Is it permissible to keep dogs as pets?
Many Muslim jurists claim that dogs – like pigs – are classified as being impure, and thus any contact with their hair, bones, paws, nails, and moisture from their body can make a person impure.1 However, throughout ancient, and modern societies dogs have played a major role in the daily lives of human beings. Many cultures have domesticated dogs to use them for hunting, assisting disabled individuals, herding, assisting police, and above all companionship. As such, it is important to address whether Sharia or Islam deems dogs as being impure or pure, and whether it permits keeping them as pets?
All dogs are deemed as essentially pure and therefore can be kept as pets. However, certain dogs such as wild, rabid, and stray dogs are impure due to hygiene issues and if these dogs are to touch a person or their clothing, they become impure and as such are required to purify themselves and/or their clothes to perform acts of worship.
1. In terms of the purity or impurity of dogs, the Quran does not offer any specific guidance. However, there are references to dog in the following verses:
a) In the story of the Companions of the Cave, the Quran states:
“Their dog laid stretching his paws at the entrance of the cave.”2
This verse portrays their dog in a positive light indicating its loyalty, compassion, and companionship without any reference to its purity or otherwise.
b) In the same chapter the Quran also maintains:
They [i.e., people] will say there were three, the fourth of them being their dog; and they will say there were five, the sixth of them being their dog - guessing at the unseen; and they will say there were seven, and the eighth of them was their dog. Say, [O Muḥammad], My Lord is most knowing of their number. None knows them except a few. So do not argue about them except with an obvious argument and do not inquire about them among [the speculators] from anyone.”3
This verse indicate that their dog was considered part of the family.
c) Quran also uses dog as a simile to illustrate its certain characteristics:
If We had willed, We would have elevated him with Our signs, but he clung to this life—following his evil desires. His example is that of a dog: if you chase it away, it pants, and if you leave it, it (still) pants. This is the example of the people who deny Our signs. So narrate (to them) stories (of the past), so perhaps they will reflect.4
According to Muslim exegetes, this verse refers to a scholar by the name of Balʿam Bāʿūrā.5 Originally, he was seen as a noble and God-wary man, on the path of the truth. However, he deviated from this path. The Quran, thus, compares him with a dog who is overly eager to enjoy every pleasure of the world and is never satisfied.
d) The Quran recognises that dogs, in many cultures, were used for hunting and refers to this role of the dog in the following verse:
They ask you as to what is lawful to them. Say, "All the good things are lawful to you." As for what you have taught hunting dogs [to catch], teaching them out of what Allah has taught you, eat of what they catch for you and mention Allah's Name over it, and be wary of Allah.6
The Quran permits one to eat the meat of an animal (which is halal) if it is captured by a hunting dog. ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʿī states that the word “taught (taklīb)” used in the Quran refers to the training that dogs receive to hunt and does not directly address the question of purity or impurity of the meat.7
In the light of the above mentioned four verses, we can conclude that there is no explicit ruling on the purity or impurity of dogs in the Quran.
2. The narrations of the Prophet and the Imams can be grouped into two types. The first group indicates on the impurity of dogs. For example,
a) It is reported that Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq said:
“Do not drink water from a bowl from which a dog has drunk unless the container is a large pool of water.”8
b) It is reported that Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq said:
“Certainly God has not created any creature more impure than a dog.”9
The second group indicates on the purity of dogs. For example,
Ibn Muskān narrates from Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq:
“I asked the Imam regarding [a bowl] of water from which a dog, cat, camel or another animal has drunk, is it permitted to perform ablution (wuḍū or ghusl) with the same water? The Imam replied, it is permitted, however if you have access to another source of water then avoid the one which has been drunk from by the animals.10
Since there are two apparently contradicting groups of narrations which have been interpreted in two very different ways by jurists, ICCI opines that the best way to reconcile them is to take recourse to the primacy of purity (aṣālat al-ṭahāra) found in the Sunna of the Prophet and Imams. According to this primacy, everything is in the state of purity until it is proven otherwise. Accordingly, it can be concluded that because the Quran is silent on this issue, and the fact we have two contradictory groups of narrations; the first group of narrations refers to stray and rabid dogs which the Imam categorises as being impure due to hygienic reasons. Whereas the second group of narrations refers to guide, hunting, or domesticated dogs that are known to have good hygiene and therefore cannot be categorised as being impure.
The Quranic verses regarding the Companions of the Cave specifically allude that a dog can be considered as a part of the family unit. There is no doubt that guard dogs not only protect their owners, but also their families and possessions; and hunting dogs allow their owners to acquire food for sustenance. As such, it can be concluded that with the exemption of wild, stray, and rabid dogs, all dogs are essentially pure and thus can be kept as pets.
2. Quran 18:18.
3. Quran 18:110.
4. Quran 7:176.
5. Al-Qummī, Tafsīr al-Qummī, 1:248.
6. Quran 5:4.
7. Tabatabai, al-Mizān fī tafsīr al-Qurān, 5:202.
8. Wasā’il, 1:158-58.
9. Wasā’il, 1:227. For other reports see Wasā’il 3: 413-16.
10. Wasā’il, 1:228.