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A Timely workshop on God’s Justice and Animal Welfare.

By İbrahim Özdemir,
Uskudar University, Istanbul-Turkey

The seminar on God’s Justice and Animal Welfare (13-14 December 2019) organized by
the Department of Islamic-Religious Studies, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-
Nürnberg organized was not only timely but also full of hope when the world has been getting
ready for Christmas and a new year.

In fact, initially, it was ironic to discuss animal rights and ethics in a world, where the basic
human rights have been not respected and they are in a devastating situation in recent decades
in many countries in different shapes. Civil wars, conflicts, terrorism, the rise of racism,
fascism, and totalitarianism are on the rise in some parts of the world and the rest is feeling
the impact and consequences of these problems at home. However, this and similar studies
must be seen as to consolidate the rights of every creature to be respected. Therefore, I
consider any initiative and movements regarding environmental ethics and climate change as
a hope for respect for life on the earth.

When my train arrived at Erlangen, it was evening and snowing, which may be the first snow
of the season. However, what was revealing and promising was the darkness of evening and
whiteness of the snow, which gave me hope for the future.

It reminded me what Virginia Woolf once said, “This generation must break its neck in order
that the next may have smooth going. For I agree with you that nothing is going to be
achieved by us. Fragments—paragraphs—a page perhaps: but no more. . . . The human soul,
it seems to me, orientates itself afresh every now and then. It is doing so now. No one can see
it whole, therefore. The best of us catch a glimpse of a nose, a shoulder, something turning
away, always in movement. Still, it seems better to me to catch this glimpse.” (Virginia Woolf
to Gerald Brenan Christmas Day, 1922).

When I looked the profile and diversity of the participants I once more convinced that “the
human soul, it seems to me, orientates itself afresh every now and then” and “This generation

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must break its neck in order that the next may have smooth going”. In fact, not only next-
generation but also whole creatures we have been living on the planet earth.
The major aim of the seminar was to focus and fathom the understanding of to which extent
non-human animals are recipients of justice in Islam. To this, it tried to show how animals are
included in the academic discussion of justice both in the Western and Islamic traditions.
Moreover, how the Islamic framework on justice and non-human beings can be integrated
into the already existing scholarship on the inclusion of animals into a theory of justice.
The participants were from different backgrounds, countries, and continents. Therefore, the
profile of the participants was inclusive and rich. What was striking was the dynamic and
critical discussion which followed each presentation.

Isabel Schatzschneider, after summarizing the aims of the seminar presented her paper on
“Animal Welfare and Justice”, which was divided into three parts. First, she stressed the
theoretical framework in which current research theme can be embedded. Second, she gave an
overview of the discussion on Western theories on Justice and Animals. Then, building upon
the Islamic sources and Islamic scholarship, she had laid down eight categories for including
animals in the discourse of Justice: Islamic theology (kalām), the higher objectives of the law
(maqās ̣id aš- šarīʿa), Islamic Ethics (al-aḫlaq), Islamic Jurisprudence (al-fiqh), Social Justice
(al-ʿadala al- ijtimaʿiyyah), Good Governance (as-siyāsa aš-šarīʿa), Philosophy (falsafa), and
Sufism (at- tas ̣awwuf).

Bernd Ladwig, Professor for Political Theory and Philosophy, Freie Universität Berlin,
underlined Political Justice for Animals in his paper and focused on political dimensions of
the problem and argued that the fulfillment of negative as well as positive duties to animals is
a matter of political justice. First and foremost, animals are bearers of rights the fulfillment of
which is a matter of political legitimacy. Then, he argued we owe it to animals that we respect
and protect their rights through institutions. Second, we have associative duties of justice to
those animals that are subject to the basic structures of our societies. He concluded that to
fulfill the duties of this second type, we must grant animals membership rights in our
politically defined communities.

Asmaa el Maaroufi, a Ph.D. candidate on the topic “Animal Ethics in Islam” at the Center for
Islamic Theology, University Mü nster, started her paper on Towards an Ethic of Being-With:
Justice as Responsibility for the Others in the Light of the Qur'an with an interesting

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claim that “the ant speaks. The hoopoe gives advice. The raven becomes a role model. And
the fish rescues”. In fact, all these were a reflection of the spirit of the Qur’an, which is often
neglected in Islamic theological ethical discourses for a long time. As Asmma argues even
God himself interacts with them in the Qur’an and allows them to become agents in
interactions with prophets. As a result of a rigid anthropocentrism, the animal as the being-
with is simply overlooked as the Other. It seems that Asmaa came with more questions than
answers. How can we incorporate the animal in our ethical concepts? What ethical
implications can we establish for a fair treatment of the animal? And what does the Qur’an
teach us with its narratives of encounters between humans and animals about an ethic of
justice that does not allow for reductionism? Therefore, a flood of questions, answers, and
comments followed her presentations.

İbrahim Özdemir, a Muslim environmentalist and professor of philosophy at Uskudar


University, also underlined the neglected dimension of Islamic ethics and provided some
historical information regarding the root causes of this neglect. For example, there was always
a strong current from Rabia al Adawiyya (713/717–801) and through al-Ghazali, ibn Arabi,
Rumi and last and not least Said Nursi, who tried to revive the moral, ethical, and judicial
relevance of animals from a Quranic perspective based on compassion. He offered A New
Ethics of Compassion to Animals and as a case study; he focused on Said Nursi treatise on the
Rights of Flies. He argued that Nursi based his argument on the rights of flies on compassion
and wisdom, which he claims he deduced from the spirit of the Quran. Ozdemir, then,
supports his argument for a new ethics of compassion taking the concept of compassion as a
major value the Quran presented to us.

We know Sarra Tlili, University of Florida, from her seminal book The Animal Rights in The
Quran. Her paper dealt with the possibility of Vegetarianism in Islam as we observe a
growing number of works, websites, and activists promoting animal ethics in Islam seek to
build a case for vegetarianism on Islamic grounds. She is very conscious and critical of these
views and she has solid arguments. Her first objection was that while most of these voices do
not question the fact that Islam, at least in its mainstream version, authorizes the consumption
of meat.
She also pointed out the fact that "while these discussions have revealed many problematic
areas in the way Muslims think about animals and shown that many of the practices and
products that are commonly believed to meet the halal requirements in fact hardly do so, most

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of this discourse also suffers from methodological flaws and often mischaracterizes or
oversimplifies the tradition". Therefore, in her presentation, she tried to describe and evaluate
this discourse and described the mainstream position toward the question of killing for
food. Then she outlined and critically assessed the arguments used to build a case for
vegetarianism in Islam. As seen during the discussion, it seems this topic will be with us in
the coming years as Halal Food markets grow over the globe so concerns for animals.

Bethany Somma, from Ludwig- Maximilians University also underlined the necessity of a
New Understanding of Animal Ethics in Medieval Philosophy of the Islamic World. The
focus of the paper devoted premodern Islamic thought and also argued that falsafa itself does
not seem to provide great options for animal ethics. To put an ethical view of animals in
medieval philosophy of the Islamic world in context, animal ethics outlined. What was
interesting, although briefly was a suggestion of "a paradigm within which one can
recognize, organize, and situate the disparate discussions of animals found in various texts
and discourses". Then, this theory applied to Avicenna’s account of providence and its
relation to goodness in his ontology and psychology. As Ozdemir underlined the concept of
compassion as a key term for a new ethics of animals, Bethany offered the concept
providence, which has Aristotelian ramifications, for the ethical nature of the universe by
being an internal assurer of good-directedness.

Sabrina Sohbi, form Ludwig-Maximilians-University, presented a paper on killing vs sparing


inedible animals in al-Ǧīlānī ́s Kitāb al-ġunya in fact provided many good examples which
can be used for other participants. She presented a very interesting and relevant excerpt of
ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ǧīlānī in his al-Ġunya li- t ̣ālibī al-Ḥaqq, dealing with ādāb with respect to
killing or sparing inedible animals. Relying on the authority of al-, a well-known Sufi master
she tried to answer the question “whether the Sufi normative frame has an impact on the
formulation of rules that normally belong to the fiqh domain.”

Necmettin KIZILKAYA, a Professor of Islamic Law of Istanbul University, the paper was
on Animal Welfare Foundations and their Legal Framework in the Ottoman Empire also
present the World view shaping Muslim mentality throughout history, especially in the
Ottoman Empire. When listening to his presentations carefully, it is not difficult to understand
how the Islamic worldview shaped Islamic civilization. As an expert of Islamic Architecture

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said that, the masterpieces of Islamic civilization are concrete examples of the Islamic
worldview.
Necmettin argued that “animals have various rights as living beings and creatures created by
God. These rights make it possible to address animals from a view that acknowledges them
before and above their being a source of food for human beings”. Therefore, Muslims devoted
their wealth to building Animal Welfare Foundations. Alfonsa Lamartine, French writer, poet,
and politician, during his journey to Jerusalem observations are interesting and relevant
regarding how Muslims have good relations with all creatures, animate, and inanimate: trees,
birds, dogs, in short, they respect all the things God has created. Surprisingly, he says that
Muslims “extend their compassion and kindness to all the species of wretched animals which
in our countries are abandoned or ill-treated”. In this spirit, in all the streets at specific
intervals, they leave bowls of water for the dogs of the district. Moreover, “Some Muslims
found pious foundations at their deaths for the pigeons they have fed throughout their lives,
thus ensuring that grain will be scattered for [the birds] after they have departed”. Necmettin's
paper was a good example of this observation and presented the Islamic valued system
shaping this mindset.

Orhan Jašić, from The University of Sarajevo, presented a paper on The Sanctity of Animal
Life in the Works of Muslim Theologians in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1957 to 1980,
brings a new dimension to discussions. It was also a good indication of the Quranic values
regarding animal ethics in modern Balkan history. He mentioned few Muslim scholars who
based their ideas on the Holy Qur'an, the Sunnah, and classical theological works as well as
reading the signs of the times they lived in, and developed an ethics of compassion towards
animals which can help us to developed a more sophisticated and inclusive ethics treatment of
animals.
Yousuf Younus presentation was on Changing Animal Welfare Standards through Business -
A case study on Qatar. Yousuf presentation was lively, interesting, and full of practical
advice. Being Director of Dragon Animal Care Center, Doha he presented us a very
interesting fact about the market as well as the motives behind peoples care and concern of
pets. While some people care for pets out of respect and compassion towards them, he
mentioned that in fact there are other reasons too.

I would like to appreciate the organizers Abbas Poya and Isabel Schatzschneider for this
timely and important workshop. As Abbas was on a field study, Isabel with her serious, eager,

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and enthusiastic students, took on her shoulder the responsibility and devoted her energy and
time for a smooth event. And she was not alone her father, husband, and most importantly her
dog Daisy was with us. Watching Isabel, I once more join Virginia Woolf “The best of us
catch a glimpse of a nose, a shoulder, something turning away, always in movement. Still it
seems better to me to catch this glimpse.”

As the major aim of the seminar was to focus and fathom the understanding of to which
extent non-human animals are recipients of justice in Islam, I think, a student, at the end of
the day, summarized that the workshop reached its aim. She said that she would take home
compassion for all creatures and hope for a better future. Of course, also the courage and
ethical responsibility for an ethics of care and compassion.

I would like to thank the Department of Islamic-Religious Studies, Friedrich-Alexander


University Erlangen- Nürnberg for hosting us and of course to Isabel for her unending energy,
patience, and hospitality. I also made many new friends.

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