Animals in Egypt

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The beautiful religion of Islam has always viewed animals as a special part of God’s creation. The Qur’an, the Hadith, and the history of Islamic civilization offer many examples of kindness, mercy, and compassion for animals. (Islamic Concern)

Egypt is a predominantly (90-95%) Muslim country.  While the law is actually a combination of Islamic “shariah” and French civil law, in many ways Islamic law takes precedence.  Unfortunately, in the matter of kind treatment of animals, that is almost always not the case.  Despite recent economic advances among the citizenry here, there is still a huge part–I would venture to say at least 50%–of the population that lives at or below the poverty level.  When you’re hungry and struggling desperately to feed your family, kindness to animals if probably at the bottom of your list.  And the sad fact is that many of the poor here depend on service animals for their sustenance!

Donkeys and horses are used on the farms and for pulling wagons, delivering good from the farms to the cities.  They are often overburdened with heavy loads, and subject to injury and disease.  Dogs are also used to guard the land.  Since they are last on the family’s food chain, they get the least to eat and almost no health care–when it would better behoove the owner to take great care of his animals because his income depends on it.  It is a miserable Catch 22!

With life so difficult for the poor here, it often breeds unkindness.  Without a doubt there is a serious pecking order here–not just in the society at large but even within individual families.  Animals are often mistreated just because they are last in the order.  This is not to excuse the behavior, but to explain it.  Anyone who hasn’t suffered abject poverty will find this hard to comprehend, but hunger and being social pariahs do strange things to people.  It isnt uncommon here to see children–and even adults–blatantly and without shame, abusing animals.  And until now, evenwith animal protection laws on the books, they are certainly not enforced.  On a recent trip to a school, an animal activist here was shocked to discover most children have no idea that animals actually feel pain!  One can imagine the amount of work there is to be done here–especially education–on behalf of God’s creatures.

The Egyptian government itself is, unfortunately, complicit.  It is common knowledge here–the policy of “one dog, one bullet”.  Government workers shoot strays from a distance, and if the bullet doesn’t hit the brain or other vital organ, the animal is left to suffer a slow and horrendously painful death.  In addition, poisons and poisoned meat are put out for the strays to feed from–again death from strychnine (the official government animal poison of choice) is horrific.

The only bright spot in this whole sad scenario, that we who love animals must deal with on a daily basis, is that there has been a huge upsurge in animal activism.  The work being done here is finally beginning to make headlines.  A good example is the work of ACE, Animal Compassion in Egypt, in Luxor.  Click on the link for their blog in my sidebar to see how they are making a huge difference.

So please understand there is a gap between the teachings of Islam and how people here actually treat animals.  Would that soon, Islamic teachings on this manner would prevail.

Animal compassion is mandatory in Islam. Caring for animals is rewarded, and abusing them is punished by God. The following are some excerpts from Islamic teachings that address this subject:

Ibn Mas`ud said: “Once we were traveling with the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and he went to do something, meanwhile (we found a bird with its young ones) so we took them. The bird came and started flapping its wings continuously. Then the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, asked: ‘Who has distressed this bird by taking its young? Return them to her at once.’

Sahl ibn Al-Hanzaliyya reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, saw a camel which was carrying a huge load to the extent that one could neither see its back nor its belly, so he said: “Fear Allah when you deal with these beasts of burden. They must be healthy for riding and eating.” [hadith reported by Abu Dawud, Ahmad, and Ibn Hibban]

Shedding light on the question in point, the eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi states:

“Islam preceded Animal Care Societies by thirteen hundred years and made kindness to animals a part of the faith and cruelty to them a sufficient reason for a person to be thrown into Hell-fire.

The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, related to his Companions the story of a man who found a dog panting out of thirst. The man went down into a well, filled his shoes with water and offered it to the dog to quench its thirsty. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Then Allah was grateful to him and forgave him his sins.” The Companions asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Is there a reward for us with relation to animals?” He replied “There is a reward with (relation to) every living creature.”

Besides this wonderful image of Allah’s pleasure and forgiveness, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, drew another one depicting Allah’s anger and punishment. He said: “A woman was deemed to enter the Fire because of a cat. She imprisoned her and neither fed her nor set her free to eat the rodents of the earth.”

Kindness to animals reached such an extent that when the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, saw a donkey with a branded face, he denounced such a practice saying: “I would not brand an animal except on the part of its body farthest from the face.”

In another incident, he passed by a donkey with a branded face and said: “Have you not heard that I have cursed anyone who brands an animal on its face or who hits it on its face?”

Ibn `Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, saw some people practicing archery using a hen as a target, he said, “The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, cursed anyone who took a living thing as a target.”

Ibn `Abbas said: “The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, forbade that animals be made to fight each other, thus denouncing people’s habit of goading animals into fighting each other until one of them was pecked or gored to death, or close to it.”

Ibn `Abbas also reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, strongly condemned the castration of animals.

The Qur’an condemned the Arabs of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic period) for their slitting the ears of cattle, calling this a practice inspired by Satan. (IslamOnline)

Many Muslims consider the keeping of dogs in particular to be forbidden (haram). This is a huge subject, with many factors involved. Rather than address all those issues here, I point you in the direction of these resources by Islamic scholars, which based on very sound Islamic research, do not subscribe to that theory, nor do I:

An Islamic Scholar’s Kindly View of Dogs (scroll down the page to this title)

Chapter 80 of The Search for Beauty in Islam The Lord of the Essence: A Fatwa on Dogs

Kindness To Animals: An Islamic Virtue

Re: Of Dogs and the Muslim faith

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