Islam and dogs, What’s the Beef?!

I was reading a post in The Journal over the weekend. Iran sent in the authorities to remove all dogs from people’s homes. Needless to say it didn’t go down well with the poor owners. Especially the way they did it, if there was a way to do it. The authorities called to the door saying the dogs needed to be vaccinated again. When the owners went to retrieve their dogs from the local vets they had no record of them arriving. They simply “disappeared”, like so many human rights. Pretty gruesome stuff.

So, Iran doesn’t like dogs. In fact owning a dog as a pet in Iran could result in 74 lashes under a law passed a few years ago.

Similar extreme reactions to dogs are found in other muslim countries such as Malaysia where a dog patting festival in a park went down very, very badly with many blaming tornado’s on the event.

But its not just the more extreme countries, it’s well established that dogs are not Islam’s best friend. But why is this?

The problem is the Koran contains some passages where dogs are mentioned and these have different interpretations. It has never specifically said don’t pat them but some of the verses can certainly be interpreted as such.

In one instance, the Koran describes a situation where the angel Gabriel interrupts a meeting with the Prophet Muhammad because a dog has wandered into the prophet’s home.

We angels do not enter a home in which there is a dog or a picture,” Gabriel tells the prophet.

Pretty damning that one. Another hadith is:

…if a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him throw away whatever was in it and wash it seven times…

Doesn’t sound good. As a result many Muslim scholars believe that the saliva of a dog is impure and thus the animals cannot be kept as a pet. To be fair you can’t really blame them if, for whatever reason, they look only to the above passages from the Koran for knowledge of dog hygiene. The Koran is from the 8th Century. Back then the likes of rabies among many other issues may have been rampant so the above passages would serve to educate the masses as to the dangers posed by a rabid dog’s mouth.

You could argue that thanks to the advent of vaccines and what not we now have rabies etc under control, certainly in Ireland and the UK. We’ve also expanded out knowledge of basic hygiene far beyond anything 8th Century scholars could of known about. Taken together the hygiene debate is simply not relative today, with studies showing dogs actually bolster our immunity. Dog owners suffer less allergies, are fitter, suffer less cardio-vascular disease and are calmer.

But then you’d be pitting scientific fact against religious beliefs, which is a waste of everyone’s time.

In fairness Christians do not fare much better. The bible teaches that “eating shrimp is an abomination”. Back then that could of been good advice with the likes of “red tide”. Red tide is a result of an algal bloom in the ocean which, when eaten by shrimp which in turn are eaten by humans, can put you on your ass.

Now that we understand red tide few catholics today believe their special fried rice is going to send them to hell. Shrimp are just too damned tasty!

In the very same paragraph of the Bible (from Leviticus, a book full of interesting ramblings) it mentions that “to lie down with another man is an abomination”. This information, afflicting 10% of anyone’s population at any one time, may have been an attempt to grow the population a bit two thousand years ago in the face of a population decline. Or perhaps the author simply didn’t like homosexuals. Whatever the reason it’s decidedly less useful today. Not that true religious zealouts let silly things like facts (or evolution) get in the way of a good hating. And God knows hating gay people is waaay easier than stopping eating your Friday night special fried rice.

But back to Islam. The thing is it’s not all doom and gloom. Another paragraph of the Koran states:

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah 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…

I spy a loophole! It IS permitted to own a “working” dog for hunting, guarding livestock or guarding crops, and now for the visually impaired.

Other Muslims argue that dogs are loyal creatures and are deserving of our care and companionship. To support this view they cite the story in the Koran (Surah 18) about a group of believers who sought shelter in a cave and were protected by their canine companion who was “outstretched in their midst.”

As with most things religion the trouble with the interpretation and application of life lessons from many hundreds of years ago on a modern, evolved and educated society is that many of the lessons applied then, not now. Furthermore for every one person that reads and interprets one lesson there is someone else, somewhere else who is preaching fire and brimstone for doing it any other way but the opposite.

Thankfully it is most certainly against Islamic teachings to be cruel or to neglect a dog.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, 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.

According to Islamic Concern (Animals in Islam), a website aimed at clarifying Islamic concepts regarding animals that might be misinterpreted, the Koran does not forbid Muslims from owning a dog:

Traditionally, dogs have been seen as impure, and the Islamic legal tradition has developed several injunctions that warn Muslims against most contact with dogs. Unfortunately, many Muslims have used this view to justify the abuse and neglect of dogs, even though cruelty contradicts the Koran’s view that all animals form ‘communities like you.’

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Whatever about Islam’s thoughts on dogs, it affects us little here in Ireland. In my opinion we have a far more immediate problem in terms of religious freedoms and animal welfare and that is “Halal” meat being produced in this country.

In short this is the ritual slaughtering of an animal without any of the mod cons involved (electricity to stun or bolt gun to the head) in keeping with methods used 1300 years ago. You point the animal West and slit it’s throat, leaving it to die slowly and in terror in a strange factory while everyone looks on. This is happening today here in Ireland proving once again that religious freedom tops both animal and human rights.

This flies in the face of our already pathetic animal welfare laws and is absolutely unacceptable. There should even be a question mark over the importation of this meat, the same way we would not tolerate tiger bones or rhino horn for medicinal purposes being imported or utilised openly on the Irish market.

It’s perhaps slightly ironic that we will willing permit a goat, cow or sheep to be treated barbarically in our own country because of our beliefs and attitudes towards it. Like dogs they are group living animals. They have a whole range of emotions, just like our dogs. Despite domestication they suffer the very same way.

For those of us that do not believe in religion we are proving that we all seem to be lead by a book to commit barbaric acts, only our one contains cheques.

Dr. Conor Brady

After a doctorate studying the effects of nutrition on the behaviour and gut morphology of animals, five years with Guide Dogs as a trainer and supervisor, some success on Dragons Den with the finest raw dog food company and the last few years both writing and speaking on canine nutrition and health, I can say with some confidence that the pet food and drug industry cares not a jot for the health of your pet.
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