In Islam, “animal rights”, if it has to be phrased that way, is contained in well documented literature.
ACCORDING to the American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a non-profit organisation dedicated to preventing cruelty towards animals, acts of cruelty are not circumscribed within the category of abuse, neglect and abandonment only.
Despite meanings of these terms differing from one jurisdiction to another, it is no longer a hidden fact that factory farms (where animals are raised in the thousands purely for commercial purposes, and where in some countries such as the United States nearly all farm animals are to be found) regard some of the worst cruelties to animals as normal and part of the routine way mechanised factories operate.
Most societies in reasonably developed and developed countries often hear about laws protecting companion animals (in Malaysia, look up the Malaysian National Animal Welfare Foundation, for example).
Without meaning to unnecessarily upset the status quo as it were, animal welfare groups all over the world are increasingly voicing their concern and are challenging the prevailing trend of accepting the current concept of a “factory farm” as being an industrial operation that regards farm animals as no more than commodities, never considering the significance of animals as being fundamentally sentient beings (they can feel and they suffer pain) as well.
In general terms, to begin with, factory farm animals (FFA), as a matter of standard operating procedure, are confined in densely packed spaces in which they literally cannot move and have no access to natural sunlight and the outdoors, spending their lives in pens, cages and open floors of ware-house type of dwellings.
In such a scenario, the animals cannot manifest their natural behaviours, they become injured and ill, and suffer severe stresses with physiological if not psychological implications, which are passed on to the consumers at the end of the day.
Reports also show that FFA also suffer extremely painful mutilations without anaesthesia (log on to any of a number of YouTube materials to experience their squeals and cries of pain first hand).
Such treatments are to make them docile and more manageable, especially in filthy conditions. In addition, many farm animals are fed “non-therapeutic” antibiotics to ensure their increase in weight and reduce the number of deaths.
A list of commercial or farm animal cruelties include battery cages (a wire cage the size of a file drawer can be made to contain up to 10 chickens at any one time), beak-blunting (abrasive materials are put in feed troughs to blunt beaks to reduce cannibalism, common among highly stressed chickens living in extremely confined spaces); branding (burning marks into the flesh of animals without anaesthetics); castration (to tame and alter fat ratio, also performed without anaesthesia).
For sheep and cows, as well as surgical removal, methods of castration include crushing the blood and nerve supply using clamps, and tying with rubber bands).
Another cruel practice on FFA are their subjection to practices such as tail docking (the tails of swine and cows are ligatured to stop the blood supply after which the tail atrophies/dies and drops off).
Tail docking is deemed necessary by the farmers because in factory farms, bored animals tend to bite the tails of others, apparently.
The list of inhumane treatments include many more practices which scientists, policy-makers and consumers think should now be reviewed.
It is with the view of reviewing such practices and its implications on zoonotic disease such as the avian flu, H1N1 (swine flu causing the 2009 pandemic), MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome, developments of which are currently being closely monitored) SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by a virus which affected 8098 people in 2003), rabies epidemic in Taiwan recently, etc., that the Department of Religious Studies, Hsuan-Chuang University and the Life Conservation and Association, as well as the Hongshi Cultural and Educational Foundation, organised the 2014 International Conference on “Animal Liberation, Animal Rights, and Equal Ecological Rights: Dialogues between Eastern and Western Philosophies and Religions” recently.
The conference gave a balance of views of all the stakeholders involved – the animal liberators, policy-makers, scientists, civil society representatives as well as those expressing guidance on animal welfare by religion.
In Islam, for example, “animal rights” if it has to be phrased that way, is contained in well documented literature as put together, for example, by Al-Hafiz Basheer Ahmad Masri in his book Animal Welfare in Islam (Islamic Foundation UK 2007). Simplifying the code of ethics with regards to humans’ treatment of animals, derived from the Quran itself and prophetic sayings and practice, humane treatment of animals especially in the categories which we have been discussing include the following:
Animals must be given care and protection; those under threat should be assisted in their conservation; animals should be given love and compassion; they must be given sufficient and appropriate food and drink; cruelty to them must be avoided; they must be reared in a clean environment and their physical features must not be changed.
To illustrate the above, the Prophet once said: “Do not clip the forelock of the horse, for a decency is attached to its forelock; nor its mane, for it protects; nor its tail, for it is its fly flap”.
The Prophet prohibited inciting animals to fight each other; he forbade the skin of animals to be used as floor coverings.
Some Quranic verses regarding the status of animals include: “There is not an animal on earth, nor a two winged flying creature, but they are communities like you…” (Q6:38)
“The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare His glory: there is not a thing but celebrates His praise; and yet ye understand not how they declare His glory! Verily He is Oft-Forbearing, Most Forgiving! (Q17:44)
“Human beings, the wild and domestic animals are also, comprised of various colours. Thus only those among His creatures who humble themselves unto God are truly the people of knowledge.” (Q35:28)
“Verily! In the heavens and the earth, there are portents/signs for the believers. And In your own creation as well as in the creation of all the animals pervading the earth, there are signs for those who believe.
“Behold! Everything we have created is in due measure and proportion.” (Q54:49)
One lesson that can be learnt from the issue of animal cruelty is the attitude of the contempt for life that has been bred into the modern farmer. To them, cows and chickens are just numbers in a herd that number tens of thousands.
Will such callous attitudes towards the animals who are sentient beings eventually be extended to others of our own species? What can the numerous cases of baby dumping tell us in this regard?
Perhaps we should not simply blame the meat-producers. If we as consumers approve of the way our “demands” are met by the suppliers, then we are equally responsible to make the appropriate changes.
We depend on animals/FFA and together with them we dwell in the same ecology and environment. Let us continue to educate ourselves about why we should care about the animals.
Prof Datin Dr Azizan Baharuddin is Ikim’s deputy director-general. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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