Sharia law may be much better for animals than for western-funded animal advocacy organizations
UPDATE: The Economist of May 20, 2023 reported that both the Mayhew International street dog spay/neuter program in Kabul and Nowzad are back up and running, and that the Taliban mayor of Kabul recently joined Mayhew International in celebrating 30,000 spay/neuter operations completed.
KABUL, Afghanistan––Six days after the Taliban retook Kabul, the national capital of Afghanistan, the one certainty for the status of animals may be that dogfighting will be prohibited and firmly suppressed, along with a violent regional sport called buzkashi in which horsemen clash over possession of a headless goat carcass; cockfighting; finch-fighting; all other forms of animal fighting; keeping any birds in cages; and hunting wildlife.
Both dogfighting and buzkashi, prohibited by the Taliban during their previous rule of Afghanistan, 1996-2001, have thrived under U.S. military protection since the Taliban retreated ahead of the October 2001 U.S. invasion.
Mayhew International waits out the transition
No one knows yet what will become of the half dozen dog and cat rescues and wildlife protection projects initiated by U.S., British, and western European charities during the 20 years of American-led occupation by U.S. and allied North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.
Some animal aid projects, like the Mayhew International spay/neuter and vaccination clinic in Kabul, appear to be calmly waiting out the inevitable transitional chaos.
Directed since 2002 by Afghan veterinarian Abdul Jalil Mohammadzai, with sponsorship from the 125-year-old London-based Mayhew Home for Animals, the Mayhew International program in Kabul may have much deeper roots in Afghanistan, and perhaps more friends, than either Nowzad, Kabul Small Animal Rescue, or the Kabul Stray Animal League, also known as Tigger House.
On the other hand, Mohammadzai fled from Afghanistan in 1997, shortly after the first Taliban takeover in 1996, spending the next five years working at the Mayhew Home in London. That might make Mohammadzai inherently suspect to the new Taliban regime, despite his many years of local service.
Nowzad seeks to evacuate
Penny Farthing, retiring from the British Royal Marine Corps after 20 years of service, founded Nowzad in Kabul circa 2010, several years after rescuing an injured dog from a dogfight in 2006 in the town of Now Zad in Helmand Province.
Farthing has spent the days since the Taliban returned trying to evacuate his two dozen staff and their immediate families, 71 people altogether.
Those who are British citizens would return to the United Kingdom. Farthing hopes to bring those who are not British citizens to the U.K. as well, as political refugees.
Farthing’s wife Kaisa Markhus was evacuated aboard an otherwise almost empty flight on August 18, 2021, leaving thousands of other desperate people behind, Farthing charged, posting his wife’s photo of the empty aircraft interior. His complaint was widely amplified by British tabloid media.
Other Kabul animal charities
Kabul Small Animal Rescue, begun by Iranian-born veterinarian Tahera Rezaei, 31, is barely more than a year old. The Kabul Small Animal Rescue personnel are believed to be trying to evacuate.
The Kabul Stray Animal League, also known as Tigger House, founded and headed by Washington Post foreign correspondent Pamela Constable, appears to have begun rescue operations in 2002. The Kabul Stray Animal League incorporated nonprofit in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2005, and eventually celebrated a fifteenth birthday in a new shelter, but has posted no further updates and has not filed IRS Form 990 since 2019, when Constable was reassigned from Afghanistan.
The New York City-based Wildlife Conservation Society and the Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust have yet to disclose anything about any of their personnel and contacts who may still be in Afghanistan.
Nor has there been any word yet from the Kabul Zoo, though various people have in recent days used the Kabul Zoo page on Facebook for some rather obscure name-calling.
Mohammed decried animal fighting, caging birds, & hunting
Meanwhile around Afghanistan, the Taliban, regardless of their degree of trust, or lack thereof, in western-supported animal aid organizations, are all but certain to be a more animal-friendly regime than the U.S.-backed government the Taliban is replacing, and more animal-friendly, as well, than rule by regional warlords whom the Taliban has also fought to unify the nation.
Cockfighting, finch-fighting, all other forms of animal fighting, keeping any birds in cages, and hunting wildlife are all practices that Mohammed himself decried in many hadiths (sayings), that the Taliban stopped promptly during their previous six years in control of Afghanistan, 1996-2001.
Gambling of any sort is haram (forbidden) in strict interpretations of Islam, but the focal Taliban concern is not just the gambling associated with animal fighting.
Mohammed was particularly concerned about the misuse of animals for human entertainment, and so were the Taliban during their 1996-2001 regime.
Slaughter & sacrifice
Mohammed had no objection to raising and slaughtering animals for meat, if halal or kosher slaughter rules were strictly observed to minimize the animals’ stress.
Further, Mohammed specifically encouraged animal sacrifice on ceremonial occasions, together with distribution of the meat from sacrificed animals to the poor.
Mohammed did, however, discourage sacrifice to wasteful excess, and forbade some cruel husbandry practices such as face-branding.
Neither did Mohammed object to killing animals in self-defense, or in defense of other humans and animals kept for work or as livestock.
Animals, in Islam, are not merely property
But Mohammed otherwise recognized a right of animals to not be harmed for human reasons. One hadith, for instance, explains that a stolen timber must be returned to the owner, or the owner must be properly compensated, even if this means demolishing a palace. A stolen thread, however, if used to suture the wound of an injured animal, may not be removed from the wound, even if the thread is made from gold or silver, so long as the dog has need of it.
Animals captured in war, Mohammed decreed, were only to be killed for necessity, not for revenge. Thus the British war dog Colonel, captured by the Taliban on December 23, 2013, was alive and well among the Taliban as of April 29, 2020, reported Blake Stilwell of Military.com.
Central Asian dogfighting
Not all strictly Islamic societies prohibit dogfighting.
Indeed, a form of dogfighting unique to Central Asia has thrived in the region, including Afghanistan, for perhaps longer than pit bull fighting, as practiced in the U.S., Europe, and the former European colonial nations of Southeast Asia.
Traditional Central Asian dogfighting features Tibetan mastiffs, Kangals, Ovarchkas, and other huge mastiff variants long bred to protect domestic sheep and goats from wolves, jackals, tigers, cheetahs, and snow leopards.
The dogs are released at opposite ends of a field, a cleared runway, a village marketplace, or a city street. They charge and usually body-slam each other, ferociously barking and air-biting. Eventually one falls down and rolls over on his or her back.
This is when the fight ends and the stakes in betting are distributed.
Historically, Central Asian fighting dogs were also working dogs, who came to town to help their masters herd sheep and goats to market, and would be back on the job with their masters within however many hours were required to walk back home.
Pit bull fighting did not catch on
British troops invaded Afghanistan from India and modern-day Pakistan in 1838-1842, 1878-1880, and 1919-1921. Attempts appear to have been made by British soldiers to introduce pit bull fighting, but without evident success.
Alexandre Liautard, who went on to found the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1863, in 1857 contributed to The New York Times an in-depth account of the global spread of rabies and evolution of rabies control methods which “credited” British dogfighters with spreading canine rabies to Crete and then to India––but with pit bulls transported by ship, not overland through Afghanistan into Pakistan by way of the Khyber Pass.
The British pit bulls in India and Pakistan evolved into the slightly smaller “bully kutta” of today, historically fought chiefly by Muslims––but not with broad cultural approval.
Sunni view of dogfighting differs from Shi’a
Explained Center for Global Islamic Studies scholar Sarra Tlili, in a 2015 essay entitled Animals Would Follow Shāfiʿism: Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence to Animals in Medieval Islamic Thought, “Instigation of animal fights (al-taḥrīsh bayn al-bahāʾm) is proscribed according to the Sunni Ḥadīth whereas the Imāmī Ḥadīth,” the Shi’a version of the sayings of Mohammed, “allows it only among dogs.”
The Taliban are Sunni, who traditionally view the Shi’a as heretics. The current Taliban leadership has expressed intent to advance the notion of “one Islam,” transcending the historically bitter sectarian enmity between Sunni and Shi’ite.
However, the first alleged atrocities reported from Aghanistan by Amnesty International since the Taliban capture of Kabul were the murders of nine ethnic Hazara men, in Ghazni province, on July 3 and July 4. The Persian-speaking Hazara are mostly Shi’a.
U.S. allowed dogfighting comeback
Traditional Central Asian dogfighting, suppressed by the Taliban from 2006 through 2021, made a gradual comeback in Afghanistan after six years of U.S. military occupation.
ANIMALS 24-7 in December 2007 counted about 400 people in a New York Times photo of a Kabul dogfight in December 2007, but counted 2,000 in another New York Times photo of another dogfight at the same site in December 2008.
By March 2012, reported Michael Georgy of Reuters, dogfighting had even morphed into a symbol of cultural resistance to the American presence.
“We call the dogs who lose Americans,” spectator Mirwais Haji, 28, told Georgy.
Wrote Georgy, “Thousands of people gather in a circle each Friday to watch large Afghan fighting dogs known as Kuchis attack each other in 30-second contests below mountains on the edge of Kabul. Some do it for entertainment, betting up to $4,000 on a single fight, as vendors sell peanuts, tangerines and potatoes.
“For others, it’s an escape from frustrations over everything from unemployment, to the war to rampant government corruption.”
Affirmed airport employee Akmal Bahadoor, to Georgy, “When we watch these dogs it’s a way of expressing our anger against the Americans.”
The Taliban may have channeled some of that anger in retaking control of Afghanistan, but dogfights are unlikely to have ever been a Taliban recruiting venue.
Assadullah Khalid, then governor of Kandahar, the second largest city in Afghanistan and a reputed Taliban stronghold even during the U.S. occupation, attributed to the Taliban a February 17, 2008 suicide bombing that killed at least 80 spectators at a dogfight and wounded 90 more.
The Taliban were also blamed for planting two bombs that killed 14 spectators at a dogfight in Arghandab, a Kandahar suburb, on February 28, 2011.
Buzkashi bombed, too
Only days earlier, reported the BBC, “A suicide bomber blew himself up at a buzkashi match in northern Afghanistan, killing at least three people. Buzkashi is a precursor of the modern game of polo,” the BBC said, “played with the body of a headless goat which is filled with sand.”
Reported British journalist Julius Cavendish from Mazar-e-Sharif in April 2010, “The sport [of buzkashi] is not exclusively Afghan. It is played across Central Asia.
“Under Taliban rule,” Cavendish wrote, “buzkashi survived despite the Islamists’ draconian bans on entertainment.
“Northern Afghanistan, where the sport is most predominant, never fell entirely under the [Taliban] movement’s sway. In those areas they did control, the Taliban forbade the use of a goat’s carcass, insisting players use an animal skin stuffed with straw on the grounds that wasting meat was sinful.”