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Shadia: Loving dogs at a distance

Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C.

July 11, 2012|By Mona Shadia

If you've lived near a Muslim or a Middle Eastern family, or if you know one, then you've probably seen them act a little weird around dogs.

And there are probably few things funnier — or more perplexing — than seeing a full-grown Muslim run, or get visibly uncomfortable, when a dog rushes toward him.

I was that way for a while, and I'll get back to you on why.

But generally, there's a sense out there that Muslims or Islam have a bone to pick with dogs.

As usual, it's more complicated than that. It's quite the opposite, actually. Dogs are mentioned in a positive light in Islam.

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There's a story that goes like this: A man was once in deep thirst while on the road. He eventually found a well of water, lowered himself into it, and fulfilled his thirst. On his way out, he found a dog with his tongue out in thirst. So the man went back to the well and scooped water with one of his shoes so the dog could drink. He did this until the dog's thirst was fulfilled.

We are taught that for that simple act of kindness toward the dog, God forgave all of the man's sins, and he was rewarded with paradise.

So why do some Muslims act weirdly around dogs or, in some well-documented instances — like taxi drivers or store owners refusing to give service to blind individuals because they have guide dogs — act in a cruel manner toward them?

It's a combination of two things.

Islam has four dominant schools of thought. Muslims usually follow one — or none.

Each school of thought is referred to by the name of a Muslim scholar who provided rulings on various issues based on analysis of the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad's life and statements. They range from being very conservative to being liberal on numerous questions.

Those scholars usually disagree and give different rulings on the same issues, but they're all nonetheless credible and highly respected by Muslims.

Two Islamic schools of thought, the Shaafi'i and Hanbali, contend that a dog's nasal area, which is often wet, is "najis," or impure, and that means if it touches you or your clothes, you must wash up before praying. It has nothing to do with the dog itself.

If you follow those opinions, you can still have a service dog, guard dog or even a dog as a pet, provided that you keep it mostly in the backyard, make sure it doesn't touch your prayer area, care for it and play with it.

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