It is not easy for one living in Saudi Arabia not to be distracted by the regional affairs around them and the conflicts that have erupted in several Arab nations since the invasion of Iraq. It is also not easy to ignore the continuing brutality of the current Israeli regime against the hapless Palestinian people trapped in their own lands.
Within the Saudi Kingdom, between cries of human rights violations of guest workers and corruption-riddled civil servants, there are far more urgent problems as the press would have us believe. But to some, that is just not fair. Some people in the country still go about doing well, in spite of being squeezed out of print space.
One such person has made it her mission to help the underprivileged — only this time, they happen to be four-legged ones, and cats in particular. She contends that not enough coverage has been given towards the protection of rights of animals in the Kingdom. She has been helping, feeding and rescuing animals from the street, for 33 years now.
She manages her pet rescue centre with the help of her working husband. She just cannot stand the sight of cats digging for food in garbage dumps or kittens thrown in garbage bins or left to die a slow death under the scorching sun.
She would place a bowl of water and a plate of food to feed hungry animals. One day, an irate neighbour came to her door, demanding that she stop the practice and filed a complaint with the municipality. The husband was summoned to the police station and had to sign an undertaking not to feed street animals.
She asked me: “Can you please explain to me this ‘strange law’ of the land ... that allows and gives the right to people to bully someone who is trying to do good ... We have no official animal-rescue centres like in the West. To my knowledge, there are only a few people who rescue distressed animals that were unwanted by their owners, after having purchased them for a hefty price from pet shops.
“They buy them small and cute and then eventually abandon them to starve in the streets. My husband and I are catching such animals, whenever we can, to treat their wounds and nurse them back to health. They are so badly abused by the environment, the outdoors and he lack of nourishment. Some are in such a bad shape that treating them to recovery is purely a miracle.
“Now we have a rude and intolerant person, trying to dictate us how to ignore miseries and sufferings of animals, who are God’s creations too. Is it just and fair? For 33 long years we have helped many of these animals cope with rampant cruelty. We only want us to be left in peace so that we can continue with our merciful deeds. We only ask God Almighty to help us to help these animals. We do not need any reward or recognition from society. Could you please pass our message to those people who only talk of compassion in public and yet become vicious and merciless when they encounter true humane behaviour from their neighbour?”
Her distress led her to reach out to me with a plea that people in a religious society should be made aware that animals are also God’s creations. Respect and care for animals have to be taught in schools at an early age.
This woman’s concern may come across as trivial in today’s world. Many would even argue that there are far more pressing issues to be addressed than the plight of four-legged felines. In the process, they may forget that the mercy of Islam extends beyond human beings, to all living creations of God.
It is prohibited in Islam to treat an animal cruelly or to kill it except when needed for food. The Quran tells us that “There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you”, and according to an established hadeeth, when the Prophet (PBUH) was asked if Allah rewarded acts of charity to animals, he replied: “Yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive. Whoever is merciful even to a sparrow, Allah will be merciful to him on the Day of Judgement.”
As Muslims, it is our duty to be merciful towards all living creatures. In the process, we should reward individuals, such as the aforementioned lady and others, who seek to provide comfort to abandoned animals and not subject them to distress and intolerance. Let us strive together to make 2016 a year of compassion towards all living creatures.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena.