Dogs are considered man’s best friend in most parts of the world. However, dogs are conventionally thought of as ritually impure, and even haram (forbidden) by many schools of thought of Islam as they are in Rabbinic Judaism. This stems from a hygiene and a general threat to public health perspective as being pious and clean is an important part of the Islamic faith.
Today, we’ll look at the few reasons as to why dogs have been made impermissible to keep as pets in one’s household.
Are Dogs Ritually Impure?
Dogs are not seen as impure creatures, and a prominent school of thought of the faith even has the stance that touching or petting a dog does not void ablution. A Muslim can still offer prayers after touching a dog, but it’s their saliva that most Muslim scholars deem as impure. It is mainly because there are various zoonotic diseases that could be transmitted to a human through a dog’s saliva.
Diseases Transmitted Through A Dog’s Saliva
Some of the diseases that can be transmitted to a human through a dog’s saliva include:
- Parasitic infections caused by tapeworms
Most zoonotic diseases can only be transmitted to humans by infected saliva, bites, aerosol, and contaminated urine or feces.
Although dogs have several positive effects on the physical, psychosocial, and psychological health of their owners, many diseases among humans are attributed to them. Children and immunocompromised individuals are especially at risk of developing zoonosis (diseases transmitted from non-human animals to humans).
A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine has demonstrated that domestic dogs have a dramatic role in developing zoonosis and hospitalization. About five million people through-out the world are annually bitten by dogs. Many parasitic and zoonotic pathogens are transmitted through these bites.
In some parts of the world, the deadly virus called rabies is still on a rampage and even though any mammal could be a host of the virus, dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths all over the world. The World Health Organization reports that dogs contribute to 99% of the deaths caused by rabies.
Quranic Verses About Dogs
The Quran is a sacred book for Muslims – similar to how the Bible is for Christians. Muslims consider it to be the word of God. It mentions dogs two times in its entirety. Both times, it sheds a positive light on the animal. In one instance, the Koran permits Muslims to eat that which is hunted for them by their dogs (thus making it permissible to keep dogs for a purpose). At another point, it narrates a story of people fleeing from religious persecution taking refuge in a cave and falling asleep for three-hundred years while their dog stays up to guard and protect them. In this story, the dog is called ‘rafiq’ – which is an Arabic word for companion.
Oral Traditions (Hadiths) Regarding Dogs
A hadith is a saying or a collection of traditions containing the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, the religious leader and founder of Islam. These traditions were compiled and gathered into large collections in the 8th or 9th century – generations after his death. The hadith is where most of the opposition against keeping dogs as pets comes from.
The Prophet is reported to have said: “If a dog licks your vessel, then wash it seven times and rub it with earth on the eighth time.”
This forms the basis for a dog’s saliva being considered ‘ritually impure’ by scholars of the faith. However, many other hadiths promote kindness towards the animal and all other living beings. In one instance, Muhammad told his companions a story of a sex worker whose past sins were forgiven only because she quenched the thirst of a panting dog. According to another hadith, Muhammad was asked by his companions if they would be rewarded by God for showing kindness towards dogs. He replied, “A reward is given in connection with every living creature.” (Al-Bukhari)
Moreover, Muhammad is reported to have permitted Muslims to keep dogs for hunting and for the protection of their herds, crops, and properties. Historically, dogs served a purpose for their human companions. Islam realizes this and does not order Muslims to get rid of their dogs if they serve a purpose and are needed in their day-to-day lives.
The Views of Scholars
Most scholars of the faith are of the view that dogs are not necessarily haram, but they’re not allowed to be kept within the house because of sanitary problems. Touching or petting dogs does not void ablution and prayers can still be offered after petting a dog.
There is a general consensus among scholars that the saliva of a dog is impure and it could be harmful to humans if a dog licks their utensils. They advise Muslims who keep dogs (for various reasons) to keep them in a proper shelter with all their needs fulfilled and away from the room where prayers are offered.
A famous Islamic scholar Imam Karim Abu Zaid advises Muslims to treat dogs with kindness and respect as a person went to paradise for quenching the thirst of a dog. Most scholars also think that because dogs have historically served a purpose for humans, it is permissible for Muslims to keep a dog for guarding the house or for other such reasons. However, scholars unanimously agree that keeping a dog for no practical purpose and just as a pet is forbidden in Islam.
Dogs have historically been in contact with humans in almost every culture in the world, and the Islamic world is no exception. Some of the very famous breeds of dogs like the Alabai and the Afghan Hound come from Muslim-majority parts of the world where people have bred and been in contact with these animals for centuries.
In conclusion, it wouldn’t be fair to say that Islam is an inherently ‘anti-dog’ religion as it requires its followers to peacefully co-exist with all living creatures. The Quran also specifically mentions that any meat fetched by a dog may be eaten with no further purification. Naturally, the prey of a hunting dog comes into contact with the saliva of the dog, but this does not render the meat impure.