Animal Rights in Prophet’s Era


The person who handles all the administration on a day to day basis in People for Animals is Ozair Husain who is also the Nawab of Lorpur and a senior member of Muslim royalty across India. He is a devout vegetarian Muslim as are many Muslims I know. Recently a Muslim doctor called Shabana who lives in Tilak Bazar, Delhi and feeds the dogs in her colony came to me in tears. Her neighbour Khursheed Ahmed had poisoned her dogs. When she went to the police station, the Muslim inspector said to her, what kind of Muslim feeds dogs ? I have written about the Prophet’s (pbuh) love and compassion for all animals. However, as Islam has percolated down, there seems to be a misunderstanding regarding dogs.

Let us deal with the references in the Quran: In the story of the cave sleepers in the Quran, the dog is regarded as an integral part of the young men who were protected by God for centuries. The verse does not describe the dog as a guard dog, but an individual of the group and protected by God as well. If the presence of the dog was problematic to these people whom God chose to protect, then he would not have been included in the tale. Muslims believe that they have been instructed that the saliva of the dog is dangerous. But that belief that has been taken out of context. In the Quran when discussing whether dogs can be used for hunting in the desert, the Quran says “ Lawful unto you are things good and pure, and what you have taught your trained hunting animals to catch in the manner directed to you by God. Eat what they catch for you, but pronounce the name of God over it “

The verse explains that a trained animal could lawfully hunt food for a Muslim only when the hunting is overseen by him and the name of God is taken when killing the animal. This teaching was in response to a doubt as to whether people could eat a hunted animal even if they did not witness the killing. In all the commentaries on this verse, there is no concern about the saliva of the dog or its effect on the purity of the hunted food. The issue in this verse is related to the conditions for lawful or unlawful hunted food, not the fact that the dog’s saliva will be on the hunted animal. Most of the rulings of Islamic Law are derived from the hadith since the Quran does not provide all of the information a person needs to know to live his life in an Islamic way. The hadith deal with a vast array of topics related to dogs. By studying these hadith, it is clear that the dog deserves proper treatment. Dogs would enter mosques in the time of the Prophet. According to Hamza b. Abdullah, ‘Umar b. Khattab reported on the authority of his father that: “in the time of the Prophet, dogs would come and go easily into the mosque, and no one would sprinkle water on those areas of the mosque.”

The Prophet’s rule on dogs entering the mosque was in contrast to his action when a man urinated in the mosque. According to Anas b. Malik: “The Prophet observed a Bedouin urinating in the mosque. He said, ‘let him be,’ and when he finished, the Prophet called for water and poured it on the urine.” People say that something is wrong with dog saliva since Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet said: “if a dog drinks from a vessel of yours, then wash it seven times.” However other versions of the hadith contain different numbers of required washings. Obviously the numbers are to emphasize “wash the bowl well.” This hadith does not mean that something is wrong with the dog, it is simply a hygiene alert literally meaning: If a dog drinks from one of your bowls, then you should wash it well. The hadith specifically states the bowls you use for yourself. This instruction is common sense: keep the water vessels for humans and dogs separate. This meaning is reinforced by the hadith where a man gave a dog water to drink using his shoe as the vessel. The hadith praises the man, and God forgives his sins as a result of his kindness. The hadith does not say that the man should wash his shoe seven times because he is not going to drink water from his shoe.

The hadith about dogs drinking from a person’s bowl also contains another lesson: dogs in the time of the Prophet were even then part of the daily life of humans. If this mixing of dogs and humans were not the case, there would not be so many hadith dealing with the matter of what to do if a dog drinks from your vessel. Another issue related to dogs is the question of purity. Islamic rules of purity mainly pertain to prayer. Islamic law requires that a Muslim’s body, clothing, and space for prayer be pure. All three must be washed and purified if touched by a substance that is considered impure. Scholars have debated what substances are impure.

They agree that blood, urine, pus, and feces are unclean and must be washed off the person or his clothes or his prayer space before prayer. Some scholars in the Hanbali and Shafi’i schools of law, believe that touching by a dog requires washing that portion of the body or clothing before prayer. The Maliki school does not consider dogs impure at all. The Hanafi school considers only the saliva of dogs to be impure, so only the part of the body or clothing that the dog’s saliva touched needs to be washed before the person prays. But is the dog alone? Even the scholars who believe that the dog is impure consider many other substances impure too, and a simple washing is all that is required. Butchers, for example, routinely get blood on their clothing and body, and must wash it off before prayer. Al-Asqalani, in the hadith about dogs entering the mosque in the time of the Prophet, said that all scholars believed that the urine of all animals is pure, except for human urine.

Anyone who is touched by human urine on his clothes, body, or place of prayer must purify it. But just because the blood, urine, and feces of a human are impure does that mean humans are impure? Most Muslims do not understand the rules about keeping a dog at home. There are many versions of a hadith relating that the Prophet restricted possessing a dog except for lawful purposes. The typical purposes listed are guarding, herding, hunting, and assistance with agriculture. At the time of the Prophet, the most common reasons people kept dogs were for guarding, herding, hunting and protection. Naturally, these are the reasons that the hadith define for keeping a dog. These restrictions are requirements to protect dogs from mistreatment. According to the hadith, you may not keep a fancy dog just as a status symbol to brag to your friends about. Dogs are active and social creatures, and it is cruel to lock up a dog in a room or balcony.

The dog must have a purpose for you or else you are treating a living being as if it were a mere object of decoration without regard for the dog’s own needs. Dogs need exercise and tasks to accomplish or else they get bored and depressed. Guarding has a very broad meaning apart from protecting people, animals, and property. A dog who lives with an old person may guard that person against loneliness through its companionship or bark to alert neighbors that the person is sick or needs help. The Prophet’s concern for mercy, kind treatment, and proper care for animals stands out. The field of animal welfare needs leaders, and I invite Muslims to be the example for everyone else to follow.

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