As we’ve noted before on My Animals, sometimes it’s rather difficult to understand differences in behaviors and customs between countries. It’s even more complicated when it comes to different religious traditions. Maybe that’s why we find it so unbelievable that having a dog in Saudi Arabia can get you the death penalty.
Having a dog in Saudi Arabia puts your life at stake
According to the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, anyone who shares their home with a four-legged friend risks capital punishment.
The Saudi Arabian religious police force only allows the possession of canines for the following purposes:
- Herding and farming
- Guarding properties (in some cases)
Therefore, it’s clear having a dog for fun and play is out of the question — not to mention letting him in the house.
In Saudi Arabia, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice says a person can be sentenced to death for having a dog in their home.
According to some interpretations of the Quran, dogs are impure
The decision by the Saudi religious police aims to conform to a strict interpretation of the Quran. However, not all schools of interpretation and Islamic law interpret it the same way.
Everything seems to indicate that in pre-Islamic era, people of the Middle East lived alongside dogs without any problem. The change in attitudes towards dogs began with the spread of Islam. In general, it has a negative view towards the furry creatures. In short, according to some strict interpretations of the Quran, dogs are considered “unclean” beings.
The problem is mainly the result of contact with the animal’s saliva. And we dog owners all know how much our four-legged friends like to lick! One tradition says that if a dog licks an object for human use it must be washed. Not once, but seven times — and the first time must be with dirt.
Decisions like these seem, from our perspective, to be almost incomprehensible. The fact that having a dog at home could cost you your life is hard to wrap your head around.
However, this decision and others like it are easier to understand given the context. There, extreme interpretations of religious doctrine have taken on the force of law. The reason is the close link between the religious and political authorities that govern the country.
For that matter, it doesn’t make sense that dogs would have many rights in a country whose laws deny women the most basic rights, and where they risk corporal punishment for the slightest “crime.”
But perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge on these matters. After all, it’s not as if the West hasn’t had its own issues. Have we forgotten about the horrors of the Inquisition? And what about the torture in US-run prisons abroad? Some of them even used dogs to intimidate Muslim detainees.
Muslim dog-lovers in the West
And what about the Muslims who live on this side of the world, in societies where dogs are often considered to be as important as the human members of the family?
Well, there are some Muslim-led associations with large communities with roots in the Arab or Muslim world where dogs have limited access. But in a society where animals are gaining more rights, such an approach is unlikely to catch on.