AS a pet lover, I have a lot of respect for people who love and care for their pets like they are part of the family.
Recently, I accompanied a friend whose cat fell gravely ill to the veterinarian hospital, and with all the seriousness of the condition being explained by the doctor, my friend wept.
While waiting for my friend in the midst of other pet owners at the hospital, I was approached by a middle-aged man whose golden retriever contracted a serious blood infection. Seated next to his dog that was on drips, the man approached me to say hello.
After the brief small talk about the frail-looking dog, the man then asked if I was a Malay and a Muslim. My answer shocked him as, despite my ethnicity and religion, I showed an ‘unusual’ concern for his dog. “You must be one of those modern Malays!” he said, drawing chuckles from my part.
The conversation then shifted talking to the recent debacle about a Muslim young woman Nurhanizah Abdul Rahman, who courted controversy for adopting a stray dog, Bubu, as a pet. Her video story, which was initially intended to be part of a pet food competition, turned into a national moral debate on whether it is permissible for Muslims to own dogs.
Unsurprisingly, religious authorities criticised her actions with the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) Director-General Othman Mustapha asking her to repent for keeping the canine, which is considered to be dirty and riddled with impurities.
Othman called her actions ‘Haram’ (forbidden), saying in a veiled edict that it offended the sanctity of the religion. He also accused her of attempting to promote deviant culture that could subject Islam to ridicule and insults. In a Facebook posting, the authoritative religious figure expressed hope that she will repent and return to the true path of god.
As expected, the criticism was accompanied by a barrage of hateful comments hurled against the young woman. Accusing her of insulting Islam, the commenters — in typical vitriolic fashion — denounced her for “not respecting” the religion. The more overzealous branded her an apostate.
Despite this, there were also those who have come out to defend the dog owner, saying that Jakim did not have the prerogative to issue such ‘edicts’.
Lawyer Syahredzan Johan says that Jakim has no power to make decisions on such Islamic rulings apart from having discretion to issue halal certificates to eateries and others in the food and beverage industry.
Muslim preacher Wan Ji Wan Hussin argues that the Quran did not explicitly say that dogs were ‘haram’ creatures, but only the Sunni Shafie school of thought ruled that Muslims must undertake ritual cleansing after coming into contact with canine saliva.
Amid the national debate, the argument by the director-general and his supporters does not appear to run parallel with the words of Abu Huraira — a companion of Prophet Muhammad — who said: “Allah had once forgiven a prostitute. She passed by a dog panting near a well. Seeing that thirst had nearly killed him, she took off her shoe, tied it to her scarf, and drew up some water. Allah forgave her for that.”
Meanwhile at the hospital, my friend told me that it was ridiculous how so many people have become so obsessed with the dog issue.
Even more worrying is the pre-occupation with something as trivial as the ownership of a dog by a Muslim woman that morphed into national debate when there are bigger, more pressing concerns affecting the country.
As Muslims, I believe animals are God’s creation and deserved love and respect of all humans and that notion of dogs as impure creatures among believers was born out of convenience – it is easier to blanket perception towards dogs than to completely understand different interpretations of how the matter should be handled.
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