Posted on July 20, 2015

SELF: Islam and Animal Welfare

Self

Hope everyone had a wonderful and happy Eid! Alhamdulillah we had a beautiful Eid with lots of amazing people, and as usual we had an abundance of delicious food and sweets, which I felt so grateful for but it also got me thinking!

Recently here in Australia there have been a number of moral panics concerning the live export of cattle and other animals. Much of the media coverage was of the animals’ treatment in Muslim majority areas including Indonesia and Gaza.

The response from the Muslim community here was for the most part fantastic in not knee jerk defending the treatment but rightly calling them out – as well as trying to bring to light the larger issue of systematic abuse of animals at all levels in the large meat producing systems in place these days.

Seeing the pictures and videos led to a number of Muslims to speak out implying that the meat was no longer able to even be considered halal, due to the cruelty and unnecessary pain inflicted on the animals.

The example of the Prophet (pbuh) was always for the just and ethical treatment of animals from birth to death. There are Hadith in Bukhari and Muslim where the Prophet (pbuh) admonishes sahabah for removing eggs from a nest as it caused the mother distress. Of him admonishing the slaughterer for sharpening his blade in front of the animal, considering it equivalent to slaughtering the animal twice. The Prophet (pbuh) seemed to always go out of his way to ensure that he gave back to everything its’ haqq or rights.

But despite the numerous Hadith, I do feel that for that many of us tend to not want to think about the hidden cost of animal cruelty in everyday products.

These days all supermarkets have generic milk available at very cheap prices, and you can get a large tray of eggs for only a few dollars. We all appreciate the convenience of cheap everyday groceries, but many people including myself do not tend to think about how these reductions in price are made possible, and one area that has become extremely devastating has been the treatment of animals used to produce them.

The treatment of cows in large dairy farms is well covered by animal rights groups. It is routine for them to be impregnated annually to keep the milk flowing, and have their newborn calf removed from them within hours, which is then typically sent to slaughter within days or weeks. This is very distressing to both the mother and the calf. And to speed the cleaning process they are often kept on gravel which is uncomfortable and leads to injuries. With regards to cage eggs, the chickens essentially lead a tortured life in a cage only slightly larger than themselves (American standards require that the cage be the size of a piece of A4/letter paper), and they are horribly abused in order to reduce costs.

Is this something we as Muslims should be concerned about? I believe that it not only should be something we should think about, but something that we will be held accountable for. In an early Hadith the Prophet (pbuh) advises his followers to “Fear God in regards to these animals who cannot speak their will.

And in Qur’an 21:47 it states:

We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgment, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least, and if there be (no more than) the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it (to account): and enough are We to take account.

The Qur’an laid a foundation of respect for animals by describing them as thinking and aware creatures who also exult God in their own way, as described in 24:41:

Seest thou not that it is Allah Whose praise all beings in the heavens and on earth do celebrate, and the birds (of the air) with wings outspread? Each one knows its own (mode of) prayer and praise, and Allah knows well all that they do.

More and more research is showing that the line between us and animals is grey, and the list of animals thought to possess “consciousness” is ever expanding as we learn more about them.

For example I recently read that a species of parrot names each of their babies with its own personalised chirp! That’s amazing! And yet these same animals are treated terribly in modern farms in order to maximize production whilst minimizing cost.

This is not an attack on capitalism or free market thinking, as this problem would exist without them. The problem I believe is simply greed – greed from manufacturers to maximize profits and to an extent greed from customers who want the cheapest product irrespective of the hidden cost.

One problem that I still do not know how to reconcile is the scale of the problem. It is easy enough to choose free range eggs over cage eggs and check which milk available to you is the most fair in its treatment of its animals. But what about all of the manufactured foods?

Things like egg pasta, cheese, yoghurt, pretty much anything that uses dairy or eggs or anything else animal sourced. I doubt the producers are much interested in whether the eggs used are free range? And then what about eating out? How can you ever know that you are not eating something that has come from an animal treated horribly and unnecessarily?

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem – It’s enough to make me feel like the issue is insurmountable, but then I have to remind myself that every big change starts out like this.

I do think we can all make small steps towards this by voting with our wallets. The more people choose to go for the more expensive, more humane alternatives, the more companies will divert their efforts there. If we as a community hundreds of million strong took a stand on the ethical treatment of animals then of course things would change! In the end we are only judged by God, and we can only do what we can do.

For those interested in learning more there are a number of fantastic resources to find out what brands adhere to what, if any, ethical treatment frameworks. I’m still new to the area but one I think is quite comprehensive is EthicalConsumer.org but there are hundreds out there so I’d love to know any more!

And to end a fantastic quote from Jeremy Bentham the father of modern utilitarianism:

The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

Please let us know if you have any tips or advice on eating + purchasing more ethically when it comes to groceries, I’ve got so much to learn!

Muneer

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