Muslims and dogs


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.

Comments

  1. Katydid says

    Baxter is a Wonder Dog; he looks so sympathetic and cuddly.

    There’s a theory that dogs civilized early humans, and I for one think there’s truth to that. It’s certainly true that people have created breeds of dogs to fulfill a variety of human needs (for example, sheep herders, protection, and companionship). I view the Muslim distaste of dogs the same way as the Jewish refusal to eat pigs; superstitions from a more primitive time that a lot of deluded people cling to.

  2. Ed says

    There are milder versions of this, fortunately. Some only require extra ritual washing between handling a dog and prayers. I live near a Muslim area and have often had Muslims pet and show great enthusiasm for my dogs. Some would say they aren’t devout enough, but I’d say wearing a long dress and headscarf in the summer is pretty devout.

    I found a dissenting point of view online about dogs where an imam argues that the anti-dog thing is not only a misunderstanding (it only means don’t eat them) but that dogs with their loyalty and obedience are the most Islamic of animals. 🙂 Everyone has an opinion!

  3. Barb's Wire says

    Some of my muslim neighbours’ children (it is almost 50% muslim in the small community where i live) scream and run when they see me walking my friendly dog down the sidewalk. That is alarming to the dog. Worse are those who ask to pet her (good) and then pull their hand away and scream (not good)…. upsetting my dog. She is old, and cannot understand that response to her soft nature. It is one thing to forbid the handling of dogs, but to not teach children how to behave around them is inexcusable. I try to teach them… but it is frustrating at times. EVERYONE needs to least teach their children about dogs, and what behaviours are or are not acceptable around these pets… whether they will ever own dogs or not.

  4. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    Count me in as someone who wishes I could live in a dog-free space. Nothing against dogs, who are only doing what comes natural, but against their selfish owners who will leave a pack of nuisance yapping dogs barking non-stop 24/7 in their back yards or the apartment next door. I’ve never understood the “dog-lover” fetish for keeping animals born to roam free caged up in enclosed spaces where the only relief they have from the frustration is to bark nonstop. Listening to animals crying in frustration is not my favorite tune.

  5. lpetrich says

    Could it be some ecological-nuisance issue long ago in semidesert societies? Something like what Marvin Harris has proposed for pigs, that they mess up water supplies by trying to keep cool in them.

  6. Stacey says

    Finally, something I agree with Muslims on!
    I don’t mind dogs, but I really mind the way we own them here. People with dogs let them bark non stop, pop everywhere, run loose and maul and kill. I had to move and sell my last house because every neighbor had a dog or two that barked all the time. It was super stressful, and dogs barking is one of the top reasons for neighbors fighting, even killing each other. And if your dog kills someone? 95% of the time nothing happens, even when you’re utterly negligent.
    And what a horrible choice for a first dog, pit bulls are the most dangerous of all dogs. They maim and kill more than all other types combined.
    But death threats? ridiculous!

  7. Muslim says

    It’s quite ignorant to take such a cursory perception of a common misunderstanding amongst muslims to make arrogant sweeping statements regarding your faith and mine. But that I suppose, is usually the case with ignorant psuedointellectuals so I’ll delve into it, if not for you but for the other visitors to this website.

    In Islam, dogs are not vilified but are merely viewed unclean. Specifically their saliva is judged to be unclean and hence one is required to purify himself before praying or reading Quran if one’s body is in contact with their saliva. Additionally, within the Islamic discourse it is viewed that the natural disposition of dogs are outdoor animals which further reinforce the notion that dogs are unclean to keep as indoor pets but one can still keep them if they remain outside . This has resulted in a cultural misconception throughout Islamic peripheral cultures as it will naturally do considering the longevity (lasting over 1300 years) and outreach of Islam across many lands and peoples, whereby dogs are villified and deemed in a superstitious manner which has no basis in the religion.

  8. Holms says

    Actually, I’m reminded of a mystery from childhood that might finally be explained. A friend of my mum’s was visiting our house for the first time, and was being given the grand tour when my chihuahua decided to check out this stranger. Cue a shriek of terror, and fleeing from the tiniest dog ever.

    What made it truly farcical however was the layout of the house. The entrance passageway, living room and a spare room were connected in a circle, and the visitor did not know this, so she ran for several laps about this circle with the least intimidating dog ever in hot pursuit, thinking the stranger was playing an excellent game. Dog expressions are almost as easy to read as those of humans, so it was pretty easy to see that she was having a grand old time, but the terror experienced by the woman has always baffled me. At last though, this post offers a very tentative explanation – perhaps she was raised devoutly muslim?

  9. Mano Singham says

    Holms,

    I can relate to your hilarious story.

    Our dogs could not imagine that anyone would not want to be friends with them. But some visitors to our home, even if not Muslim, are terrified of them or at least dislike them and try to avoid contact. You can guess what happens. Our dogs are determined to make friends with exactly those people and cluster around them trying to win them over, giving them their toys to throw making them recoil in disgust even more. So we have to forcibly keep the dog away from them.

  10. Mano Singham says

    Muslim,

    This whole religious notion of some things being so ‘unclean’ as to require a ritual purification before praying or touching the holy book strikes me as silly. The gods of the Abrahamic religions seem to have some sort of neurosis about cleanliness, to the point of obsession.

    Of course some things are unclean. The reason to wash one’s hands after touching them is to prevent the ingestion or transmission of germs or dirt to other things. That is why we wash our hands before we eat. To do because you are going to pray is the kind of irrational behavior that religions expect from its followers, that have no basis in science but are done simply because their holy books tell them to.

  11. aashiq says

    I know several Muslims who have dogs as pets. I suppose silly subsets of any religion can impose interpretations as they wish. Can Jews or Muslims have pigs as pets?

    Dogs are in fact unclean when they enter a house after a walk outside. I have friends who make a great show of taking off their shoes when they enter their homes, but their dogs walk right in after a walk, with their feet carrying in whatever they have stepped in.

  12. Holms says

    Hey Mr. Muslim, are you aware that the OP links to a case where a ‘learn about dogs’ event sparked death threats? That there was then a debate at the national level regarding the event? Because it seems to me that you are trying to speak for all muslims as if they share your views on dogs, when the evidence that they clearly don’t is staring you in the face.

    In short, you have forgotten that Islam is not monolith and that your views are not representative of every muslim.

  13. Mobius says

    The Missy Dog is my Great Pyrenees mix. 75 pounds of loveable dog. 27 inches at the shoulder and with lots of fur she looks even bigger. She thinks everyone is her friend and doesn’t understand at all that some people find her intimidating. She really is one of the kindest, sweetest dogs ever but there are people that will recoil in fear when she approaches them.

  14. says

    People with dogs let them bark non stop, pop everywhere, run loose and maul and kill

    Overgeneralize, much??

    My dogs used to rule a 250-acre farm. If you stood at the edge of my property, you might hear a distant howl. And here’s another crazy thing: left with enough space and freedom of movement, dogs will pick a place to poop, and generally do their business there. They only poop all over the place if they’ve got a human on a rope hauling them around and controlling their choice of where to poop. And I really liked the way my dogs kept the woodchuck and rabbit population in check. Since they’ve gone into the ground, I’ve got a bobcat pinch-hitting for them, but he’s nowhere near as approachable.

  15. Muslim says

    Holms,

    Very good. Now please redirect your “Islam is not a monolith” to this author in his interpretation of Islam and how he manages to so readily dismiss Islam due to actions of possibly a few ignorant or superstitious muslims.

  16. Muslim says

    Mano,

    Cleaning oneself is a form of not physical cleanliness but also spiritual procedure which has implications in and of itself of worship and devotion from a mental and physical element. Not everything is meant to be approached from an overtly materialistic perception which in all reality is quite shallow and pathetic to begin with.

    Religion and its validity begins with theology. You cannot discern the irrationality of a religion by peering at the actions it commands upon its followers and deeming them irrational from your own imperfect subjective viewpoint, cultured and brought up in your own sociopolitical context as you are. Much like how I cannot discern the validity of your atheistic ideology by you over-generalisation nor your curt pretentious pseudo analysis. I must go to heart of your ideology and see where your basis comes from much like you should do with my religion.

  17. Mano Singham says

    Muslim #18,

    “Religion and its validity begins with theology. “

    There’s your problem right there. Theology is an empty discipline that has no content because there is no reason to think that any gods, yours or other people’s, exist at all.

    As H. L. Mencken said “A theologian is like a blind man in a dark room searching for a black cat which isn’t there – and finding it!”

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