According to religious teachings, all living beings are worthy of consideration and respect.
By Sheikh Muhammad Ali Waiswa
Uganda is indeed blessed by nature. One needs to tour some of Uganda's natural blessings to appreciate that it is the Pearl of Africa.
I had an opportunity to have a taste of this following the senior religious leader's visit to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary at Nakitomu, Nakasongola district, which is 170km away on Kampala-Gulu road, where we witnessed at close range the most beautiful scenery of the White Rhinos, the only remaining species in the whole country.
However, we were amazed by the tremendous care and services given to these wild animals by a dedicated team of rangers under the executive director, Angie Genade. The conservation and preservation of wildlife in Uganda truly deserves applaud.
According to religious teachings, all living beings that is humans, birds, animals, insects etc- are worthy of consideration and respect. Islam has always viewed animals as a special part of God's creation. Mankind is responsible for whatever it has at its disposal, including animals whose rights must be respected.
The Holy Qur'an, the Hadith (the teachings of Prophet Muhammad) and the history of Islamic civilisation offer many examples of kindness, mercy and compassion for animals. According to Islamic principles, animals have their own position in the creation hierarchy and humans are responsible for their well-being and food.
Islam strongly asks Muslims to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them even at the point of slaughtering them for food. The Holy Qur'an states that all creations praise God, even if this praise is not expressed in human language. Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) often chastised his companion who mistreated animals and spoke to them about the need for mercy and kindness.
The Qur'an describes that animals form communities, just as humans do.
"There is not an animal that lives on earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you, Nothing have we omitted from the Book and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end" (Quran 6:38).
The Qur'an further describes animals and all living things as "Muslims"- in the sense that they live in the way that Allah created them to live and obey Allah's laws in the natural world.
Animals are living creatures with feelings and connections to the larger spiritual and physical world. We must consider their lives as worthwhile and cherished. "And the earth, He has assigned it to all living creature" (Quran 55:10). These verses serve as a reminder to us that wildlife, like humans, are created with purpose.
They have feelings and a part of the spiritual world. They too have a right to life and protection from pain and suffering.
Prophet Muhammad (Muhammad Peace be Upon Him) exhorted Muslims to show kindness and compassion towards animals and birds and reportedly forbade cruelty towards animals.
Humans were created by Allah, the Almighty, to be custodians and the guardians of the Earth. Killing without justification such as killing for fun is not permissible.
In Islam, hunting for sport is prohibited. Muslims may only hunt as is needed to meet their requirements for food. This was commonly known during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) and he condemned it at every opportunity.
What we need to ask ourselves is that, are we upholding the rights of animals despite explicit orders from Allah (SWT) and the Prophet (SAW)? What should our role be, not only in the debate on such subjects, but in conservation and protection of animals and the environment as a whole? Have we disenfranchised wildlife?
How do the laws of the country in which we live stand up to the religious principles? And finally, how do religions help us to find solution to the dilemmas we face?
It is not impossible to demand greater action and consideration for the natural world. Bolivia has gone as far as to legally grant nature equal rights with humans and has introduced the Law of Mother Earth which reportedly assigns 11 new rights to nature, including ‘the right to life and exist; the right to continue vital cycles and the processes free from human alteration, the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted and the right not to have cellular structures modified or genetically altered.'
Ecuador has also changed its constitution to give nature "the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes of evolution".
These laws are considered radical, but what it enshrines does not ask for much, indeed only that animals and nature are given equal respect and care- as much as is expected of us in religions, individuals and the Government has an important role to play in educating the public about animals welfare and establishing institutions to support animal wellbeing.
The writer is the Second Deputy Mufti of Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, the Imam of Makerere University Business School and a national population champion and executive board member of the Interreligious Council of Uganda