What are the rights of animals in Islam?
Due to the rise of animal rights groups and activists in modern society, the question arises: Does Islam present any views regarding animal rights? Also, do Muslims have any duties towards animals? There are many references to animals and their rights in Islamic literature in all schools of thought. Islam considers animals as “subjects of-life” who have moral rights which must be respected. Moreover, these rights are also accepted to have spiritual relevance. As such, following them diligently ensures that believers are rewarded in this world and the hereafter.
The apparent indication of several Qur'anic verses expounds the idea that humans are superior to animals and that animals are merely created for serving humans. This idea gives rise to several Sharia related questions, such as:
- Does the Sharia permit humans to slaughter animals for food consumption?
- Does Sharia permit the use of animals in clinical lab research, such as discovering cosmetic products or medicines that cures fatal diseases?
- Does Sharia permit the killing of animals that cause harm to humans, such as poisonous snakes or worms destroying crops?
- Does Sharia permit hunting of animals?
- Does Sharia permit the destruction of natural animal habitats for human benefit?
The Qur'anic worldview on animals
The Qur'an states that humans have dominion over every species on the earth because they are the ones who have been given spiritual power by which they can gain the pleasure of Allah:
“It is He who made you successors on the earth. So whoever is faithless, his unfaith is to his own detriment.”
Due to this supremacy, other species are created for them. The Qur’an states:
Have they not seen that We have created for them of what Our hands have worked cattle, so they have become their masters? And We made them tractable for them, so some of them make their mounts and some of them they eat. There are other benefits for them therein, and drinks. Will they not then give thanks?
In another verse, the Qur'an explains that a service which animals provide to them is Allah’s mercy for mankind:
He created the cattle, in which there is warmth for you and (other) uses and some of them you eat. There is in them a beauty for you when you bring them home for rest and when you drive them forth to pasture. And they bear your burdens to towns which you could not reach except by straining yourselves. Indeed, your Lord is most kind and merciful.
Moreover, Islam repeatedly emphasises that food and other resources of nature are to be shared equitably with other creatures:
So let man observe his food: We poured down water plenteously, then We split the earth into fissures and made the grain grow in it, and vines and vegetables, olives and date palms, and densely planted gardens, fruits and pastures, as a sustenance for you and your livestock.
The Qur'an outlines the permissible benefits that can be attained from animals such as use for consumption and transport, all to make life easier for humans. Also, these verses signify that because humans have dominion over animals, they too have a responsibility to care for them. This Qur'anic responsibility imposes upon humans to act justly with animals by making sure they are well rested, well fed and not overused.
Manifesto for animal rights in the Muslim tradition
In a letter attributed to Imam Ali to one of his tax collectors there are references where Imam Ali outlines various rights of animals.
Entrust them (cattle) to one who is trustworthy and who is of a kind and sympathetic disposition so that he may not treat the animals cruelly and may not starve them or tire them out during the journey. Instruct him not to separate a she-camel from its young, and not to milk it so much that nothing is left for its young one and not to ride them harshly nor to overburden them with heavy loads. He should ride them in turns so that those who have been already ridden may have an easy journey. He should not drive them fast and should avoid harshness. He should always give them enough rest at watering places. They should not be driven through deserts. As far as possible green lands and well-wooded regions should be selected for the passage. Thus, every care should be taken so that they reach their destination in healthy and robust condition without having received any harsh and brutal treatment on the way so that I may distribute them according to the Orders of Allah and the Holy Prophet (s). Verily, the collection of the dues of Allah in the way that I have explained to you is a pious deed and a religious duty which will carry its reward before the Lord.
There are many different rights related to animals which can be derived from this manifesto and other such reports (ahādīth) attributed to the Prophet and his family. These rights include being just with animals, ensuring their good treatment and utility, and bestowing them with respect, mercy and gratitude.
Being just with animals
The right of justice is an umbrella term which encapsulates many other rights of animals such as good treatment and respect. Regarding being just to animals, both hadith literature and juristic edicts (fatāwā sing. fatwa) maintain the stance taken by the Prophet in the following report:
It is narrated from Prophet that he said:
Put the burden on the hind part of the camel. Because the front legs need to hang loose for it to move easily (if the burden is on the front side of the camel it will not be comfortable walking and it will injure the neck). The hind legs are capable of handling the burden.
Here the right of justice points to the fact of knowing how to use the camel appropriately, so it can carry adequate weight without over-exertion.
In another report, Hammād b. Lahhām reports:
A range of camels passed by Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad al-Ṣādiq (a.s) and he saw the load causing the camel to become lopsided. He said: O slave! Do justice to this camel. Indeed, Allah loves justice.
Acting justly again refers to allowing the camel to carry a manageable weight whilst not hindering its ability to walk properly.
A renowned jurist Muhammad Hasan al-Najafī (d.1266/1850) (also known as, Sāhib al-Jawāhir) elaborates on how a person can be just to animals. He states:
“It is recommended for a person to clip their nails before milking, so it would not hurt the animal […] and one should not overload a camel beyond its ability […] the Prophet prohibited three people riding on one camel.”
These three instances highlight that animals must be treated justly with good treatment and respect; and one of the ways to do this is by not over-bearing an animal and causing it unnecessary pain.
Responsibility for animal owners
In Sharia, every person who owns an animal is obligated to provide it with all the means for its livelihood. The maintenance expenditure is upon the owner. If the owner is negligent towards his duties of providing shelter and food, then he is forced to do so by the ruler (hākim). If the owner is not able to provide adequate shelter and food for the animal then he is compelled to sell it. For this reason, if there is scarcity of water and one has just enough water for wudū, he must give that water to the animal who needs it to survive and must perform dry ablution (tayammum).
Maintenance of animal’s habitat
In today’s world, we encounter another major problem regarding the climate crisis: destroying animal habitats. According to different reports, apart from needlessly killing animals, it is also prohibited to destroy their shelter or snatch their foods. The Prophet detested the act of burning the honeycombs.
Part of an animal’s habitat and the ecosphere is the food which is found there. He declared the act of (snatching and) eating the grains that the ants carry with their mouths and feet as an unlawful act. It is also narrated that: Once the Holy Prophet, while passing through a valley with his army, looked at a female dog growling for her puppies while they were around her feeding. Prophet asked one of his Companions Jamīl b. Surāqa to stay there guarding her and her puppies.
It is said that once the Prophet saw an animal starving, so he asked:
Where is the master of this animal? Does not he fear Allah? Either he should feed it or send it (to the pasture).
The treatment of animals is linked to God consciousness, signifying the importance of animal care in Islam.
Islam’s view on animal cruelty
Although animal cruelty is on the rise in many parts of the world we find it has been condemned in Islamic literature. 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. It is reported that the Prophet cursed the one who mutilated (muthla) an animal (i.e. to cut its limbs or some other part of its body while it is still alive).
But what is stressed in hadith literature is being merciful and compassionate towards animals. For instance, Mūsā b. Jaʿfar al-Kāzim is reported to have said:
Every animal whose master wants a ride on it says: O Allah! Make him merciful towards me.
Testing conducted on animals for medical purposes
Killing animals for medical purposes is also discouraged in Prophetic traditions. It is narrated that a doctor once told the Prophet about a frog used in a medicine. The Holy Prophet refrained him from killing it.
It can be inferred here that using animals for medical purposes is permissible, however, it is highly disliked (makrūh) to kill them for medical purposes. The only purpose for killing animals in Islam is for consumption. It is clearly mentioned in a tradition: Do not kill a sheep or a camel unless for consuming its meat.
And if someone kills an animal without any reason he is penalised with blood money. The books of Islamic law talk about the blood money (penalty) for killing various types of dogs. For instance, the blood money for killing a hunting dog is forty dirhams and for a guardian dog it is twenty dirhams and for other dogs a basket of soil.
It is well established that a person who goes hunting for pleasure cannot shorten his prayer even though he might be travelling.
This ruling demonstrates that according to Muslim jurists, hunting for pleasure is highly discouraged.
Accountability for animal care
As belief in the Day of Judgement is a necessary article of faith, human beings will be accountable for their treatment of animals, good or bad. One such report states that:
“If you were forgiven for what (cruelty and injustice) you have done to the animals, indeed you will be forgiven for almost every sin.”
This tradition implies that the mistreatment of animals is a morally reprehensible sin.
Another major repercussion involved in the mistreatment of animals is that in some cases it is linked to the validity and acceptance of deeds. For example, it is reported that if a person rides his horse too fast so he can reach the time for prayer in the mosque or make it in time for the season of Hajj, his worship is considered void. This is found in the following report:
A companion cited the crescent of Dhū al-Hijjah (the first night of the month of Dhūal-Hjjah) in Qādisiyyah (Iraq) and was with us in ʿArafah i.e., on the ninth Dhū al-Hijjah in Mecca. This means he travelled from Iraq to Hijāz in nine days, he must have ridden very fast that he was able to make it for performing his Hajj rituals.The Imam objecting on this speed said twice: His prayer is not acceptable. His prayer is not acceptable.
This shows how the treatment of animals crosses over to the realm of worship. In cases where animals are used for transport, one needs to be mindful that their engagement with God in prayer hinges on how the animal was treated in reaching a place of worship.
Overall, the Sharia endows humans with the responsibility of showing compassion and justice to animals and reminds them of the consequences of not fulfilling this responsibility. In summary, these responsibilities include maintaining animal’s habitat and ensuring they have access to food, water, and shelter. The destruction of any animal’s habitats to facilitate land expansion for human shelter or industrial purposes is not permissible unless it is a necessity or a last resort. The Qur'an and traditions have only given permission to slaughter (with all those conditions that minimise their pain) animals and using them for ride or work. Apart from this there is no justifiable reason to inflict avoidable pain on animals. This includes testing animals to produce cosmetic products – to enhance beauty – on animals, hunting them for pleasure, destroying animal habitat; none of which are of any immediate need of human species. Moreover, it is highly disliked to use animals to hunt for pleasure or kill them for medical purposes. As we saw, the use of animals in the advancement of medicine is more nuanced as they can be used in cases for clinical testing in discovering medicine for life-threatening illnesses.
 Qur'an 2: 29, 71; 6:142;16:5, 6, 8, 14, 66, 80. All the Qur'anic verses translated here are cited from the translation of ʿAlī Qulī Qarāʾi.
 Qur'an 35:39
 Qur'an 36:71-73
 Ibid 16:5-7
 Ibid 80:24-32
 Nahj al-balāgha, letter no 25
 Al-Shaykh al-Sadūq, Man lā yahduruhū al-faqīh, 2:292 & al-Muttaqīal-Hindī, Kanz al-ʿummāl, 9:62, no.24950
 Al-Barqī, al-Mahāsin, 2:361
 Muhammad Hasan al-Najafī, Jawāhir al-kalām, 31:397. For similar edicts see al-Shahīd al-Thānī, Masālik al-ifhām, 8:503
 al-Najafī, Jawāhir al-kalām, 5:114.
 Ibid, 61:318 & al-Sadūq,Man lā yahduruhū al-faqīh,1:524.
 Al-Tūsī, Tahdhīb al-ahkām, 6:383.
 Al-Sālihī al-Shāmī, Subul al-huda wa al-rashād fī sīrat khayral-ʿibād, 5:212.
 Al-Hindī, Kanz al-ʿummāl, 9:67, no. 24983.
 Ibn Mājah, Sunan, 2:1063. For similar reports inboth Sunni and Shiite sources see (1) Therefore, when you get there do not enter upon them like one who has full control over them or in a violent manner. Do not scare any animal, do not tease anyone, and do not let the owner feel grieved about anyone.” Al-Hindī, Kanzal-ʿummāl, 9:67, no. 24983. (2) ‘Abdullah b. 'Umar has said: “The Prophet forbade slapping (animals) on the face.” Sahīh al-Muslim, 6:163. (3) ʿAlī b. al-Husayn Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn is reported to have gone on Hajj on a camel which was lagging behind (in a caravan). Someone suggested to him to use the stick (asking him to hit so it speeds). He replied: Oh! If there was no fear of penalty (on the Day of Judgment), I would have done so. Al-ʿĀmilī, Hidāyatal-umma ilā aḥkām al-aʾimma, 5:123. (4) Imām al-Bāqir detested castration of animals and cockfights. During the times of ignorance (jāhilliyah) people would mutilate the animals. Islam brought an end to this practice. Al-Barqī, al-Maḥāsin, 2:634. (5) Anas saw some boys shooting at a tied hen. Forbidding them, he said, “The Prophet has forbidden the shooting of tied animals.” Muḥammadb. Muḥmmad al-Ashʿath al-Kūfī,al-Jaʿfariyāt/al-Ashʿathiyāt, p. 84 & al-Bukhārī, Sahīh al-Bukhārī, 6: 228. (6) It has also been narrated that the Prophet cursed the one who harassed any animal. Imām ʿAlī said: Once the Prophet passed by a group of people who were shooting at a living hen. The Prophet said: Who are these? May Allah curse them! Al-Jaʿfariyāt/al-Ashʿathiyāt, p. 84. (7) Another report from the prophet is: Whosoever cages a dog, then the rewards of his deeds will decrease day by day unless it is a guiding or a farming dog. Sahīh al-Bukhārī, 3:67. (8) Branding animals is also considered to be a cruel act in Islam. ʿAlī b. Abī Tālib reported: The Prophet prohibited branding animals on their faces. Man lā yahduruhūal-faqīh, 4:8. (9) ʿAlī b. Abī Tālib said: I have heard the Prophet saying: Never cut the limbs of any animal even though it may be a wild dog. Nahj al-balāgha,p. 422, letter no.47.
 ʿAlī b. Jaʿfar, Masāʾil ʿAlī b.Jaʿfar, p. 349. In another tradition we see a similar sentiment towards animals from the Prophet. Apart from being kind to animals the Holy Prophet had a special attachment to some animals. It is reported that: A Companion was with the apostle of Allah on a way to a battle. That person had a horse and the Prophet was fond of its neighing. (In the battle) Prophet did not hear it. He sent someone to inquire about the person: When he came, Prophet asked him: What did your horse do to you? He replied: He was neighing too much, so I castrated him.The Prophet said: “Wait! Wait! You cut his limbs. (You should know) there is good fortune written on the foreheads of horses till the Day of Resurrection. The owners are blessed. The hairs on the neck are used for warming it (in winter) and their foreheads are the sign of their beauty and their tails are used for fanning.” Al-Jaʿfariyāt/al-Ashʿathiyāt, p. 87.
 Al-Nasāʾī, al-Sunan, 7:239.
 Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwattaʾ,2:447
Ibn Bābawayh, al-Muqnʾi, 534
 Al-Hillī, Qawāʿid al-ahkām, 1:325
 Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal, 6:441