A persistent belief holds that dogs are unconditionally haram in Islam. But is it that simple? Jack McGee explores the issue.
Let’s face it: Some people just don’t like dogs. They weren’t raised with them and their grandmothers said the big black ones were evil. Some of us have serious pet allergies and, well, some of us just want all the attention and cuddles.
But to varying degrees in our communities there exists a downright unkind attitude towards dogs. Cats are seemingly fine. In many cities, you can’t walk through some residential areas without your feet getting covered in kitty treats left out for stray or feral felines. Dogs, however, do not get off lightly. Veterinarians in Muslim areas complain about requests to ‘put down’ unwanted dogs. This attitude towards one of Allah’s most intelligent creatures is worth exploring.
‘Muslims don’t keep dogs’ is the answer I got when I asked fellow brothers about this, but very few people are able to explain just why this is so. It is clearly stated in the Qur’an (5:3) that pigs, another controversial animal, are forbidden as food. Dogs, however, don’t get a negative mention. In fact, it is even permissible to consume the meat of an animal caught by a dog if you proclaim the name of Allah over it first (5:4). A dog cannot catch prey with its paws alone, and would clearly have bitten into the carcass.
The overarching attitude towards animals in the Qur’an urges us to show compassion and fairness to all of God’s creation. Dogs are mentioned in the Qur’an many times (5:4, 7:176, 18:18, 18:22.) In Surah Al-Kahf (The Cave) we are specifically told to remember that, in each instance, the honourable Companions of the Cave had their dog with them. The Qur’an does not include superfluous detail. No animal has been cursed in the Qur’an; if God wanted to forbid the companion of dogs, then He would have done so. Rather, God has called us to cherish all animals and to care for them.
We must ascertain in what capacity we can engage with different animals. It does not mean that we can make all animals our pets and keep them in our home, for Islam is a religion of prayer, hygiene and observance. All animals belong to Allah and are a part of His creation. It is the duty of a Muslim to respect the glory of this fact. This extends to not only how we treat fellow Muslims, but, just as importantly, how we treat the world at large. We will be held accountable for how we care for the animals we encounter and what we use them for when we are called for judgement. Muslims believe that all animals are naturally Muslim, in that they live in accordance with Allah’s will and in true submission; only humans and jinn are born with free will.
The Qur’an guides us to show compassion and kindness towards animals. It is in the hadith that we find further guidance on how we should engage with animals, and to this end, injunctions against having dogs in the home, which have transpired over hundreds of years. Of course, hadith must be interpreted in the manner in which they were meant. The Prophet (peace be upon him) clearly wanted us to exercise caution around dogs. It is worth remembering that the Prophet’s guidance has a merit that is eternal. Dogs and other animals at the time could have been exceptionally filthy in comparison to today’s highly-groomed pets and ‘family members’, so dogs may be able to create impurity for a Muslim – even when Fifi has been at the pet-groomer all morning and is wearing a bow in her hair and doggy cologne.
So what do hadith say and how do the various madhhab (Islamic schools of thought) form their views? First, not all comments about dogs were negative. The Prophet reportedly said that ‘a man saw a dog biting the dust because of thirst, so he took his shoe and started to scoop water with it until the dog’s thirst was quenched. Allah appreciated his good deed and granted him entry into Paradise for it.’[i]
However, with regards to keeping dogs close at hand, some hadith state that angels will not enter the abode of a dog keeper.[ii] Others state that the company of dogs voids a portion of a Muslim’s good deeds.[iii] Yet others hold that the main problem is that any dog’s saliva is intrinsically impure (but the Maliki school of madhhab states that only a wild dog’s saliva is tainted).[iv]
As anyone knows, dogs love to lick everyone and everything, because their sense of perception is primarily derived through their nose and mouth. Their paws and eyesight play a comparatively reduced role in their understanding of the world around them. But we must remember that there are many things that create impurity for a Muslim, especially nullifying the state of purity for prayer.
The list varies according to each school of thought, but can include urine, faeces, swine, dogs, wine and even non-Muslims. Most of these are evident to us in daily life: we remove our shoes at the door before entering a home or mosque, many people keep a separate space in their homes for prayer, and we often change into clean clothes at prayer time.
It seems to be the unpredictability of the dog’s behaviour that causes notable concern. Many a dog-owner out there has returned five minutes late to find little Fido sitting next to a ‘welcome-home gift’ and a dirty floor. This is highly unacceptable in a Muslim household, where prayer takes place at the floor level, and ideally should allow for any Muslim guest or family to join prayers that potentially take place anywhere in the home. But this does not mean that the required level of cleanliness cannot be maintained with Fido at home, albeit with a home hygiene regimen so precise that it puts the military to shame.
For a conclusive opinion, there is no decisive verdict on the validity of the hadith mentioned in this regard, but the Qur’an is explicit in its command to be kind to animals. Individual personal reflection upon the various dog-related hadith and fatwas is required to determine your personal level of interaction with dogs.
Regardless, dogs must not be seen as intrinsically bad. All humans are capable of creating similar impurity, and human impurity is something we willingly deal with every day. On the other hand, we should be aware that dogs can and do unintentionally create an unclean environment for prayer. You may be able to compensate for the hygiene, but appreciate that other people may not have the same understanding or patience as you. It is especially important that Muslims not tolerate any form of animal abuse or contempt. Just because we are asked to refrain from direct physical contact with dogs and pigs, this does not make them cursed animals. Indeed, we must educate our children to love all of Allah’s creation and to fully understand the difficulties, limits and responsibilities of owning an animal.
How do you feel about dogs? Share your comments with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Aquila Style magazine
All images by SXC