The idea of Muslims owning dogs is constantly met with controversy, with differing opinions based on culture, hadith, and matters of cleanliness. Where do these ideas come from, what can be said in defense of or against these common beliefs, and what ideas can be gained from an Islamic perspective? Here we will look into the common thoughts about forbidding dog ownership as we attempt to get to the root of the “dogs are haram” theory.
For those of us who grew up in a traditional Muslim household, one thing we can all relate to is how often we were told that keeping a dog inside the house is very disliked, or even sinful in Islam; and that having them in the house would keep the angels away.
This hadith-based belief is also based on the reason that dogs are unclean compared to humans. Dogs obviously don’t bathe on their own or wash after relieving themselves the way we humans do, nor do they brush their teeth or wash their paws the way we practice personal hygiene.
Somehow, despite this reasoning, it is still a common belief that cats are totally acceptable, and caged or restricted animals that do not roam freely around the house are even more acceptable.
To make matters worse, I was told that we should avoid any animal whose coat is totally black because they are jinns. Not sure where that came from, but that’s one of the myths that was scattered around my neck of the woods. These common beliefs inevitably led to a lot of Muslim kids owning cats as their pets rather than having a playful and loyal canine.
Growing up, I always doubted these excuses related to cleanliness and hygiene. In fact, when I was younger I vividly remember watching educational shows about cats and dogs. I remember the host talking about how while animals are dirtier in the human sense, as they have more bacteria overall, the mouths and bodies of dogs and cats are not considered cleaner or dirtier than ours. They said that cats and dogs have a body system different from humans, making it unequal for comparison. Ever seen an animal lick or eat something totally gross and not be affected? Humans cannot do the same thing. We get sick if we drink bad milk!
In comparison to the number of possible diseases humans are susceptible to, there are very few that can actually be transferred from animals, namely cats and dogs, to humans. Due to the blessings of modern science, many of the health concerns that were previously held for both our safety and the safety of animals, have been eliminated through successful vaccines.
Upon moderate research about the different hadiths related to dogs, I was presented with all sorts of negative inconsistencies and extremes, despite many being labeled authentic.
Here are some examples
- Hadith Bukhari 3:515 states, “If somebody keeps a dog who is neither used for farm work nor for guarding livestock, he will lose one Qirat [a unit of value said to be equivalent to the size of a mountain] of the reward for his good deeds every day”
- The Prophet said, “Angels do not enter a house which has either a dog or a picture in it,” (Hadith Bukhari 4:539).
- Narrated By Aisha in Hadith Bukhari 1:490: “The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, ‘Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey, and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people).’ I said, ‘You have made us (i.e. women) dogs.’ I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qibla. Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away. for I disliked to face him”
- Adi b. Hatim reported: ‘I said: Messenger of Allah, I set off trained dogs and they catch for me (the game) and I recite the name of Allah over it (I slaughter the game by reciting Bismillah-i-Allah-o-Akbar), whereupon he said: When you set off your trained dogs and you recited the name of Allah (while setting them off), then eat (the game).’ I said: ‘Even if they (the trained dogs) kill that (the game)?’
- Hadith Sahih Muslim 21:4732 says, “He (the Holy Prophet) said: “Even if these kill, but (on the condition) that no other dog, which you did not set off (along with your dogs), participates (in catching the game).’ I said to him: ‘I throw Mi’rad, a heavy featherless blunt arrow, for hunting and killing (the game).’ Thereupon he said: ‘When you throw Mi’rad, and it pierces, then eat, but if it falls flatly (and beats the game to death), then do not eat that.”
- Three Hadiths from Bukhari–3:439, 3:440, and 3:482 state that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) forbade selling a dog.
- Maimuna reported that one morning Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) was silent with grief. Maimuna said: ‘Allah’s Messenger, I find a change in your mood today.’ Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: ‘Gabriel had promised me that he would meet me tonight, but he did not meet me.’ By Allah, he never broke his promises, and Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) spent the day in this sad (mood). Then it occurred to him that there had been a puppy under their cot. He commanded and it was turned out. He then took some water in his hand and sprinkled it at that place.
- According to Hadith Sahih Muslim 5248, “When it was evening Gabriel met him and he said to him: ‘You promised me that you would meet me the previous night.’ He said: ‘Yes, but we do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture.’ Then on that very morning, he commanded the killing of the dogs until he announced that the dog kept for the orchards should also be killed, but he spared the dog meant for the protection of extensive fields (or big gardens).”
- According to Abu Huraira, “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘A prostitute was forgiven by Allah (SWT,) because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that.”
- In Sahih Muslim Ibn Al-Mughaffal reported: “The Messenger of Allah, peace, and blessings be upon him, ordered the killing of dogs, and then he said, ‘What is the matter with them? What is the matter with dogs?’ Then he granted concession for the use of dogs for hunting and herding. The Prophet said, ‘If a dog licks your vessel, then wash it seven times and rub it with earth on the eighth time.”
Now if we go back to the basis of Islamic understanding, which is the Quran, it paints a very different picture:
There are no direct words in the Quran that instructs us on how we must treat animals, aside from the verses that tell us about the unlawful methods of animal sacrifice. And by further studying the Quran we find no sort of prohibition against dogs, nor is there any mention of any unpurifying or contaminating effect that they may have.
Allah (SWT) tells us in Surah 18 about the story of The Companions of the Cave. In 18:13 Allah (SWT) tells us that they were good believers and that Allah (SWT) guided them. In verse 18:18, Allah (SWT) tells us that the companions had their dog with them. If dogs were prohibited and dirty, would Allah (SWT) speak of The Companions of the Cave who had a dog with them as good believers?
Traditional Muslim scholars argue that the saliva of the dog is impure. In Verse 5:4, Allah (SWT) tells us that it is lawful to eat what trained dogs catch. If the dog is an animal that causes contamination by mere touch, would Allah (SWT) tell us that it is alright to eat what the dog catches with his mouth? Upon reading this, some may argue that it is because we cook the meat to boiling temperatures, purifying it. Yes, but isn’t it fair to argue the same with anything you suspect may be unclean?
Allah (SWT) always expects us to maintain good hygiene, regardless of which animal or objects we have come into contact with. As clarified in the beginning of this article, the bodies of humans and animals cannot be compared, and there is no science to argue that dogs are more or less clean than other animals in such a sense.
There is another verse that reveals to us that the rest of the creations are redeemed, as they worship and glorify Allah (SWT) constantly:
In verse 24:41, it states: “Have you not seen that everything in the heavens and the earth glorifies Allah (SWT,) even the birds in their flight formation? Each has known its prayer and its glorification. Allah (SWT) is Knowledgeable of what they do.”
So if dogs are believers of Allah (SWT) who glorify Him constantly, why would angels stay away from them? And more specifically, would the angel Gabriel really postpone delivering the word of Allah (SWT) because of an animal they were not even aware was there? Are we really to believe that our beloved Prophet (PBUH) would call for all dogs to be killed?
For those Muslims who own dogs as pets, they do so not because they don’t care, but because they have taken these questions and ideas into consideration. Due to such inconsistencies, it is easy to see how many have chosen to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions about the legality of such matters. And regardless of what you believe, Allah (SWT) never wants us to follow blindly.
In countless verses, Allah (SWT) constantly reminds us to use critical thinking (8:22, 17:36, 25:44, 49:6, to name just a few.) Therefore, my advice to the reader is to take some time to read and think about this deeply, forget what the majority think for a second, and try to understand what Allah (SWT) wants us to follow, for He knows best.