Cute or Brute?

Article excerpt

Kindness to animals is an Islamic virtue and, as such, Muslims must recognize their rights and needs. While Islam outlines a dog's role as a person's companion, keeping one as a pet is a little tricky for a Muslim dog lover. But is it really safe as regards one's personal health, and for that of the environment as well, to keep pet dogs just for fun? BY SABRINA ENAYATULLA

PERVEZ KHAN, 57, HAD MORE THAN A cultural shock upon arriving from South Africa to live with his sister's family in Oshkosh, WI. He has added clapping to his salah, for that is the only way to keep his nephew's dog away from his prayer rug. Jamila Chowdhury found herself in an odd situation when she accepted Dr. Asra Patel's invitation to be her houseguest in Boca Raton, FL: Patel's dog wanted to snuggle. Chowdhury, scheduled to address the campus MSA meeting, wondered if she could pray in the clothes she was wearing.

In nearly every society, owning a dog is about as normal as having children, and the furry family members are treated just about as well as the children. Family dogs have their own beds, toys, special food, and regular checkups; some even go to school. And don't forget the play dates! When Atlanta Falcon's star quarterback Michael Vick was indicted on dog-fighting charges for his alleged role in the venture operating on a Virginia property that he owned, the country watched in absolute horror. Whether you own a dog or not, we all wondered the same thing: How could anyone do this to a dog?

Kindness to animals is an Islamic virtue and, as Muslims, we have to protect all animals' rights and treat them with kindness. Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, adviser to the animal welfare group Pet Positive, wrote in a 2007 article: "It was partly because of the Qur'anic perspective on animals that early Muslim jurists formulated rules and regulations designed to protect the welfare of horses and camels, mules and donkeys, even cats and birds . The overloading of mules was forbidden. If a cat was starved for a certain period of time, its owner could be punished. The target killing of birds was discouraged as a sport. In fact, animal torture was explicitly prohibited in certain Muslim societies."

Muzaffar also states that the Qur'an reiterates the obvious: animals have been created for humanity's benefit and that their rights have to be acknowledged. This is illustrated in the story of Prophet Salih and the Thamud (7:73; 11:64; 26:155-156; 54:23-31). The privileged among the Thamud usurped all rights to water and pasture. Salih intervened, asking them to respect the rights of the poor and their cattle. As a test, a she-camel was selected to be given access to those resources. But the privileged hamstrung her, and God destroyed the Thamud for denying the rights of the poor and their animals.

Islam regards animals as part of God's divine plan and as manifestations of His compassion and mercy. Over and over again, the Qur'an invites people to contemplate on cattle, birds, and insects to appreciate God's power. For example: "Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of (the air and) the sky? Nothing holds them up but (the power of) God. Verily in this are signs for those who believe" (16:79). Protecting animal rights is a trust given to humanity, and fulfilling our responsibility toward the entire ecosystem is part of our mission here on Earth. Interestingly, cruelty to animals in many western countries was not oudawed until the 1800s.

Karen Alston, a Christian woman married to a Pakistani Muslim, faced repeated requests from their two children to get a puppy. After many discussions about responsibility and hand-clasped pleas from the kids, the parents decided to go ahead with a new addition to the family. "My kids love him," Alston said. "Really, none of us even remember what Ufe was like before him."

But her Pakistani in-laws disapprove of this new family member, saying that Islamic religious rulings prohibit a dog from living so closely with the family. …