Saturday, 5 April 2008
An Islamic Scholar's Kindly View of Dogs
An excerpt from the Los Angeles Times, January 2001
Dogs and Books as Symbols of His Effort
The man at the center of this ideological furor is physically unimposing, with a short, stocky frame, light brown eyes, and olive skin. His home is dominated by two elements that symbolize much about Islam's ideological tensions today: dogs and books.
(Khaled) Abou El Fadl loves to use dogs to illustrate what he regards as the puritans' willful ignorance of Islamic tradition and an oppressive emphasis on law over morality.
In much of the Muslim world, dogs are decidedly not man's best friend. Abou El Fadl says he was taught that they were impure and that black dogs in particular were evil.
Religious traditions hold that if a dog - or woman - passes in front of you as you prepare to pray, it pollutes your purity and negates your prayer. Dogs are permissible as watchdogs or for other utilitarian purposes but not simply for companionship. Abou El Fadl says this zealous adherence to doctrine led one religious authority to advise a Muslim that his pet dog was evil and should be driven away by cutting off its food and water.
Many Muslims say this caution toward dogs is fundamentally a matter of hygiene. Many devout Muslims follow such rules without question, for submission to God is Islam's highest call whether the reasons for divine law are apparent or not, according to Sheik Tajuddin B. Shuaib of the King Fahd Mosque.
But Abou El Fadl prides himself on questioning just about everything. He could not fathom a God who would condemn such loving, loyal creatures. So about five years ago, he set out to investigate.
After a lengthy process of textual research and prayer for divine guidance, he concluded that reports against dogs were passed on through questionable chains of transmissions or contradicted by more favorable reports - for instance, one story of Muhammad praying with his dogs playing nearby.
Some reports against dogs bear uncanny similarities to Arab folklore, Abou El Fadl says, leading him to suspect that someone took the tales and attributed them to the prophet.
As Abou El Fadl speaks, Honey snoozes near his side. The yellow cocker spaniel mix was abandoned by his owners and was cowering in the corner of an animal shelter, dirty and racked by seizures, when the scholar and his wife rescued him.
They also rescued Baby, a black shepherd a day away from being killed, and Calbee, an abused dog who smelled of garbage for a year and still feels secure only when curled up inside a plastic laundry basket.
"Dogs represent my rebellion against ignorance about the basis of actual historical law," Abou El Fadl says. "They are a symbol of the irrationality of our tradition, the privileging of law over humaneness."
How, he asks, pointing to Honey, who constantly follows him and nestles at his side, does God "create animals with these natural tendencies and then condemn them as thoroughly reprehensible?"
For Bio Info on El-Fadl see: http://www.law.ucla.edu/home/index.asp?page=386