x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Why we should care if a donkey falls or a cat goes hungry

Rym Ghazal welcomes the tough new animal-protection laws

A federal law issued last year set jail terms and heavy fines for people convicted of animal abuse. Jaime Puebla / The National
A federal law issued last year set jail terms and heavy fines for people convicted of animal abuse. Jaime Puebla / The National

"If a mule or a donkey should fall because the roads are not level, Omar will be questioned before God on the Day of Judgment as to why he did not repair the roads for these animals.” This is a famous saying attributed to the second Caliph, Umar Ibn Al Khattab.

Many of us were raised on this example of awareness, kindness to animals and the equal treatment of living beings. But some of us have forgotten it in the hustle and bustle of life. Stories of someone as powerful as Umar taking the time to worry about animals should be taught at school and at home, to help us raise a caring community.

Principles to live by, backed up by laws, are very important in nurturing and creating a better place for all living beings. We can write about and discuss animal welfare all we like, but without official backing, animal rights won’t progress.

So, as The National has reported, animal welfare activists rejoiced over the federal law issued late last year that set jail terms and heavy fines for people convicted of animal abuse. Individuals who are found guilty of abusing or the illegal hunting, buying or selling of animals face a heavier fine of Dh200,000 (up from Dh5,000) and a one-year prison term under Federal Law 18.

In the past, some people who killed or hurt animals – and even posted videos on social media of them tormenting the innocent beings – didn’t fear any legal backlash. Now, hopefully, they will think twice because of the penalties. People care about money, so high financial penalties tend to be a disincentive.

It is not just pets that we should be kind to. Farm animals such as donkeys, goats and cows are often the most abused, so they need even more attention.

A video posted in 2014 of an Iraqi man crying over his donkey that was killed in a bomb blast garnered sympathy from many social media users. But sadly, at the same time, there were harsh comments and ridicule from others, particularly Arab men.

Mercy to animals and giving them their rights is nothing new in Islamic tradition. The simplest example, and one that is often repeated, is how cats were once revered by important religious and historic figures in this region. Sadly, these fur balls have fallen on hard times. They are often neglected, abused and left to fend for themselves.

The other day, I saw a worshipper kick a sleeping stray cat at the door of a mosque. I reminded her that the Prophet Mohammed once owned a beloved cat called Mu’izza (or Muezza). The woman didn’t wait to hear the rest of the story, but at least I tried. One story goes that the Prophet wanted to wear a particular robe to go out to prayers, but he found his cat sleeping on the sleeve of the garment. Not wanting to wake the animal, the Prophet cut off the sleeve – which he later sewed back on. It is also believed that when the Prophet gave sermons within his household, he often had his cat lying in his lap.

Mercy and compassion towards cats, and animals in general, is embodied in a hadith that tells how a woman went to hell because of a cat “which she neither fed nor let it eat from the vermin of Earth”.

Cat-loving Islamic rulers include the 13th-century Sultan of Egypt, Mamluk Sultan Al Zahir Baybars, who created a “cats’ garden”, where the cats of Cairo would find everything they needed and liked. The 12th century ruler of Syria, Nour Aldeen Zenki, set up Islamic endowments for blind cats and another for “retired” animals.

Religion aside, animals play an important cultural role.

Arabic tradition has many sayings that compare us to animals: brave as a lion, eyes like a hawk, majestic as an Arabian horse and loyal as a dog. And yet some of us remain dismissive and abusive to animals.

From their patience to their unconditional love and their loyalty, there is a lot of wisdom to be learnt from the animals and the birds around us. Funnily enough, even wisdom is linked to our feathery friend the owl.

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter:@arabianmau