Love of animals is a part of the love of the creation. This love is a consequence of the love a believer feels for the universe as a mirror of the Names and Attributes of its Creator. Love of animals is a love a human being feels for fellow inhabitants of the Earth and the wonderful creation of the Most Compassionate Lord. Love of animals is a love that overflows from a loving heart. This love does not leave anything untouched. Just like the rays of the sun, it leaves no place dark once it shines. Prophet MuhamÂ¬mad, peace and blessings be upon him, was a timeless teacher that taught his companions and history everlasting lessons. Love of animals and respect for animal rights were such lessons. We will explore a few examples of the love of animals in the life of a contemporary Muslim scholar, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, a student who came fourteen centuries after God’s Messenger, the Timeless Teacher.
Said Nursi, also known as “Bediuzzaman” or “the wonder of the age” by his contemporaries, was born in eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey) in a turbulent era towards the end of the nineteenth century.1 The Ottoman state was struggling to keep up with advances in science, technology, industry, and economy. After centuries of super-power status, Ottomans were deep in decline. The Muslim world was under continuous attack by the European powers on many fronts: economic, cultural, and military. People were questioning their beliefs and values in search of an explanation for their predicament. Most people were pessimistic and skeptical of their cultural inheritance. Under these circumstances, BediuzÂ¬zaman was a lighthouse of faith, hope and activism. Bediuzzaman was very far-sighted in his assessment of the conditions surrounding him, and in identifying solutions to the problems he encountered. His noteworthy stands include his championing of democratization, republicanism, the marriage of natural sciences and theology, and his advocacy for dialog with people of other faiths.
Backbiting, or talking negatively behind a person’s back, is considered one of the major sins in Islam. In an incident involving his students and a dog, Bediuzzaman used this term to discourage his students from talking negatively about a dog. The incident happened as follows:
One day a dog found a piece of meat that was hidden in a container to keep it cool. The dog ate the meat and when it could not get its head out of the container, it broke the container. Upon discovering this, some of Bediuzzaman’s students made a plan to trick the dog to bring it back and punish it. When he learned about the incident and the plan, Bediuzzaman questioned the student who attempted to punish the dog: “Tell me honestly, if you were extremely hungry and you find a piece of food in the open, wouldn’t you eat it?”
His student replied: “Indeed I would.”
Bediuzzaman: “And you are an intelligent being. Now realize that this is a dog. It does not have the intelligence that you have. It cannot realize that the food belongs to somebody. Can it be blamed for eating it?”
Bediuzzaman: “Then stop trying to punish this creature and do not backbite it (i.e. do not speak negatively behind its back).” It is noteworthy that he used the term “backbiting” to prohibit talking negatively about a dog, while this term is normally reserved for humans.
One day, after a long lesson, Bediuzzaman let his students go out and refresh themselves for a while. The students went out to the nearby plains to walk and relax. Upon their return, Bediuzzaman asked them what they had done. One of the students said that he had killed a lizard. Upon hearing this Bediuzzaman was visibly sad and told his student in a mournful tone: “You have demolished your house.”
Student: “The people of my hometown believe that killing seven lizards earns you as much reward as visiting the Ka’ba.”
Bediuzzaman: “All right then, sit here and let’s talk about this. We will try to find out who is right. First, let me ask you this: Did this animal attack you?”
Bediuzzaman: “Did it steal something from you?
Bediuzzaman: “Do you provide sustenance for this animal?”
Bediuzzaman: “Was it passing through your land?”
Bediuzzaman: “Did you create it?”
Bediuzzaman: “Do you know the wisdom behind the creation of these animals? Do you know their functions in nature?”
Student: … (Silence)
Bediuzzaman: “Did the Great Lord create this animal for you to kill? Who told you to kill it? There are numerous functions these animals fulfill. You have indeed committed a great mistake by killing it.”
Bediuzzaman was teaching his students near the city of Van. In summer, they used to climb Mount Erek near the city and do their studying there in order to avoid the excessive heat around the city. After a summer spent on the high plains, the fall was beginning and the weather was getting colder. They thought of building a place to take refuge before it got very cold and it snowed. Upon the suggestion of Bediuzzaman they decided to dig something like a cave or room into a hill and make a hole to serve as a window. The students started digging.
After a while they saw ants coming out of the place where they were digging. Bediuzzaman immediately told them to stop. One of the students responded:
Student: “Why should we stop? We have dug quite a bit. We will be done shortly.”
Bediuzzaman: “No. We cannot demolish a home in order make a home. Search for another spot.”
They changed their digging place three times before settling on a place where there were no ants, and they built their sanctuary.
Bediuzzaman was being sent into exile based on charges that he was involved in an uprising in an eastern province. It was known by people around him that he had, instead, tried to stop the rebelling leaders from taking arms against the government. But this did not stop the government from sending him to exile. He was transported by a difficult path to the port city of Trabzon from his home city of Van in eastern Turkey. It was winter and everything was covered with snow and ice. It was the month of Ramadan. Bediuzzaman was one of the few people in the group who was able to continue his fasting under difficult conditions.
On the snowy road over the mountains, they were riding a wagon pulled by oxen. At one point, a leg of one of the oxen got hurt by rocks on the road and began bleeding. Bediuzzaman quickly noticed it and told his companions:
Bediuzzaman: “My friends! Let’s get off and walk. The leg of Mr Ox is bleeding.”
His companions looked at Bediuzzaman’s face with astonishment: “But we have paid the owners of these oxen!”
Bediuzzaman was unshaken in his stance. He jumped off the wagon himself first and said: “They are not owners of these oxen, only users or managers. Only God is the true owner. Have pity for the animals and get off the wagon.”
They all jumped off to the relief of the oxen.
During their stay on Mount Erek near the city of Van, he asked his student named Molla Hamid to go down in a valley and get water from a creek. The creek was a place frequented by wild animals. Molla Hamid was visibly reluctant. He said: “Sir, I am reluctant to go… I am afraid.”
Bediuzzaman: “What are you afraid of?”
Molla Hamid: “Sir, there are all kinds of wild animals that roam around the creek. I am afraid one of them might attack me.”
Bediuzzaman: “Go. Do not be afraid. Nothing will happen.”
Molla Hamid reluctantly accepted and went to the creek. He came back with a bucket of water. Bediuzzaman asked: “What did you see?”
Molla Hamid: “Nothing sir.”
Bediuzzaman: “One should have some courage. Let me tell you a recent experience of mine. A few days ago I woke up in the middle of the night and I was putting on my clothes. An animal entered through the door. At first I thought it was a dog. It began to approach me. Then I realized that it was a wolf. Then I began to think what its intention might be. Then the wolf came right over to me and started to look at me. And I looked at it in return. We looked at each other like this for roughly half an hour. Then it simply turned and left. I interpreted his look in this way: It was as if it were trying to tell me ‘I stood with you for so long and you did not offer me anything to eat. I will not rely on your generosity. I will seek my sustenance from my Lord.’”
Then Bediuzzaman continued: “As you see we do not have any weapons. If these animals were not under the control of God, they could have easily attacked and ravaged us. But they did not. So, do not be afraid. Every single thing moves under the command of our Lord.”
These are a few incidents from the life of a prominent scholar of Islam and a contemporary student of a timeless teacher, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Love of animals was manifest in a number of stories narrated to us by the Companions of God’s Messenger and related through books of Prophetic Tradition. Let us have a look at some examples:
A Companion of the Prophet, Abdullah ibn Ja’far relates the following incident:
“The Messenger of God went to a garden in Madina with a few Companions. A very scrawny camel was in a corner. Seeing the Messenger of God, it began to cry. He went near the camel, and after staying beside it for a while, he severely warned the owner to feed it properly.”2
It is related in the prophetic tradition that the Prophet said: “A prostitute was guided to truth by God and ultimately went to Paradise because she gave water to a dog dying of thirst. Another woman was sent to Hell because she left a cat to die of hunger.”3
While returning from a military campaign, a few companions removed some young birds from their nest to stroke them. The mother bird came back, and not finding its babies, began to fly around screeching. When told of this, the Messenger became angry and ordered the birds to be put back in the nest.4
These stories illustrate the overflowing love and appreciation of creation that is a manifestation of the divine love our Creator and Sustainer for us.