“A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being,” Muhammad said. His compassion for animals is mentioned in several sources. On discovering a companion had caused distress to a bird by taking her young, Muhammad ordered him to return them at once; whilst reading the Quran a cat fell asleep on his robe, but rather than disturb it, he cut off a portion and walked on. He even reprimanded those who sat idly on their camels and horses with the warning: “Do not treat the backs of animals as chairs”.
In medieval times, historian Gustave le Bon writes, animals enjoyed a ‘paradise’ in the Muslim world. Trusts were solely devoted to sick and vulnerable creatures. In eighteenth century Cairo, Muslims set up bread and water foundations for dogs. In Damascus, a municipal area was dedicated to ageing horses where they could pasture in dignity until the end of their lives, which continued until the twentieth century.
From the start of an animal’s life to its end, there were clear rules on maintaining its welfare. Muhammad advised people to take the life of an animal only for food, and to be as humane as possible urging that the creature should not see the blade and should not be killed in front of other animals.
Mercy to animals goes hand in hand with faith as Muhammad’s words articulate, “He who takes pity even on a sparrow and spares its life, God will be merciful to him on the Day of Judgement”. This ethic is still alive today. Animal welfare institutions thrive in Muslim countries like Qatar, Malaysia and Pakistan.