Muslims tend to shy away from dogs, viewing them as unclean. I was not aware of this attitude when growing up in Sri Lanka, but looking back I don’t recall any of my Muslim friends having a dog as a pet. Maybe I did not notice it because my own family did not have dogs either and I viewed that as the norm. I became aware of the antipathy of Muslims for dogs as pets fairly recently but thought that it derived from cultural history. But it appears that it can be viewed as actually going against Islamic doctrine.
A person who organized a dog-petting event at a public park in Malaysia in order to encourage people to view dogs differently was even labeled a heretic and has received death threats
Nearly 1,000 people attended the Oct. 19 event at a park in the western state of Selangor, aimed at helping Muslims overcome religious stigma and fear of canines, learn permissible ways to touch a dog and how to perform a cleansing ritual, known as “sertu” or “samak.”
The backlash was swift and serious after social media and news reports were flooded with images of Muslim participants — particularly women in hijabs — stroking and hugging their new four-legged friends at the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event.
Muslims here largely subscribe to the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence, which views dogs as unclean. Dogs are not permitted to be reared as pets or handled, cuddled, pet or kissed. The only reason to touch a dog is if it needs help.
Following the uproar, the federal government issued a religious edict that deemed the touching of dogs went against mainstream Islamic doctrine and that in turn has spawned a debate on the theological soundness of having dogs as pets, if you can imagine it, and the issue has divided family members and broken up friendships.
Zeyna Ahmed’s Egyptian parents wouldn’t let her have a dog as a child when she was growing up in New Jersey, saying that it was haram, or forbidden, under Islam. She didn’t believe them, but couldn’t change their minds. Instead, Ahmed walked the neighbors’ dogs behind her parents’ backs.
Ahmed got her first puppy, an American Staffordshire Terrier-Boxer mix, five years ago after she said her husband left her and her four young children. She said the dog was therapeutic for them.
“This is the one, loyal, consistent thing in their life,” said Ahmed, 45, who adopted a pit bull last year, and lets both dogs sleep in her bed. Ahmed said many of her Muslim friends have gotten dogs in recent years, although a few others won’t enter her home because of the dogs.
If there was ever the slightest possibility that I would convert to Islam at some time in the future, the prohibition against touching dogs has eliminated it entirely. Any religion that is against Baxter the Wonder Dog can never be a home to me.