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Laws of Religion

Laws of Islam Concerning Food


17.  Humane Treatment of Animals


from the Holy Qur’an, major hadith collections

and Islamic jurisprudence



17.  Humane Treatment of Animals

From Islamic Source Documents: Qur’an and Hadith


As discussed on a previous page, Ritual Slaughter and Hunting of Animals, an animal used for food is to be killed with a sharp instrument so that its blood flows out freely (which is consistent with the prohibition against consuming blood). However, Muhammad says, in addition, that a sharp knife should be used to kill an animal in order to increase the comfort of the animal during the slaughter.[1]


Muhammad forbids throwing small stones at animals (or human enemies) because it will only break a tooth or put out an eye, but will not kill.[2] Similarly, it is forbidden to shoot tied or confined animals,[3] to beat animals in the face,[4] to cut body parts off a living animal[5] or to cauterize (brand) an animal on its face.[6] (Although Muhammad himself did brand, or cauterize, animals[7], he did it on their buttocks[8] and perhaps on their ears[9].)


Muhammad tells about an earlier prophet who burned a whole colony of ants because one ant had bitten him. Allah (God) reprimanded that prophet for overreacting,[10] and referred to the ants as being one of “the communities which sings My glory.”[11]


Muhammad tells of a woman who was condemned to Hell because she failed to feed her cat or allow it to find food for itself, so it died of starvation.[12] She was punished in Hell by being scratched by a cat.[13]


Muhammad says that Allah will reward a person who helps any living thing.[14] He tells of Allah's forgiveness of a man who went out of his way to get water and gave it to a dog who was so thirsty that it had been eating mud.[15] Similar stories are told in which the person watering the dog and being forgiven by Allah is identified as a prostitute,[16] or specifically a prostitute of Bani Israel (the Jews)[17].


However, in other hadiths, Muhammad orders the killing of all dogs.[18] He then makes an exception for dogs required for hunting or for maintaining the herds of domestic animals[19] or for protecting cultivated land[20], specifically large fields used for growing food, while dogs protecting orchards are to be killed.[21] If a dog is in a house then an angel will not enter that house,[22] nor will an angel accompany travelers who have a dog and a bell with them.[23]


Muhammad says that geckos are noxious creatures that are to be killed[24] and doing so with one stroke will be rewarded[25].



Humane Treatment of Animals

From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh§):  Reliance of the Traveller


Reliance of the Traveller states that the owner of an animal must pay to maintain it.[26]


It is only permitted to kill animals when fighting if the animals are being ridden into battle against Muslims or if killing them will help defeat the enemy.[27] A 19th century commentator quoted in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller says that useful animals cannot be killed, though pigs and biting dogs can be, as can non-Muslims at war with Muslims, apostates from Islam and married adulterers who have been convicted.[28]


Reliance of the Traveller calls it a sin to slaughter an animal by cutting from the back of the neck because of the pain it causes to the animal.[29] However, a 20th century commentator quoted in the translation of this section of Reliance of the Traveller says that it is, nevertheless, valid slaughtering and the resulting meat is, therefore, lawful to eat.


Imam Dhahabi (an important 13th-14th century Shafi‛i scholar quoted in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller) lists branding an animal’s face as an “enormity,” [30] (a term which is defined on a previous page, Rules Concerning Dead Meat). He also cites in his listing of enormities the case (discussed on this page, above) of the woman who was sent to hell for not caring properly for a cat.[31]


Imam Ghazali (a major 11th-12th century Shafi‛i scholar quoted in the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller) indicates that cursing one who has violated the laws of Islam is itself unlawful except when the person being cursed is known to have died in a state of unbelief. Similarly, it is offensive (though not unlawful) to curse any animal.[32]




§The more general term sharia is often used loosely to mean the specific derived laws of fiqh, such as those summarized here.


Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.


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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

QR:   Qur’an, with surahs (chapters) and ayahs (verses) numbered as in most modern translations, including those found here, here and here.

BK:    Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC/CMJE website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.

ML:    Hadith collection of Muslim as found here and here.

DJP:  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Full text online and download for Volume 1 is here and here and for Volume 2 is here and here.

RT:    Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.

SR:    al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.


[1] ML 21:4810-4811

[2] ML 21:4805-4806, ML 21:4807, ML 21:4808-4809

[3] BK 7:67:421, BK 7:67:422, BK 7:67:423, ML 21:4812, ML 21:4813-4814, ML 21:4815, ML 21:4816, ML 21:4817

[4] BK 7:67:449, ML 24:5281-5282

[5] BK 7:67:424, BK 7:67:425

[6] ML 24:5281-5282, ML 24:5283, ML 24:5284

[7] BK 2:24:578, BK 7:67:450, ML 24:5284, ML 24:5285, ML 24:5286, ML 24:5287, ML 24:5288, ML 31:6013

[8] ML 24:5284

[9] BK 7:67:450, ML 24:5286, ML 24:5287

[10] BK 4:54:536, ML 26:5567, ML 26:5568, ML 26:5569

[11] ML 26:5567

[12] BK 1:12:712, BK 3:40:552, BK 3:40:553, BK 4:54:535, BK 4:56:689, ML 4:1975, ML 4:1976, ML 26:5570-5571-5572, ML 26:5573-5574-5575-5576, ML 32:6345-6346-6347, ML 32:6348, ML 37:6638

[13] BK 1:12:712, BK 3:40:552

[14] BK 3:40:551, BK 3:43:646, BK 8:73:38, ML 26:5577

[15] BK 1:4:174, BK 3:40:551, BK 3:43:646, BK 8:73:38, ML 26:5577

[16] BK 4:54:538, ML 26:5578

[17] BK 4:56:673, ML 26:5579

[18] ML 2:551-552, ML 10:3811, ML 10:3812, ML 10:3814, ML 24:5248

[19] ML 2:551-552, ML 10:3812, ML 10:3814

[20] ML 10:3812, ML 10:3814, ML 2:552

[21] ML 24:5248

[22] ML 24:5246-5247, ML 24:5248, ML 24:5249, ML 24:5250-5251

[23] ML 24:5277-5278

[24] ML 26:5560, ML 26:5561, ML 26:5562, ML 26:5563, ML 26:5564, ML 26:5565, ML 26:5566

[25] ML 26:5564, ML 26:5565, ML 26:5566

[26] RT m12.6 (pages 549-550)

[27] RT o9.10 (page 603)

[28] RT e12.8 (page 87)

[29] RT j17.4 (pages 364-365)

[30] RT p70.1 (page 696)

[31] RT p48.2 (page 685)

[32] RT r38.2 (pages 772-773)