Distressed dog lover

Asked by Distressed dog lover on Jul 31, 2023 Topic: Friends & Social Issues

Dear Hadi,

I love dogs. I do not own one but my friends' dogs love me. My understanding is that it is haram to own dogs.

Dear Distressed dog lover,

Thank you for your question. It touches on many important topics. In the broadest sense, it gets to the issue of hadeeth, and how to use it and interpret it, and the tensions that this may cause with our modern life.

In the case of your specific question, you are troubled by the hadeeths and subsequent scholarly opinions that seem to forbid dog ownership and which characterize dogs as njis (unclean).

One of these hadeeths is to the effect that the angel Jibril came to the Prophet (PBUH) but refused to enter the house in part because there was a dog in it (as well as a statue at the door and a curtain with figures on it inside the house). Jibril then instructed the Prophet to order that the dog be taken out. This hadith is reported in several of the hadeeth collections, but not in the Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim.

Another hadeeth (which is reported in the Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim) is:

Whoever keeps a dog except for hunting of for guarding crops or cattle will lose one large measure (qirat) of his reward each day.” (Sunan an-Nasai Book 42, Hadith 28)

We realize that these hadeeths are certainly very different than the general spirit of love and affection shown to dogs which we see around us, and which you have for dogs, and which your neighbor’s dogs have for you – thus, you are understandably troubled.

As we have said before, we are not in the business of giving fatwas, but rather good faith advice. Part of our advice function is to point you and our other readers to scholarly opinions and fatwas that are on topic and useful, particularly when they get at issues regarding the proper use of hadeeth.

For example, from the second hadeeth quoted above, it is clear that one can keep guard dogs and dogs for hunting. Moreover, from the phraseology of the hadeeth (that one will lose reward for otherwise keeping a dog), some scholars have opined that keeping a dog just for pleasure would then be disliked but not forbidden, because if it is haram, then it is just forbidden without an issue of loss of reward.

Others have opined that the problem is that dogs scare visitors and beggars who may come by asking for charity and so the negative sentiment about them is contingent rather than essential to their intrinsic nature as dogs.

We believe, and God knows best, that these opinions are too restrictive. The most comprehensive fatwa we know about is from Khaled Abou El Fadl, one of the foremost Western Islamic scholars. He is former professor of Islamic Law at the UCLA School of Law, and founder and resident scholar of the Usuli Institute. He is known for his logical and open-minded approach to Islamic jurisprudence. He loves dogs, owns many, and has written in depth on the issue. We will quote directly from a fatwa he gave a Muslim lady also troubled by the “traditional” opinion about dogs; she had been given a puppy by her adult children for companionship after her husband died, and was worried about whether she should keep it.

“I am including the link to an article I have written on the question of dogs in Shari‘ah (Dogs in the Islamic Tradition and Nature) and also a link to my fatwa on dogs from my book The Search for Beauty in Islam (The Lord of the Essence: A Fatwa on Dogs). I am happy to tell you that I own dogs and they are beloved companions. The best juristic opinion on this matter is that the saliva of dogs is not najis (impure), as long as you feed them and control what they consume. The opinion as to the impurity of dog saliva referred primarily to feral dogs or dogs who ate from the wild. But even if you do not accept this opinion, you can simply perform your wudu‘ before each prayer and pray in an area reserved for salat, an area which you can cordon off away from the dog. Sister, love your dog, for our Prophet (pbuh) has taught us that a man who saved the life of a thirsty dog obtained God’s grace. Perhaps your kindness towards this puppy and the mercy and compassion you convey towards this creature of God will be your path to heaven. Our attitude towards all of God’s creatures must be that they are but vehicles of God’s compassion and mercy and an opportunity for us to gain favor with our Lord. If you have any other questions, please write me. Al-salamu ‘alaykum.
Shaykh Abou El Fadl”

Link to Fatwas on dogs (Alternate Link)
This fatwa, as well as the analysis in the links which Professor Abou El Fadl provides above, seem to us to be most in keeping with how we understand Islam. If you read his works, you will see that he analyzes a hadeeth not just on the basis of the chain of transmission (known technically as isnad), but also on its content (known technically as matn), before deciding whether or not to accept it and how to use it. We strongly believe that this is the correct approach to take, with the caveat that this needs to be done by appropriately trained scholars, and cannot devolve into individuals simply rejecting hadeeths because they don’t personally like the content.

For example, in another fatwa on the issue of dogs, he weighs the hadeeth of angels refusing to enter a house that has dogs against the Quranic account of the People of the Cave (where a group of young people betook themselves to a cave to escape from their iniquitous community and to be able to freely worship God without persecution). With them in the Cave was their trusty dog. In the Quran, these young people are highly lauded for their faith

(“… They were youths who truly believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.” Quran 18:12).

Professor Abou El Fadl asks whether it makes any sense that angels would then refuse to enter the Cave where these blessed young people, the recipients of a great miracle, lay in the slumber which God induced upon them. He also asks why an angel would refuse to enter a house with a dog, as opposed to houses with cockroaches, flies or mice. Professor Abou El Fadl concludes his analysis with “And it is also my sincere belief that the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) never uttered this hadith. I say this ever mindful that Allah knows best.”

We hope you will be able to delve into the sources above, as they present a thorough and scholarly analysis of the issue of dogs in Islamic jurisprudence – in much more depth than we can cover here.

The bottom line, though, is that if you are a dog lover, we think you can be comfortable in that love, and take it as far as you like, whether playing with dogs, getting a dog, etc. Insha’Allah God will bless you for your love of, and compassion towards, some of His creatures.

In peace.