Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Muslim Neighbours Don't Quite Know How to React to My Dog

I've been taking my Twilight for walks more often these days, in plain view of my Muslim neighbours. And quite amusingly, they don't know how to respond to this Muslim neighbour of theirs keeping a dog.

They try to show their displeasure by becoming a little cold, but this only invites a smirk from me in response.
I wonder why they don't muster up the courage to speak to me about how they can't reconcile their religious beliefs on dogs with my having one as a friend and guardian. I hazard a guess that they themselves aren't sure why they believe the way they do - it's probably because their Ustaz or Ustazah said that Muslims can't keep dogs and so it must be true.
For the sake of those readers who are still wondering whether or not Muslims can keep dogs, I reproduce my recent blog entry on why Muslims can and should keep dogs as friends and guardians.


Twilight, the new addition to the family, became the subject of disagreement between my son Iqbal and me yesterday evening [several weeks back - Ed]. Just as we were about to go for our daily evening walk, Iqbal said, "I'm not comfortable going so early. My friends from sekolah agama (religious school) are going to see me with the dog."

This remark of his came to pass despite my explaining that dogs are not haram because they are not impure like the pig.

"It's my reputation that's at stake, papa - my friends would speak bad about me; my teachers would speak bad about me," Iqbal added.

"Don't you have Chinese friends?" I asked rhetorically.

"It's not about having Chinese friends!" Iqbal protested.

Well, it might as well be. If Malay friends are too stupid to look beyond the Shafi'e mazhab, then why should anyone have to sacrifice truth for prejudice?

But I guess, that would be a little too judgmental. After all, Iqbal's friends are only 12 years old like him. If anyone's to blame, it's the teachers.

"If your teachers are not happy, Iqbal, tell them to speak to me," I said. "And please have a little faith and respect for me. I have a postgraduate Diploma in Islamic Studies and a Master of Comparative Laws. So, I wouldn't keep a dog if it wasn't the right thing to do."

Iqbal, however, was not wholly convinced. And how can I blame him? In school, during Agama class, he is taught that the dog is impure and, by itself, najis mughalazah (heavy shaite that requires ritual purification), like the pig.

During exams, that’s the answer he’ll have to give regardless of the differences of opinion prevalent among the leading schools of Islamic jurisprudence or mazhab. As far as the school system is concerned, taqlid or blind adherence is all that’s required and blind adherence is mandatory.

No wonder my son is confused. On one hand, his school teachers (so called ‘Ustaz’ and ‘Ustazah’, titles which, at university level, are reserved only for Professors and Associate Professors) demand blind adherence to the Shafi’e mazhab, and on the other, his old man is telling him that it’s alright not to follow the Shafi’e mazhab.

Even for adults, understanding khilaf or juristic preference can be problematic. What more for a 12 year old child?

Still, this is why tajdid or renewal is important in this day and age, and why taqlid should no longer be practiced. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start simply by understanding why dogs are not impure.

As reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Ibn Umar, who was a close Companion of the Prophet Muhammad, “Dogs used to enter the mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him)”. (See also

Granted that this hadith or oral tradition does not void the ruling of the majority of jurists, one must remember that Islamic law is not about democracy whereby the majority rules. It is about right and wrong as determined by the Quran and Sunnah (Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him).

So, let us, firstly, look at the Quran, upon which the above mentioned hadith is based. If the dog were so impure and unworthy a creature, Allah would not have mentioned it so prominently and, several times at that, in Surah al-Kahf or The Cave.

As the Holy Quran states to the effect:

“Or dost thou reflect that the Companions of the Cave and of the Inscription were wonders among Our Sign?” (Surah al-Kahf, 18: 9)

“Thou wouldst have deemed them awake, whilst they were asleep, and We turned them on their right and on their left sides: their dog stretching forth his two fore-legs on the threshold: if thou hadst come up on to them, thou wouldst have certainly turned back from them in flight, and wouldst certainly have been filled with terror of them.” (Surah al-Kahf, 18: 18)

“(Some) say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth,- doubtfully guessing at the unknown; (yet others) say they were seven, the dog being the eighth. Say thou: "My Lord knoweth best their number; It is but few that know their (real case)." Enter not, therefore, into controversies concerning them, except on a matter that is clear, nor consult any of them about (the affair of) the Sleepers.” (Surah al-Kahf, 18: 22)

As a child, this Surah used to bother me to no end. Why would Allah dignify an impure creature like the dog in the Holy Quran? That’s because the dog is not necessarily impure, plain and simple.

As the Holy Quran states to the effect:

“They ask thee what is lawful to them (as food). Say: lawful unto you are (all) things good and pure: and what ye have taught your trained hunting animals (to catch) in the manner directed to you by Allah. Eat what they catch for you, but pronounce the name of Allah over it: and fear Allah. For, Allah is swift in taking account.” (Surah al-Maidah, 5: 4)

Now, in accordance with the principles of Islamic jurisprudence, the Quran is the number one primary source of lslamic law. The hadith cannot overrule the Quran.

No hadith has the power to abrogate the verses of the Holy Quran – only the Quran can abrogate itself by way of later revealed verses abrogating earlier revealed verses.

However, the hadith can qualify the verses of the Quran by limiting the general or literal meaning of a verse to a specific meaning, which is not the same as abrogation. But even then, the ability of a hadith to qualify the dhahir or literal meaning of the Quran’s verses is often open to argument and disagreement among the jurists. (See commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali on Surah an-Nur, 24: 2, note no. 2954)

As such, for Imam Malik, the founder of the Maliki mazhab, the dog is not in itself impure. He rejects the hadith which states, “If a dog drinks out of one of your vessels, you should wash it seven times, once with earth,” because it is an ahad or solitary hadith that clashes with verse 4 of Surah al-Maidah of the Holy Quran, and isn’t supported by consensus or the practices of the people of Medina, or analogy.

However, jurists of the Shafi’e, Hanafi and Hanbali mazhab disagree. And so, with regard to the purity of dogs, we’re down to three general rulings:

1. The Maliki school holds that a dog is pure, even its saliva.

2. The Shafi’e and one of two narrations of Ibn Hanbal schools state that a dog is impure even its fur.

3. The Hanafi and the other narrations of Ibn Hanbal schools maintain that a dog’s saliva is impure while its fur is pure.

So, which do we choose? For the ordinary ‘Ustaz’ and ‘Ustazah’ of the primary and secondary schools in Malaysia, the answer is simply taqlid or blind observance of the Shafi’e mazhab’s ruling on the purity of dogs.

However, taqlid is not the answer.

Arguably, those who are in favour of taqlid use the following Quranic verse as their primary source. As the Holy Quran reads to the effect:

"We have not sent before thee but men whom We reveal to them. So, ask the people of knowledge if you know not." (Surah an-Nahl, 16: 43)

However, let us look at the context in which this ayat was revealed. It was revealed in response to the disbelievers' argument that Prophet Muhammad was but a human.

Of course, the meaning is general in the Arabic language. The meaning is that Allah orders those who do not know to ask those who know.

Yet, what is the purpose of asking those who know? It is so that those who do not know are enlightened with knowledge and understanding. Allah does not command the unbelievers or the ignorant to ask simply for the sake of asking.

This also stands to reason, based on the following hadith.

Jabir (ra) narrated that one man suffered a wound to his head. While sleeping he had a wet dream. He asked the companions if he could make Tayamum. They said that he had no excuse for not performing Ghusl or ritual bathing with water. After performing Ghusl the man died.

When Prophet Muhammad was informed of the incident he said: “Verily it was enough for him to do Tayamum, to place a piece of cloth on his head, which he should then wipe (Mas'h) and then for him to wash the rest of his body." The Prophet added: "They (the companions) should ask if they do not know." (Abu Daoud, Maja, Ahmad)

Thus, the Prophet made it very clear to the companions that they should ask about the ruling if they are not aware of it. And hence, there can be no taqlid because the purpose of asking is to find out the correct ruling from people who know and not blind observance resulting from the mere act of asking those who are deemed more knowledgeable.

However, the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. has also been reported to have cautioned believers to defer judgment to those who are knowledgeable.

Narrated by Abdullah bin Amr: I heard the Prophet say, "Allah does not remove the Ilm (knowledge) after it was given to you, rather the Ilm would be removed with the death of the Ulema (jurists). Then some people, who are ignorant, will start giving their Ra'ee (or judgment) based on their desires and they are misled and will lead the Ummah (people) astray." (Bukhari & Ahmad)

Thus, those who are not very knowledgeable must defer judgment over contentious matters to those who are knowledgeable and of high moral standing.

Nonetheless, this is not the same as taqlid, as those who are less knowledgeable must still review and weigh the judgment of the knowledgeable against their own respective consciences.

Just as faith is a matter of conscious acceptance and not blind adherence, adherence to juristic determinations should never be done blindly, especially when there are differences of opinions among jurists.

This is not to suggest that believers are free to take what they want out of Allah’s decrees and reject what they like of Allah’s decrees. Once we have made the conscious decision to accept Allah as the One and Only God, we cannot choose to reject His laws or determinations.

Nonetheless, there can be no blind adherence either. For, blind adherence would make Muslims no different from non-Muslims.

As the Holy Quran states to the effect:

"And if they said to them follow what Allah has revealed, they said but we follow what our forefathers left for us. Even if their fathers understood not, and were not guided." (Surah al-Baqarah, 2: 170)

So, how are we to know that those who claim to understand are truly guided if all that is required of a believer is to blindly follow? Clearly, the mind must always be applied, along with the conscience, before adherence can be said to have resulted from iman or sincere belief.

Furthermore, blind adherence to religious dictates of the knowledgeable among the less knowledgeable could result in extremism. In its worst form, religious extremism resulting from blind faith in the dictums of the supposedly knowledgeable has been the cause of much of the terrorism that goes on in the world today.

Note that conscience is not the same as desire. Desire is ruled by base instincts, whereas conscience is the anchor with which the believer stays true to his or her faith in Allah.

Consider the following.

Sometimes, it occurs to a person that he can choose between two rules derived from the Ijtihad (or determination) of two Mujtahideen or jurists. For example, touching one's wife breaks the wudhu or ablution according to Imam Shafi’e, but not according to Imam Abu Hanifah.

Both opinions are based on the Daleel or primary sources. So, how does one choose?

There are those who argue that choosing the easy way out is wrong because it is based on desire. The truth of the matter is that one must choose the correct way out based on one’s conscience.

As the Holy Quran states to the effect:

"If you dispute in a thing, return it to Allah and the Prophet." (Surah an-Nisa, 4: 59]

Now, how does one return the matter to Allah and the Prophet, as ordered by the Quran? It is by checking one’s conscience.

Are we choosing the easy way out because we’re simply lazy to take ablution or because the easy way out facilitates the performing of prayers and other religious rites for the sake of Allah? Why is choosing the easy way necessarily wrong and choosing the hard way necessarily right?

Check one’s conscience and the answer becomes clear. For example, when praying in close proximity to one’s wife or husband, the innocent touching skin-on-skin should not cause one’s prayer to become void, as per Imam Abu Hanifa’s ruling.

Some jurists have put forth the erroneous argument that the right way out between two conflicting options is to choose the ruling of the jurist with the highest degree of knowledge and taqwa. Well, who are we to say that Imam Shafi’e’s knowledge and taqwa are higher than those of Imam Abu Hanifah, especially when these two leading jurists have long since passed?

And since this argument of theirs is flawed, such jurists fall on the second premise of, “Choosing the correct Mujtahid or jurist can be achieved through studying the opinion of the Mujtahideen and following the one that is most convincing.” Well, this second premise avails them not either, since following the one that is most convincing is not taqlid or is exactly the opposite of taqlid.

Yet, Muslims have been practicing taqlid to the extent that, at one stage, the door of Ijtihad or coming up with religious rulings anew, was considered closed. Well, it cannot be closed because each generation of humans do not go through life facing exactly the same challenges.

Even if we did, in order to avoid implementing the wrong ruling or avoid being duped into religious extremism and manipulation, each generation of Muslims must continue to apply their minds and their consciences collectively as well as individually.

Sadly, taqlid is still enforced in some Muslim societies to the point that it results in partisanship to a particular mazhab or school of law. This has resulted in arrogance of the sort that some followers of a mazhab consider themselves and their practices superior to those of other mazhab.

This is not part of the teachings of either the Quran or the Prophet Muhammad, peach be upon him.

Granted that not everyone can become as knowledgeable or as pious as Imam Shafi’e or Iman Abu Hanifah. Nonetheless, taqlid is nothing more than a license for remaining in blissful ignorance and discourages Muslims from enriching themselves with knowledge that allows them to make conscious decisions that bolster their faith in Allah as well as their strength in facing the world’s challenges.

In conclusion, personally, when it comes to keeping a dog, my conscience is clear. It is permissible to own a dog for the purpose of guarding people, houses and properties, hunting for food, shepherding cattle and sheep, guiding a blind person and/or performing police duties.

As the Holy Prophet Muhammad has been reported to have said, “Whoever keeps a dog save for hunting or for guarding crops or cattle will lose one large measure (qirat) of his reward every day.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

And why should I choose a ruling on dogs that is, for me, burdensome when my niat (intention and determination) for keeping my dog is pure? My objective is, to my mind, clear – Twilight is to be my family’s guardian, just like the dog mentioned in Surah al-Kahf. Hence, my conscience is clear - that a dog is pure, even its saliva, in accordance with Imam Malik's view.

Nonetheless, this is not to suggest that dog owners need not be mindful of hygiene issues when it comes to dogs. Unlike cats, dogs have a lot of hygiene issues.

So much so, I wouldn’t let Twilight into the house without tight supervision and, even then, it would be to get from her cage in the wet kitchen to the front of the house.

After being with her, my family would wash our hands up to our elbows with soap and water (as per the vet’s advice), and we would change into a set of fresh clothes as well.


  1. OK, Jun King. I've added some more pics of my Twilight. I don't have more of her current ones, though - lighting not ideal and she doesn't know how to stay still, even more so, now that she's bigger.

  2. Nice article/debate. I'm GLAD to know that it is NOT HARAM for muslim to keep a dog. I am also a DOG LOVER, I have 2 dogs in my House. 1 Labrador Retriever, 'Pluto' and 1 cross-spitz, Xiao Pai.

    Can I post a link to your article in my blog? OR better still, should I post this article (sans your dog photo) in my blog and give "HARVARD Referencing" OR Credit to you at the end of the article?

    Thanks in advance,

    Jeff Lim.

    Ps. I have 1 similarity with you, my blog also about CARS, Used cars and its related raves and rants.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Sorry for the late reply. Yes, please, post this article on your blog with corresponding attributions.

    Best regards,