The Universal Mercy of Islam
Islam as we all know is a religion of Mercy. The Muslim Holy Book, the Qur’an consistently reminds us of the All Embracing Mercy of God. To believe in God is also to believe in his Mercy. It is the formula In the name of God, the All-Merciful, The Mercy-Giving that commences the Surahs or Chapters of the Holy Qur’an, occurring as many as one hundred and fourteen times in the Holy Book. Indeed the phrase is central to Islamic ritual and figures in many aspects of the believer’s religious life. Of all Allah’s names, they are most descriptive of his relation to His creation.
This Divine Mercy embraces not just Muslims, but all humans regardless of their religious persuasion. And not just humans, it also embraces the rest of His creation as well. Kind treatment to animals is part of Islam. Saving the life of an animal is a cause for entering heaven while cruelty to animals is reason for entering the hellfire. Such is the stress placed on the value of animal life in Islam. And all these duties were laid down by Islam many, many centuries ago at a time when animals were mercilessly abused and exploited and well before the West ever thought of embracing the idea that animals too had rights, an idea that gained currency from only about the middle part of the nineteenth century.
Let us first deal with the notion of animal rights in Islam and its theological underpinnings. This is necessarily so as God’s Mercy is not limited to humanity, but encompasses all of His Creation. Animals, like humans are a creation of the One True God – Allah, and as the Qur’an says of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him): We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures (Quran 21:107).
It is evident from this Divine verse that the Prophet (PBUH) was sent as a Mercy to all creatures, not just man.
Also very telling is the saying of the Prophet: All creatures are like a family of God: and he loves most those who are the most beneficent to His family (Mishkat al-Masabih). Another has it: If you want to be loved by your Creator, love His creatures (Tirmidhi). Abu Hurairah tells us that when the Prophet’s companions queried: O Allah's Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals? He said, "(Yes) There is a reward for serving any animate (living being) (Bukhari, Muslim).
Such sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) remind us that men, like animals, are creatures (created beings) of God and that man like the rest of nature has a similar origin from the Divine Will. Although man (in his primeval form Adam) has an independent origin as a being created from a quintessence of clay (Qur’an 23:12) as distinct from other forms of life that have been created from water (Qur’an 24:45), this material difference is only very slight for as the Qur’an also says: We made from water every living thing.Will they not then believe? (Qur’an, 21:30) and: It is He Who has created man from water: then has He established relationships of lineage and marriage: for thy Lord has power (over all things) (Qur’an, 25:54). Besides having a similar origin from water (which is seen in the protoplasm, the basis of all living matter in the physical world) man and the rest of nature are bound by the fact that they are all creations of One God. In this sense, they are all the family of God.