Compassion and Kindness to Animals and Islam

(Cont'd from Mar, 2008 issue)

Amazing and Unparalleled Example of Kind Treatment
A very charming example of kind treatment to animals is that presented by a high-ranking companion Abu Darda'. At the time of his death he said to his camel, "O my camel! Do not quarrel with me before Our Lord and Cherisher, for I never took work from thee beyond thy capacity." Also there was another companion Adi bin-e-Hatim who crushed the bread into fine powder for the ants and said, "These are our neighbours, therefore they have a claim on our hospitality." Imam Kabeer Abu Ishaq Shirazi was one day going along with his friends, when a dog confronted him. Its master tried to drive it away from his path, when the Imam prevented him from doing that saying "Do you not know that the roads are common between us (humans) and the dogs."

Treatment of Animals in the Past Ages
We cannot fully appreciate the value of this most outstanding aspect of the Islamic civilization and its mode of action in the matter of kind treatment of animals, unless we know how these poor creatures, were treated in olden times and during the middle ages, and what was the behaviour of other nations concerning torment of animals and causing pain to them.
In this connection what is worthy of consideration, first of all, is the fact that in the (moral or religious) teachings of other nations there are no such instructions in which kindness to animals might have been stressed or mercy to them must have been made binding on them. That is why there is no trace of any obligations relating to the feeding and care of animals by their owners.
After that we come across that amazing situation which existed during the middle ages and continued even upto the nineteenth century, in which an animal was made liable to punishment for its own crime or that of its owner. It was treated in a manner they would have treated a rational being like man. Judgments were passed against animals just as they would have been passed against men. It was imprisoned, exiled, so much so that the sentence of capital punishment was pronounced against these dumb creatures just as a criminal person would be sentenced.

Some Articles of the Jewish Law
The following articles are met within the Jewish Law: "If a bullock gores a man or a woman with its horns and he or she dies as a consequence of it, the bullock must, in that case, be stoned to death." If, however, the animal was not habitually aggressive and accidentally gored somebody and caused his or her death, the owner of the animal in such a case would not be called to account or compensate for the damage done by his beast. But in case it was known to be a habitual offender and the owner had also been warned that his animal was a potential danger, but he did not even then care to keep it in check in proper manner, and it became the cause of somebody's death, the offending beast would be stoned to death and the owner would also be put to death. There was another situation too where the beast was punished. For example if a person was found guilty of bestiality, the person guilty of such an unnatural heinous crime and the animal, the object of this crime, both would be put to death.

In Ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks had an exclusive department to try and punish animals found guilty of the death of man or a woman, so much so that even lifeless objects were tried that became the cause of the death of a person. This department was called "Berteoneon". This was the place where these "criminals" were tried and sessions held for such trials. Plato has also written in his book, ‘LAWS', that if a beast killed a person, the members of the family of the person thus killed had the right to sue the animal in the court, and the guardians of the person killed were also entitled to select the judge from amongst the landlords. In case of the guilt being proved, killing of that animal be­came obligatory, and the carcass was thrown outside the country. But in case of those animals that were reared for combats with men, on the occasion of festivals and sports, if a person was killed in combat against the animal, the latter was not considered guilty of murder. If an inanimate object fell on a person causing his death, the closest from among the neighbouring relatives of the deceased was appointed the judge, who would give the decision of throwing that object beyond the bounds of the country. The animals were convicted not only in case of causing loss of life but for all other crimes less serious than murder too they were convicted. For example in case of a dog biting a person, the owner of the dog was bound to bring that dog securely held with ropes and present it to the bitten person, who had a right to take revenge on it as he was pleased, killing it, inflicting corporal punishment on it or any other treatment that he deemed fit.
Similarly, animals belonging to a person also came for punishment in case of any member of the family of the owner being found guilty of any crime. For example the person who was guilty of a serious crime against religion or the state, not only he was put to death but his animals, properties and slaves were also killed, burnt or banished.

The Ancient Roman Law
One of the articles of the ancient Roman Law was that if a farmer's bullock, during the period of cultivation crossed the field of its owner and beyond the fence went to the field of the neighbour, the bullock and its owner both were put to death. The least punishment for a dog biting a person was that it was handed over to the person bitten so that he might do with it what he liked. Similarly, if an animal browsed on the bramble of another person, not owned by its master, it too was handed over to the master of the pasture land.
These Greek and Roman Laws relating to animals were also in vogue in ancient Germany.

In Ancient Persia
And in Persia of Yore, the Laws relating to animals were still more amazing. If a rabid dog bit a kid causing its death or in case of biting a man wounded him, the right ear of that rabid dog would be cat off. If it had the audacity to repeat the offence, the left ear was chopped off. Repetition of it for the third time would make it liable to lose its right leg and a fourth offence deprived it of the left leg also. (And if it survived these operations, Tr.) and repeated the offence for the fifth time, its tail was removed wholly.

The Fancies of the European Nations
During the middle ages France was the first country among the European nations that deemed the animals also responsible for their doings, in the thirteenth century, and tried them in organized courts, just as human beings were tried. And the charges against them were brought under the same law that was framed for men. After that about the close of the fourteenth century Sardinia too promulgated the same laws. During the last part of the fifteenth century Belgium enforced this law. About the middle of the sixteenth century Holland, Germany, Italy and Sweden too followed suit. In some parts of Sicily this law persisted up to the nineteenth century.
A case was taken up against an animal either at the request of the person affected or the government brought up cases against the offenders. Then advocates upholding the convicted animal, appeared at the court and tried to defend it. At times the court committed the animal to the police lock-up as a matter of precaution. After that the judgement was pronounced as in case of human criminals, and was executed in the presence of the public as it was the custom in case of men. At times the animal was stoned to death, beheaded or burnt. Or even its limbs and various organs were amputated before killing it. The reader should not misapprehend that these cases were brought against the animals for fun's sake or as mere consolation to the injured party. Rather, they were taken up in all earnestness. The diction of the decisions and the legal orders indicate that they were very serious about it. For example this sentence of the decision "The animal is sentenced to death so that the demands of justice may be met," or "It is being crucified since it has been guilty of the most barbaric and heinous crimes."

Some Particulars
The most amazing traditions are those in which it has been said that these people instituted cases against animals for this reason also that these animals, according to their mode of thinking, had meddled with the law of Nature or the physical laws. They charged the animals with sorcery. Sorcery was such a crime, in their code of justice, whose perpetrator deserved nothing short of the punishment of being burnt. On the occasions of the enforcement of the punishments on animals they held ceremonial gatherings. The executioners came with chips of wood which were placed in the centre of the open ground. The cats convicted and sentenced were brought in iron cages. When it came to the execution, some monks visited the scene and with them came some officials of the state. One of them held two burning brands to light the wood of the pyre. When it was lighted the officials ordered that the cats should be thrown into the flames so that they might be burnt to ashes, since they were guilty of a heinous crime like sorcery.

The Accounts of Some Cases
At this stage it appears in the fitness of things to place before the reader the accounts of some of those cases brought up against the animals during the middle ages. A famous case among these is that brought against the rats in the city of Octave in France. This is an incident of the fifteenth century. The charge levelled against the rats was that they gather in large numbers in horrible form in the streets of the town which disturbs the peace of the people. For their defence the famous advocate of France of that period, Shasania took the field. He asked the Court for time since the rats could not present themselves at the court when summoned, some of the very young and old rats being sick at the time. They could attend the court only after some time. So the court allowed them respite. But when it came to attending the court next, the rats still could not present themselves. But their advocate put up the excuse in their defence that they were mighty afraid of the cats in case of coming to the court. At this the Chief Justice said that in that case it was the responsibility of the court to provide their safe arrival at the court. And the advocate requested that the court should issue orders for the confinement of all cats when the rats came to attend the court, so that they might not be in danger of losing their lives. The court granted the prayer and orders were accordingly issued that the cats and dogs should not come to the public roads to ensure safety of the rats. But the citizens did not comply with the orders to this effect. At this the court was constrained to acquit the rats, since justice demanded that every one (convicted) should have the facilities of explaining his position, and since the rats were deprived of such facilities1 they were declared free of the charges brought against them. The advocate earned great renown through this novel defence in this case. We cannot, however, say whether he was able to realize his fee for his pains from the clients, the rats. It is just possible they might have stopped gnawing at his books on law.
Still more amazing is the case of the egg-laying cock. This too is an event of the middle ages. This case was presented in the city of Bal in Switzerland in 1474 A.D. The charge against the cock was that it had laid an egg. And this was a crime for the reason that, according to them, the sorcerers were looking for the egg laid by a cock, which they used in their sorcery for evil purposes. The cock was brought to the court. The advocate for defence pleaded that the cock was helpless in this matter. It had no means at its disposal to escape from this crime. But this explanation of the cock's position failed to move the court, and the cock was sentenced to death. They laid down in their decision that this should be an eye-opener to other cocks.
Among the amazing cases brought against the animals one was that in France in 1494. In the province, San Julian, the owners of vineyards filed a case against the insects that they have done untold damage to the grapes and vines, causing them great monetary loss. In this case two expert lawyers took up the defence. The case lingered on for forty years. Since the complainants were sick due to delay in decision of their case, they were in agreement with the decision that a piece of vineyard be left exclusively for the ravages of the insects where they might do what they liked and eat as much of the fruit and vines as they could.

The Last Word
I have presented before you the subtle comparisons between the points of view of the Islamic civilization and those of others relating to the animals. It has clearly brought out the fact that the Muslim Ummah stands out among the ancient peoples and the modern nations in two things which are conspicuous by their absence elsewhere.
Firstly, the Muslims established collective institutions made arrangements for the infirmity, old age and sickness of the animals.
Secondly, about fourteen hundred years earlier Islam put a stop to the animals being called to account for their doings, credit for which the modern civilization is seeking today for itself. That is why the history of our civilization and culture is totally free from the nonsensical cases brought up against dumb animals. Moreover, the Islamic civilization strictly put an end to the cruel practice of animal combats...cock, ram and bullfights.....whereas the Greeks and the Romans regarded it lawful anti a source of great pleasure. And in Hispanolia (Spain) it is lawful and a favourite sport and recreation even today and great ceremonials accompany their traditional bull fights. Undoubtedly it is a vestige of the barbaric pursuit of the Europeans of the Middle Ages, from which our civilization has ever been free.