There is no evidence to support that the Prophet Mohamed would have supported the outright cruelty of allowing more than 30,000 cows to suffer, die and ultimately being slaughtered late last summer off Egypt’s coast. There is no support for the continued live importing that is rampant across the Islamic world and has been detailed by both Muslim and non-Muslim investigators to be cruel and unimaginable for the animals who travel thousands of miles, chained and immobile, defecating in the same area they are forced to “sleep.” Islam does not support live export and it is time to end this wholesale cruel endeavor once and for all.
The ritual slaughter on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, which will see millions of cows, camels, goats and sheep murdered in the early morning hours, their blood painting the streets in the Islamic world red, one must think twice about this tradition and how, in today’s modern world, it is carried out.
In Egypt, for example, local cattle is on the decline and the government must import animals for their slaughter in the traditional manner. But in doing so they are participating in an activity that the Prophet would undoubtedly find appalling.
Cramped in small crates, thousands of animals are forced to travel thousands of miles. Many simply perish from the horrible conditions. The Prophet, despite western media attempts to argue otherwise, was a man of compassion, to both humans and animals.
Misunderstanding and dismissal of animal rights is often what activists face in the Middle East, and elsewhere. People just don’t understand, rights advocates say. As one environmentalist in Egypt told me recently: “People are dealing with their own lives and poverty, so why would they worry about animals?” It’s a tough sell.
The United Nations held its first international animal rights conference on Middle East soil in Qatar in 2010. The region appeared to be finally getting its act together on the importance of animal rights, but there are still problems. According to Animals Lebanon, the trafficking of animals, including endangered species, is behind only weapons and drugs in the region in terms of smuggling.
At Cairo’s Friday Market, visitors can buy a number of animals that would make any activist wince. Monkeys, crocodiles, hawks and numerous other endangered species are caged and waiting for the next buyer. Why? This is largely because there are no laws in place, and those that are there are not enforced.
“The animals fetch a high price on the black market and can be delivered to rich people across the region,” one seller told me.
Why have animal rights, in light of the growing smuggling problem, not been addressed by governments, the media and ordinary people? At the heart of the matter appears to be a two-fold problem that must be overcome if groups are to encourage better treatment of animals in the Middle East. First, people simply don’t care and have little information to go on. Second, groups must break through the assumption that animal rights are a western idea that has no basis in the region. History tells us otherwise. Cats were extremely well cared for and respected during pharaonic times in ancient Egypt.
Today, when activists, whether from PETA – who were laughed at when they demonstrated in front of the Australian embassy in 2006 over the condition of cattle transported from Australia to the Middle East and more recently in 2010 when they had a go vegetarian demonstration – or homegrown, protest at the treatment of animals in Egypt, they are dismissed by locals, who see them as indulging in western ideas that have no place in the region.
Egypt’s Society for Protecting the Rights of Animals in Egypt (SPARE) attempted to launch a public campaign recently to educate Egyptians on the importance of animal rights. They were met with condescension and were laughed at by local governmental and independent media, said Amina Abaza, the founder of the group.
“They just laughed at us, asking who cares about animals,” she told me after the campaign floundered.
The idea that animal rights are a western construct needs to be reshaped if groups are to succeed in their goals. If it is western it must be bad, some believe. Many Arabs view animals as property, objectifying their existence as a means to serve people.
They often cite Qur’anic verses supporting their actions. “And cattle He has created for you. From them you drive wont and numerous benefits and of their meat, you eat,” (an-Nahl: 5-8), is the most often cited verse for eating animals. But the Prophet also laid down a number of restrictions on the treatment of animals. He said they must be held in respect and killed according to Islamic law. How then can there be a justification for the smuggling and poor treatment of animals across the region?
What needs to happen is an overhaul of public thought and understanding. In general, the world, including the Middle East, views animal rights activists as radicals, attempting to force people to go vegetarian.
These views then result in the assumption that activists are wrong and should be ignored. Public opinion in the region is almost non-existent in terms of animal rights, despite efforts from Animals Lebanon and Spare. With all things western so often dismissed as counter to Arab thought, it is no wonder that animal rights have yet to make themselves known in the region. “Animal rights means that we should not abuse them, torture them and when we have to use them for meat, we should slaughter them with a sharp knife, mentioning the name of Allah,” said Muzammil Siddiqi, the former president of the Islamic Society of North America.
Caging animals, smuggling them and treating them as property could be regarded as torture. But when international stars lash out at the treatment of animals in the region, including their slaughter, such as Brigitte Bardot’s criticism of the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival, Arabs often view these outbursts as comical, arguing it is part of the religion and the way things have always been. Polygamy is also, technically, part of the religion, but most would call it archaic and unneeded. So how do these same people justify the poor treatment of animals?
It is time to look at our faith and our beliefs before committing violence in the name of Islam.