All-American Muslim and Wrigley the Dog

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All-American Muslim and Wrigley the Dog

by Sheila Musaji

The “All-American Muslim” reality series has had some storylines that caused strong reactions.  The handshaking non-issue  and the story of Wrigley the dog is another. 

Shadia Amen and Jeff McDermott are a newly married couple.  Jeff (who converted to Islam when he married Shadia) has a dog named Wrigley that he loves.  Shadia asked him to give the dog up and gave two reasons.  The first that she was allergic, and the second that dogs are unclean and “Muslims don’t keep dogs”.  Jeff agreed, and was obviously distraught when they left Wrigley at his new home.  It was obviously an emotional situation for everyone, and even Shadia’s mother told her “you can’t do this, that’s Jeff’s baby.”  In a subsequent episode, Shadia did reconsider, and they went and brought Wrigley home.  But, before the story line played out to this positive ending, a lot of angry responses to the original decision were generated.

This storyline has received a lot of attention.  There were appeals to Shadia to show compassion. The animal advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals(PETA) asked for free ad time for dogs on the program.  PETA sent a letter to David Zaslav, CEO of TLC, asking him to air free of charge a PETA ad with Muslim-Americans asking Muslims to consider the words of the Prophet Mohammed: “All creatures are like a family of God; and He loves the most those who are the most beneficent to His family.”  Actually, this wouldn’t be a bad idea.  In fact, I would suggest including a verse from the Qur’an and a stronger hadith

“There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you. Qur’an 6:38.

“The Holy Prophet told of a prostitute who, on a hot summer day, saw a thirsty dog hovering around a well, lolling its tongue. She lowered her socks down the well and watered the dog. God forgave her all her sins (for this one act of kindness)”  Sahih Muslim

A lot of folks were distressed by this story (including many Muslims and Arabs - myself among them) and many of their concerns were legitimate.  What wasn’t legitimate was the attempt on the part of some Islamophobes to turn this into another anti-Muslim issue.  For example, Pamela Geller posted an article from Bare Naked Islam, as did the Death to Islam site and numerous other hate sites.  The infamous Bare Naked Islam site posted a follow-up article after Jeff and Shadia brought Wrigley back home titled Jeff gets his girl back, now he needs to get rid of the bitch.  The reader comments on all of these sites were truly hateful. 

The fact is that the issue of whether or not it is permissable to keep dogs as pets, or to keep them in the house is complicated.  There are not only many different religious interpretations about this, but also many different cultural norms among Muslims from different countries.  So, it is an Islamic issue, and also a cultural issue, and in this particular case also a health issue.

There are Muslims who keep dogs, and Muslims who don’t.  Both have strong opinions, and it is a hotly debated issue.  The photo at the top of this article is our dog Oni, just so you know where I stand on the debate.  This episode of All-American Muslim was discussed within the Muslim community.  Dr. Ingrid Mattson (who is an Islamic scholar) wrote an article What’s Up With Muslims and Dogs? in which she said in part

After watching “All-American Muslim” for a few weeks, I now believe that the show is good for our community beyond the way it might lessen prejudice against Muslims. The additional benefit is that the show has engaged our community in discussing some of the many challenges we face making distinctions between critical religious values and flexible cultural practices. In the fourth episode, the issue of Muslims having dogs in the home came up, and this is worth further discussion.

...  So what is the Islamic position about dogs? In fact, there are a variety of opinions according to different legal schools. The majority consider the saliva of dogs to be impure, while the Maliki school makes a distinction between domestic and wild dogs, only considering the saliva of the latter to be impure. The question for Muslims observant of other schools of law is, what are the implications of such an impurity?

Some Muslims object to having a dog in the home because of a prophetic report that angels do not enter a home with dogs in it. If a Muslim accepts this report as authentic, it still requires an analysis of context to determine its meaning and legal application. Ordinary people are not recipients of divine revelation through angelic messengers, so it is possible that this statement, although in general form, might suggest a rule for the Prophet’s home, not all homes. This interpretation is strengthened by the fact the Qur’an states that angels are always present, protecting us and recording our good and bad actions.

Whatever the implications of this report, there is no doubt that the Qur’an is positive about dogs. The Qur’an allows the use of hunting dogs, which is one of the reasons the Maliki school makes a distinction between domestic and wild dogs - since we can eat game that has been in a retriever’s mouth. But most compelling is the Qur’anic description of a dog who kept company with righteous youths escaping religious persecution. The party finds shelter in a cave where God places them in a deep sleep; the Qur’an (18:18) says:  You would have thought them awake, but they were asleep And [God] turned them on their right sides then on their left sides And their dog stretched his forelegs across the threshold.

This tender description of the dog guarding the cave makes it clear that the animal is good company for believers. Legal scholars might argue about the proper location of the dog - that he should stay on the threshold of the home, not inside - but home designs vary across cultures. In warm climates, an outdoor courtyard is a perfectly humane place for a dog - its physical and social needs can be met in the yard. This is not the case in cold climates, where people stay indoors most of the day for months at a time.

Extreme concern about the uncleanliness of dogs likely arose historically as Islam became more of an urban phenomenon. In medieval cities, as in modern cities in underdeveloped countries, crowding of people and animals leads to the rapid spread of disease and animal control is not a priority. A few run-ins with an aggressive or diseased animal can result in excessive caution, fear and negativity.

Ani Zoneveld wrote about this

What I saw here was Shadia using cultural baggage and religious excuse to get her way, though she cited the problem of her allergies. If the decision was made from the perspective of “given my allergies, what can we do to accommodate Wrigley?” then I’m sure the outcome would have been different. I understand the pressures Shadia must have felt about the cultural taboos of having a dog, of not being able to pray with a dog in the house. Sorry to “dog” on Shadia, but I don’t think she tried hard enough to accommodate Wrigley and by default, Jeff. Jeff converted to Islam to marry Shadia; the least Shadia could have done was keep Jeff’s beloved Wrigley.

And, for anyone who would like to read a scholarly discussion of this issue which discusses the traditional arguments, I recommend “Dogs in the Islamic Tradition and Nature” by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl.



Animals’ Lawsuit Against Humanity, Ikhwan al-Safa

Animals in Islam, al-Hafiz B.A. Masri,

“Dogs in the Islamic Tradition and Nature”, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl

Islam and Experiments on Animals *, al-Hafiz B.Z. Masri

PETA wants equal time for dogs on TLC’s reality TV show “All-American Muslim”

What’s Up With Muslims and Dogs?, Ingrid Mattson

Why I Watch ‘All-American Muslim’, Ani Zonneveld


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