Wednesday August 12, 2020
By: Dina El Mahdy
Illustrations by: Rania Amin
The chaotic streets of Egypt are becoming equally challenging to people and to the thousands of stray cats and dogs struggling to find food and shelter. Although Egypt is home to the oldest animal protection group in the region — the Egyptian branch of the international “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”, established over a century ago by British expatriates — Egypt still has a long road ahead.
Veteran children’s author and animal lover Rania Amin Hussein combined her two passions to promote kindness and compassion towards animals. Her latest book, “Not a Toy, Not a Meal, Not a Clown”, which she also illustrated, is a cry out for more compassion towards animals. In parallel with the release of the book, Rania also started a campaign “Wildsoul”to raise awareness about animals’ rights in Egypt. “I am hoping to get people to empathize more with the animals, feel the wrongfulness of the situation, and realize that it’s not our right to use our power over them to harm them or humiliate and hurt them,” Rania explains.
Animals in ancient Egypt were glorified, but are now mostly mistreated. Historically, Egyptians maintained exceptional relations with their animals, as shown by the huge number of animals decorating the ancient temples and tombs. Ancient Egyptians did not see humankind as superior creatures over the animal kingdom. They considered both humans and animals as creatures of Gods with the power to bear life. They respected and cared for their animals as they were deeply connected with their everyday life. They were necessary for food and drink, and were helping with agricultural work. Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses were often depicted in the form of animals, sometimes as a combination of animal and human body parts.
Now the picture is completely the opposite. From exploited farm animals to abused street animals, the situation seems to be going from bad to worse. It is not uncommon to find children chasing or throwing stones at a dog or cat, or handlers harshly whipping starving donkeys pulling heavy carts. “I have always wanted to write about animals and try to bring them closer to people, help people understand and feel for them and put themselves in their shoes. If it’s a dog tied to a balcony rail, a lion in the zoo, a donkey pushing heavy carts, so many heart-breaking scenes in Egypt that we pass by and many of us fail to notice,” Rania says.
On paper, Egypt has severe penalties for animal abusers. The law requires that anyone who deliberately kills or badly beats any domestic animal should be jailed or fined. But the law is rarely observed or enforced, and so it falls upon private organizations and individuals to provide care for wayward or abused animals and to raise the public awareness to this pressing cause. “At the end of the book I am showing the history of man’s relationship with animals and how things are developing world-wide to the advantage of animals, but that there is still so much that needs to change. There’s always hope.”
Many campaigns have used various religious teachings as a proof of strong injunctions to treat animals with compassion and not abuse them. The Holy Qur’an and Hadith (recorded sayings of Prophet Mohamed) emphasize respect for animals and all creatures of God. Prophet Mohamed gave many examples and directives about how Muslims should treat animals. Likewise, Christianity calls for hospitality, justice, humility, forgiveness, acceptance and mercy for all of God’s creatures. Just as Jesus, the good shepherd, had compassion for the sheep, so must all Christians embrace the call to love animals.
With an increasing number of reports of severe cruelty and neglect against animals, there is still much to be done, and many local and international animal charities and NGOs are pressing for better treatment of animals. “The campaign that I started is called Wildsoul. It promotes kindness and empathy towards all animals in Egypt. I am hoping to create a big community of people working together on artwork and books and educational material to raise awareness on the necessity of treating animals with kindness, how it affects them and how it affects us. The book is just a start. Right now, I am working alone, but soon I hope we will be a big number of people, hopefully,” Rania concludes.
Rania Amin is a veteran in the field of children’s books, is best known for her collection of stories Farhana, which she also illustrated. Farhan’s audience are children between the ages of 4-7, whom she addresses through her character. A psychology graduate from the American University in Cairo, Amin participated in countless children writing and illustration workshops and art courses. She also worked with children with special needs. Amin won the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in the Young Adult category, for her book Sorakh Khalf al Abwab (Screaming Behind Doors). This was the first book she wrote for children above the age of twelve. She also wrote, You Get Blood from A Stone, from the ages 10-14-year old kids. In November 2018, she published her book Outside the Circle for young adults.
Check WildSoul Facebook page here
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