Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen I am honoured to have been asked to address such an experienced and dedicated gathering, and I appreciate the opportunity to try to clarify some of the misconceptions which are bound regarding both Islamic and overall Middle Eastern attitudes towards animals.
These are not as clear cut or simple as they first appear; the general feeling is that the West and more developed countries treat animals well and with respect and consideration while the East, or less developed nations treat them with cruelty and disrespect. This is both true and false. The West is responsible for the development of the horrendous factory farms; it churns live chicks into fertilizer and culls its wild horse herds cynically and cruelly in the interests of more money making use of their lands.
True the West is notorious for the love of its pets, but even these are usually expected to fit in conveniently with the living patterns of their owners. While fed the best food and bought the best toys, their own true instincts and desires are required to be subjugated to their human’s ones. Strays or feral cats and dogs are regarded as untidy and upsetting and while many undeniably need help when in urban contexts they may also be living a life suited to their nature. The wild dogs adopted into homes, like the wild horses adopted to save them from becoming pet food – often pine terribly for their lost freedom.
In the East modern farming trends have spilled over and compounded the problems of neglect and cavalier behaviour towards the natural world so symptomatic of economic and political frustrations. There are both callousness and carelessness. However these are totally alien to the teachings of the East. While the EU formally acknowledged the sentience of animals in 1999 as the basis of presenting the ethical case for humane treatment; The East has been actively consciousness of this fact for over 1500 years.
The Quran tells us: “There is not an animal on earth, nor a flying creature with wings which do not form communities analogous to yours (Humans)” Islam in particular alludes to not only to Sentiency but speech (whatever form this communication may take) and clear intellectual thought processes. Moreover we are told that animals are conscious of spiritual realities. The Quran tells us that: “The seven heavens and the earth and all that they contain, glorify Him (GOD) nor is there anything that does not glorify Him in praise, yet you understand not.” We are also told how the Hoopoo bird reported to King Solomon not only the existence of the Queen of Sheba and the outward signs of her nation’s might, but also what they worshipped; not God, but the Sun. This is a clear example of the bird’s spiritual awareness.
We also read in the Quran how an ant warned her comrades that King Solomon and his army were approaching and might unwittingly destroy them. The ant showed not mere awareness of danger but also awareness of both the lack of malicious intent on the part of the approaching army and yet the casualness with which humans are likely to tread on ants. However there is more to this story than an indication to we humans of the consciousness of the tiny and physically negligible insects.
For King Solomon, who we are told could converse with all creatures, not only heard the ant's warning and laughed in appreciation of the gift he was blessed with, (the comprehension of animal's languages) but he then diverted the path of his entire army in order not to risk harm to the ant community. This was a striking act of compassion and respect towards tiny beings (towards which humans are more often than not careless) on the part of a mighty prophet and King - A King moreover who we are told had power over the very winds. Moreover, lest this example of compassion and respect of a powerful human towards weaker creatures not suffice, a similar incident occurs in the more recent history of the Prophet Mohammed’s lifetime.
During his defining march on Mecca at the head of a great army, he passed a dog who had just given birth to puppies. Not content with issuing a warning to all not to harm or upset these dogs, the prophet posted a sentry by them to protect them from any bother until the entire army had passed by. The Quran also mentions Christ in connection with animals. While his virgin birth and his miraculous ability to heal the sick and raise the dead are fully acknowledged, we are also told that he created a pigeon from clay and breathed life into it. His miracles were not reserved for humans alone. Furthermore we are told that “Whoever slays a soul for other than a soul, it is as if he had slain all of mankind and whoever saves the life of one, it will be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.”
There are many other examples of the intelligence and awareness of our non human fellow inhabitants of this world and of our being told to respect them, to be compassionate towards them and to learn from them. In short, the sentience of animals is not in question in the East. What does need addressing is why we have become so hypocritical and careless in our application of this knowledge. The waste, carelessness and cruelty are not part of our culture nor our history. Indeed there was a Waqf (a trust) in a large house in the Saroja area of Damascus for aged and homeless cats up until the early part of the 20th century; the Umayyad Calpih Omar Bin AbdElAziz issued a specific order to his Wali (Governor) in Egypt to determine and supervise specific permitted loads for individual species of animals to carry, less they be over burdened, when so far from his immediate supervision.
The archives of….in Morocco are abound with references to concern for animal welfare, and E W LANE the nineteenth Century orientalist in his book on the customs and manners of the modern Egyptians, notes with surprise how the initially benevolent treatment of animals in Egypt turned to beatings and aggression after the French invasion. Sad evidence that the shortcomings in our behaviour are often an ugly part of our region's other present dilemmas and frustrations. The worst aspect of this is that they are self perpetuating causing greater insensitivity, greater violence and more appetite for the obscene in its various forms. We cannot remain immobile in the face of this danger whatever it springs from, and it was with this awareness that the Princess Alia Foundation was founded in May of 2009.
The aim of the Foundation is to promote the balance, harmony and respect of all creation using a holistic approach and uniting all parties in a common goal and as a united front. You may see this as a huge task; true, but it is time for us one and all to stand up and face our responsibilities to Humanity. Although the initial focus of the foundation was Slaughter house reform, which we have managed to move forward on, and continue to do; we very quickly realized that many more fields needed to be addressed immediately. In response to our government’s request for assistance with zoo and wildlife related issues, the New Hope Center was established in January of 2010. This provides emergency medical care, rehabilitation and eventual rehoming for rescued cases. Here, I would like to acknowledge the immense support both moral and practical, of Vier Pfoten; without them we would not have been able to achieve any of the New Hope successes. 7 lions, 3 hyenas and one very regal Serval Cat, now have the good fortune of calling Lionsrock sanctuary in South Africa, their home. Most of the animals who come through New Hope are those confiscated from local zoos (of which there are at present 5).
Others are animals confiscated at the borders whilst attempting to smuggle them through the country, yet others creatures either discovered at large or no longer wanted by their owners, such as young (growing) monkeys. The illegal trade in wildlife is a problem worldwide and needs to be seriously addressed by all. Jordan is used as a major corridor for smuggling. However through the cooperation of the Customs department, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, the Ministry of Agriculture and the foundation, our borders have been largely closed to this smuggling trade. Those who have attempted it have recently been surprised by the quick and decisive action of the partners. We hope that this will be the case in many other countries as we attempt to identify the source and spread awareness as to why wild creatures should not be kept as pets or in private "exotic", collections.
Education and awareness are key elements in combating any problem, and to this end the foundation has built a school curriculum on animal welfare, including input and material from Vier Pfoten. The key points are directed at the morals and ethics of interacting with the world around us, focusing on the treatment of wildlife and trees as well. We hope to pilot this in Jordan's schools this academic year, and subsequently have it adopted by the ministry of Education into our National curriculum.
The one most crucial necessity for the physical improvement of animal welfare in any country across the world is legislation. In Jordan new regulations have been passed and an amendment to the animal welfare law of 1925 is being worked on. We hope that this will be better suited to the times in which we live and give real power to the implementing bodies to achieve results. In order to ensure a healthy animal community we are in obvious need of qualified vets. This is a field in which much needs to be done.
We had the pleasure of meeting Nicolas Lilienthal in Jordan at the Conference last October, following which an expert TAIEX mission visited the faculty of veterinary medicine at Jordan's University of Science and Technology and assessed the present curriculum. We look forward to the next steps in this programme through our partnership with the EU where we can see our faculty raised to be on a par with international centres of learning.
In October of 2009 we had the great honour of meeting Dr. Chinny Krishna who very kindly visited Jordan to explain the ABC programme. This was presented to government agencies who were immediately convinced of its efficacy and practicality, and the first steps were taken towards a humane stray animal control programme.
In the spring of 2010 a team from Vier Pfoten arrived in Jordan to initiate the first stray animal control programme of the region implemented at national level; the government having agreed to a complete No Kill policy. The programme began in Mafraq in the northern and Zerqa and Amman in central Jordan. Although the process is quite slow at present as vets and dog catchers master the new techniques, the results are already being appreciated. More recently the Mayors of different districts have been in contact requesting the stray animal control programme in their own areas. Although many argue with this programme, some saying that stray dogs should not be rereleased in the areas where they were caught as they cannot survive, are pests, look untidy…; we believe in the programme and as Dr. Chinny has so aptly put it – there are now statistics and data proving that it works. Jordan hopes to add stray cats to this programme as soon as possible.
Throughout the short time the foundation has been at work we have been truly blessed with our partners; locally many of our ministries have proved solid supporters and we are tremendously lucky that some officials have stayed closely involved with us even after completing their term in office. Most notable of these is HE Saeed Al Masri who as minister of Agriculture was instrumental in facilitating our local partnerships and we are now proud to count as an actual member of PAF. Lyn White of Animals Australia, Dr. Chinny Krishna of the Blue Cross of India and last but definitely not least Vier Pfoten International with its diverse but united cosmopolitan and dynamic "family".
I am proud to inform you that we recently signed an agreement with Vier Pfoten for the establishment of a wildlife sanctuary in Jordan. The importance and need for this sanctuary and education centre in the region cannot be overstated. Not only will it provide much needed refuge to animals currently living miserable lives in local zoos, but God Willing it will provide a living, breathing example of how animals should be treated that will inevitably inspire awareness and changed attitudes throughout our region.
For us, the establishment of this wildlife sanctuary will turn a dream into a reality. Looking back on the year and a half we have been working one may say that we have achieved a great deal. Although this may be true, there is still far far more to be done. The journey that we are all on, no matter in which country we work, is such an important one. As has been acknowledged throughout the ages by many wise thinkers – our treatment of animals is a direct reflection of our own morality. This is not just about them; this is about us, and fulfilling the potential of our humanity. The greatest ethical test we will ever face is how we treat those who are at our mercy. What our work over the past 12 months in conjunction with Vier Pfoten has so clearly shown, is that compassion and concern for the living beings that share this world with us, can build a bridge between countries, cultures and religions. As author Mark Twain once said, "Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see." It is also the language that transcends all of our differences and unites us in a common goal – towards making this world a kinder and a better place where all living beings, and all of creation, can co-exist in peace. I applaud you for your work and commitment towards this goal and the Princess Alia Foundation looks forward to working in partnership with you for many years to come.