Dogs have a long evolutionary history with human beings and are popularly considered man’s best friend. There are certain instinctive behaviors that only dogs only exhibit with human beings, such as maintaining eye contact and understanding gestures through eye movements. Moreover, they are incredibly compassionate, beautiful and loyal beings who have been widely reported to give their lives for the sake of their owners. However, there is a widely debated topic about the position of dogs in Islam.
So is there a common opinion in Islam that dogs should be considered as filthy beings? This mindset extends to such an extent that some Muslims are misguided by the devil and even subject these poor beings to cruelty. While a human may forget a 99 good deeds of a person over 1 sin, a dog will forget 9 sins of a human and trust them for 1 act of generosity. Can these creations of Allah be still considered under such a negative spotlight?
Allow us to delve further into the topic of whether keeping dogs is forbidden or not.
Dogs in Islam and Losing Good Deeds
There is a commonly quoted hadith which is as follows:
Hazrat Abu Hurairah (RA) recalls the Holy Prophet (SAW) saying: “Whoever keeps a dog, one Qirat of the reward of his good deeds is deducted daily unless the dog is used for guarding a farm or cattle.” Hazrat Abu Hurairah (RA) adds further context to the hadith by continuing the quote of Holy Prophet (SAW): “unless it is used for guarding sheep or farms, or dog for guarding cattle or for hunting” (Sahih Bukhari (3:515).
This hadith clearly specifies that those people who keep dogs will have their good deeds deducted. But there is a further context which specifies that herding, hunting, and guard dogs are permitted. Are all other dogs excluded? For example, a blind person greatly benefits from a sight dog. A person suffering from dangerous suicidal depression, epilepsy attacks and such are often given a care-dog. These animals are trained to immediately seek human help in case a person falls ill.
The context of this hadith, in reality, is that dogs are permitted until and unless they have a concrete purpose. It was natural in Arabia for rich people to keep dogs as a status symbol. These pedigree dogs were treated better than slaves and given care which was utterly wasteful and insulting to the people who suffered under the same person. Dogs by nature are noble creatures who will diligently learn and fulfill the tasks they have been assigned. From herding and hunting to serving as the vanguard for defending their designated humans, they will wholeheartedly throw themselves at whatever pleases their owners.
Imam Al-Nawawi confirms this ideology, stating that the truth lies in their necessity rather than just the stated categories (Sharh Muslim, 10/236).
Dogs in Islam and the Issue of Impurity and Hygiene
Let us consider the starters:
“If a dog licks the vessel of one of you, let him wash it seven times and rub it with soil the eighth time” (Muslim, 280)
This is often considered a basis for labeling dogs as being unhygienic and impure. The question is, would you not wash the vessel if a human were to use it? It is mandatory to wash utensils after they have been done. However, dogs lick themselves and eat from unclean sources, which necessitates that extra cleansing care is taken.
But what if the dog was properly groomed, medicated and given clean utensils to eat from? This would significantly reduce the chances of it acting as a vector for carrying diseases. This does not refute the facts however – extra cleaning should always be exercised when dealing with dogs. Keep separate utensils and wash your hands after you are done interacting with them physically.
The impurity does not originate from the dog but its saliva. The easiest and most practical way is to dedicate clean utensils for the dog and wash them to ensure both the owner and the dog remains in good health. Moreover, the hadith explicitly refers to the act of licking, eating or the saliva touching the utensil. They do not consider the rest of the body to be impure, so Allah’s creature is not classified as being unhygienic by default.
Dogs in Islam and Issue of Dogs and Pictures Hadith
This hadith narrated by Hazrat Aby Hurairah (RA) states:
I heard Allah’s Apostle saying; “Angels (of Mercy) do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or a picture of a living creature (a human being or an animal)” (Sahih Bukhari 3:515).
As far as the reference to pictures and animals goes, it is clear that it was directed at the practices of the non-believers. These religions worshipped pictures, idols, and animals instead of Allah, which is shirk. This may have been the reason behind the hadith.
There is also a very obvious reason why dogs were considered under such light in those times. It was common for street dogs to be carriers for diseases and were dirty. Hence, they were not allowed to be inside houses and such. We have developed vaccines, medications, and numerous other products for maintaining hygiene. This allows us to permit dogs to enter homes to a certain degree. However, behavior such as allowing dogs to roam on carpets, on sofas and such is downright wrong. Not only does it promote wrong training for the dog but it also dirties the place.
Dogs in Islam
We can conclude from the hadith that keeping dogs in Islam is not forbidden. Islam teaches love and compassion for all animals. In fact, it is the first religion to introduce the concept of animal rights. They are beautiful creatures of Allah who share a long evolutionary history with us. We have domesticated dogs and taught them to coexist with us. They are capable of performing numerous tasks for us, from hunting and herding to guarding and therapeutic. As such, dogs in Islam indeed have a special place for being a lovely creature of Allah which devotes itself in the service of humans and readily gives its life when needed. The modern practices of spoiling animals and wasteful extravagance of resources on them are indeed condemnable. However, it would be illogical to consider these fiercely loyal and useful creatures to have no place in our religion.