Are the major faiths turning a blind eye to animal suffering?

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A special guest blog from Joyce D’Silva

All over the world animals are suffering, billions of them in factory farms, others undergoing painful experiments, some being used for sports and entertainment (ours, not theirs) and of course for clothing, luxury goods – I could go on.

Yet, statistics show that globally 80% of humanity expresses adherence to a religious belief system.

So, what do the faiths teach about our relationship with animals? I decided to find out.

Religious Teachings

To tell you the truth, I was overwhelmed by the beautiful teaching in many of the holy books or the sayings of founders and religious figures in the different faiths.

For example, Saint Isaac the Syrian wrote, in the seventh century, “What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals…”.

How lovely is the Buddhist loving-kindness prayer, “May all beings everywhere be happy. May they be healthy. May they be at peace. May they be free”.

I was heartened to find the Jewish teaching that one should not cause pain to any living creature, and as one of their medieval holy books advises, “Be kind and compassionate to all creatures that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in this world.”

Buddhists see animals as sentient beings

How excellent that the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, declares that all creatures “are communities like yourselves” and that when the Prophet Muhammad was asked if there was merit in being kind to animals, he replied, “Yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive”.

Hinduism has many holy books and saints, but perhaps it was Mahatma Gandhi who summed up the Hindu outlook best of all, saying, “To my mind the life of a lamb is not less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body”.

The Sikh holy book makes an amazing comparison, “The merit of pilgrimages to the sixty- eight holy places, and that of other virtues besides, do not equal having compassion for other living beings.”

These are just a few examples from a multitude of wonderful teachings about our relationship with animals.

Action Speaks Louder Than Words

So, here is the huge anomaly – with so many lovely teachings and so many people following these teachings, how come the animals living closest to us, often in our control, are living such wretched lives? Let’s not forget the wild creatures too, whose habitats we are destroying all over the world.

I decided to explore the whole conundrum in a book: “Animal Welfare in World Religion: Teaching and Practice”, which was published in May.

Temple elephant in India

Having been inspired by the beautiful teachings, I was so disheartened to find out how they are being ignored. I looked at countries where each faith was dominant and hoped that the teachings might make a difference. Sadly, in most cases, all around the globe, animals were in factory farms, elephants were misused in temples, cruel sports like bull-fighting or cock-fighting appeared to have the blessings of some faith leaders and slaughter methods lacked any element of compassion.

This is why my book has become a challenge to faith leaders and people of faith. Why are your teachings being ignored? Please speak up!

I realised that if I added up all the sermons given in one year by all faith leaders, there would be very few that mentioned being kind to animals.

Joyce’s new book, ‘Animal Welfare in World Religion: Teaching and Practice’

The Future

There are inklings of hope, for example from Pope Francis, who has called for “attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care” which “entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures but joined in a splendid universal communion”.

I was glad to see the new Islamic document, Al Mizan, which states “as they are sentient beings and communities like us, we are obliged to treat them with reverence and care, compassion, and striving to do the utmost good”.

I am so grateful to the leading figures who have endorsed my book, from Joanna Lumley to those great animal welfare professors, John Webster and Don Broom, to a host of leading faith figures.

Perhaps you might be kind enough to help me challenge people of faith too?  If you like what you read in this blog, may I ask you to help publicise the book – maybe pass a copy onto your local faith leader or faith-minded friend or mention it on social media?  Every little helps to get the message out to a wider world, that kindness and respect for animals and all other species is so important.

All royalties will go to Compassion in World Farming.

Thank you

Joyce D’Silva

Joyce with rescued sheep | Credit: CIWF/RichardDunwoody

Joyce D’Silva, is our Ambassador Emeritus who was also Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming from 1991 – 2005.

Joyce played a key role in achieving the UK ban on sow stalls in the nineties and in getting recognition of animal sentience enshrined in the European Union Treaty.

She now speaks and publishes widely on the welfare of farm animals.

Note: Joyce’s publishers are offering a 20% mid-year discount on all purchases, please use this link to obtain your copy Animal Welfare in World Religion: Teaching and Practice

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