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WSJ piece on Iranian dog dilemma prompts more questions

July 19, 2011

For years I’ve been wanting to write about a nagging question: How do American Muslims reconcile their religion’s prohibition on dog ownership with this country’s passion for pooches? It’s said that the Prophet Muhammad loved cats, but pet dogs were considered haram, or forbidden, unless kept as working dogs (herders, guard dogs, etc.).

This WSJ feature doesn’t address my American question, but it does tell us how the conflict is playing out in the Islamic Republic of Iran because of Western influences.

Here’s the gist:

Buying and selling dogs is illegal in Iran, unless they are guard dogs or used by police. Dogs are considered “haram,” or unclean, in Islam. Until recently, keeping dogs as pets was limited to a small circle of Westernized Iranians.

But access to satellite television—and American programs depicting families playing with pups—has turned dog ownership into a sign of social status in Iran.

“It’s the latest fashion now to buy each other puppies as birthday gifts,” says Amin, a 25-year-old. He had never pet a dog until traveling to a village two hours outside Tehran to obtain a German Shepherd puppy.

Here are my thoughts on the piece:

1. We need more explanation of Islamic rules on/perceptions of dogs. Where is it written that dogs are haram? What is the wording? This is an opportunity for the writer to cite hadith and note whether the Quran addresses this issue. Why were dogs historically viewed as unclean? Also, is this prohibition universally followed around the world or are there different interpretations depending on the culture? Seems the reporter (and editors) missed a great opportunity for real religion reporting here.

2. If Iranians are catching canine fever based on their consumption of Western media, are they drawn to the Paris Hilton purse dog or do they see the beauty of mutts? From what I read in the article, the dog owners are seeking out breeders and smuggling in purebred puppies. And the quote above describes giving dogs as gifts as “fashionable.” Sigh.

3. When can we send Cesar over there to set the tyrannical leaders straight? I’m not kidding. My guess is Cesar would not only fix the dog problem but could also bring peace to the Middle East. Personally, I have a lot of faith in the Dog Whisperer.

4. I still want to know about American Muslims. Maybe I’ll track down someone who can speak to that and do a Q&A for this blog soon.

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