Q. My husband and I have a dog, and we are told that it is haram. I am now seeking a new home for her. My problem is that my husband has been hitting her very hard as she will not toilet train. He loses control whilst hitting the dog and forgets that she is tiny and does not realize what she is doing. What is the position of dogs in Islam and is my husband justified in beating the animal?

A. As far as a dog being haram, such a general statement, even according to classical fiqh, is wrong. The jurists distinguish between a guard or hunting dog, and a dog kept merely for the purposes of being a pet. And even then, the focus is on the legality of financial benefit from such dogs, not as to whether keeping them is haram or not. Sura Kahf in the Qur'an is self explanatory on the issue of dogs being allowed, so rather than expound on this issue, I suggest you use that sura to help in making your decision.

What the jurists declare is that, based on the hadith reports, the saliva of a dog is unclean, and that the animal should not be in a position where it may pass in front of a praying person. This obviously refers not only to a masjid, but also to a house or similar type place. Aisha reportedly did not think much of the hadith since it also states that a woman, if she passes in front of a man, invalidates his prayer. Suffice it to say that the following hadith also presents a problem for those who hold that a dog invalidates the prayer:

Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 1:174, narrated by Abu Huraira. The Prophet said: "A man saw a dog eating mud from (the severity of) thirst. So, that man took a shoe (and filled it) with water and kept on pouring the water for the dog till it quenched its thirst. So Allah approved of his deed and made him to enter Paradise."

And narrated Hamza bin 'Abdullah -- My father said: "During the lifetime of Allah's Apostle, the dogs used to urinate, and pass through the mosques (come and go), nevertheless they never used to sprinkle water on it (urine of the dog)."

The text of the hadith is useful to us for several reasons. Its language shows that there is a sort of debate going on between those who are against dogs, and those who are for them. It is also interesting that all the rulings pertaining to dogs come from the hadith and not from the Qur'an. Considering that Allah is the one who declares what is halal and what is haram (see sura Tahrim), and states that nothing is left out of the Qur'an, one is left to conclude that the jurists often propound their opinions in the name of Islam.

From a purely legal point of view, a dog is therefore not haram. However, the matter to which you refer is not a simple case of haram and halal. The prevailing Muslim opinion is against having dogs in the house, and one cannot deny that no matter how clean you try to keep the place, there is always the scent that denotes the presence of a dog. Many may not wish to pray in your house, etc. -- in which case, you need to ask yourself to which matter do you give precedence. There is a rule that states: "Custom is given legal authority," and this custom is found throughout the Muslim world, i.e. against having dogs in the house.

The choice in the matter then is yours, since as we have said, one cannot say that a dog is haram. But if the people in general have a "dislike" against this house pet, and it has certain negative effects, such as the smell, as well as the presence of a potential irritant to those who have allergies, then certainly one must reconsider having a dog in the home, not from the juridical perspective, but from the practical vivendi.

As far as hitting a dog and hurting it, the ethics of Islam totally forbid this. The hadith above is a case in point -- the opposite understanding is that if you hurt a dog, you merit retribution. The Qur'an tells us that Allah does not tax a person for more than s/he is able to do; it tells us that God loves not the oppressors; it tells us not to be tyrannical and we will not be treated in a tyrannical manner. All these pointers go against hitting a dog that is too young to understand, apart from the fact that dog-training is not done in that manner.

It is possible that your husband is venting his frustration on the dog. While his actions are not right, it would seem that if this dog is going to be a bone of contention between you two, then you must exercise your judgment in light of the following fiqh rule: "Yutahammal al darar al khaas li daf' al darrar al 'aam" -- difficult for me to translate but which basically means that: "Private affliction is borne in order to prevent one that afflicts the public."

Posted February 29, 2000