Dogs : Beyond Traditional Islam
Why is it that dogs are looked down upon in the so-called Muslim world ? Why has tradition made it so difficult to keep a dog in your home ? Why would a “Muslim” Taxi driver refuse to allow a blind man and his guide dog into his cab ?
Dogs are wonderful creatures of God. They bond with humans, protect them and serve them and that has been true almost since God placed man on earth. Does it make sense then that Muhammed (or any messenger of God) would place prohibitions on these loving creatures when God does not ?
How do we know that Muslims are not forbidden to be around dogs? We look at God’s word, at the Quran. In the story of the men of the cave in Sura 18, it becomes clear that God sees dogs as part of men’s lives.
18:18 “You would think that they were awake, when they were in fact asleep. We turned them to the right side and the left side, while their dog stretched his arms in their midst.”
Hadith tells us that angels won’t enter a room where there is a dog. That means that for 309 years that the sleepers were in the cave, no angel ever entered. Yet God says “We turned them….” The use of “we” clearly indicates the participation of angels. There is absolutely no reason to mention the dog as part of this story, except to make it clear to future generation that dogs are permitted to live among people, right “in their midst.” And 18:22 clearly shows that the dog was counted right along with the believers.
“Some would say, they were three; their dog being the fourth, while others would say, Five; the sixth being their dog, as they guessed. Others said, seven, and the eighth was their dog. Say, My Lord is the best knower of their number. Therefore, do not argue with them; just go along with them. You need not consult anyone about this.”
There are books of the Bible that don’t make it into all Bibles. They are recognized by some sects but not by others. These are called “apocrypha.” One such book is entitles “Tobit.” It is a wonderful narrative. It reminds me of Luqmaan in the Quran. A faithful man counsels his son to worship God always, to be righteous, to give charity and never begrudge the gift, to be humble and to be fair in all business dealings. In this book of Tobit, the son, Tobias, goes off on a journey to help his father. God sends with him an angel in the form of a man, and chapter 5 verse 16 says;
“So they went out and departed and the young man’s dog was with them.” And as they return home, after all the adventure and good things that happen , in chapter: ” After this Tobias went on his way, praising God because He had made his journey as success….So they went their way, and the dog went along behind them.”
There is no other mention of the dog in the whole narrative. It is just like the people of the cave. There is no reason to mention the dog at all, except to show that it’s a perfectly natural thing to be accompanied by your dog. God certainly does not prohibit it.
God has given dogs qualities that make perfect companions and helpmates for humans. The fact that dogs like to be around people and like to please them makes them easy to breed for specific characteristics and to train for a variety of wonderful jobs. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes from the 5″ tall, 6 pound Chihuahua to the Mastiff and St. Bernard which may reach 200 pounds. Some dogs are meant to simple be a companion to man, small enough to carry around and sit on your lap. Scientific studies have shown that just petting a dog can lower a person’s blood pressure. So their simple companionship is a gift from God.
Beyond that, dogs perform a vast array of wonderful skills. Dogs are excellent herders and guards of sheep and cattle. Some dogs have a natural desire to protect. Police and the military frequently make use of this attribute, using German Shepherds , Dobermans and Rottweilers in their work. Dogs are wonderful in search and rescue. This has gone on for hundreds of years, from the famous St. Bernard of Switzerland finding people lost in the snow and laying down with them to keep them warm (they did not carry a keg of brandy) to modern times, finding survivors in the rubble of earthquakes.
Dogs have always participated in the sporting world, as the Quran attests in 5:4
“They consult you concerning what is lawful for them; say, Lawful for you are all good things, including what trained dogs and falcons catch for you. You train them according God’s teachings. You may eat what they catch for you, and mention God’s name thereupon. You shall observe God. God is most efficient in reckoning.”
Yet according to Hadith, anything a dog touches must be washed seven times, the final time in dust. That seems inconsistent with the Quran saying you may eat what they catch for you. The beautiful bird brought back proudly in the Retriever’s mouth would have to be washed seven times, finally in dust. It does not sound very appetizing.
Recently man has come to rely on the dog more for companionship and affection than anything else. And out of that has come the use of dogs as eyes, ears, arms and legs for the disabled. To watch a seeing-eye dog guide a blind person down a busy street or through a crowded mall is a truly inspiring sight. It allows freedom and independence that this person would not otherwise have.
For a deaf person, a hearing-ear dog allows him or her to live alone without fear. The dog can be taught to alert his owner to the doorbell, telephone, alarm clock, and smoke alarm. A deaf couple can respond to their baby crying, for the dog will alert them. The world is not so frightening and they do not feel so alone, with a dog to hear for them.
For someone in a wheelchair, or someone whose arthritis won’t allow them to bend or lift, a dog can provide so much help and comfort. The simple act of picking up a dropped objet is something we take for granted. But to a disabled person, it might mean the humiliation of always having to ask for help. With a service dog by his side, that same person achieve independence and self-esteem. The dog is happy to get the pen or the keys or the pill bottle, even if it rolls under a table.
The positive qualities of the dog-loyalty, dependability, tolerance- have been recognized throughout history. Mark Twain said “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” And Lord Byron’s epitaph for his dog says “[He] possessed beauty without vanity, strength without insolence; courage without ferocity; and all the virtues of man without his vices.”
And of course the most important trait of all, which Byron missed, is complete and total submission to God for all his life. I think we’d be well served to share our lives more with these wonderful creatures, and learn more from them.
“The heavens and the earth are full of proofs for the believers. Also in your creation, and the creation of all the animals, there are proofs for people who are certain.” (45:3-4)
“Among His proofs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the creatures He spreads in them. He is able to summon them, when He wills.” (42:29)