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What’s Up With Muslims and Dogs?

Response to the article in Huffington Post by Ingrid Mattson, ‘What’s up with Muslims and dogs.’


An article appeared in the Huffington Post ‘What’s up with Muslims and dogs’ written by Ingrid Mattson. She attempts to prove that prohibition of dogs is a cultural issue and has nothing to do with Deen. Ingrid Mattson’s profile states that she is a professor of Islamic studies. Below is the article from Huffington Post.

We had many requests to respond to the article.
Advocate Mufti Emran Vawda has adequately responded to the article rebutting her erroneous claims and expounding the reality of dogs from the Shariah perspective with academic references.
It is very unfortunate that today the claim as professor of Islamic studies has become a title without any merit. This becomes very clear from the texts cited by Advocate Mufti Emran Vawda. Anyone having little knowledge of Ahaadith would have known these Ahaadith referred to in the response. The article makes an enjoyable academic read.

Mufti Ebrahim Desai

What’s Up With Muslims and Dogs?
By Ingrid Mattson

I’m not a big follower of reality television, but was happy to hear about TLC’s new reality show “All-American Muslim.” We know that personal contact is the best way to break down stereotypes, but with Muslims less than 2% of the U.S. population, many Americans will never get to know a Muslim. Meeting us through reality television might not be ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
After watching “All-American Muslim” for a few weeks, I now believe that the show is good for our community beyond the way it might lessen prejudice against Muslims. The additional benefit is that the show has engaged our community in discussing some of the many challenges we face making distinctions between critical religious values and flexible cultural practices. In the fourth episode, the issue of Muslims having dogs in the home came up, and this is worth further discussion.
In this episode, newlywed Arab-American Shadia tells Jeff, her Irish-American convert husband, that she does not want his dog to move with them to their new home. Shadia has allergies, and her asthma is exacerbated by the dog’s hair. This is an understandable and common dilemma. But Shadia bolsters her position with statements about the impermissibility for a Muslim to have dogs in the home. Her father will not pray in the house if the dog is there, she says, because dog hair is impure and a prayer space needs to be pure. Later, Shadia backs off from the religious argument, admitting that the main reason she doesn’t want a dog in the house is “I wasn’t raised with dogs; I’m not used to them.” I appreciated this moment of honesty. The use of a religious norm as a trump card in an argument we want to win is a temptation we all face.
So what is the Islamic position about dogs? In fact, there are a variety of opinions according to different legal schools. The majority consider the saliva of dogs to be impure, while the Maliki school makes a distinction between domestic and wild dogs, only considering the saliva of the latter to be impure. The question for Muslims observant of other schools of law is, what are the implications of such an impurity?
These Muslims should remember that there are many other impurities present in our homes, mostly in the form of human waste, blood, and other bodily fluids. It is fairly common for such impurities to come in contact with our clothes, and we simply wash them off or change our clothes for prayer. When you have children at home, it sometimes seems you can never get away from human waste. But we manage it, often by designating a special space and clothing kept clean for prayer.
Some Muslims object to having a dog in the home because of a prophetic report that angels do not enter a home with dogs in it. If a Muslim accepts this report as authentic, it still requires an analysis of context to determine its meaning and legal application. Ordinary people are not recipients of divine revelation through angelic messengers, so it is possible that this statement, although in general form, might suggest a rule for the Prophet’s home, not all homes. This interpretation is strengthened by the fact the Qur’an states that angels are always present, protecting us and recording our good and bad actions.
Whatever the implications of this report, there is no doubt that the Qur’an is positive about dogs. The Qur’an allows the use of hunting dogs, which is one of the reasons the Maliki school makes a distinction between domestic and wild dogs – since we can eat game that has been in a retriever’s mouth. But most compelling is the Qur’anic description of a dog who kept company with righteous youths escaping religious persecution. The party finds shelter in a cave where God places them in a deep sleep; the Qur’an (18:18) says:
You would have thought them awake, but they were asleep And [God] turned them on their right sides then on their left sides And their dog stretched his forelegs across the threshold

This tender description of the dog guarding the cave makes it clear that the animal is good company for believers. Legal scholars might argue about the proper location of the dog – that he should stay on the threshold of the home, not inside – but home designs vary across cultures. In warm climates, an outdoor courtyard is a perfectly humane place for a dog – its physical and social needs can be met in the yard. This is not the case in cold climates, where people stay indoors most of the day for months at a time.
Extreme concern about the uncleanliness of dogs likely arose historically as Islam became more of an urban phenomenon. In medieval cities, as in modern cities in underdeveloped countries, crowding of people and animals leads to the rapid spread of disease and animal control is not a priority. A few run-ins with an aggressive or diseased animal can result in excessive caution, fear and negativity.
I have long felt badly that many Muslims fear dogs as a result of negative experiences and that they resort to confused religious reasoning to shun them. It is one of the reasons why I try to introduce my students and friends to my very sweet, very large dog Ziggy.
Ziggy came into our home to be like the dog in the cave: to keep company to my child who lies in exile from the world because of a debilitating illness. He has been nothing but a blessing – guarding the house while we sleep, forcing me to exercise daily, and showing us, as he happily follows our tiny cat around the yard, that if cats and dogs can get along so well, then we people have no excuse.
There is another reason why I love having my dog around. Ziggy came from Tennessee. He was rescued by an animal control officer who uses her own resources to save dogs who would otherwise be destroyed in a few days. Tina saves as many dogs as she can by bringing them home and putting them up for adoption on the internet. When I called Tina to speak about adopting Ziggy, she had 65 dogs she had rescued out in her yard. After being disheartened by some terrible things that have come out of Tennessee lately – mosque burnings and anti-Shari`ah legislation among them – I love looking at Ziggy and thinking about the woman with the thick southern accent and big heart who saved his life.


Muslims and dogs: Is it really just a cultural thing?

Post by: Emraan Vawda[1]

A boil that erupts on the foot does not necessarily mean that one has to rush of to the podiatrist. It could be indicative of a serious imbalance in the blood, which is likely to affect the whole body. When I received a copy of an article entitled “What’s Up With Muslims and Dogs?”[2] by Ingrid Mattson, I could not help discern the underlying hidden malady that incidentally manifested itself through the topic of Muslims keeping dogs in the home. The brief column is a good example of the common ailment of apologetics coupled with pseudo-scholastics.

The unique feature of traditional Islamic learning is the continuous chain of authorization. A genuine Islamic scholar is tutored for a considerable period under the feet of a master until such time that he/she receives Ijaazah (authorization). The teacher himself or herself must have been similarly authorized. The uninterrupted and verifiable chain of reliable transmitters eventually links up directly with the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wa sallam). It is this unparalleled feature that sets traditional Ulama apart from self styled scholars of Islam. Therefore the following maxim has been repeatedly echoed over the past fourteen centuries:

Had there been no safeguard such as continuous transmission,
anyone could have said anything they wished.

The column is a stark example of personal confusion passed off as Islamic academics, supposedly representing the correct position of the religious texts.

The writer attempts to transpose the prohibition of keeping dogs in the home from the religious source to a social misunderstanding. It is after all, she argues, just a cultural thing, and has been ignorantly attributed to the Islamic religious texts. In an attempt to urge the reader to “back off from the religious argument”, she endeavours to re-interpret the texts. Herein lies the fundamental flaw of her reasoning. No matter how one interprets the religious texts, it is nonetheless an interpretation of religion, which cannot be relabelled as culture. It remains religious, whether or not we agree with such an interpretation.

In order to bolster her theory, she raises the question of the status of dog’s saliva. However, the topic under question was whether the prohibition of keeping dogs in the home is based on Islam or culture. The impurity or otherwise of dog’s saliva is merely one factor that could influence the real question. There are other reasons why Islam has prohibited the keeping of dogs in the home, as will be elucidated below. Zooming in on the matter to saliva conveniently obscures the topic’s broader religious angle.

The writer narrows the topic to the dog’s saliva. What she does not tell us is that there are different views within the Maliki school, one being that the saliva is impure. Even if we accept the view within the Maliki school that the saliva is not impure, how do we explain the fact that according to all the Ulama (scholars) within the Maliki school the keeping of dogs as pets is reprehensible. According to the majority of schools, all the dog’s body fluids, including sweat, are impure. Two of the four juristic schools view the hair that falls of the dog as impure as well. Muslims’ concern about the purity of their body, clothes and immediate environment can hardly be termed as something cultural. It is precisely a religious issue. This belies the writer’s vociferation that Muslims need to back off from the religious argument.

Very strangely, the impurity issue is sort to be downplayed by the ridiculous proposition that those with children at home have impurity all over the place, and they still manage to live with it. I don’t know whether this is a cultural thing or not. Maybe in the ‘All American Muslim’ culture homes with children have impurities spread all over the place. Where I come from, certainly this is the furthest from the truth. The same goes for the majority of Muslims in the world. Yes, with young children there is the occasional mishap which is attended to. Otherwise, the purity within the Muslim is always maintained.

The writer is then compelled to address the reality that the issue of keeping dogs within the home transcends beyond the issue of impurity. It has a spiritual dimension. The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) has said:

Whoever keeps a dog; other than the dog for guarding the crops, hunting, or guarding the livestock; looses one Qiraat of reward every day. (Bukhari and Muslim)

In another Hadith (Prophetic saying) Qiraat is described as the reward equivalent to Mount Uhud, a huge mountain outside of Madinah Munawwarah.

Yet another Hadith states:

The angels do not enter the home wherein there are pictures or dogs.

In an attempt to diminish the significance of the Hadith, the writer begins with “If a Muslim accepts this report as authentic…”. She suggests that it is a question of personal preference for Muslims to choose certain reports and reject others. In fact the very thread and theme of her article is premised on the approach that she first has her ad hominem view on dogs, and then goes cherry picking to the religious texts to suit her own personal conclusions. Anything that comes in the way is re-interpreted or explained away to suit her objectives. This narration appears in the following books of Hadith compilation: Bukhari, Muslim, Thirmithi, Abu Dawood, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, Baihaqi, Haakim, Tabrani, Ahmad, etc. It has been accepted as authentic by the authorities in the field of Hadith, and therefore there is no “if” that applies here.

The ludicrousness intensifies when the writer suggests that since we cannot receive revelation, this Hadith does not apply to us. The following quotation from Allamah Dimyari succinctly addresses this point.

The angels that do not enter the homes that have a dog or picture within them are those angels that distribute mercies and blessings; and who seek forgiveness on behalf of the Muslims. As far as the recording angels and those instructed to remove the souls at the time of death, they enter all homes. The recording angels do not leave a person under any condition, since they are ordered to write down and preserve all a person’s actions. (Hayaatul Hayawaan al Kubra)

Some angels are also deputed to inspire good thoughts into the hearts of Muslims.

If the only function of angels was to convey revelation, then the Hadith would be, in the estimation of the writer, absurd. It would imply that the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) is discouraging his followers from the impossible, which is nonsensical. It is preferred that we dismiss the writer as non compos mentis than rather even remotely attributing absurdity to the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wa sallam).

The writer then resorts to the oldest trick used by modernists, the fallacious not-found-in-the-Qur’aan argument. She postulates that since there is no negative mention of dogs in the Qur’aan, therefore it is not a religious issue but a cultural one. Like one cannot expect the Constitution of a State to include every law and rule, similarly the Qur’aan does not contain every fine detail. It lays out the principles. In numerous verses we are instructed to follow the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), and that is our second source of the detailed laws.

If we had to follow the not-found-in-the-Qur’aan argument, we would not be able to carry out our most basic religious duties. Where in the Qur’aan does it say that we have to perform the midday prayer, at what time, and how many rakaat (units of prayer)? The Qur’aan does not tell us how much Zakaat (compulsory charity) should be discharged. The list can go on infinitely. What the Qur’aan instructs us to do is to follow the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wa sallam). For Muslims, therein is our guidance, and it is here that we locate our attitude towards keeping dogs in the home, not in our culture.

The writer then resorts to utter drivel in order to dramatise her cultural thing hypothesis. She says:

Extreme concern about the uncleanliness of dogs likely arose historically as Islam became more of an urban phenomenon. In medieval cities, as in modern cities in underdeveloped countries, crowding of people and animals leads to the rapid spread of disease and animal control is not a priority. A few run-ins with an aggressive or diseased animal can result in excessive caution, fear and negativity.

I have long felt badly that many Muslims fear dogs as a result of negative experiences and that they resort to confused religious reasoning to shun them.

After acknowledging that there are Prophetic reports on the topic, she still wishes to locate the source in culture and not religion. As Muslim communities urbanised, they had a few run-ins with dogs, which resulted in fear and negativity. This then germinated into “confused religious reasoning”.

She accepts that there are valid concerns around the purity related to dogs. Muslims are overtly concerned about issues of purity as it is a prerequisite of prayer. She then shifts the entire scenario and implies that it was solely a case of human experience. As if, so to say, there was no religious position on dogs. There existed a pure vacuum. In this vacuum, Muslims of the past had some negative experiences with dogs. The poor souls were in search for some basis on which to shun dogs. They therefore invented a religious dimension in order to give some force to their own negative human experiences. In other words, the religious dimension is a fabrication of the mind, it is a myth and an invention to pacify human fears. The implication is that the Prophetic reports are something invented by Muslims to give credence to their inner negativity. Concerns around purity are fictions introduced by the jurists. They do not really exist. Those who attribute a religious dimension to the topic do so since they are confused.

The absurdity of her hypothesis is self manifest and does not require an in-depth analysis.

As alluded to above, the discussion goes deeper than the mere issue of dogs. The ruptures generated by this type of article penetrate far beyond the surface, and have the potential of damaging a Muslim’s faith. Those brought up in Muslim homes have learnt Islam through observation. Islamic norms and practices were imbibed through experiencing practical Islam. A relatively small fraction of Islamic awareness is attributable to formal Islamic education. Such Muslim have accepted and placed faith in the generally accepted norms and practices of the religious communities in which they were brought up. The overwhelming majority of Muslims would have learnt through experience that Muslims do not, for religious reasons, keep dogs at home. They had hitherto absolute confidence in the general attitude of their religious communities.

Somebody now comes along and claims that the entire Muslim communities were wrong, were all relying on “confused religious reasoning” and were in error in giving it a religious connotation. In reality it was a cultural thing. Muslims were for over a millennium confused and without guidance. In this enlightened age we are able to trace the real source of their attitudes. It is only now in the 15th Hijri century that we are truly guided and realised the colossal error. With a few more debates of this nature on relatively minor issues, the confidence this Muslim has in his experience of Islam through observation is shattered. His whole community has been proven wrong, and his entire Islamic experience has now been rendered spurious. The issue may be minor – the keeping of dogs – but the implications are catastrophic. My entire Muslim community, including the learned, were ignorant and mislead. We had all along taken such norms and practices for granted. From now on, nothing can be taken for granted. Everything is up for debate, even the most accepted of norms. We need to rethink the whole of Islam as we know it. It is this shattering of confidence and faith that is the most destructive consequence of this exercise aimed at reinventing Islam.

This is not to say that all communal experience must be taken to correctly represent Islam. There are certain cultural practices that have been confused with Islam. However, in this discussion we are dealing with a norm that is universal. Wherever one goes one would experience practicing Muslims abstaining from keeping dogs in the home. The writer now wishes to reverse a fourteen century old position in order to suit her whims.

It is a reality that some Muslims drink liquor, commit adultery, sodomise or abandon the compulsory prayers. As long as they accept these misdeeds to be their own personal weakness, there is hope of repentance and reformation. Salvation is dependent on acknowledgement of our weaknesses. To some degree or the other we all sin. What is frightening is the recent trend of justifying our sins and weaknesses. Islam is being re-interpreted to suit our own fancies. Guilt is pacified by the re-invention of Islam. Herein lies our self destruction. May Allah Ta’ala save one and all.

[1] An Islamic scholar and Mufti (juriconsult) from Durban, South Africa.
[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ingrid-mattson/whats-up-with-muslims-and_b_1144819.html

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