International Association Against Painful Experiments on Animals

The Muslim View on Animal Testing


Islam's concern for animals goes beyond the prevention of cruelty to them which, logically, is a negative proposition. On the positive side, Islam enjoins us to take responsibility for the welfare of all creatures. In the spirit of the positive philos¬ophy of life, we are to be their active protectors. Even in the case of cruelty, prevention of physical cruelty to animals is not enough; mental cruelty is equally condemned. In the follow¬ing Hadith, a bird's emotional distress, for example, is called an injury:

We were on a journey with the apostle of God, who left us for a short space. We saw a hummara [a bird] with its two young, and took the young birds. The hummara hovered with fluttering wings, and the prophet re¬turned, saying, "Who has injured this bird by taking its young? Return them to her."6

Islam, like most other religions, has laid down a code of law governing the use of animals for the necessities of our life. The second source of guidance, mentioned earlier, comprises specific instructions regarding the treatment of domestic ani¬mals, beasts of burden, pets, and other such animals who have become a part of human society.

The spirit and letter of these laws strongly deprecate all direct or indirect acts of cruelty to animals, such as:

(i) Subjecting animals to pain, both physical and, as we have just seen, mental, or killing them for sport, such as in blood sports and fishing, except for food.
(ii) Killing them for luxuries (for their fur or tusks, for ex¬ample) or for other inessential by-products, such as cosmetics.
(iii) Depriving free-born animals and birds of their natu¬ral life by enclosing them in zoos, cages, and aquar¬iums, except when this is necessary for their safety and preservation.
(iv) Breeding animals and birds in confined and unhy¬gienic conditions, an increasingly common practice in modern farming.
(v) Using snares, leghold traps, and other contraptions that maim and cause lingering death.
(vi) Finally, using animals in painful, disfiguring, or ter¬minal research or studies in science.

We will discuss this last category more fully below. First, how¬ever, a few words about the Islamic traditions and teachings on animal slaughter and cruelty.


The Islamic traditional method of slaughter, like that of Judaism, dispenses with preslaughter stunning. Western animal welfare workers are at a loss to understand why, in spite of all the Islamic concern we have seen in the foregoing pages for animal well-being, the Muslims are adamant in rejecting the use of preslaughter stunners. Even the apparently convincing sayings of Prophet Muhammad, as quoted below, are not help¬ful in resolving the issue:

Shaddad bin Aus reported God's Messenger as saying: "God Who is Blessed and Exalted has declared that everything should be done in a good way; so when you kill, use a good method, and when you cut an animal's throat, you should use a good method; for each of you should sharpen his knife and give the animal as little pain as possible."7

Even a cursory discussion of this subject is beyond the scope of this paper, especially if the perennial controversy be¬tween the vegetarian and the nonvegetarian disciplines is included. In the absence of any central religious authority within the Islamic community of nations, such as the caliph¬ate, each country's accredited jurists (muftis) decide whether or not a particular thought or action conforms to the eccle¬siastical tenets of the Islamic law (Shariah). The jurisprudential procedure involved in this approach has been explained earlier. The recent scientific and technological demands for modulation in our respective conventions are putting pressure on all religions. Less than half a century ago, no one had even heard of the stunners and no mufti had ever thought of slaugh¬tering animals by stunning them prior to the use of a sharp knife. Today, mainly because of intercontinental emigration and the interlacing of cultures, such problems have become conspicuous and must be addressed.

The only way to solve the controversial problem of the use of stunners is to go to each of the major Islamic countries and demonstrate to the accredited muftis that the use of stun¬ners meets the laws of the Islamic Shariah. If and only if they are convinced, they will give their written approval of the use of stunners. Such a jointly issued decree or fatwah will go a long way in convincing the Muslim population once and for all. The occasionally published opinions of individual Muslim theologians or the Ulama'a are not enough to resolve the
issue one way or the other. Such opinions become more misleading when they are expressed by people who pose as Muslims when they are not. Many such opinions circulating in the West have been issued by members of a splinter group called Ahmadics but generally known as Mirzaics. They are a separate cult and have unanimously been declared non-Muslim by the Muslim world.

Animal sacrifice is another issue that is not easy for Westerners to understand or condone. This subject, too, although very relevant to the theme of this book, is beyond the scope of this paper. However, it seems appropriate to explain briefly why and with what provisos this pre-Islamic practice was incorporated in Islam.

From the beginning of the recorded history of religion, man has been offering animal sacrifices at the altars of Deilics. During the early stages of man's spiritual development, it was not uncommon to make human sacrifices. According to the Quranic records, it was through the Prophet Abraham that humans were replaced by animals when Abraham was commanded by God to replace a ram for his son as a sacrifice. The Prophet Moses continued with the sacrifice of animals.

Islam also carried on with this practice, but with a difference. It channeled the whole concept of animal sacrifice into an institution of charity. Instead of burning the meat of the sacrificed animal at the altar or letting it rot, Islam ordered it to be distributed either wholly or partly among the poor. Since then Muslims from all over the world sacrifice animals and distribute the meat among the poor in their neighborhoods. Especially during the Festival of Sacrifice (Idd al-Adha), which the Muslims celebrate annually in commemoration of Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, every Muslim who can afford it is required to offer this animal sacrifice and distribute the meat among the poor, keeping a portion for his own consumption.

Every Muslim is aware of the fact that the sacrifice would lose its intrinsic merit if the meat were allowed to go to waste and did not reach the poor. In chapter 22, verses 28 and 36, the Quran states this proviso very clearly.

It is very unfortunate that much of the meat of animals sacrificed during the festival of Mecca goes to waste. The pil¬grims who offer this sacrifice know that this waste nullifies its merit and reduces their offering to a mere ritual, but they seek consolation in the belief that the moral responsibility lies with the government authorities. Many Muslim theologians have drawn the attention of the Meccan authorities to this breach of the spirit of Islamic law. It is to be hoped that some day something will be done about it.8

Another relevant point to understand in this respect is that the age-old concepts of atonement for sins or peace-offerings to God by way of animal sacrifices were discredited by Islam. According to verse 37, chapter 22:

It is not their meat, nor their blood,
That reaches Allah;
It is your piety that reaches Him.



Many practices in the West, because they involve cruelty to animals, are not only against the spirit of Islam but also against the teachings of all religions. Factory farming is an example. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this develop¬ment is that the so-called underdeveloped and developing countries of the world have begun to emulate their Western models. Better and quicker profits, plus the feeling that "civi¬lized" Western society has given its tacit approval to the inten¬sive rearing of farm animals, are eroding the gentler and more humane methods once the rule in these countries. The same is true in the case of other cruel practices now current in the West. Cruelty to animals seems to export well.

Islam has a number of things to say about the general treatment of animals. Iman Ali has laid down the following maxim in simple words: "Be kind to pack animals; do not hurt them; and do not load them more than their ability to bear."9

The late Maulana Maududi was an internationally honored Muslim theologian of this century and the founder of a movement called Jama'at-i-Islami. His views are very pertinent to our subject:

God has honored man with authority over His countless creatures…. This superior position … does not mean that God has given him unbridled liberty.
Islam says that all the creation has certain rights upon man. They are: he should not waste them on pointless ventures nor should he unnecessarily hurt or harm them.
We have been forbidden to kill them merely for fun or sport.
Killing an animal by causing continuous pain and injury is considered abominable in Islam.
... It does not allow their killing (even of dangerous and venomous animals) by resort to prolonged painful methods.
To catch birds and imprison them in cages without any special purpose is considered abominable.10

Maulana Maududi's advice about beasts of burden is the same as that of Imam Ali, quoted above.

In spite of modern mechanization, animals are still very much in use in farming and transport, especially in the rural areas of the East. Their use, and sometimes their misuse, often entails great labor and hardship for them.

Islam's directives in this respect are very specific, as the few Ahadith we will cite show: "The Prophet once passed by a camel whose belly clave to its back. ‘Fear God,' said he, 'in these dumb animals, and ride when they are fit to be ridden, and let them go free when it is meet they should rest.'"11

The following Hadith lays down the principle that animals should be used only for the purpose for which they are meant and only for the necessities of life: "Abu Huraira reports that the prophet said: 'Do not use the backs of your beasts as pulpits, for God has made them subject to you in order that they may bring you to a town you could not otherwise reach without fatigue of body.'"12

Daily prayer is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. The following Hadith shows that even this very important obligation used to be deferred by the Prophet and his compan¬ions in favor of the comfort of animals: "Anas says: 'When we stopped at a halt, we did not say our prayers until we had un¬burdened the camels.'"13


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