Facts From Fiction

Pets in Muslim Households? – What the BBC & Richard Dawkins Got Wrong About Animals & Islam


Sarmad Naveed, Canada

A recent article by the BBC about restrictions being imposed by the Iranian government on pet ownership states, ‘The animals are considered impure in Islamic tradition’. 

In typical fashion, Richard Dawkins – who leaves no stone unturned in trying to defame Islam –  tweeted with reference to the article, saying, ‘Islam says dogs are unclean. And, as in so much else, the population has to kow-tow to the ridiculous religion of the Ayatollahs.’

Surprisingly, he got one aspect right in saying that denigrating all animals may be part of ‘the ridiculous religion of the Ayatollahs’ – whatever that may be, but it certainly isn’t part of Islam; something which both the BBC and Dawkins got wrong.

Did the Holy Prophet (sa) Forbid Owning Dogs?

As it pertains to owning dogs, it wouldn’t make logical sense for it to be outlawed in Islam, seeing as the Holy Qur’an mentions the use of dogs for hunting. How can dogs be trained and used for hunting without actually owning them?

People usually cite a statement of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) that angels do not descend upon homes in which there are dogs. 

This tradition is often erroneously interpreted, leading to hardline edicts and an averse mentality towards dogs and animals in general, whereas Islam actually takes a very compassionate approach. 

So what’s the real interpretation?

The Fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh) wonderfully explains:

‘The fact is that if the dogs are not trained and if they are let loose in the houses, all the gentle-people, all the gentlemanly people, would think not only twice but many times before visiting that house, because nobody wants to be bitten by dogs or chased by dogs. Now, this is something which is completely alien to the Western society of today; nowadays, in most of the Western countries, dogs are so well trained … there are certain legal responsibilities of the owner of the dog that if the dog bites some visitor or someone he has to pay the damages.’

The Fourth Caliph (rh) further explained that whereas such people in the West with very well trained dogs may not be able to understand this statement, it resonates quite well with those from the Eastern world who have seen dogs to be more likely to bite a visitor to the home, resulting in people understandably avoiding such places. 

The Fourth Caliph (rh) said, ‘I know some houses myself where I don’t pay any visit or have not been paying visits, and when they reproached me for this, I said first you bind your dog or make him behave otherwise I can’t come. I’m not fond of being bitten by dogs or chased by them! So that is was it means…that where unruly dogs are kept, or violent dogs, ferocious dogs, there, angels don’t visit and by angels here is meant angelic people.’

This saying of the Holy Prophet (sa) could also have more of a spiritual purport. As the Fourth Caliph (rh) explained, it could be taken to mean that the homes of those who develop dog-like qualities are not visited by angels or even angelic people.[1]

In light of this, where does Dawkins’ statement stand? Certainly not anywhere near the truth.

Clearly, Islam does not renounce keeping animals. So then…

What are Islam’s Teachings Regarding Animals?

The Holy Prophet (sa) embodied the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. God told the Holy Prophet (sa) that had it not been for him, He would not have created all creation. The Holy Prophet (sa) was sent to the entire world as a mercy.

Suffice it to say that a true understanding of Islam’s teachings about animals can be gleaned from the manner in which the Holy Prophet (sa) treated them.

His treatment of animals was so kind, thoughtful, compassionate and merciful that it would leave ‘animal lovers’ of today utterly astonished.

With a single statement, the Holy Prophet (sa) perpetually entrenched kindness to animals as a basic aspect of Muslims life. When his companions asked him whether they should be kind to animals, the Holy Prophet (sa) replied,

‘Yes, there is reward for being kind to the living and to animals.’[2]

As is the case with all Islamic teachings and moral codes, the Holy Prophet (sa) didn’t leave this to mere words, but embodied his title of being ‘a mercy’ for the entire world, in every sense.

It was customary in Arabia to brand one’s livestock with a hot iron, often on their face or nose. Seeing this pained the Holy Prophet (sa), who said, 

‘I wish people would save these animals from the punishment of branding their faces and tender areas of flesh with a hot iron. Do they not realise what retribution they would receive for it?’[3]

Due to his tender-hearted nature and the pain which he felt for all creatures, he admonished people that if they had to brand their animals, it should be done on an area that would cause the least amount of discomfort to the animal.

The Holy Prophet (sa) was concerned with the welfare of animals to such a degree that he would think of intricacies that none other would; such as  admonished Muslims not to use riding animals as ‘chairs’ while they conversed in the market. Instead he advised to let the animals roam free when they were not being used for travel.[4]

These of course were the ways in which the Holy Prophet (sa) ensured that animals were physically cared for, but his mercy and compassion were so incredibly vast, that he cared even for their sentiments.

When a woman cursed her camel for not moving, the Holy Prophet (sa) instructed her to remove her luggage and set the camel free, thus forbidding people from even hurling abusive langauge at animals.[5]

Once, while on a journey, a Companion took some eggs from a sparrow’s nest, after which the sparrow began hovering around. The Holy Prophet (sa) asked, ‘who has caused distress to this bird?’ Upon learning who it was, the Holy Prophet (sa) instructed that the eggs be returned to the nest.[6]

On another occasion, while visiting an orchard, the Holy Prophet (sa) saw a camel crying out in pain and shedding tears. The Holy Prophet (sa) stroked its head until it calmed down and then said to its owner, 

‘Why do you not fear Allah in the care of this animal? Allah has made you its owner. This camel has complained to me against you that you keep him hungry and make him work too hard.’[7]

The Holy Prophet (sa) truly was a mercy for the entire world; he tended not only to the rights of humankind, rather his scope extended to embodying the utmost compassion and care for animals and ensuring their rights were also fulfiled. 

Upon learning of these examples, which modern day animal rights movement would not laud and even promote the teachings which the Holy Prophet (sa) imparted about the treatment of animals? It’s certainly in stark contrast to the bleak image which Islam’s detractors seek to portray.

There is perhaps no greater testament to Islam’s teachings of kindness and compassion towards animals, than the bearing which one’s treatment of animals has on their ultimate abode in the hereafter.

The Holy Prophet (sa) told the story of a prostitute who saw a thirsty dog by a well, upon which she filled her shoe with water and gave it to the dog to drink. This seemingly simple act was so pleasing in the sight of God, that He forgave all of her pasts sins and indiscretions, granting her a place in Paradise.[8]

Conversely, the Holy Prophet (sa) recounted a woman who kept her cat tied without giving it any food or letting it loose to at least hunt on its own. Her vile treatment of this cat was so barbaric and displeasing that the Holy Prophet (sa) said, ‘the woman was put in the hellfire[9]

In the book Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Karen Armstrong adequately sums up the Holy Prophet’s (sa) treatment of animals when she writes,

‘[Muhammad] loved animals, he would not dream of disturbing them. It has been said that one of the tests of a society is its attitude towards animals. All religions encourage an attitude of love and respect for the natural world, and Muhammad was trying to teach this to the Muslims.’[10]

Atheist, Muslim or whatever else one may be, it’s clear to all that Richard Dawkins is tragically mistaken in his assertion about Islam’s stance on animals. 

About the Author: Sarmad Naveed is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who graduated from the Ahmadiyya Institute for Languages and Theology in Canada. He serves on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions and coordinates the Facts from Fiction section. He has also appeared as a panelist and host of programmes on Muslim Television Ahmadiyya (MTA) such as ‘Ahmadiyyat: Roots to Branches.’


[1] Question & Answer Session at the London Mosque, 22 February 1985

[2] Abi Da’ud Kitab al-Jihad

[3] Majma‘uz Zawa’id by Allama Haithami, vol.8, p.110

[4] Ibid pp.105, 107)

[5] Sahih Muslim Kitab al-Salam

[6] Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, vol.1, p.404

[7] Ibid p. 404

[8] Sahih Muslim Kitab al-Salam

[9] Sahih Muslim Kitab Qatl al-Hayat wa Ghayriha

[10] Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong page. 231.