Banning cats and dogs
Published 04 August 2008
The decision to implement a ban on the sale of cats and dogs in Saudi Arabia is actually at odds with Islamic law, argues Kristen Stilt of Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals
The Saudi authorities need a refresher course on Islamic law and history. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has banned the sale of cats and dogs and prohibited people from taking their animals with them in public.
The ban seems to be prompted by their concern that Saudi youths are acting under the influence of western culture. But they have their history mixed up: the Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslim scholars established rules for animal welfare and required people to show respect and compassion for animals long before the west even emerged from its dark ages.
The earliest generations of Muslims established pious endowments to feed cats, dogs, donkeys, and horses. They funded water troughs for work animals; the remains of these troughs can still be seen today in Cairo, for example. The prophet was kind and compassionate to all animals, no matter how small, and angered when companions took away the babies of a bird, causing the mother bird to become agitated. He ordered them to return the babies to the nest. Dogs even entered mosques in the time of the prophet.
The Commission claims that dogs cannot be kept in homes, but this is a misreading of the sayings of the Prophet. Several of these sayings required that dog ownership be for a lawful purpose. In the early period, this might have meant for agricultural purposes or hunting. Today, many different purposes could be lawful.
Animals provide companionship in ways that have been documented scientifically. The elderly live longer, children learn responsibility, and families come together. Dog owners are healthier. A family walking their dog together in the evening provides exercise and quality family time. But the saying means that owning a fancy pure bred dog merely as a status symbol is not a lawful purpose, and for good reason. It is cruel to the animal to treat the responsibility of pet ownership like buying a new car or piece of jewelry.
Personally, I don¢t care for breeders and pet shops, because animal shelters are already full with beautiful animals, many full breeds, needing good homes. And many of those shelter animals are the cats and dogs that people bought on a whim from a pet shop and then later realized that they didn¢t want the responsibility. But banning pet shop sales harms only the animals who are brought into this world and need good homes.
What does Islamic law and history suggest that we do regarding pet ownership today?
Educate people on animal welfare to learn the basics of responsible pet ownership before adopting an animal from a pet shop or shelter. Require people to spay or neuter their pet to prevent the senseless deaths of all the unwanted pets in shelters around the world.
Establish licensing laws so that people have to maintain required vaccinations for a healthy pet population. Offer dog training courses in the communities so people have well-behaved dogs.
To be true to Islamic law and history, the Commission should tax sales of animals at pet shops and then give those funds to animal shelters to care for animals in need, such as the many injured and helpless street cats and dogs who require medical attention and rehabilitation.
The world desperately needs leaders in animal welfare and the west has shown many failings in this area throughout history. But instead of spending their time and energy on laws that do nothing for the animals and are actually un-Islamic, the Saudi authorities should build upon their Islamic past and lead the world in championing the cause of animal welfare.
Kristen Stilt is Associate Professor of Law and History at Northwestern University and vice president of the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals
http://www.newstatesman.com/middle-east ... i-pet-cats
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