Dogs and other Animals in the Islamic Middle East

binti

my pup Binti

Walking Binti  downtown the other day and talking to people and kids who wanted to pet her, hug her and  tell her cute she is I thought about how different it would be in the many places I have lived in the Middle East. In many areas it would be foolish to even walk with a dog. I vividly remember  sitting on the beach near Beirut and observing the disgust on the faces of the  Gulfie tourists watching a Western woman  hugging and kissing her small dog.

If I were a Muslim and wanted to have a dog as a pet I would be very confused trying to ascertain what is prescribed and proscribed. Going on the internet as I did to get some answers I just became more thoroughly confused. As an old country doctor once told my mom asking him to name the skin eruptions all  us three boys had… “well some folks say one thing and some say another.” Like so many issues in Islam, definitive answers  are not very clear.   I read the anguished requests for answers on the internet by Muslims who would love to have a pet but have this tradition and family disapproval to fight.

There is no doubt that  dogs are generally viewed as unclean in Islamic tradition and it is also true that the Qur’an has no reference to that tradition. All the references to the place of dogs in Islam are found in the hadiths. These are stories about the Prophet including things he did or said. Unfortunately most were written down over a hundred years after the Prophets death and there is no one collection of hadiths accepted by all Muslims.  One particular Hadith has the Prophet saying he would not enter a home having a dog inside. But well read Muslims can dispute almost anyw hadith with another hadith..

I’m not a scholar of Islam but I know what Muslims say and write, and most of all…do! These days there are many Muslims who own dogs, and like me, hug them  like babies. Some are quite open about it and many are not, especially those with conservative families back home.

Of course there are many stories and admonitions in Islamic literature condemning maltreatment of animals  and I never saw any of that living in the Islamic world, What I did see is the ubiquitous presence of hordes of  dogs  roaming the streets with people oblivious to their presence  and the dogs equally indifferent to the people around them.

When we were living in Cairo I watched a truckload of soldiers jump off the truck and begin shooting every dog they saw. Many were only wounded and dragged themselves off to die somewhere. More recently I read about some Lebanese protesting the way the authorities dropped poisoned meat for the stray dogs to eat and die writhing in pain.

Recently I also read of Egyptians on the  religious Eid al Adha  taking their dogs  to veterinarians to be killed, as sort of modern version of Issac offering his son to God. Apparently   this would bring some extra credit in God’s eyes. Of course educated Egyptians denounce this trend.

The preceding is part of what Bernard Lewis termed the “resurgence of Islam.”  Socialism, and fascism having failed and democracy having never given a chance, Islam as an ideology became the only game in town. Part of this has entailed, in the words on one Egyptian, an ostentatious display of people trying to outdo their neighbors in their devotion to the superficiality of Islam rather than the substance. One rather gruesome aspect of this is what another Egyptian called the “slaughterhouse of Cairo streets” during the Eid Al Adha, as many people  who can afford it, buy a lamb, goat, or calf to ritually slaughter it for food, Unfortunately for the animals many try to do the slaughtering themselves, resulting in macabre horror scenes. Apparently there is some belief if you do it yourself you accrue extra points to outweigh your sins.

I witnessed one such scene in Cairo when our downstairs neighbor’s wife gave birth to a son and in celebration a calf was brought in to be slaughtered by the Bawaba (the building Supe)  The Bawaba slit the calf’s throat but it got away and began running around the courtyard making weird noises with blood gushing from the wound.  My upstairs neighbor was an American with small children, who seeing this from their balcony,  were screaming in horror.

So Binti be happy you are an American dog!!! Hoowah for America!

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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