6th January 2012
I’ve been getting a lot of “advice” lately from people describing themselves as “well-wishers”. In the last two weeks I have been told that I cannot possibly be a Muslim because I don’t cover my hair with a hijab. I’ve also been told that it is forbidden for me to have male friends (sorry, Mr B!). If this “advice” was coming from people who’s only knowledge of Islam came from CNN or a half-baked documentary shown on ITV3, I could understand. But this “advice” is coming from people who share my faith.
One of the problems with Islam is that there are many versions. They all start with the Qur’an but then they start to diverge based on such things as
- the interpretation of certain verses within the Qur’an
- the relative importance given to various part of the Sunnah (the sayings and accounts of the life of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh)
- the various ideologies about what should have happened following the death of the Prophet.
Add in some cultural biases and you end up with a variety of forms of Islam. For someone like myself who converted to Islam it can all be very daunting.
Which is why I read a lot. I’m not an Islamic scholar and I never will be, but my scientific background has taught me that it is not enough to take things at face value. I take the position that God did not insert random rules into the Qur’an. If God mentioned something in the Qur’an he did so for good reason. It is important to me that I try to understand what that reason could be.
So today I want to tell you about my dog.
Dog is an 8-year-old Brittany Spaniel which we adopted from a refuge about 6 years ago long before I converted to Islam. He was found wandering on a high plateau not far from where we lived in France. He was weak and nothing more than skin and bones. The staff at the animal refuge nursed him back to health. At that time Man was doing some dog-walking one day a week at the refuge, but when he was first introduced to Dog it was love at first sight on both sides.
I still remember the excited phonecall I got from Man asking if we could adopt a dog. I was a bit wary never having owned a dog before, but I too fell in love with Dog when I first saw him. Dog was so excited when we brought him home for a short trial period to see how we all got on. And Man’s excitement level was pretty high too. Shortly after that we signed the papers, paid the fee and brought Dog home to be part of the family.
We can only speculate why Dog was on the high plateau. His breed are usually owned by hunters, so maybe he got lost while out on a hunt one day. Or maybe he was abandoned by an uncaring owner. Or maybe he ran away from a cruel hunter. I favour the last theory for three main reasons. Firstly there were times when I was out walking in fields with Dog that we would come across a hunter dressed in camouflage and carrying a rifle. Dog would get very agitated, bark very nervously and try to go in the opposite direction. Secondly, in the early days when we would scold Dog for something he had done he would cower in such a way that suggested he was expecting to be beaten. We have never and would never hit Dog and the worst he’s ever had is a stern “Bad Dog!” Thirdly, he is an extremely intelligent dog. I suspect he decided to take his chances on the high plateau rather than continue the life he had.
Dog and Cat
When I converted to Islam a lot of Muslims told me I would have to get rid of Dog, or at the very best make him live outside in a kennel. This would have been heart-breaking for Man and I and cruel for Dog, who by now was as much a part of the family as a small child. His breed is the kind of breed that loves people. He needs and thrives on human company and a life outside in a kennel would be no life for him at all.
It is certainly unusual for Muslims to have dogs as pets. The majority of scholars believe dogs to be ritually unclean. By all accounts the Prophet Muhammad pbuh was not a dog-lover and he said that the company of dogs, except as helpers in hunting, herding, and home protection voided a portion of a Muslim’s good deeds. It is not said what that portion is. On the other hand, he advocated kindness to dogs and other animals and there are many accounts of the importance of kindness to dogs in the Sunnah.
Many Muslim theologians have argued that the dog is not an unclean animal. A dog is mentioned in the 18th verse of the Qur’an as a companion for the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. (Rather than explain the story here, just Google the story of the Seven Sleepers). So if dogs are apparently so abhorrent to many Muslims, why is a dog mentioned in the Qur’an? Why did God protect both the dog and the sleepers for 100 years?
I don’t have the answer to that. I worry that a lot of the “excitement” about dogs in Islam comes from pre-Islamic and other cultural attitudes to dogs.
Dog with his new toy
So the bottom line is this. My dog is the most loving, loyal, and faithful creature in my life. Yes, I do mean that. He makes few demands, other than to play with him from time to time and take him for walks. Most of the day he follows me around the house and is content to lie at my feet while I work on my computer. At night he sleeps in his own basket but he always wakes up shortly before sunrise so he can nudge me to make sure I am awake for prayer. Whenever I leave the house for half an hour or so without him I get the most amazing welcome whenever I return. I will continue to be kind and loving to my dog. At some point in the future I know that Dog and I will be parted, but that is for God to decide and no-one else.
Finally, let me say something to those who wish to label themselves as “well-wishers”. If I had followed all the “advice” I have been given I would now be confined to my home, alone, divorced, never having contact with family or former friends. I would certainly never had made any cooking videos! If this is what God truly wants for me why did he open my heart to Islam but not guide me in the direction that others would have me take?
I will face judgement at an appointed time. My book will be laid open and all that I have done will be written there before me. He is the only one who can judge how good a Muslim I will have been and I will be held to account for that. In the meantime please keep your unsolicited “advice” to yourselves.