Cherishing the lives of animals

By : Nawar Fakhry Ezzi

Many Saudis are bombarded with images of war and devastation in the news to the extent that some of them have underestimated other forms of violence, especially against animals. For example, many of us are unaware, or worse, indifferent to the killing of tens of thousands of elephants annually for their ivory and some people continue to buy ivory even though they know about the slaughter of elephants.

Greed and selfishness have blinded some of us to such an extent that lizards are now on the verge of extinction in Saudi deserts as a result of excessive hunting. This apathy toward animals has also contributed to producing people who do not only find pleasure in abusing, torturing and killing animals, but also find amusement in sharing gruesome videos and horrific pictures of their actions in social media.

This disregard for animal life is not as trivial as some people might think because it indicates deeper psychological and social problems in a society. The humanitarian Albert Schweitzer said: “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.”

There are a plethora of studies which confirm that cruelty to animals is associated with high levels of aggression in general in addition to being a characteristic associated with sexual homicide offenders and serial killers. Another sad indication is that it could be the result of a violent cycle in which children are mirroring their parents’ behavior and the only weak creature that the child can find is the family pet or a stray animal in the street. As a matter of fact, some states in the US require animal control officers and domestic violence investigators to exchange information when a case is reported to either entity because it is most likely that when there is animal abuse there is domestic abuse and vice versa.

Another possible problem could be that many Saudis distance themselves from nature and animals and do not have much interaction with them, which makes some people fear them, resulting in the failure to realize that we all share this planet and that disruption to the life of one species could lead to the disruption to the entire ecosystem.

Some people even make it their mission to discourage others from taking care of animals and keeping them as pets. At the other extreme, other people illegally keep exotic animals as pets by smuggling them into the country. This is also wrong because this exploitative transaction can endanger the life of the people themselves and the survival or quality of life of the animal. The common factor among these people is a lack of awareness and ignorance about animal rights and their way of life.

However, increasing people’s awareness of animal rights should include encounters with actual animals in order for people to truly sympathize with them. Animals are not created merely for our amusement and consumption; we should believe in the worthiness of their lives in their own right.

A wonderful thing some children’s clubs are doing in Jeddah is giving “pet shop” classes, where children can see different animals and learn about them. In this way, children can handle animals and build a personal relationship with them while learning about the proper way to handle them. This method has been successfully applied in South Africa, where cheetahs are endangered. The “Cheetah Outreach” program organizes safe and personal encounters with cheetahs including arranging school field trips to increase awareness and educate people about the significance of taking care of these animals. According to those involved in the program, personal encounters with animals increase people’s sympathy and encourage them to become more involved with their cause.

After videos of tortured animals surfaced in social media, laws were enacted against animal abuse in Saudi Arabia in which penalties range from SR50,000 to SR400,000. The Saudi Ministry of Agriculture established a committee to study cases of abuse and enforce penalties as well as to create units for animal rights. This can be considered the birth of animal rights officially in Saudi Arabia and, obviously, we still have a long way to go including finding effective procedures for implementing these laws.

Treating animals humanely is not a novel idea for Muslims because Islamic teachings contain specific guidelines for treating animals humanely, even including specific guidelines for slaughtering to protect the animal from as much anguish as possible. When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was asked if there is a reward for doing good to beasts, he replied: “For (doing good) to every creature with wet liver there is a reward”.

We should believe in our hearts that every creature is worth living and saving and we cannot recognize that unless we cherish the lives of animals and believe in their worthiness.

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