During the pre-Islamic period, certain pagan superstitions and polytheistic practices involving acts of cruelty to animals used to be in vogue in Arabia. All such practices were condemned and stopped by Islam. The following few verses of the Quran and a few Ahadith deal with this theme:
It was not Allah Who instituted [the heretical practices such as] a
Or a she-camel let loose for free pasture
Or camels let loose.
(ch. 5 v. 106.)
This verse was cited in condemnation of the pagan super¬stition that the she-camels, ewes, and nanny goats who had brought forth five young ones, the last of which was a male, should have their ears slit. In the next verse, such practices were declared as Satanic aids in sharp words:
Allah cursed him [Satan], but he [Satan] said:
"I will get hold of some of your men,
And I will lead them [human beings] astray
And I will excite in them vain desires;
And I will incite them to cut off the ears of cattle;
And most certainly I will bid them to alter the Nature
Created by Allah."
(ch. 4vv. 118, 119.)
When the Prophet came to Medina, after his flight from Mecca in 622 C.E., the people there used to cut off camels' humps and the fat tails of sheep. The Prophet ordered this odious practice stopped and declared: "Whatever is cut off an animal, while it is alive, is carrion and must not be eaten."14 These verses refer to cutting living animals for food or as an
offering to idols or gods. But the Islamic prohibition against cutting live animals, especially when pain results, can be ex¬tended to vivisection in science. However, vivisection should
not be confused with the dissection of a living animal, amputation of parts of its body, and other surgical operations that become imperative as medical treatment, even if they disfigure the animal. We are able to support this interpretation of Islamic teaching by referring to a number of representative traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. In them we find expressed the principle that any interference with the body of an animal that causes pain or disfigurement is contrary to Islamic precepts.
Jabir reported the Prophet as saying, when an ass which had been branded on its face passed him by; "God curse the one who branded it."
Jabir told that God's Messenger forbade striking the face and branding on the face [of animals].15
The Prophet forbade setting animals against one another.16
Abi Huraira narrates that the Holy Prophet said: "Do not store milk in [the dug or udders of] animals."17 (Storing milk in the dug of animals was perhaps done to beguile a prospective buyer.)
One might also appeal to Islamic law to oppose using animals in military research in general and in the so-called wound labs in particular. The following Hadith would seem to support this position: "Abus Abbas reported the Prophet as saying:- 'Do not set up any living creature as a target.'"18 Though Isla¬mic thought, as interpreted here, prohibits any and all painful or disfiguring use of animals in science, it does not prohibit all animal use in science. If anesthetic is used and the body of the animal is not disfigured, the scientist's use of the animal cannot be faulted on these grounds. However, to kill animals to satisfy the human thirst for inessentials - cosmetics or yet another "new" household cleaner or brake fluid, for example - is a contradiction in terms within the Islamic tradition. Think of the millions of animals killed in the name of commercial gain in order to supply a complacent public with trinkets and products they do not need. And why? Because we are too lazy or too self-indulgent to find substitutes. Or to do without. It will take more than religious, moral, or ethical sermons to quell the avidity and greed of some multinational corporations and their willing customers.
Some research on animals may still be justified, given the traditions of Islam. Basic and applied research in the biological and social sciences, for example, is allowed if laboratory animals are not caused pain or disfigured and if human beings or other animals benefit as a result of the research.
The basic and most important point to understand about using animals in science is that the same moral, ethical, and legal codes should apply to the treatment of animals as are applied to humans. According to Islam, all life is sacrosanct and has the right of protection and preservation. The Prophet Muhammad laid so much emphasis on this point that he declared: "There is no man who kills [even] a sparrow or anything beyond that, without its deserving it, but God will ask him about it." (Narrated by Ibni 'Umar-Ahmad, Nasai and Darimi.)19
Like all other laws of Islam, the Islamic laws on the treatment of animals have been left open to exceptions and are based on the criterion that "Actions shall be judged according to intention."20 Any kind of medical treatment of animals or experiments on them become ethical and legal or unethical and illegal according to the intention of the people who perform
them. If the life of an animal can be saved only by the amputation of a part of its body, it will be a meritorious act in the eyes of God to do so. Any code of law, including religious law, which is so rigid as not to leave any scope for exceptional circumstances, results in suffering and breeds hypocrisy.
According to all the religions of the world, all life, including animal life, is a trust from God. That is why, in the case of human life, suicide is considered the ultimate sin. Animals, however, do not possess the freedom of choice to willfully terminate their own lives. They have to go on living their natural lives. When a human being subjects an animal to unnecessary pain and suffering and thus cuts short its natural life, he actually commits a suicidal act on behalf of that animal, and a spiritual part of his own life dies with the animal.
Most of our problems and arguments about the use of animals in science as well as about their general treatment would be far easier to solve if only we could acknowledge the realism of nature and learn to treat all life on earth homogeneously, without prejudice and double standards.
Consider, for example, a high security prison where thieves, murderers, rapists, and other such criminals are imprisoned and compare it with a so-called research laboratory where innocent and helpless animals are cooped up in cages. By what stretch of imagination can we justify the difference in the living standards of these two places? What moral or ethical justification is there for the difference in their treatment? In the case of human prisoners you are not allowed even to prick a pin in their flesh, while the animal captives are allowed to be lacerated and hacked by surgical instruments in the name of science and research, most of which is for commercial purposes.
These and many other such disparities are being allowed by the so-called humane societies only because of the double standards of our moral, ethical, and religious values. The real and ideal approach to this problem would involve setting forth for ourselves the criterion that any kind of medical or scientific research that is unlawful to perform on humans is unlawful to perform on animals.
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