OCT. 23, 2014 UPDATE: “I Want to Touch a Dog” event organizer Syed Azmi Alhabshi has gone into hiding after receiving online abuse and death threats saying he “should be stoned to death,” TIME reported today.
“I didn’t realize that kindness is now considered despicable, but then the world has turned upside down,” wrote Malaysian human-rights activist Marina Mahathir in her column for The Star. “Never mind that the intention of those who attended was to learn about one of God’s own creatures and how to treat them kindly.”
What a shame — maybe petting a dog would help mellow out those who condemn it.
More than 800 people showed up at the first-ever “I Want to Touch a Dog” event in Malaysia this weekend. The event title makes it pretty clear what encouraged them to attend — because of their Muslim religion, many had never petted a pooch before.
The event, held at a shopping center in Petaling Jaya, was planned only three weeks ago as a small get-together. But after news of it spread on Facebook, hundreds of people showed up, about half of them Muslims.
Why don’t some Muslims keep dogs as pets? The religion considers dog saliva is to be impure, according to Dogs in Islam. It’s also apparently bad luck to have a dog. The website notes that the Prophet said, “Whoever keeps a dog, his good deeds will decrease every day by one qeeraat (a unit of measurement), unless it is a dog for farming or herding.” And: “Angels do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or an animate picture.”
At the I Want to Touch a Dog event, Muslims who wanted to pet a pooch dressed in yellow. Those who came just to observe the dogs wore orange. Volunteers with dogs wore red.
Volunteers demonstrated how to approach and pet the dogs, and how to perform the Islamic cleansing ritual afterward (i.e., wash once with earth and rinse six times with water).
“I came here to learn more about interacting with dogs, about ‘samak’ and ‘sertu’ cleansing,” a woman named Fatimah, who wore a black veil covering everything but her eyes, told Asia One. “I’ve never done such a thing before.”
Many children were brought to the event, and for some, it was their very first encounter with a dog.
“I am very happy. I touched many dogs and carried them,” seven-year-old Nur Aliyah Mohd Nasir told Asia One. “My favorite is the Huskies.”
Along with Huskies, the four-legged attendees included a purebred Afghan Hound and Chow Chows, as well as lots of rescued mutts.
The event organizer, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, told Asia One it was a way of getting over his own fear of dogs.
“This is just a baby step for us,” he said. “I don’t know whether people will now understand not to throw stones at dogs, but we want people to know that if they are not knowledgeable or are curious about things, they should just ask.”
Religious teacher Ustaz Mohd Iqbal Parjin started off the event with a speech about dogs. He said that while Muslims must be in an environment of cleanliness when conducting religious rites, they should not treat dogs as “hina” (contemptible).
“Do not harm them and do not throw things at them,” he said. “In fact, we should not even take the stand that we as human beings are better than dogs. What is most important is in the heart.
“I feel happy to see that all those who came, came with good and open hearts.”
Photos via Facebook