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When I was a Muslim, my parents (and even the Imam at the local mosque) told us that the saliva of the dog is considered impure and would cancel the purification rites which Muslims have to carry out before each of the five daily prayers. Therefore, so the narrative said, keeping dogs would be impractical. However, Islam, so I’ve been told, has nothing against dogs, since they are Allah’s creatures as well.
However, when I seriously started studying the religion (i.e. when I started not to only rely what the Imam or my parents said), Islamic scripture paints a very different picture.
It seems that the Arabs during Muhammad’s time already had a preconceived notion that dogs are impure. And this impurity is not only on account of their saliva. The following (Sahih or authentic) Hadith tells us how Muhammad was worried because he stopped receiving divine revelations through the Angel Gabriel. Muhammad suspected that a little puppy who lived in his home was to blame:
Maimuna reported that one morning Allah’s Messenger was silent with grief. Maimuna said: Allah’s Messenger, I find a change in your mood today. Allah’s Messenger said: Gabriel had promised me that he would meet me tonight, but he did not meet me. By Allah, he never broke his promises, and Allah’s Messenger spent the day in this sad [mood]. Then it occurred to him that there had been a puppy under their cot. He commanded that it was turned out. He then took some water in his hand and sprinkled it at that place. […]
— SAHIH MUSLIM VOLUME 5, BOOK 24, HADITH NO.5248
According to the Hadith, after Muhammad had the puppy evicted from the premises, the mighty archangel Gabriel finally arrived. Apparently, Allah’s angel confirmed Muhammad’s worries: He was loth to come to a house in which there was a dog or a picture (hence, Islamic art almost never features a painting of a living being):
[…] When it was evening, Gabriel met him, and he said to him: you promised me that you would meet me the previous night. He said: Yes, but we do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture. […]
— SAHIH MUSLIM VOLUME 5, BOOK 24, HADITH NO.5248 (continued)
Muhammad’s response was quite severe. Muhammad’s “Final Solution to the Dog Problem” was carried out in stages. First he ordered the killing dogs kept as pets, or those who were used to guard homes. Then he also ordered the killing of dogs who were tasked to guard orchards. Leaving only those alive that are used to guard larger fields.
[…] Then on that very morning, Muhammad commanded the killing of the dogs until he announced that the dog kept for the orchards should also be killed, but he spared the dog meant for the protection of extensive fields [or big gardens].
For good measure, here’s the same incident narrated by a different (authentic/Sahih) Hadith:
Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: Maimunah, wife of the Prophet reported him as saying: Gabriel promised to visit me last night, but he did not visit me. Then it occurred to him that there was a pup under his bed. So he ordered and it was turned out. He then got water in his hand and sprinkled it on its place. When Gabriel met him, he said: We do not enter a house which contains a dog or a picture. When the morning came, the Prophet ordered to kill dogs. He ordered to kill the dog which guarded a small orchard, and left the dog which guarded the big orchard.
— SUNAN ABU DAWOOD VOLUME 4, BOOK 34 HADITH NO.4145
What can we learn from all this?
Muhammad thought dogs had to be killed, since he thought that they interfered with the flow of his divine revelation. Please note, that nowhere in the Hadith we reviewed above it is mentioned that it is the dog’s saliva that made Muhammad decide to go into such drastic measures. The mere presence of dogs is what disrupted Muhammad’s angelic visitors. This sentiment of dogs repelling angels is repeated in several other Hadith. Among others:
Abu Hurairah reported the Apostle of Allah as saying, “The angels do not accompany the fellow travellers who have a dog or bell [with them].”
— SUNAN ABU DAWOOD VOLUME 3, BOOK 15, HADITH NO.2549
Pictured: Archangel Raphael and Tobit by Titian, Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. This alleged aversion of angels to dogs is unique in Islam only. The Deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, tells of the traveling Tobit being accompanied by the Archangel Raphael while having a dog with him – completely contradicting above Hadith.
I can only theorize that the narrative of the impurity of dog-saliva must be a later invention. At the very least, it was not the reason that made Muhammad butcher all those dogs, and probably also not the reason of today’s Muslim’s aversion to dogs in general.
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