Islamic Views Regarding Dogs

Loyal companions, or unclean animals to be avoided?

Dogs in Islam
Dogs available for adoption in Abu Dhabi. Warren Little / Getty Images

Islam teaches its followers to be merciful to all creatures, and all forms of animal cruelty are forbidden. Why then, do many Muslims seems to have such problems with dogs?

Unclean?

Most Muslim scholars agree that in Islam the saliva of a dog is ritually impure and that contact with a dog's saliva requires one to wash seven times. This ruling comes from the hadith:

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "If a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him throw away whatever was in it and wash it seven times." (Reported by Muslim)

It is to be noted, however, that one of the major Islamic schools of thought (Maliki) indicates that this is not a matter of ritual cleanliness, but simply a common-sense method way to prevent the spread of disease.

There are several other hadith, however, which warn of consequences for dog-owners:

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "Whoever keeps a dog, his good deeds will decrease every day by one qeeraat (a unit of measurement), unless it is a dog for farming or herding." In another report, it is said: " . . . unless it is a dog for herding sheep, farming or hunting." (Reported by al-Bukhaari)
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "Angels do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or an animate picture." (Reported by Bukhari)

Many Muslims base the prohibition against keeping a dog in one's home, except for the case of working or service dogs, on these traditions.

Companion Animals

Other Muslims argue that dogs are loyal creatures that are deserving of our care and companionship.

They cite the story in the Qur'an (Surah 18) about a group of believers who sought shelter in a cave and were protected by a canine companion that was "outstretched in their midst."

Also in the Qur'an, it is specifically mentioned that any prey caught by hunting dogs may be eaten-- without any need for further purification.

Naturally, the prey of a hunting dog comes into contact with the saliva of the dog; however, this does not render the meat "impure."

"They consult you concerning what is lawful for them; say, Lawful for you are all good things, including what trained dogs and falcons catch for you. You train them according God's teachings. You may eat what they catch for you, and mention God's name thereupon. You shall observe God. God is most efficient in reckoning." -Qur'an 5:4

There are also stories in Islamic tradition that tell of people who were forgiven their past sins through the mercy they showed towards a dog.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, 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."
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, "This dog is suffering from thirst as I did." So, he went down the well again and filled his shoe with water and watered it. Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him. (Reported by Bukhari)

In another point of Islamic history, the Muslim army came across a female dog and her puppies while on a march. The Prophet, peace be upon him, posted a soldier nearby her with the orders that the mother and puppies must not be disturbed.

Based on these teachings, many people find that it is a matter of faith to be kind towards dogs, and they believe that dogs can even be beneficial in the lives of human beings. Service animals, such as guide dogs or epilepsy dogs, are important companions to Muslims with disabilities. Working animals, such as guard dogs, hunting or herding dog,s are useful and hard-working animals who have earned their place at their owner's side.

Middle Road of Mercy

It is a fundamental tenet of Islam that everything is permissible, except those things that have been explicitly banned.

Based on this, most Muslims would agree that it is permissible to have a dog for the purpose of security, hunting, farming or service to the disabled.

Many Muslims strike a middle ground about dogs--allowing them for the purposes listed but insisting that the animals occupy space that does not overlap with human living spaces. Many keep the dog outdoors as much as possible and at the very least do not allow it in areas where Muslims in the home pray. For hygienic reasons, when an individual comes into contact with dog saliva, washing is essential. 

Owning a pet is a huge responsibility that Muslims will need to answer for on the Day of Judgment. Those who choose to own a dog must recognize the duty they have to provide food, shelter, training, exercise and medical care for the animal. That said, most Muslims recognize that pets are not "children" nor are they humans. Muslims typically do not treat dogs as family members in the same way other members of society might do. 

We must not let our beliefs about dogs lead us to neglect, mistreat or harm them. The Qu'ran describes pious people with dogs living among them who are loyal and intelligent creatures that make excellent work and service animals. Muslims are always careful not to come into contact with the dog's saliva and to keep its living area clean and away from any areas used for prayer.

Not Hatred, but Lack of Familiarity

In many countries, dogs are not commonly kept as pets. For some people, their only exposure to dogs may be the packs of dogs that wander the streets or rural areas in packs. People who do not grow up around friendly dogs may develop a natural fear of them. They are not familiar with a dog's cues and behaviors, so a rambunctious animal that runs towards them is seen as aggressive, not playful.

Many Muslims who seem to "hate" dogs are simply afraid of them due to lack of familiarity. They may make excuses ("I'm allergic") or emphasize the religious "uncleanliness" of dogs simply in order to avoid interacting with them.