This is not about the rantings of a dog lover. I do not consider myself a dog lover or a champion of the canine species. In fact, I have never written an article about dogs in my life, and only in the last few years, acquired dogs for security purposes. I just happen to be a Muslim who used to own dogs, and who has learned to love his dogs and considered them part of my household, and who learned a lot about things like loyalty, gratitude, preserverence, survival, love, care and compassion, all from owning dogs, which is something I’ve always avoided.
About a year ago, I posted a picture on social media of me and my dogs sitting in our back yard at a previous residence. The picture of a Muslim, an Imam to boot, sitting between two big dogs in his back yard, prompted questions, confusion, perhaps a bit of disgust, some likes, and of course, discussion.
After all, much of the general sentiment in many Muslim communities are that dogs are entirely unclean, that they are haram (prohibited), and that dogs are definitely un-islamic, and no self-respecting Muslim, Imam or otherwise, needs to be pictured with dogs unless he’s running from a dog (lol), or if he’s featured in some super cool pic standing on a snow blanketed mountainside with his hunting rifle in his left hand, his thikr beads in his right hand and his two dogs at his side. But sitting with your two dogs in your back yard? There is a distinct religious-cultural attitude of disapproval towards dogs in general and towards Muslims who own dogs in particular. Generally speaking, unless you’re a rancher or something. dogs and Islam do not mix; at least in the popular narrative, and that’s what I used to think.
Until I acquired a German Shepherd and a Husky Malamute to help guard my homes, my person, and my family during a difficult time. That experience changed my perception and understanding about dogs and dog lovers, and taught me a lot about myself, about canines , and about people.
Now these dogs were guard dogs; they lived outside and were not house dogs. They were good at their job wal-humdu lillaah (praise God), they were fiercely loyal and they protected, and watched over my home, my family and my children. They warded off strangers and let us know when we need to be on heightened alert. When the time arose, they handled their business like clockwork (at least one did) and I loved them for that. They had their own unique and individual personalities, and I became attached to them. so you can’t help but to get to know them and either like or dislike them. This is by the decree of Allah. I happen to love them. Don’t always like them though, because they will tear up stuff on occaision.
Obvious Drawbacks to Dog Ownership
Owning a dog is not for everyone. Just like owning any pet or even having children is not for everybody. Dogs are Allah’s creation that require care, compassion, affection and time. Nevertheless, a Muslim owning a dog has its obvious drawbacks; partially because of the cultural taboo against it, but mainly because we have to pray five times a day and there is the issue of impurities and the recurring need to be in a state of tahaara (purification). This was one (just one) of the reasons that I ended up not having dogs although I don’t rule it out for the future.
The general idea is that if a dog sniffs you, and everybody knows that dogs sniff people, you are no longer fit to make prayer in those clothes. I myself have went into near hysteria when approached by a dog when I’m out and about. Not because I’m afraid of the dog, but because I wasn’t in position to change my clothes any time soon or before the next prayer came in. So if you own dogs you have to make adjustments and take special care in order to be in compliance with Muslim laws regulating ritual purity.
Dog Ownership and Rules
As a rule, you don’t pray in the same clothes that you wear when dealing with your dogs. You change your clothes, and you wash your hands, face and body parts after you deal with them. Especially of course, knowing that you have the next prayer to contend with. The prescribed prayer requires purification and there is no getting around that. There are parts of a dog that are considered to be impure according to islamic law, and there is no getting around that. The upside to that is that because you own a dog, you develop a heightened sense of ritual purity and there is certain spiritual praise attached to that. The Prophet ﷺ said; “No one guards over their ablution except a believer” [Ibn Majah] Another upside in owning dogs, at least for my family is that they remind us of gratitude, love, loyalty, compassion, the value of rizq (sustenance), and ultimately, believe it or not, they remind us of Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala. This was not my intention but it just came about that the dogs made us more aware of our religious obligations and the importance of compassion towards animals.
As far as the official religious rulings about dogs. There is nothing in our religious and canonical laws that inherently prohibited owning a dog. However, there are some guidelines based upon our religious texts. For example, the hair of a dog is not considered najas (unclean) according to most scholars. However, the drool of a dog is considered najas based upon the hadith: “If a dog drinks in a vessel belonging to one of you, then he should rinse it out seven times”. So if dog drool gets on your hand for example, you have to wash your hands, and if it gets on your clothing, you have to rinse your clothing.
Secondly, so there is little room in Islam for a Muslim to become the quintessential dog lover type since it is only permissible for a Muslim to own a dog in certain circumstances; (hunting, herding, and guarding). Other scholars add seeing eye dogs, personal care dogs, rescue dogs, cadaver dogs, and search dogs to that list. Islam upholds the permissibility of owning dogs if there is a legitimate reason and of that, there are several as mentioned. The Quran states, “So eat what they (your dogs) catch and mention the name of God thereon, and fear God.” (Surah Al Ma’idah).
Feeding and Caring for Your Dog is a Righteous Deed
Proper care and feeding your dog is associated with religious piety. The Prophet ﷺ recounted the story; “While a man was walking on a road. he became very thirsty. He came across a well, got down into it, drank (of its water) and then came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. The man said to himself, “This dog is suffering from the same state of thirst as I did.” So he went down the well (again) and filled his shoe (with water) and held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him.” The people asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He said, “(Yes) there is a reward for serving any animate (living being).” [Bukhari; Muslim]
Thus, if a person owns a dog, then they have to feed her, mend her when she’s sick, help her with childbirth, protect her from the elements, train her, be kind to her, be just to her, and not burden her with more than she can bear. All of this is a part of sharia law as it governs animal ownership, and if you do it proper it can make you a better person, and a better Muslim. The same goes for horses, oxen, mules, and sheep. As for the opinion that a dog by itself is all unclean, or all haram? There is no basis for that whatsoever in the sharia and in fact, such a notion would contradict the Book of Allah.
Keeping Your Dog Outside
A general principle is that if a Muslim owns a dog, it should not be a house dog. Sheltering your dog inside the house is considered disliked (makrooh) based upon the prophetic tradition, “the angels will not enter a house that has images or a dog” [Bukhaari]. Most Muslims don’t even know the whole story about why the angel Jib’reel would not enter the Prophet’s ﷺ house on one occasion. The story goes that Jib’reel made an appointment to come visit the Prophet ﷺ and the Prophet waited for him and he didn’t come. Later, the Prophet asked him why and then Jib’reel mentioned why. “the angels will not enter a house that has images or a dog”. It turns out that the Prophet ﷺ had an image on a curtain in his doorway and a dog had crept in his house and was hiding under the bed. That’s one reason why certain scholars say that the issue of angels not entering the house because of a dog is for the Prophet ﷺ only and that’s perhaps why the only penalty mentioned for owning a dog as a pet it the home is the loss of one or two ‘qiraat’ (karats).[Note: Scholars differ as to what exactly is a ‘qiraat’ according to islamic law, from anything from 1/20th of a dinar, to 16 grams of silver. In any case, it s not deemed to be too much according to most scholars.]
The Quran also mentions the story of the people of the cave who had a dog as their companion. Some people see a conflict in the story about the dog of the people of the cave and the hadith about angels not entering houses that have a dog in it. Actually, there is no conflict here because firstly, the people of the cave were outside, and secondly, because the people of the cave were not prophets. Angels act differently around prophets, especially Rasoolullaah (SAWS) than they act around folks who are not Prophets. There is a different level of reverence. The third reason is there was no wahy (divine inspiration) being sent down to the people in the cave and when Jib’reel comes, he is likely to bring wahy with him which requires a different decorum, ambiance and situation. There are a lot of reasons if I had more time i could explain but there is ample reconcilement of the verse in Kah’f and in the hadith in Bukhaari
Having a dog outside, in a cave, in the park, in the woods, on the trail, out camping, hunting, hiking, herding or anything like it, is different from the ruling about dogs in the house and even then, as I mentioned, some scholars say that the house ruling was exclusive to the Prophet ﷺ. Sometimes as Muslims we tend to go overboard with dogs like we sometimes go overboard with a lot of things. In fact, dogs are a creation Allah made subject to our control, subjugation and training just like horses, cattle, sheep, some birds and so on. The basis for owing them is permissibility and they have purpose for mankind as mentioned in the Quran.
What’s left are the laws, rules, etiquette and protocol that govern owing a dog or dogs. Part of these laws has to with purification and hygiene, and part of it has to do with the proper treatment and care of dogs (as well as other animals) and none of it has to do with outlawing all dogs, or stigmatizing Muslim dog owners like they don’t have taqwa or something.
During the time of the Prophet ﷺ dogs used to roam freely and occasionally one would end up in someone’s house or even the masjid. In the hadith of Abdullah ibn Umar, he said: “I used to stay overnight in the mosque at the time of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ when I was young and single, and dogs used to urinate and come and go in the mosque, and they did not sprinkle water over any of that.” What the Prophet ﷺ frowned upon was owning a dog for no purpose except a pet in the house. The hadith about angels (of mercy) not entering which is a sound hadith by the way, scholars interpreted it differently. I personally err on the side of caution as far as dogs in the house but the fact remains that we make a bigger deal about dogs than the Prophet did ﷺ. A lot of time because we follow someone else’s cultural attitude toward the canine and not the actual legal standard as codified in our religious laws. Dogs are here in part to serve some of the needs of humans, and over time people have discovered other uses for dogs. There are dogs who have saved many more lives than many men, by the permission and decree of Allah.
Dogs and Pets as Reminders of Faith
The thing about our dogs is that they remind us of gratitude, love, loyalty, the value of rizq (sustenance), and ultimately, believe it or not, they remind us of Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala. I love my dogs and I seek the blessings and reward from Allah in feeding them, kindness to them and the way that we treat them. They depend on us for their care and Allah has entrusted my family with them. We take that trust seriously. There is nothing strange about being reminded about Allah, His mercy, His goodness, and His guardianship over His creation through our interaction with our animals, remembering that Allah is their Lord too.
Imam Luqman Ahmad