Islam and Experiments on Animals *

Islam and Experiments on Animals *

by al-Hafiz B.Z. Masri, Retired Imam of Shah Jehan Mosque, Woking, England.


Many of the experiments that are being done on animals in the name of scientific research and education are not really necessary and are sheer cruelty. Such experiments are a contradiction in terms of the Islamic teachings. For teaching purposes, for instance, animals are being cut to pieces, organ by organ, just for the students to look at their anatomical structures. This kind of knowledge could easily be imparted by using charts, pictures, photographs, dummies or the corpses of animals that have died their natural death. In other spheres animals are poisoned, starved, blinded, subjected to electric shocks or similarly abused in the alleged interests of science. Scientists generally scoff at the religionists as sticklers for convention. Are the scientists themselves doing any better by sticking to their primordial practices even when there are so many alternatives available now? It is very sad to see that even in the Islamic countries, where the Western curricula have to be followed in science subjects, similar unnecessary and inhumane experiments are being performed on live animals. Those Muslim students are perhaps in ignorance of the fact that such experiments are in violation of the Islamic teachings. Even if they were aware of it, it is doubtful whether they would have any say in the matter.

The most important of all considerations is to decide whether the experiment is really necessary and that there is no alternative for it. The basic 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 being applied to humans. According to Islam, all life is sacrosanct and has a right of protection and preservation. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) laid so much emphasis on this point that he declared:

“There is no man who kills (even) a sparrow or anything smaller, without its deserving it, but God will question him about it.” Narrated by Ibn’Umar and by Abdallah bin ‘Amar bin al-Nas. NASAl 7:206.

And, “He who takes pity (even) on a sparrow and spares its life, Allah will be Merciful to him on the Day of Judgment.” Narrated by Abu Umama, AL- TABARANI.

When asked what would be a justifiable reason for killing an animal the Prophet replied: “To slaughter it for food, not to kill and discard it.” AHMAD and AL-NASAl.

Certain kinds of cruelties, which are being inflicted on animals these days, did not exist at the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and, therefore, they were not specifically cited in the law (SHARI’AH). Commercially motivated scientific experiments are one of such cases. We have to seek guidance on such issues by analogy and inference (IJTEHAD) which is the third source of law and takes the form of Juristic Rules (QWA’IDATUL-FIQIYYAH.) One of the main excuses for all kinds of artful cruelties to animals is selfish interest or human needs (Al-MASALEH).

Let us see how do the Islamic Juristic rules define ‘needs’ and ‘interests’ and judge these cases according to those definitions. The basic Juristic Rule that would apply to pecuniary experiments is: “One’s interest or need does not annul another’s right.” The question arises whether or not there are certain needs that deserve to be regarded as realistic and if the
use of animals to fulfill such needs should be legitimate and justifiable. The Juristic Rules are well defined for such cases. To begin with, needs are classified as follows:

1) The necessities AL-MASALEH ZURURIYYAH):  i.e. the essential needs or interests without which life could not be sustained.

2) The requisites (AL-MASALEH HAGIYYAH): needs or interests that are required for comfort and easement from pain or any kind of distress, or for improving the quality of life.

3) The luxuries (AL-MASALEH TAHSINIYYAH): needs or interests that are desirable for exuberance, enjoyment, or even for self-indulgence. It should be kept in mind that each of the above categories differs in degree, according to circumstances. These Juristic Rules can be applied to various situations of life; but, for the present, they concern us only in relation to the use of animals in science or otherwise.

Under category 1) come the experiments which are absolutely essential for the commonweal of both the humans and the animals and are done genuinely for medical research. The basic principles under which such experiments could be made permissible are the following Juristic Rules:

i) “That without which a necessity cannot be fulfilled is itself a necessity.” This rule only states an exception, and underlines the importance of making sure that the experiment is really a necessity (WAJIB). However, after leaving the door open for the unavoidable necessary causes, all sorts of restrictive and prohibitive conditions have been imposed by the following Juristic Rules:

ii) “What allures to the forbidden is itself forbidden.” This rule implies that material gains, including food, obtained by wrongful acts, such as unnecessary experiments on animals, become unlawful (HARAM). The following verse of the Qur’an Majeed supports this stand when it condemns those who fulfill their needs by illicit means: “Why do not their learned men and doctors of law prohibit them from saying sinful things and from eating of food gained by dishonest means? Certainly it is evil what they do.” 5:63.

iii)”If two evils conflict, choose the lesser evil to prevent the bigger evil.” According to this rule, even genuine experiments on animals are allowed as an exception and as a lesser evil and not as a right.

iv) “Prevention of damage takes preference over the achievement of interests or the fulfillment of needs.” This rule lays down the principle that the advantages and the disadvantages of an experiment should be weighed from all angles.

v) “No damage can be put right by a similar or a greater damage.” When we damage our health and other interests by our own follies, we have no right to make the animals pay for it by inflicting similar or greater damage on them, such as by doing unnecessary experiments to find remedies for our self-imposed ailments.

vi) “Resort to alternatives, when the original becomes undesirable.” This rule has a great bearing on the current controversy about the use of alternatives for animals in experiments, such as tissue-culture and other substitutes. Muslim experimenters should take this Juristic Rule seriously. It places a great moral responsibility on them, as well as on the Muslim students, to find alternatives.

vii) “That which was made permissible for a reason, becomes impermissible by the absence of that reason.”

viii) “All false excuses leading to damage should be repudiated.”

The above two rules leave no excuse for the Muslims to remain complacent about the current killings of animals in their millions for their furs, tusks, oils and various other commodities. The excuse that such things are essential for human needs is no longer valid. Modern technology has produced all these things in synthetic materials and they are easily available all over the world, in some cases at a cheaper price. In the olden days, for example, furs and skins were a necessity. Even the Qur’an Majeed mentions the animals as a source of warm clothing (Q 16:5). However, this refers only to the skins and furs of domesticated cattle which either die their natural death or are slaughtered for food. There are millions of wild animals which are being killed these days commercially just for their furs and skins, while their carcasses are left to rot. Fourteen centuries ago Islam realized the absurdity of this wasteful and cruel practice and passed laws to stop it in the following AL-HADITH:

“The Holy Prophet prohibited the use of skins of wild animals.” Narrated by Abu Malik on the authority of his father. ABU DAWUD and TIRMIDHI.

“The Holy Prophet forbade the skins of wild animals being used as floor-coverings.” ibid.

“The Holy Prophet said: ‘Do not ride on saddles made of silk or leopard skins.” Narrated by Mu’awiah. ABU DAWUD; Also RIYAD AS-SALIHIN of Imam Nawawi; English translation: Curzon Press, London, 1975, Hadith 814, p. 160.

It is important to note that the first HADITH covers all wild beasts. The reason why leopard skins have been mentioned specifically could, perhaps, be that the Holy Prophet might have seen someone using a saddle of leopard skin. Similarly, the specific mention of floor- coverings and saddles does not mean that they could be used for other purposes.
According to the spirit and the overall teachings of Islam, causing avoidable pain and suffering to the defenseless and innocent creatures of Cod is not justifiable under any circumstances. No advantages and no urgency of human needs would justify the kind of calculated violence which is being done these days against animals, especially through
international trade of livestock and meat. One of the sayings of the Holy Prophet tells us: “If you must kill, kill without torture.” While pronouncing this dictum, he did not name any animal as an exception - not even any noxious or venomous creature, such as scorpions and snakes. You are allowed to kill them only if they become a threat to your life or limb; and that, too, without torture.

Luckily, on this theme, we have quite a few of the Holy Prophet’s sayings. During the pre-Islamic period, certain pagan superstitions and polytheistic practices involving acts of torture and general cruelties to animals used to be common in Arabia. All such practices were condemned and stopped by Islam. The following will serve as an example:
“Jabir told that God’s Messenger forbade striking the face or branding on the face of animals.” “The same companion reported him as saying when an ass which had been branded on its face passed him, ‘God curse the one who branded it.” Narrated by Jabir bin Abdullah, MUSLIM, vol. 3, No. 2116. Also AWN ALMA’BUD SHARH ABU DAWUD, 7:232, No. 2547.  This hadith is concerned with causing pain to the animal on its sensitive parts of the body, as well as with the disfigurement of its appearance.

When the Holy Prophet (pbuh) migrated to Medina from Mecca in 622 C.E., people there used to cut off camels’ humps and the fat tails of sheep. The Prophet ordered this barbaric practice to be stopped. The temptation for the people to perform this sort of vivisection on animals was that the juicy humps and the fatty tails could be eaten while the animal remained alive for future use. To remove this avidity, he declared: “Whatever is cut off an animal, while it is still alive, is carrion and is unlawful to eat.” Narrated by Abu Waqid al-Laithi, TIRMIDHI No. 1480, Chapter on ‘Al-At’imah’. To make sure that no injury was inflicted on the animal while there was even a flicker of life in it, it was forbidden by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to molest the carcass in any way, such as: by breaking its neck, skinning, or slicing off any of its parts, until the body is dead cold. “Do not deal hastily with a being before it is stone dead.” KITABAL-MAQANNA, 3:542. Also ALMARLI, 7:457; IBN HAZM (both in Arabic). Hazrat ‘Omar ibn al-Khattab (the second Caliph, 634-644 CE.) used to instruct repeatedly: “Give time to the slaughtered ‘being’ till it is dead cold.” AL-MAHLI, 7:457; IBN HAZM (in Arabic). Many other Muslim authorities have also given juristic opinions FATAWAII to the same effect that, after slaughter, time should be given for rigor mortis to set in before cutting up the carcass. (see KITAB AL-NIL WA SHIFA’AL-ALIB, 4:460 (in Arabic).

Even disfiguring an animal is forbidden. The Prophet said: “Do not clip the forelock of a horse, for a decency is attached to its forelock; nor its mane, for it protects it; nor its tail, for it is its fly-flap.” Narrated by ‘Utba bin Abdul Salamiy, ABU DAWUD. Also AWN, 7:216, 217.

There are numerous ahadith forbidding blood sports and the use of animals as targets (which is another form of vivisection or injuring an animal while it is alive). The fact that many of these ahadith repeat the same sayings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in slightly varying wordings shows that he took the matter very seriously and repeated them again and again on different occasions in the presence of different people. Another significant point to note in this respect is that, to stop the use of animals as targets, or in blood sports, the Holy Prophet did the same as he did in the case of camel-humps and sheep-tails, quoted above. He declared their meat as carrion MUJATHEMA and unlawful for consumption.

There is no doubt that the Islamic prohibition against the cutting or injuring of live animals, especially when it results in pain, suffering and disfigurement, does apply to modern vivisection in science. We are able to support this interpretation of the Islamic teachings by referring not only to the traditions, but also to the Qur’an Majeed. In the verses quoted below, we find expressed the principle that any interference with the body of a live animal, which causes pain or disfigurement, is contrary to the Islamic precepts. These verses were revealed in condemnation of the pagan superstitious custom that she-camels, ewes or nanny goats which had brought forth a certain number of young ones in a certain order should have their ears slit, be it loose and dedicated to idols. Such customs were declared as devilish acts, in these words: “It was not Allah who instituted the practice of a slit-ear she-camel, or a she-camel let loose for free pasture, or a nanny-goat let loose 5:103. “Allah cursed him (satan) for having said: ‘I shall entice a number of your servants, and lead them astray, and I shall arouse in them vain desires; and I shall instruct them to slit the ears of cattle; and, most certainly, I shall bid them so that they will corrupt Allah’s creation’. Indeed! he who chooses the Devil rather than Allah as his patron, ruins himself manifestly.”118:119. Animal fights, such as bull and cock fighting, or dog fighting are another kind of vivisection. The only difference is that, in this case man does not do it himself - he makes the animals tear each other apart to provide amusement for him. Those who seek entertainment in such scenes of violence and if the sight of blood warms their own blood, would do better by watching more television. All kinds of animal-fights are strictly forbidden in Islam. Out of the numerous such injunctions, one will suffice: “God’s messenger forbade inciting animals to fight each other.” Narrated by Abdullah bin Abbas. BUKHARI and MUSLIM and TIRMIDHI and AB U AL-DARDA.

The meat of animals which die as a result of fights is also declared in Islam as unlawful to eat. For example, the Spaniards hold fiestas on special occasions to eat the bull killed by a matador. The meat of such animals is forbidden for Muslims. One wonders how and why, in this day and age, such cruelties to animals are being tolerated by the civilized world. Even in England some very revoltingly cruel dog-fights have been brought to light recently, some of which have been prosecuted.

Some research on animals may yet be justified, given the Traditions of Islam, only if the laboratory animals are not caused pain or disfigurement and only if human beings or other animals would benefit because of the research. The Traditions are clear about the general treatment to be given to animals: “The Holy Prophet told of a prostitute who, on a hot summer day, saw a thirsty dog hovering around a well, lolling its tongue. She lowered her socks down the well and watered the dog. Allah forgave her all her sins (for this one act of kindness)” MUSLIM.

“The Holy Prophet narrated a vision in which he saw a woman being chastised after death because she had confined a cat during her life on earth without feeding and watering it, or even letting it free so that it could feed itself.” MUSLIM.

“The Holy Prophet passed by a camel who was so emaciated that his back had shrunk to his belly, and said: ‘fear God in these beasts - ride them in good health and free them from work while they are still in good health’.” ABU DAWUD

“The holy Prophet said: ‘It is a great sin for man to imprison those animals who are in his power’.” Muslim.

Finally, in the light of the following declaration of the Qur’an Majeed, there is no earthly or heavenly reason for applying selective standards of morality between the human and the animal species:

“There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you. 6:38.


Originally printed in the July/August 1991 edition of

The American Muslim

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