By Syed Rizvi
In recent weeks New Age Islam has posted on its web-site two very fine Animal Rights articles. They are: Importance of Animals in Islam by Nilofar Ahmed, who cites scripture to demonstrate how Islam places great emphasis on the well-being of animals.
Considering Islamic culture as part of the fabric of the whole region, including the Middle East [and even India], an article of this caliber is most likely going to raise the consciousness of people concerning the inhumane treatment of animals that has become commonplace to the degree that atrocities committed against animals are hardly recognized as such.
On a secular note, there is another article in which Anees Jillani (a Lawyer at the Pakistani Supreme Court) relates animal exploitation to the oppression of humans: www.newageislam.com/NewAgeIslamArticleDetail.aspx?ArticleID=5991
In his article, Jillani strikes a chord by articulating, very convincingly in my opinion, the point that prejudice against animals is not different from racism or sexism, which also went un-challenged for a long time, but are no longer tolerated today. In fact, it is interesting to note how well Jillani’s assessment of the situation resonates with the comments made by the famous African-American Feminist writer Alice Walker, who says, "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were for whites or women for men.”
Walker, who authored the book The Color Purple, wrote those comments in the foreword of Marjorie Spiegel’s classic The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery. Spiegel thus turns out to be another writer who equates the mistreatment of animals today with the mistreatment of Africans a century ago.
Jillani also considers that mistreatment of animals can lead to the disregard of human well being. This appears to draw a striking parallel with what psychologists have long maintained. Harvard Psychologist Dr. Ken Shapiro, Executive Director of Animals and Society Institute www.animalsandsociety.org speaks about the cycle of violence in the August 2010 issue of SouthAsia Magazine, clearly showing the connection between animal abuse and violence in society: www.saglobalaffairs.com/features/588-cycle-of-violence.html
The above two articles authored by Nilofar Ahmed and Anees Jillani originally appeared in the Animal Rights Special Feature Section of the October, 2011 issue of the South Asia Magazine www.saglobalaffairs.com published in Karachi, Pakistan.
Even as such high-profile articles are starting to appear in the Muslim world, it would be safe to assume that the notion of Animal Rights has not quite caught on as broadly as it has in the West. That is not
to say that the severity of animal suffering in western nations is by any means less intense than it is in Muslim countries, or in other non-western countries for that matter (see the links provided, below, for evidence of this), but rather that here in the west there is a growing public awareness of the issue that has evolved over a period of several decades. Starting from the chanting of a few small fringe groups protesting on the street corners of American cities, the movement has reached the mainstream. Seminars on the emotional life or cognition capabilities of animals are areas of serious study at many prestigious institutions, as well as the ethics of our moral responsibility in our relationship with animals www.ethologicalethics.org
Peter Singer www.princeton.edu/~psinger Chair of Bio-Ethics at Princeton University, whom many see as the father of the animal rights movement, wrote his seminal work Animal Liberation www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1973/apr/05/animal-liberation considered the Bible of the animal rights movement, is but one of many prominent scholars who write and lecture, promoting animal rights.
Moreover, debates, seminars, and intellectual position papers are not the only avenues that have led to the increased public awareness of animal rights issues; the activism of such groups as PETA www.peta.org , MFA www.mercyforanimals.org and ALF www.animalliberationfront.com have played a significant role in bringing the movement before the public and onto the pages of our newspapers and magazines. The two meat-videos www.peta.org/tv/videos/celebrities-vegetarianism/87206203001.aspx and www.meatvideo.com released by PETA and MFA have already convinced thousands of people to think not of “what” is on their dinner plate but of “who.” Thousands are switching from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet, which of course is a significant step toward alleviating animal suffering, cutting down the greenhouse effect and improving their own health www.vegsource.com.
In Pakistan, while activism is taking root in many major cities, media like South Asia magazine, and occasional articles or Op-Eds in Dawn and Jang-Group are contributing to a growing awareness of the issue. Whereas the October 2011 issue of South Asia magazine contained articles both authors of which are Pakistani, the October 2010 issue had invited authors of international stature with high profile names like Maneka Gandhi (Member of Parliament, Govt. of India), Ingrid Newkirk (President of PETA), Tom Regan (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at North Carolina State University and Founder/ President of Cultural and Animal Foundation www.cultureandanimals.org and Peter Singer himself. Contributions from international as well as Pakistani intellectuals helped lay the foundation for future work.
Historically speaking, progressive ideas such as environmentalism, feminism or animal rights, when first introduced in developing countries, often benefit from support by well-known, high-status proponents from abroad, who lend the cachet, the prestige of their international renown, as well as the impact of their particular style and insights. However, it is not until new ideas are internalized by the culture and become part of the normal life of average citizens that a true movement can grow. Dialogues, talks, and publications by local commentators give the ideas of the movement its life-force and wider acceptance by society.
Such is the route South Asia magazine and other Pakistani media outlets seem to be taking by inviting thinkers and writers from within Pakistan to entertain this topic. Among the Muslim media, New Age Islam, with its vast membership reaching to the remotest corner of the globe, is doing its part in getting the word out where the other Islamic media might not have been able to reach.