RAZIUDDIN AQUIL | 27 AUGUST, 2014
Dogs in Happier Days with former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
Going by traditional Islamic literature, opinions about dogs in Muslim societies were actually not as bad, both scripturally and historically, as is the general perception in modern times. Several Quranic verses refer to canines not only not as ritually unclean or unlawful, but also highlight many of their virtues including their universally recognized loyalty, besides their value in hunting and for protection of life and property. The Quran also includes the legendary story of the venerable Companions of the Cave, a maximum of seven saintly young men hiding and sleeping in a cave for many years to protect themselves from persecution. The Quranic version of the biblical tale also counts a dog, later named Qitmir, as an additional companion who protected others and slept with his fore legs stretched at the entrance of the cave.
Later traditions privileged cats over dogs, perhaps keeping in view the report of Prophet Muhammad’s kindness towards his cat, called Muizza. The Prophet, however, recommended compassion towards all animals, including dogs, with a moving hadis of his posting a guard to ensure that a female dog and her newborn pups were not disturbed by his army, marching to conquer Mecca in 630 CE. Also, some middle-eastern tribes would not hesitate to call themselves Kalbi or Sagvand (that is, related to dogs: Arabic Kalb; Persian Sag). Indeed, one of the most handsome companions of the Prophet, who reportedly carried his message to the Roman emperor Heraclius (610-641 CE), was named, Dahya Kalbi. Pious Muslims in subsequent generations have displayed, as a matter of pride, their complete deference and loyalty to the cause of Islam, prefixing their names as Kalb.
In medieval Sufi literature, a poignant anecdote on respect and love for dogs is related to Rabiya Basri, a first generation female Sufi par excellence, widely known for her public declaration of her mad love for God. Her aggressive condemnation of worship of Allah either for attractions of heaven or fear of hell, rather than unconditional love for Him, as well as violating conventional patriarchal norms meant, for the orthodox, she was destined to go to hell. However, after her death, she was seen in dreams of people who were still devoted to her and who asked her as to what treatment was meted out to her by God. She was reported to have said that all her idiosyncrasies or sins were forgiven because she used to feed a dog every night.
Medieval Indian Muslim holymen are also known to have kept dogs as companions and sometimes their tales became part of social satires. A fifteenth-century peripatetic Sufi, Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Haqq, had a female dog as pet during his stay in Rudauli/Awadh. The sheikh invited the notables of the place for a feast to celebrate the birth of her pups. Next day, when a local Sufi, Sheikh Jamal Gujari, complained on not being invited, Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Haqq responded that only the dogs of the town were called for the feast held by his she-dog. The sheikh added that, according to a tradition of the Prophet, the world was like a carcass and its seekers were dogs. He further said that he found Jamal Gujari as the only Muslim human being during his long journey from Sindh to Bengal and, therefore, he was not counted amongst the dogs invited for the party. Dog-lovers may find such anecdotes demeaning to their pets.
Islamic jurisdical positions bring out further ambiguities, with different schools maintaining different positions on levels of impurities or recognized values of dogs. For some, dog’s hair is impure, so just touching it can be a cause of pollution; for others, touching or caressing a dog is not so much a matter of concern, but its saliva is haram and, thus, a source of ritual impurity. Yet, there is something of a consensus that a dog, domesticated or otherwise, was superior to a dim-witted donkey and loathsome pig, inferior to the multipurpose camel, and, despite fear of rabies, better than dangerous wolves and beasts.
In conclusion, Islam respects and enjoins protection of all beings – stones, trees, animals, humans, and generally the whole natural environment. An authoritative tradition of the Prophet puts it: if you are going to plant a sapling and suddenly hear that qayamat has been declared and the Day of Judgment has come, you should flee only after properly planting it. These sensitivities and distinctions are completely marginalized in contemporary discourses on Islam, which are obsessed with violent language of politics and where fragile sentiments are easily hurt.
(Raziuddin Aquil teaches history at the University of Delhi).