(Featured image courtesy TheAnimalDay.org, used under CC BY 2.0)
In 2008, Sheikh Muhammad Sayed Tantawi issued a fatwa, or Islamic legal ruling, on the proper treatment of animals during transport and Halal slaughter, in response to an inquiry by Ahmed el-Sherbiny of Egyptian Society of Animal Friends. The fatwa states unequivocally that cruelty to animals is haram (forbidden) under Islamic law. As the Chief Imam and Shaikh of Al-Azhar University, the world’s foremost center of Islamic learning, Muhammad Sayed Tantawi’s expert opinion is considered authoritative for Sunni Muslims worldwide. It provides a tremendous boon for activists working to improve the treatment of animals in Muslim societies.
We at the Animal People Forum have decided to publish the fatwa, along with the original inquiry from Ahmed el-Sherbiny, as a resource for Muslim practitioners, animal activists, scholars, and the general public. We offer it in three languages: English, its original Arabic, and a Chinese translation by Dr. Zu Shuxian:
Additionally, the fatwa can be automatically translated into any of the 100+ languages supported by Google Translate, using the widget at the top of this web page.
Document One: Letter from Ahmed el-Sherbiny to Shaikh Tantawy
Egyptian Society of Animal Friends
Communication 2798 of year 2006
In the name of God, the Most Compassionate and Most Merciful
His Excellency Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy
Shaikh of Azhar
May God protect Him
God’s Peace, Blessing and Mercy upon You:
It is well-known that Islam has called for kindness to animals, and has made human beings responsible for caring for them in order that animals remain beneficial for humans and do not turn into a source of danger to life and health. This Islamic care for animals stands out as one of the aspects of Islamic civilization that is concerned with animals and humans alike.
In a time when Islam is subjected to these unjust attacks that accuse it of aggressiveness, wanton disregard for human life, and destruction of the environment, highlighting Islam’s concern with kindness to animals is regarded an effective subject area through which to defend against many of these wrongful accusations.
In order to achieve this lofty goal, we submit to Your Excellence two questions that call for correct answers according to Islamic law, so that the West is able to be informed of the civilized face of Islam on the matter of kindness to animals. Because these two questions are related to violent and incorrect Islamic practices in the treatment of animals, from which one could understand that they are part of Islam, Islam could be insulted as a result.
These two questions are:
Some of the people who slaughter animals and prepare the meat for consumers in the slaughterhouses commit cruel and violent acts with the aim of debilitating the animal so that they are able to control the animal. These acts include gouging the eye of the animal, cutting the tail, cutting a tendon of the legs, and piercing its body with a knife so that it bleeds and loses strength, all of which are done to control the animal with the least amount of human effort. What is the view of Islamic law on this?
During long-distance transport between the countries of animals’ rearing and the countries of their slaughter, the animals are exposed to all types of cruelty, such as hunger, thirst, and severe crowding. These types of cruelty lead to the death of some of them or their affliction with deadly diseases that affect the animal’s surroundings and their meat. These results could be transmitted to human health. What is the rule of Islamic law on this? And what are the correct Islamic legal ways of transporting animals, from the perspective of the length of time and the care that must be provided to them?
May God give you success in serving Islam and the Muslims
Attorney at Law
Chairperson of the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends
Document Two: Shaikh Tantawi’s reply to Ahmed el-Sherbiny
In the Name of God, Most Compassionate and Most Merciful
Thanks be to God, and prayers and peace upon the noblest of God’s messengers, Muhammad b. Abdullah, and God’ prayers be upon Him, His family, His companions, upon whomever has followed them to the Day of Judgment, and upon all of the Prophetic Messengers.
Mr. Ahmed el-Sherbiny, lawyer before the Court of Cassation and Chairman of the Egyptian Society for Animal Friends, has presented a letter that includes a request for a legal opinion on two matters. The first matter deals with those people who torture an animal at its slaughter by committing acts that are contradictory with treatment with mercy. The second matter deals with long-distance transport of animals from one country to another by means that do not provide for the animal’s safety or its kind treatment, in the method described in detail in the letter.
Islamic law requires that the animal at the time of its slaughter must be treated with kindness and with procedures that guarantee to it mercy. All of this is covered by the beneficence that the Prophet (God’s peace and blessings upon Him) ordered in his authenticated saying: “God has ordered beneficence in everything, so if you kill, be as kind as possible in the killing, and if you slaughter, be as kind as possible in the slaughtering. One of you should sharpen your knife and one should make the animal to be slaughtered comfortable.” (Related by Muslim). This saying of the Prophet proves that slaughter must be done with kindness and mercy to the animal, and is part of the meaning conveyed by the required beneficence pronounced in the saying.
Kindness and mercy to the animal is also understood from the requirement of sharpness of the knife that will be used in the slaughter, so that the animal is not pained by slaughter with a dull instrument. This is also what He (God’s peace and blessings upon Him) clearly shows in His saying “one should make the animal comfortable.” Fulfilling this order requires doing everything that makes the animal comfortable at the time of slaughter.
Many authenticated sayings of the Prophet show the prohibition on undertaking to sharpen or hone the instrument of slaughter in front of the animal to be slaughtered. The Prophet (God’s peace and blessings upon Him) saw a man sharpening his knife in front of the animal that was going to be slaughtered, and the Prophet forbade that, and said to the man: “Do you want to slaughter the animal twice—once by sharpening the knife in front of the animal, and the second time by cutting its throat?”
Imam Ali (May God be pleased with him) also forbade slaughtering a sheep in front of the other sheep or any other animal, so that the animal’s perceptions are not harmed at the last moment of its life.
All of this proof clearly shows that any action incompatible with kindness to animals or treating them any way other than with mercy at the time of slaughter—such as in the manners mentioned in detail in the question—is a forbidden and sinful act, and is inconsistent with the kindness to animals that Islam requires. This is the answer to the first question.
With regard to the second question, we advise that Islam’s call for kindness to animals and for treating them with mercy applies to all of the situations in which this mercy is necessary. This includes transporting animals. The transport must be done in a way that is comfortable and that ensures the animal’s safety. The means of transport must protect against the causing of pain to the animal, threat to the life of the animal, or affliction of the animal with diseases contagious to humans or others. This rule is inferred from the saying of the Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon Him, that “Humans have the chance to perform a charitable act in their treatment of every living being.” And also in His saying, Peace be upon Him: “A woman went to hell because of a cat that she had confined without leaving it any food, or allowing the cat access to bugs or fruits of the earth to eat.” These two sayings of the Prophet, and others like them, show that the treatment of animals must be based upon the principle of mercy in every situation, including in the transport of them from one place to another.
Causing pain to the animal during transport as described in the letter is considered an action prohibited and forbidden in Islamic law, assuming, of course, that the situation is as described in the question.
God knows best and is most supreme.
Chief Imam and Shaikh of al-Azhar
Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi
signed April 24, 2008