During our daily walks from Al Alaouyine Street to the Medina, where we received our daily Darija classes, I began to notice that wherever I looked I saw cats. At first I did not pay too much attention to it. In fact, their presence made my day since I consider myself a cat person. However, as time went by, I began to notice that something else was wrong. In some way, the streets of Rabat did not fit with the image of a third world country that I had formulated over time.
There are no stray dogs in Rabat.
Given that Shady has the most knowledge about Arab culture in our group, I immediately recurred to him to understand what was happening. I never thought that I would find myself in a country where there were no stray dogs rummaging through bags of trash in the streets. According to him, Islam is against dogs because of health concerns.
Before I begin discussing the reasons behind the absence of dogs, I need to define some terms:
A Hadith is the transcribed word of the Prophet. There exist several compilations of his sayings and actions, all which varying levels of credibility. Among the most reliable ones are Sahih Muslim, a compilation carried out by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, and Sahih al-Bukhari which is the number one compilation for the Sunnites.
I want to make it clear that there is a great difference between the word of the Prophet, the Hadith, and the word of Allah, the Qo’ran. The word of Allah is law. In the case of the Sunnites, the word of the Prophet is a guide to living a better life. This becomes clear in the following Hadith:
“What I have forbidden for you, avoid. What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can. For verily, it was only their excessive questioning and disagreeing with the Prophets that destroyed [the nations] who were before you.” – Al Muslim & Al Bukhari
Do as much of it as you can. However, the Qur’an contains a verse that indicates that Muslims must follow the example of the Prophet and this is what leads to many to consider Hadiths as law and as a justification for all sorts of actions.
“The Messenger of God is without a doubt a great example for those who hope to meet Allah and the Judgement Day and those who remember Allah often.” – Al Muslim & Al Bukhari
Returning to the topic at hand, in one of the Hadith collected by Abu Huraira in the book of Ablution, the Prophet says:
“If a dog drinks from one of your recipients, it is necessary to wash it seven times.” – Al Muslim & Al Bukhari
It’s common sense in my opinion. I usually do not share cups with anyone. I am very selective in that respect. I would obviously never share a recipient from which I drink with an animal. In doing so one exposes himself to all sorts of bacteria. Exposing yourself like that is simply going against your self-preservation instincts. (Says the one who is looking to go skydiving.
Although that is exactly what the Prophet was hinting at. To avoid the spread of disease he wisely advised his disciples to maintain certain health standards. Why he only mentioned dogs is beyond me. I suppose that in the time of the prophet, stray dogs and rabies were highly common which is why he hinted towards their eradication. However this does not fully explain the absolute absence of dogs in the streets. Of course, it suggests that dogs are dirty but it shouldn’t be enough to explain why people decide to stay away from them. This takes me to these following Hadith:
“Angels of Mercy do not enter a household where there is a dog or a picture.” – Al Muslim & Al Bukhari
This Hadith refers to the story of Archangel Gabriel refusing to meet the Prophet because the Prophet had saved a puppy and kept it in his house. The presence of the puppy disturbed the Archangel who later expressed his concerns leading the prophet to call upon the prohibition of dogs aside from those used for hunting and guarding cattle.
“Those who maintain a dog outside of the purpose of hunting or the protection of cattle, will lose a great portion of their reward at the end of each day.” – Al Muslim & Al Bukhari
In this case, I agree with Abou el Fadl, professor of Islamic Law at UCLA criticizes the inconsistencies between Hadiths, the life of the Prophet and the teachings in the Qur’an. The first being the Angel’s hate towards of one of Allah’s creations. Given that all that God created is perfect, why would an Angel refuse to enter a household because of the presence of a dog?
If one did not question the veracity of these Hadiths and took them for granted, it is easy to understand where the hatred towards dogs originated. One quickly reaches the conclusion that dogs are dirty, their possession outside of very specific cases takes away from ones reward and to top it off their presence keeps Angels away. Why would anyone want to run those risks?
It’s clear that there is a problem not only of interpretation but with the compilation of the Prophets word. In my opinion, although this Hadith was compiled by both Al Bukhari and Al Muslim, it is invalid. Abou el Fadl highlights the fact that the Prophet used to pray in the proximity of dogs, protected dogs who entered his Mosque and taught to respect all animals without exceptions.
“A man saw a dog biting the dirt because of his thirst. The man took his shoe and filled it with water and gave it to the dog to quench his thirst. Allah approved the act and the generosity of the man and guided his to paradise.” – Al Muslim & Al Bukhari
Upon reaching this point in my small investigation I almost gave up. If one searches a little more, there is always another Hadith claiming that the Prophet sent for all dogs to be killed. Then another claiming that he decided that certain dogs should be spared. Yet another claiming that only black dogs should be killed because they are the devil. I find it hard to believe in most of these Hadiths because they seem to be in conflict with the analysis I have read so far. However, for someone who is less educated, a person who is more devote and has always heard one of the stricter Imam it must be easy to develop that sort of mindset.
Of course, you won’t observe the same customs towards dogs in every Muslim country. Here in Morocco, the majority of Muslim are Sunnite meaning that although there are no dogs in the street, you may find them in the houses of some Muslims because the rules are more relaxed. However in countries like Saudi Arabia, where people have an absolute devotion to whatever is said by the Prophet and extremists are common, the Religious Police prohibits the possession of dogs.
There remains a small glimpse of hope for those Muslims who wish to own a dog. There is one verse in the Qur’an, not a Hadith, a verse in the Qur’an that seems to defend the ownership of dogs and their love for humans.
“You would have thought them asleep although they were awake. We moved them from right to left while their dog remained with his legs crossed at the threshold. Had you encountered them you would have run away in terror.” – Surat Al Khaf 18:18
This verse narrates the story of a group of Muslims who are hiding in a cave from their persecutors. Their loyal canine friend sits at the threshold of the cave guarding the entrance from intruders.
With this number of inconsistencies between what the Prophet and Qur’an says, I think that ownership of a dog is reduce to a personal choice. The only part that should remain consistent between those who defend the ownership of dogs and those who frown it is the respect towards the animals. Speakers like Hamza Yusuf call upon all Muslims to respect dogs regardless of their opinions. After all, they are also creations of Allah and as such should be respected.
Now I wonder what Latin American countries would look like if similar beliefs existed within Christians. I think that in neighborhoods like those in which my grandmothers live the streets would not fill up with cats because people have an incomprehensible hate towards them and end up poisoning them. In fact, I think that Latin American countries, or at least Argentina, would be the opposite of Muslim countries. In one side of the world you only find dogs and in the other only cats.
Lastly I would like to make it clear that I have never studied Islam. My point of view is influenced by the customs of the West and by the arguments of experts like Abou el Fadl, Imam Malik and orators like Hamza Yusuf.