“Islamic Chaplaincy and Animal Rights”

[This is the eleventh in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Islamic Law and Ethics held in Herndon, VA in June  2014. These notes are NOT a transcript, but a lightly edited presentation of  my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants (other than mine) in the general discussion have been omitted by request of the conference director.]

“Application of Maqasid al-Shari’ah in Islamic Chaplaincy”

Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, Graduate Theological Union.

All knowledge is a gift from God. I make the case for the reform of Islamic chaplaincy and a call for incorporation of maqâsid ash-shari`ah for the ethics of care of Muslim patients in the hospital. Understanding Islamic Chaplaincy claims there is no formal theory of pastoral care in Islam. In my 2012 research on the barriers to religious and spiritual care, I unearthed a number of intrinsic and extrinsic barriers to care in hospitals, a lack of knowledge about spiritual care: the description of chaplaincy duties, resources, and problems.  How do we identify Muslim patients? How do we deal with cultural issues? Is the treatment team ready to take care of all of its patients? What’s their relation to Muslims outside the hospital? There is no formal training in chaplaincy expect for some for the African-American community. 45% of patients said they were not visited by a chaplain and 75% didn’t know what a chaplain is. 93% would not call on an imam to visit them while they are hospitalized. Hospitals have been left to decide on their own as to spiritual care except for end of life cases where spiritual care is mandatory. At Stanford Hospital I am informed that about 1% of the patients are Muslim but when I comb the full list I find it the fraction expands dramatically.

Islamic chaplaincy is da`wa al-hâl (call to health). We want to refine the chaplaincy so they can provide individual care. It is a revival (ihya) of the Sunnah: “Those most beloved of God are those who bring the most benefit.” We offer guidance (huda) so people will achieve success in this life and the next. It is an interdisciplinary process. Western ethics mention four principles of biomedical ethics: justice, beneficence, non-maleficence, and autonomy. Freedom, reflection, intention and consequence are all built into the concept of autonomy. By maqâsid, the physician’s job is preservation of the life of the physician and the job of the chaplain is preservation of the dîn. Legal maxims provide the framework.

A “feeling wheel” guides me as to the questions to ask the patient. I am asked why don’t I invite non-Muslim patients to faith as the Prophet did. Considering the law of the land, we must see it from a different perspective. Proslytization in the hospital is prohibited. Most of the literature begins with the five pillars. These are important but irrelevant. None of our patients are fasting. Iyâdat al murîd (visiting the sick) is classified by Bukhari as Sunnah using the imperative form, as the Prophet’s saying “I was sick and you were not there.”

This is a human-divine relationship that is personal. I will show a video that makes the case that this is a personal endeavor that ought to be refined. 10% of what we deal with ibidât and 90% is mu`amalât. What can we take from our legal and ethical theories to provide compassion and mercy and to help and support patients for no purpose but to receive the pleasure of Allah. Is the theory of maqasid the right starting point? It is not just about making supplication, but about engaging with the patients, right down to their hearts. Are we just to make a social talk or shall we make it personal to empower the ummah? We have no formal theory, but we have examples. Khadijah is the first example when she ministered to the Prophet Muhammad when he was overwhelmed by the revelation. She listened without judgment. Unable to provide help, took him to an expert (facilitation). The Prophet passing the sahaba when they suffered from persecution enjoined sabr (patient perseverance), but we wonder what nonverbal communication did he make? Did he weep? Did he offer du`a (supplication)? We need to incorporate maqasid and `aqida (creed), the jurisprudence of the sick. The majority of Muslim patients today do not pray inside the hospital. Allah, swt, says, “Yastadûni astajiblakum” (Call on me and I will answer).

“Muslims, Animals, and Modernity: A Triangle of an Unhappy Love”

Sarra Tlili, University of Florida.

We now try to widen the scope of compassion to include more creatures. I highlight the deterioration of Muslim’s feelings towards animals. Factory farming has become common in Muslim countries, even in the sheep for pilgrimage, and use of pesticides, etc. This is not unique to Muslims. I rely on both textual sources and empirical data.

Killing animals for food and using animal products has no guilt in Islamic sources. Abu `Ala is the only ethical vegetarian according to the texts I have explored. However, the exploitation of animals is restricted. We may use animals for hauling, but we may not overload them. Consumption of milk is allowed, but we cannot consume milk until the small animals have been satisfied, according to the Shafis. We can neither separate the animal from its young nor sell the wool before it is sheared lest it create a conflict of interest between the buyer and the animal. The Hanafi are least inclined to accommodate animal interests. They allow hunting beasts of prey even though their consumption is not permitted on the grounds we can use their hides, ivory, etc., but the others, esp. the Shafis disagree. Some Shafis, including Imam Shafi himself, say that if a sheep consumes a precious stone you cannot dissect it for the purpose of recovering the stone. All schools of law say that if the owner is unable to feed or treat an animal properly, it is their obligation to transfer ownership to someone who can. For some this responsibility is not just between the individual and Allah, but enforceable by society. The muhtasib (market inspector) could order a person to unload a camel while the person stopped for lunch. The protection of animal interests is part of the state’s responsibilities.

Compassion towards animals is consistently presented as a virtue. One companion is shown as feeding ants, not as an eccentricity, but as a virtue of compassion. Abu Bakr al-Shibli was told in a dream that Allah had forgiven him all his sins, not for his lifetime of Sufi devotion, but for saving a kitten on a bitter cold day.

Missionary and travel documents are a wealth of information about Muslim compassion towards animals. Muslims found such attitudes unremarkable, but the Western travelers thought otherwise. George Fowler says of the Turks they are particularly compassionate towards animals of all sorts, even forbidding the shooting of pigeons and that at the mosque there was someone in charge of feeding them. Fowler says “Mohammadans have a prejudice in dog’s favor. They will not kill a dog” expect on a complaint to the mayor of the town, which must be investigated. Even with animals they are allowed to kill, like lice, they are loath to kill them. They will even buy caged birds in the market just to free them so they may testify on their behalf in the afterlife. Edward Lane attributes the changes to the Franks, saying that he has only seen cruelty to animals in the places where the Franks had introduced the Muslim world to modernity.

People have attributed the disregard for animals to things like the “dominion” given to man in the Bible, but it must be conceded that such seeds found fertile ground in modernity. The natural world which used to be respected for its beauty is now valued for the resources it provides, and science sees nature as a subject to be controlled to overcome material scarcity, poverty, and illness. All systems, including Islam, are anthropocentric, but modernity is the most anthropocentric system ever.

Malik Shaikh was renowned for his hunting, but even he felt guilty enough about it to pay a dinar in charity for every animal he hunted. Some say the problem that the human being has been moved from part of nature to something that sits on top of nature. Dabba and hayawan (words for animals) used to include humans. (Dabba even included angels). Modern works on animals never include human beings as animals. This is important because this kinship was invoked as the grounds for consideration of animals. Ibn al-Qawba asked anyone mistreating a dog, “Do you not have animalhood in common?” Commentators criticized him for this. The Qur’anic word khalîfah has an interesting history. It means successor, but God does not go away. It takes on the notion of appointee. Until the 19th century the term was not applied to humanity but to the Prophets or to the “Khalifas.” Rashad Khalifah translates khalîfah to mean that humans are godlike, but this is what we have been warned against. Sayyid Qutb says this verse says to humans, go ahead and dismantle nature. Later Shafis adopted positions unacceptable to earlier ones like approving killing donkeys for their hide or to feed zoo animals.


Christopher Taylor, Boston University. I encourage everyone to read the full papers. I wondered why they were put together in the same panel and then felt ashamed when I realized why. I realize no development of fiqh will succeed without recognition of Allah as Ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim. The question of asking patients religious affiliation is the tip of an iceberg on debates over taking patients religious affiliations in to account in matters of abortion and treatment. Does the characterization in Western literature of the Other as closer to nature reflect their view of the Other as more savage? What of Iranian government policy of hiring sharpshooters to clear the streets of cats and dogs?

Mouez Khalfaoui, University of Tuebingen. I am inspired by these subjects. These challenges are not just for Muslims but for all cultures. We need interfaith research. Even within Islamic studies we need to open the focus beyond four (or five) schools and to open it to all the literature, not just religious literature and poetry. Rather than look in the literature to find the answer we want, we should look broadly and see where it takes us. Both of you seem subjective. I agree with you, but you need more distance. Are we dealing with ethics or with institutionalization or professionalization of work? You will be paid for this work. We are looking for a shift to an equilibrium between human beings and nature. This is about urbanization.

Tlilli. See Animals in Ottoman Egypt. I am not going to open the Qur’an and give you a solution. Philanthropy is insufficient. We need to re-instill a fear of God. I don’t think domination of nature is part of Islam. There is a sense of wonder in the pre-Islamic texts we don’t see any more. Urbanization is a by-product of modernity.

Abu-Shamsieh. The students are already doing the work without a manual. Do we train a Sunni chaplain to provide care for a Shia patient? Absolutely. It is a partnership across mudhâhib. It is not solution-oriented process. It has a hypothesis. I admit to my bias. Being paid for ibadât has been settled.

General Discussion.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. Modernity’s claim to the notion of man as khalîfah flies in the face of the Qur’anic verses. Sometimes the answer is in the Qur’an. Dominion belongs to God, so the khalîfah  must mean something other than dominion. What is missing is the proper interpretation of the word in context. Most chaplains are not paid, unless by their home institutions, and most mosques in America don’t pay their imams. Kamal, what is the hypothesis you are testing? I did not hear you state it, I only heard a question.

[Name withheld]. The Qur’an says we created the entire earth for your service. As we learn about maqasid there is a shift in our philosophy, we seek causality or illa. The paradigm is moving away from the divine theory model towards something more like the Mu`tazila.

[Name withheld]. Hayawân as used in the Qur’an does not literally mean animal but life (including plants). One Turkish Sufi shaikh knowing his time was up invited all his students to choose a khalîfah. All but one came with beautiful bouquets of flowers, but one brought a wilted flower and was upbraided. The reprimanded disciple said, “I would have done as you have but the other flowers were all praising God and I did not want to interrupt their worship.” The Quran speaks of the animals as an ummah like us, but where does it refer to humans or angels as animals?

Abu Shamseh. My hypothesis is not part of my paper.

Tlilli. Khalafa means to follow, to substitute for. Paret says it preludes the presence of the party represented. Secondly it was understood as “heir of Allah” although they were not comfortable with this. This developed in the 19th century at the hands of Iqbal and others. It has not yielded a positive impact. I hope to write something in detail about this. Everything has hurma (sanctity). I think the notion of rights we have is the equivalent of hurma but without the theocentric element. As to humans as animals, see my article on this subject. When ibn Abbas sees the word dabba he says this means every animal including the human being or every animal except the human being.

[. Dabbat-al-ard does not mean animal.

Tlilli. Hayawân applies to all living creatures, but dabba implies locomotion.

[Name withheld]. Does anyone oppose the interpretation that dabba means any creature? Modern writers tend to oppose this understanding, but in some verses they are forced to admit the inclusion.

[Name withheld]. There has been an adaptation from all animals to those with four legs. We previously discussed rights as regards to work as a modern concept succeeding work as duty, changes in the meaning of zakat, and now rights of animals in a way that requires rethinking our notion of rights. I am interested in that shift, but surely we are not the first to discuss this. Where in the literature are shifts in the Islamic discourse on ethics from its encounter with modernity discussed?

[Name withheld]. Some have argued that pre-Islamic Arabs loved their dogs more than their families.

Tlilli. Pet-keeping is problematic. It is re-domination. I think it is one of the problems of modernity. I am not trying to present the tradition as innocent. Modernity is the work of a few thinkers and is reaching its dead-end, for example in environmental studies. We must rethink a whole host of things from medical studies to urbanization and not a case by case basis but a whole paradigm.

[Name withheld]. See Arabian Political Thought in the Great Century of Change, which destroys the view that the Ottomans ever saw themselves as khalifat-ullah.

[Name withheld]. There is no opposition between compensation and acting fî sabîl Allah (in the way of God).

[Name withheld]. The story of the donkey reminded me of removal of life support.  A girl is removed from life support after two days with the permission of parents who were not even present.

[Name withheld]. Even in modern anthropological studies, some call for a reconnection of human with the animal.

[Name withheld] I once heard a definition of khalîfah from a businessman who says it can never men khalîfat-allah because the angels’ question about the appointment of man as khalîfah implies he is successor to some previous generation.

Abu-Shamsieh. The discussion supports my point that chaplaincy is supported in Islamic ethics and law.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute






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