Place of dogs in America and in Islam

Place of dog in America and Islam
M. Akhtar, Ph.D
President, MCA , author of a book and many articles on ‘identity’ issues

The problem: In American culture dogs have special place at home. They are endeared like another child and member of the family. Muslims came as migrants from other cultures which had one common denominator: dogs are bad, keep away from them, they bite and above all they are dirty and prohibited in Islam. Coming here with that frame of mind, now Muslims are supposed to acculturate in America, befriend with Americans and like their dog as well. That poses the problem. The key to integration is to live like Americans. There is a saying in URDU ‘if you have a sweet heart that you love very much then you have to endear even her dog”. Simply put it says : to win your real love you have to do what she likes even if it you loathe it. Note the severity of the problem because in the Muslim cultures dogs are generally actually loathed and considered repulsive. Yet if the integration is to take hold, Muslims have to overcome their revulsion. Much of that goes back to teachings of Islam based on Ahadith which prohibit keeping the dog at home. To me personally, I can easily stay away from dog coming from the cultural background of a Muslim migrant. The problem is real in the context of American culture, which will become most evident in our second and third generation of Muslim Americans. Even at present our kids mingle with American kids as buddies, they have a definite liking for dogs what should we tell them why dogs are bad, what Islamic thinking is opposed to keeping dogs. Our Islamic scholars need to take a look at those teachings if they are culturally referred and may call for reinterpretation in the context of American cultural pressures, or dog’s prohibition as pet is categorical and is meant for all cultures? My role here as social scientist is to merely articulate the cultural pressure in America and it is up to the Islamic scholars to decide for us- I disclaim to have any religious authority in this matter. As a social scientist, however, I can foresee with some confidence, that in 3 generations no Muslim kid would see anything wrong in keeping a dog as pet- similar to the present reality that most of the Muslims see nothing wrong in keeping the pictures of their relatives at home (one hadith prohibits keeping dog and keeping the picture of Living Creatures at home).It is mentioned merely as an observation. What exactly it means, it is up to each individual to choose from several possible meanings. I trust that there may well be several interpretations all may possibly be right in the eyes of God who knows it ALL, we humans do not. In examining the section on Islamic teachings, I am partial to search for a solution to the Muslims need to be responsive to the American culture, it is quite possible that I am making some errors. My views there are strictly my own and do not represent any organization or anyone else. .I seek God’s forgiveness for my errors, He knows my intentions and human limitations.
Introduction. Dogs are known to be man’s best friend. It is true definitely in America even if they are considered less than likable in other countries. As an animal there are many variations of dog’s breeds, some specializing in their acute sense of smell, they are employed for this in the security department to smell any hidden bomb which may not be visible otherwise. Some are known for their sharp sense of hearing that well serves the purpose of guarding a place where they get alerted even to a rustling sound that elicits a loud bark. Some species specialize in running fast and are used for hunting. Generally a dog is rated good for its intelligence and ability to learn that makes them easily trainable.- The Quran acknowledges the last function of guarding and trainability for hunting , which is also true in the American experience.
The function for which a dog is specially acknowledged in American experience vis-à-vis the general Mid Eastern experience, for instance, is the high quality of affection, attachment and companionship. The special breed Collier is remarkable in this department and was the main feature in the Television serials that was most popular in America for long time. I had personal experience with this kind of dog which used to go with me on a walk. When he was let out, he would eagerly move ahead of me, then turn back and seeing me far behind, would stop and wait until I would catch up. Even when he was let loose out of leash , he would not run away or go astray, and would like to come home. Inside the home, he would sit only where you sat, snuggle and cuddle with you. That made him quite desirable as a pet. However, when he was outside and ran into some kind of dirt, slush or was drenched in rain he would come home and snuggle with you that would make you dirty and make the house dirty. It is this messiness that stands out in the Mid Eastern experience. Typically dogs there are not house kept as pets but wander around the streets, run into all kinds of dirt, gutter water or what have you. The typical image of dog subsequent to the Mid eastern experience is that a dog has no meaning to us but that it is dirty, it is Najis, it voids ablution and keeps angels off a house which has a dog in it.
Islamic Teachings These are all Ahadith which are negative to dog.
Keep a dog but need super cleaning
Muslim (279) narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The purification of the vessel of one of you, if a dog licks it, is to wash it seven times, the first time with soil.”
Al-Bukhaari (2145) narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever keeps a dog, a qiraat from his good deeds will be deducted every day, except a dog for farming or herding livestock.”
Also, Angels will not enter the house with a dog.
Al-Bukhari (3:515) Narrated Abu Huraira
I heard Allah’s Apostle saying; “Angels (of Mercy) do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or a picture of a living creature (a human being or an animal)
The striking thing about the above Ahadith is that they are narrated by Abu Huraira and were compiled in time much later than the Prophet (pbh).To reduce the gap in time, when we go back to the two early books of most respected Imams, they are given in the following. Surprisingly, the condemnation of dogs here is the worst possible, kill a dog
Imam Malik’s Muwatta, Book 54, Number 54.5.13:
“Malik related from Nafi from Abdullah Ibn Umar that the Messenger of God ordered all dogs (other than sheepdogs or hunting dogs) to be killed”.
Excepting Sheep dogs-hunting dogs that are protected in Quran, kill all dogs. The question is if it is general condemnation of all dogs, why dogs are created by God to begin with. ?
Similarly read Imam Ibn Hanbal’s collection: The Messenger of God said:
“You shall kill all black dogs, because they are devils.”.
In this commandment, the stress is on killing only the black colored dogs, as if even God is biased against the black color which is detracting from the divine attribute of God-. That is not possible. Next possible level of question is if the prophet of Islam did really say all that, and did he mean to condemn dogs at large.? If so, shouldn’t there be some mention of condemnation or even some negative hint to that effect in the Qur’an also? The fact is that in the Quran., any prohibition against dog is simply missing. Let us examine following 2 Quranic verses which have relevance to the issue.
Verse 5:4 “ They ask thee (O Mohammad) what is made lawful for them? Say; all good things are made lawful for you. And those beasts and birds of prey which you have trained as hounds- are trained —.So eat of them which they catch for you and mention the name of Allah upon it”.
Here is the question: if dog is inherently and generally Najis and dirty, how come their prey is O.K to eat?
Verse 18;13 –Sura ‘Cave’ speaks of cave dwellers who had a “dog stretching his arm at the threshold to cover it. The “dwellers of the cave” are described distinctly as” good believers”. The question is how come good believers had a dog which is prohibited so extensively in the prophet’s sayings? There is not a single place in the Quran where a dog is condemned anywhere. Obviously there is contradiction here. Is the prophet authorized to take upon himself and declare on his own what is unlawful? The answer is negative as given in the following verse 66:1
“O you prophet, why do you prohibit what God has made lawful in order to please your wives? God is Forgiver Merciful”
This reprimand of the prophet for pleasing his wives and going beyond his commandment is meant to make it unambiguous that the messenger of God has no authority to prohibit anything which God has not prohibited. Verse 5:92 sys “ the only duty of the messenger is to deliver God’s message”. Verse 6;114) says “ God is the only law maker God is the only lawmaker’. One possible way out of it, assuming that prophet did condemn dogs, is that he did had his own local conditions within which prohibition was meant to operate
Try to summarize all the injunctions in any coherent picture, I am glad that it is the responsibility only of an Islamic expert. Being responsible for my own accountability and wresting with it, this is what I come up with.
1) There is a big gap- if not discrepancy between Quran and the Ahadith strong condemnation of dog
2) A wider gap and really mind boggling discrepancies exist between Ahadith themselves- condemning dog all the way to killing- either only black dogs, or all dogs to milder condemnations such as cleaning the pot that the dog licked seven times. The last condition of cleanliness as stressed here seems to be promising for our perspective.
3) In the olden Arabian context and Muslims cultures where dogs were astray and wild, wandering into all kinds of filth, getting into gutters etc, they would be utterly infectious and even deadly for human lives, they are good riddance even better killed. For the lack of any relationship and for not keeping them at home as pet no affection is involved or is even conceivable, the connotation of dog would be nothing but frightening like devil and dirty so angles would not possibly enter the home.
4) If the above #3 is considered tenable, then certainly the conditions in American context are reversed, therefore the condemnation would be unnecessary. To conclude Islams prohibition of dogs would be qualified as conditions specific and not completely absolute..
5) There are two scholars whose names come to my mind who have a position that under certain extraordinary set of conditions, the dog can be kept as pet. Ingrid Mateson wrote an article (can be found on our website) on her own dog she kept as pet which she appreciated because it did do a lot good to her daughter. Limiting to a special need of her daughter, for example,Imam Zaid Shakir justified that practice of her; thus he maintains the permission to keep dog as pet as qualified only.
6) Before closing this discussion, I will be remiss if I do not share this hadith which is atypical to most of the Ahadith in so far as it exceptionally is positive to dogs.
cNarrated Abu Huraira:
Allah’s Apostle said, “A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that.” (Bukhari :: Book 4 :: Volume 54 :: Hadith 538).
Some explanations have been attempted with a degree of feasibility to reconcile the above act of the woman as good and duly rewarded, but the act is framed so as to be seen separately , so that the dog still remains as condemned in that contrived version. But looking at the dog itself which was about to die ,which is what a dog would if he is exceedingly thirsty, the fact that overides all the explanations is that the condition of thirsrt was reverted and the dog was helped to survive, the end result of saving life of a dog was evaluated by the Prophet too powerful to be withstood by the sinful prostutue and she was forgiven by God. This is only
consistent with dog being nothing but positive and his life being nothing but worth saving,that is in balatant contradiction to the Hadith”Kill all dogs”
The question raised here is in the perspective of Americanization and keeping dogs as pet in America would be judged positively in social sciences and even hygenic by health related sciences.Reading of Islam in regard to dogs is at worst mixed if you take Ahadith in particular. In reading islam,however, one established classical rule of Fiqha is to give priority to the local traditions and American culture, which is in favor of dogs without any ambiguity.To end,how can Muslims prohibit dogs as pet in America in a categorical manner? Can they?

3 Responses to “Place of dogs in America and in Islam”

  1. Adam Says:


    I am a 3rd generation Afghan-American born in an Affluent San Francisco Suburb. My family is great Muslims and we have dogs. I was born and raised with dogs and it has made me and my families hearts truly beautiful.

    Read the Quran 66:1 and God tells the prophet Why is he and his followers telling people dogs are unclean because of their WIVES….

    As you see, Many Muslims have made our reputations bad. The Quran us the true word of Allah and none should listen to others. Seek guidance from Quran.

  2. MCA Says:

    Many thanks for supporting the cause of dogs as pet. i am glad that you find your experience with dog as postitive. I took a positive position about dogs, because it is not consistent with Islams emphasis on being kind to all animals. But the bigger issue is that Dogs are among the most favored pets for America at large.our organization is pleading Muslims to combine with Americanism as their identity. You being third generation muslim is noteworthy, specially you recite Quran in a sensible way. If you know 10-15 others like you, i will appreciate your help in taking a brief survey. The basic question is what are several other things which your generation finds likable like dogs while my first generation rejects them and argues they are against Islam.
    Look forward to hear from you


    Incidentally, i was excited about you quoting Quran (61:1) and went couple of minutes ago to check the reference. God chides the prophet for listening to his wives. But I could not find any specific mention of dogs as being the object of God,s displeasure. I just had only a quick and brief look at quran, did not get to Tafseer etc. May be i will find there what i wish to look for

    Look forward to hear from you
    With best and kind regards

    M.Akhtar, Ph.d

  3. Teddy Ayarza Says:

    They should lock everything down & stop letting people from other countries come here until they get things figured out. I bet if Obama kids got the disease they would quarantine the entire US

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