Progress for dogs in the Islamic world

Among “animal people” in the developed world, a lot of time and energy is spent on debating different highly specific visions people have for what a better world would look like for animals.  It’s important to not lose sight of the big picture, though.  Small kindnesses towards animals that we would never even think about in the US are major animal welfare news stories in other countries.

As a white person, I strive to be conscious to not enter a foreign country and bludgeon strangers with my ideas of how they should act.  As I’ve written previously, such behaviors not only reinforce nasty colonialist relationships that people from the developed world have long had with the developing world, but they are also incredibly counter-productive.  I’m going into veterinary medicine because I would like to play a skilled support role, enabling the “back end” of community-driven animal welfare projects with improved medical care.

A recent news item from Malaysia on a dog-touching event was really heartwarming to me.  From the article:

Nearly 1,000 people attended the Oct. 19 event at a park in the western state of Selangor, aimed at helping Muslims overcome religious stigma and fear of canines, learn permissible ways to touch a dog and how to perform a cleansing ritual, known as “sertu” or “samak.”…

On Facebook, cafe operator Zurinna Raja Adam stated that the Quran does not mention that dogs are unclean, but rather that it is subject to differing interpretation of Islamic scholars. “But for years it has been hammered in us that is it prohibited (to touch dogs). But that’s the thing about religion, it is a never-ending learning process,” she said in an interview, calling the event one of the most “profound” experiences of her life.

(Read more here.)

In the Muslim world, there is a strong social stigma/taboo about dogs being unclean, whether in the physical or spiritual sense.  While the Muslim-run animal shelter ESMA has worked to demonstrate through passages from the Quran and other holy texts that their fellow Muslims should respect animals, it’s more than just an issue of intellectual argument.  Free-roaming dogs are common in Egypt, as well as in many parts of the less-developed world, and I was told that every Egyptian has a story about being bitten by a baladi (stray) dog.

I was excited when I heard that a trap-neuter-return program started operating in Egypt this year.  A piece from a recent article on animal welfare improvements in Egypt:

Commonly known as baladi dogs, these animals are subject to name-calling while their owners are often pulled into a verbal frenzy that questions and belittles their consideration of adopting these canine friends.

“When you get a baladi dog, you can’t care what people think,” says Hadeer Halawa, who owns three. Her friends and family have ridiculed her for keeping the dogs, but she turns a blind eye to their criticisms.

(Read more here.)

Seeing Muslim-driven efforts to make dogs less frightening and alien is exciting, and I’d love to give my time to organizations working to take small steps on those issues.

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