhammad.[25]

Another Sunni tradition attributed to Muhammad commands Muslims not trade or deal in dogs.[28] According to El Fadl, this shows the cultural biases against dogs as a source of moral danger.[25] However, the Hanafi scholars, the largest school of ritual law in Sunni Islam, allow all trading in dogs.

According to one story, Muhammad is said to have informed a prostitute who had seen a thirsty dog hanging about a well and given it water to drink. Allah forgave her because of that good deed.[14][29]

In a tradition found in the Sunni hadith book, al-Muwatta, Muhammad states that the company of dogs voids a portion of a Muslim's good deeds.[30]

Dogs, outside the ritual legal discourse, were often portrayed in the literature as a symbol of highly esteemed virtues such as self-sacrifice and loyalty or on the other hand as an oppressive instrument in the hands of despotic and unjust rulers.[25]

The historian William Montgomery Watt states that Muhammad's kindness to animals was remarkable for the social context of his upbringing. He cites an instance of Muhammed posting sentries to ensure that a female dog with newborn puppies was not disturbed by his army traveling to Mecca in the year 630.[31]

Muslim culture

Usually in Muslim culture animals have names (one animal may be given several names), which are often interchangeable with names of people. Muslim names like asad and ghadanfar (Arabic for lion), shir and arslan (Persian and Turkish for lion, respectively) are common in the Muslim world. Prominent Muslims with animal names include: Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib (called "Asad Allah", God's lion), Abdul-Qadir Gilani (called al-baz al-ashhab, the white falcon) and Lal Shahbaz Qalander of Sehwan (called "red falcon").[32]

Islamic literature contains many stories of animals. Arabic and Persian literature boast a large number of animal fables. The most famous, kalilah was Dimnah or Panchatantra, translated into Arabic by Abd-Allāh Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ in the 8th century, was also known in Europe. In the 12th century Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawadi wrote many short stories of animals. At about the same time, in north-eastern Iran, Attar Neyshapuri (Farid al-Din Attar) composed the epic poem Mantiq al-Tayr (meaning The Conference of the Birds).[32]

Modern debates

The ritual method of slaughter as practiced in Islam and Judaism has been decried as inhumane by some animal welfare organisations in the United Kingdom who have stated that it "causes severe suffering to animals."[33][34] Cattle require up to two minutes to bleed to death when such means are employed, according to the Chairperson of the Farm Animal Welfare Council Judy MacArthur Clark. She adds, "This is a major incision into the animal and to say that it doesn't suffer is quite ridiculous." Majid Katme of the Muslim Council of Britain disagrees, stating that "[i]t's a sudden and quick haemorrhage. A quick loss of blood pressure and the brain is instantaneously starved of blood and there is no time to start feeling any pain."[34]

A study done by Professor Wilhelm Schulze et al.. at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Germany in 1978 concluded that "[t]he slaughter in the form of ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to the EEG recordings and the missing defensive actions."[35] This study is cited by the German Constitutional Court in its permitting of dhabiha slaughtering.[36] Muslims and Jews have also argued that the in the traditional British methods of slaughter, "animals are sometimes rendered physically immobile, although with full consciousness and sensation. The application of a sharp knife in shechita and dhabh, by contrast, ensures that no pain is felt: the wound inflicted is clean, and the loss of blood causes the animal to lose consciousness within seconds."[37]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Animal life, Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an
  2. See Qur'an 17:44)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, Islam, Animals, and Vegetarianism
  4. See Qur'an 5:1)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (2001): The Dietary Laws
  6. 6.0 6.1 John Esposito (2002b), p.111
  7. See Qur'an 6:118)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Hayawān, Encyclopaedia of Islam
  9. Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, Islam,p.464
  10. See Qur'an 17:44)
  11. Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an, Community and Society and Qur'an, Vol. 1, p.371
  12. See Qur'an 2:173 and Qur'an 6:145)
  13. “He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of Allah. But if one is forced by necessity, without wilful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits,- then is he guiltless. For Allah is Oft-forgiving Most Merciful.”[Qur'an 2:173]
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Susan J. Armstrong, Richard G. Botzler, The Animal Ethics Reader, p.237, Routledge (UK) Press
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Encyclopaedia of Islam, Haywan article, p.308, vol.3, p.308
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Jürgen Wasim Frembgen, Völkerkundemuseum. "The Scorpion in Muslim Folklore". Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 63, 2004: 95-123. Munich, Germany.
  17. Foltz (2006), pg.22-23
  18. See Qur'an 27:18
  19. See Qur'an 27:20
  20. P. Aarne Vesilind, Alastair S. Gunn, Engineering, Ethics, and the Environment, Cambridge University Press, p.301
  21. Nahjul Balagha by ʻAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥusayn Sharīf al-Raḍī, Ali Ibn Abu Talib, Mohammad Askari Jafery, ʻAlam al-Hudá ʻAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn Sharīf al-Murtaḍá
  22. 22.0 22.1 Minou Reeves, Muhammad in Europe, New York University (NYU) Press, p.52
  23. Cats
  24. "The Magicality of the Hyena: Beliefs and Practices in West and South Asia" (PDF). Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 57, 1998: 331–344. June 2008. Retrieved 23. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, s.v. "Dogs in the Islamic Tradition and Nature." New York: Continuum International, forthcoming 2004. By: Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl
  26. ['Aalim Network QR] Dogs / Pets
  27. David Gordon White, Encyclopedia of Religion, Dog, p.2393
  28. Ahmad Ibn Shu‘ayb al-Nisa’i, Sunan al-Nisa’i (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, n.d.), 7: 309 (The commentaries by al-Suyuti and al-Sanadi are in the margins). Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 4:426. All reported in El Fadl.
  29. Sahih Bukhari 4.56.673
  30. Malik ibn Anas, al-Muwatta (Egypt: al-Babi al-Halabi, n.d.), 2:969. Reported in El Fadl
  31. William Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, Oxford University Press, 1961, [1]
  32. 32.0 32.1 Annemarie Schimmel. Islam and The Wonders of Creation: The Animal Kingdom. Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2003. Pages 2-4
  33. Halal killing may be banned | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited
  34. 34.0 34.1 BBC NEWS | UK | Halal and Kosher slaughter 'must end'
  35. Schulze W, Schultze-Petzold H, Hazem AS, Gross R. Experiments for the objectification of pain and consciousness during conventional (captive bolt stunning) and religiously mandated (“ritual cutting”) slaughter procedures for sheep and calves. Deutsche Tierärztliche Wochenschrift 1978 February 5;85(2):62-6. English translation by Dr Sahib M. Bleher
  36. Das Bundesverfassungsgericht
  37. Gerald Parsons, The Growth of Religious Diversity: Britain from 1945, Routledge Press, p.69


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