Hasnul was born and bred in Singapore, did his first degree in Australia, then worked in Singapore for a year until his veterinary studies in Malaysia. He now runs his own small animal practice in Kota Damansara, Selangor DE, Malaysia.
By Hasnul Ismail
“There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.” – Qur’an 6:38
My parents are my life, particularly my umi (mother). She showered me with much love and always showed compassion towards animals, even if it was just an ant marching on a leaf. I guess I have had always wanted to be a veterinarian, and alhamdulillah, I have achieved my ultimate ambition.
But I have always wondered if Muslims in general are aware that the Qur’an states that all creation praises God, even if this praise is not expressed in the human language. However, the dog (and even the pig) is provocative and a big taboo — “dogs are haram”, “Malays hate dogs”, and so on are common to hear in South East Asian society. It is definitely degrading to call someone anjing (‘dog’ in Malay).
Like most Malays, I grew up not to like dogs. “Keep away from them” is what we were told to do. “Dirty animals they are!” and “Can’t touch them!” are common refrains. Growing up in suburban Singapore, I had a Eurasian neighbour with Dobermans and Chihuahuas and I was fascinated by the different appearances of dogs. I also remembered having to wash myself with clayey water when another neighbor’s Japanese spitz rubbed against my legs.
It was confusing when some elderly Muslims said, “we cannot touch dogs” while some said “you may if they are dry but never when wet” and even “yes, but not the mouth, nose and other parts that secrete bodily fluids”. For a child, it was indeed confusing and I had doubts about what was correct.
As in most parts of the Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia), dogs are culturally considered to be unclean. It has always been a generalization that cats are a common household pet in Malay-Muslim households. We grew up being taught that the Prophet Mohammad s.a.w. loved cats. However, the cat was never mentioned in the Quran.
Dogs or hounds are in fact mentioned in the Quran, and not just once (5:4, 7:176, 18:18, 18:22) and none of these verses indicate that God considers dogs to be dirty animals or that they should be avoided or treated badly. Among the four major schools of thought in Sunni Islam (Hanafi, Hambali, Syafiee and Maliki), the strictest and the most orthodox is Syafiee, to which most Muslims in the Malay Archipelago adhere.
As for hadeeth about dogs being unclean, I personally think that these are important as a code of hygiene, crucial for protecting and promoting human health, while encouraging us to be moderate in rearing pets. If a dog has licked a bowl or vessel (i.e. drunk from it) which is also used by the human owner, then one can follow the hadeeth narrated from Abu Hurayrah:
“If a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him wash it seven times, one of which should be with earth.”
With the exception of Imam Maliki, many scholars interpret this is necessary when your hand is impure from touching a dog when it is wet, but not when it is dry.
After consulting religious scholars and teachers, my conclusion with regards to rearing dogs is that it is makruh (discouraged). Yet, I find that many do not have an open mind and still confuse what is taken from the Quran and from the hadeeth.
Today, I run a practice in a busy tropical suburb with veterinary diseases exotic to the western world. I face challenges with pet owners, and the narrow-mindedness of some locals here.
Nonetheless, I have 13 salukis. Salukis are ancient sleek hunting hounds, and I have heard that the Prophet s.a.w. and his sahabat (companions) had used them for hunting purposes. They are called salukis or sloughis in the Arab-speaking world and tazy or tazi among those who speak Turkish, Persian, or Urdu.
Honestly, I am a cat person but salukis are just the perfect hounds for me because of the minimal drool, almost absent dog odour since they do not have a double coat, and their independent nature (like cats!). In any case, I feel that dogs are not meant for everyone, Muslim or not: if you cannot spend time with your dog daily, with regular exercises, then please do not have one.
There are Muslims who mean well and do need a dog to guard their homes and want to portray good animal care, regardless of the kind of pet. But having “handbag pooches”, dyeing their dogs’ fur, and putting on outrageous outfits creates uneasiness among those Muslims who are already against dogs.
Islam is a religion, but to many Malays, Islam is a culture. It is a practice handed down by their fathers, and their fathers before that; something they do out of habit rather than out of their education. I find that the majority of Malay Muslims confuse religion and culture; sometimes they practise religion as if it was part of the Malay culture, or adopt cultural practices (even pre-Islamic Middle-Eastern ones) thinking they are doing an Islamic thing.
“And when it is said to them: “Follow what Allah has sent down,” they say: “Instead, we would follow what we found our fathers on.” Is it so – even though their fathers used to understand nothing, nor had they been on the right path? The parable of those who disbelieve is like the one who hears nothing but a call and cry. They are deaf, dumb and blind, so they sense not.” Qur’an 2: 170-171
Society still remains rigid. Even when evidence is laid out clearly, it is a challenge to change traditional mindsets. I can only hope and du’a that the younger generation will receive a better understanding of this unfortunate taboo that has persisted for centuries. May Allah s.w.t. guide us to the right path, inshallah.
For further reading:
1. Dogs are considered a “taboo” in Malay/Muslim societies, ?or are they? ?(A personal perspective), Hasnul Bin Ismail BSc, DVM.
2. Hukum Kenajisan Anjing: Satu Penilaian Semula (Ruling on the impurity of dogs: a re-evaluation), Hafiz Firdaus Abdullah. (Article only available in Malay)
3. An email discussion between two Muslim veterinarians on dogs in Islam (from the Facebook account of Hasnul Ismail Heshmael Salukis).