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What’s the problem Islam has with dogs?

Muslims tend to dislike dogs, especially outside the West.

In Iran, they “arrest” dogs and move them to “undisclosed locations”, while their owners never receive a response from the police on their whereabouts. Guard dogs and hounds have always been allowed, and for as long as pet dogs were a rarity they were somewhat tolerated. But when, in recent years, more and more people from the middle class started to emulate the Western lifestyle and pet dogs begun to increase in numbers, the authorities started cracking down on dog ownership, while Islamic authoritarians claimed the phenomenon to be “a blind imitation” of Western culture that will lead to family corruption and damaged social values.

An issue has even been raised, in Britain, about transport security using sniffer dogs to spot terrorists. Dog contact with luggage makes it unclean in the minds of some Muslims (some others have claimed that body scanners are essentially undressing them, defeating the purpose of Muslim women covering up), and, though the British Transport Police decided it would keep using the dogs on any passengers, “handlers would remain aware of cultural sensitivities”.

It has also been known to happen that a taxi driver in the West will not allow a blind man to enter the car if he’s accompanied by his guide dog.

The place dogs hold in Islam is controversial, with many Muslims believing that if they own, touch or be in the presence of dogs, they will be in conflict with Mohamed’s creeds. Phenomena like the above are abundant in the Muslim world, since many Muslims consider dogs as “najis”, meaning unclean, while a google search will show you horrific images of dog abuse.

A mad dog bites a man. Arabic painting from a translation of “De material medica” of Dioscorides in Arabic (1224 AD) (source)
A mad dog bites a man. Arabic painting from a translation of “De material medica” of Dioscorides in Arabic (1224 AD) (source)

 

So, what is the issue with dogs in Islam? Here, we are going to see where this idea of dogs being unclean originates from in the Islamic texts. [the sources can be found at the bottom of the article]

The Quran does not give us a lot to go on. There are very few mentions of dogs, like (in 5.4) when God says every prey killed by trained hunting animals –like dogs or falcons- is halal (permitted) to eat. There is also the verse 7.176 where God parallelizes a person, who has disregarded a divine sign and followed Satan, with dogs that pant both when one chases them or when he leaves them be. (There is another mention in chapter 18 which we’ll look at later on.)

The hadiths –sayings and habits of the Prophet- provide more information. There, dogs are more explicitly shown to be impure, and those who own them as pets are to pay a price. Exceptions are made for dogs used as guards or hounds; therefore, condemnation comes only to those who own dogs as pets.

One night, Mohamed was supposed to be visited by Gabriel, but the angel never came. The Prophet met him later and complained to him, only to be informed that an angel will not enter a house which hosts a dog. Mohamed then ordered the killing of the dogs, sparing only “the dog meant for the protection of extensive fields or big gardens”. Furthermore, angels do not accompany travelers if they have a dog with them [hadiths: Muslim #5248 / Bukhari Vol. 4, #448 / Bukhari Vol. 7, #843 / Muslim, #5276].

The order to kill dogs is repeated elsewhere, sometimes limited towards the killing of only the black ones, as “they might be more mischievous among them”. Also, black dogs with two spots on their eyes are referred to as “devils” [Abu Dawud #2839 and the hadith’s note / Muslim #3813 / Bukhari Vol. 4, #540].

Mohamed forbade the selling and buying of dogs, along with the earnings of prostitutes and soothsayers, who were despised in general. The simultaneous prohibition of these three practices implies an equation of their impiety [Muslim #3803].

If a dog licks a utensil, it is to be washed seven times and then rubbed with sand (sand was used at the time to clean even one’s face) [Muslim #055].

It is also said that if a person is praying and a dog passes in front of him (meaning between him and the Kaaba in Mecca) the prayer is annulled [Bukhari Vol. 1, #490 / Muslim #1032 / Abu Dawud #0704].

But perhaps the most serious deterrence from owning a dog is the Prophet’s warning that whoever keeps a dog, will have a portion of his good deeds reduced every day. It’s hard to imagine anything worse for a believer than to have his record of good deeds, which would eventually allow him entry in paradise, become somewhat void by keeping a particular pet [Bukhari Vol. 3, #515].

“Meeting of Arab Chiefs”, by the French painter Jean-Horace Vernet (1789 – 1863 AD) (source)
“Meeting of Arab Chiefs”, by the French painter Jean-Horace Vernet (1789 – 1863 AD) (source)

 

There are some counter arguments which criticize the demonization of dogs in Islam –some good ones, and some bad ones. As an unbeliever I don’t have a dog in this fight (excuse the pun), and I would rather let even the bad arguments win if it meant Muslims killing one less dog or even take one as a pet; as some actually do, especially in the West. However, I have to go by what the texts say, in the interest of accurately depicting the Prophet’s thoughts on the issue.

One of the most outrageous such counter arguments I came upon was that, when Mohamed ordered to kill the dogs and then only the black ones, he actually meant to kill hyenas. But why, then, didn’t he say “hyenas”? Also, if we replace “black dog” with “hyena”, the commentary on one of the relevant hadiths is rewritten as “hyenas might be more mischievous among the dogs”. The phrase obviously doesn’t make sense.

Others have tried to claim that these hadiths are not authentic. But the same collections that include them are accepted as authentic by virtually every Muslim and have been deemed as such more than 1,000 years ago. Let alone that if one chooses to ignore one hadith he has to explain why he does not ignore the other ones in the same collection. This is a pick-and-choose attitude and, as I said, I’ll take it, if it means more Muslims will have a change of heart on accepting dogs as pets; but a condemnation of dogs in the hadiths seems evident to me.

On the other hand, concerning the impurity of dogs, an American Muslim says: “You can have a dog and have a clean house. I know there is hadith but things are different now. We have hot water, dogs get shots and you can use stuff to keep the dog clean and healthy”. Who wouldn’t meticulously clean a utensil licked by a dog before reusing it anyway?

A hadith that supports the killing of dogs condemns solely those that have two spots on their eyes, describing them as “devils”. This is claimed to mean that only the rabid dogs were to be killed. “Devils”, then, is to mean “rabid dogs” and not “demonic creatures”; however, Jinns and demonic creatures in the Islamic literature are thought to be able to take animal form, so it is normal for dogs to be described as demons. Again, the hadith does not give a hint that specifically rabid dogs should be the target, when it would be easy to do so, and the believer is left with all the other condemning phrases deeming dogs to be impure, diminishing one’s good deeds and nullifying prayer.

The story from the Quran I skipped over previously is used as proof for God not forbidding the company of dogs. In Islam, God is to be the only law maker and, therefore, no one is to make a prohibition not derived from God’s will. The story goes like this: some “youths who believed in their Lord”, and whose guidance was “increased” by him, went into a cave accompanied by a dog and slept for many years. “And you would think them awake, while they were asleep. And We turned them to the right and to the left, while their dog stretched his forelegs at the entrance” (18.18). The fact that the dog was with them, and that the men are presented in a positive manner, is supposed to mean that God allows pets. Once more, there is not really enough information to reach to that conclusion. Couldn’t it be that the men were virtuous in spite of the fact they had a dog with them? Were they perhaps so virtuous that even the presence of a dog did not nullify their virtuousness? Was the dog maybe acting as a guard for their safety? As we saw, guard dogs were explicitly allowed anyway.

Another example is the hadith which describes a prostitute passing by a panting dog and giving it some water. For this, she is forgiven by Allah. Seeing that prostitutes were despised individuals, this is presented to be an important narration, showing how even a prostitute can be forgiven if she shows kindness to a dog. However, it can very well be that dogs were so hated that to show kindness to such a low creature could mean one is somewhat pure of heart, and therefore not without hope of being saved. God offering forgiveness for helping a dog, of course, is still an improvement compared to commanding to kill it, but it doesn’t quite help in accepting dogs as “man’s best friend”. Helping a dog might as well be the lowest possible bar in showing that you are not beyond hope.

I can’t say I know what I would believe if I was a Muslim, but I would say that the very harsh condemnations of dogs (nullifying prayer and counterbalancing one’s good deeds) might make me think twice before going to the pet shop. There would be much to lose if I mistook the prohibiting hadiths to be inauthentic and not much to gain for caring for a pet dog, considering the vague and inconclusive evidence that to do so would benefit me.

You can read more here:

Muhammad and the dogs – by Silas on answering-islam.org

Quranic verses referrencing dogs

Quranic verses referrencing dogs

5.4
They ask you, [O Muhammad], what has been made lawful for them. Say, “Lawful for you are [all] good foods and [game caught by] what you have trained of hunting animals which you train as Allah has taught you. So eat of what they catch for you, and mention the name of Allah upon it, and fear Allah”. Indeed, Allah is swift in account.

7.176

[referring to a man who has ignored a sign from God and has followed Satan:]

And if We had willed, we could have elevated him thereby, but he adhered [instead] to the earth and followed his own desire. So his example is like that of the dog: if you chase him, he pants, or if you leave him, he [still] pants. That is the example of the people who denied Our signs. So relate the stories that perhaps they will give thought.

18.18
And you would think them awake, while they were asleep. And We turned them to the right and to the left, while their dog stretched his forelegs at the entrance. If you had looked at them, you would have turned from them in flight and been filled by them with terror.

18.22
They will say there were three, the fourth of them being their dog; and they will say there were five, the sixth of them being their dog – guessing at the unseen; and they will say there were seven, and the eighth of them was their dog. Say, [O Muhammad], “My Lord is most knowing of their number. None knows them except a few. So do not argue about them except with an obvious argument and do not inquire about them among [the speculators] from anyone”.

This English translation of the verses can be found at quran.com

Hadith referrencing dogs that I use above

Hadith referrencing dogs that I use above

Bukhari Vol. 4, #540

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar: “Allah’s Apostle ordered that the dogs should be killed”.

Abu Dawud #2839

Abd Allah B. Mughaffal reported the apostle of Allah as saying: “Were dogs not a species of creature I should command that they all be killed; but kill every pure black one.”

This hadith’s note says, “The prophet did not order the killing of all the dogs, for some are to be retained for hunting and watching. He ordered to kill the jet black ones. They might be more mischievous among them”.

Muslim #055

Ibn Mughaffal reported: “The Messenger of Allah ordered killing of the dogs, and then said: ‘What about them, i. e. about other dogs?’ and then granted concession (to keep) the dog for hunting and the dog for (the security) of the herd, and said: ‘When the dog licks the utensil, wash it seven times, and rub it with earth the eighth time’.”

Muslim #3813

Abu Zubair heard Jabir Abdullah saying: “Allah’s messenger ordered us to kill dogs and we carried out this order so much so that we also killed the dog roaming with a women from the desert. Then Allah’s apostle forbade their killing. He said: ‘It is your duty to kill the jet-black (dog) having two spots (on the eyes) for it is a devil’.”

Muslim #5248

Maimuna reported that one morning Allah’s Messenger was silent with grief. Maimuna said: ‘Allah’s Messenger, I find a change in your mood today’. Allah’s Messenger said: ‘Gabriel had promised me that he would meet me tonight, but he did not meet me’. By Allah, he never broke his promises, and Allah’s Messenger spent the day in this sad mood. Then it occurred to him that there had been a puppy under their cot. He commanded and it was turned out. He then took some water in his hand and sprinkled it at that place. When it was evening Gabriel met him and he said to him: ‘You promised me that you would meet me the previous night’. He said: ‘Yes, but we do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture’. Then on that very morning he commanded the killing of the dogs until he announced that the dog kept for the orchards should also be killed, but he spared the dog meant for the protection of extensive fields or big gardens.

Bukhari Vol. 4, #448

Narrated Abu Talha: “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)’.”

Bukhari Vol. 7, #843

Narrated Salim’s father: “Once Gabriel promised to visit the Prophet but he delayed and the Prophet got worried about that. At last he came out and found Gabriel and complained to him of his grief (for his delay). Gabriel said to him, ‘We do not enter a place in which there is a picture or a dog’.”

Muslim, #5276

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger as saying: “Angels do not accompany the travelers who have with them a dog and a bell”.

Muslim #3803

Abu Masud reported that Allah’s messenger forbade the charging of price of the dog and earning of a prostitute and sweets offered to a kahin.

Bukhari Vol. 3, #515

Narrated Abu Huraira: “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Whoever keeps a dog, one Qirat of the reward of his good deeds is deducted daily, unless the dog is used for guarding a farm or cattle’.”

Bukhari Vol. 1, #490

Narrated ‘Aisha: “The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, ‘Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people).’ I said, ‘You have made us (i.e. women) dogs. I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qibla. Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away, for I disliked to face him’.”

Muslim #1032

Abu Dharr reported: “The Messenger of ‘Allah said: ‘When any one of you stands for prayer and there is a thing before him equal to the back of the saddle that covers him and in case there is not before him (a thing) equal to the back of the saddle, his prayer would be cut off by (passing of an) ass, woman, and black Dog’. I said: ‘O Abu Dharr, what feature is there in a black dog which distinguish it from the red dog and the yellow dog?’ He said: ‘O, son of my brother, I asked the Messenger of Allah as you are asking me, and he said: ‘The black dog is a devil’.’”

Abu Dawud #0704

Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas:

Ikrimah reported on the authority of Ibn Abbas, saying: “I think the Apostle of Allah said: ‘When one of you prays without a sutrah, a dog, an ass, a pig, a Jew, a Magian, and a woman cut off his prayer, but it will suffice if they pass in front of him at a distance of over a stone’s throw’.”

Bukhari 4.538

Narrated 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’.”

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