In yet another sweep of crackdowns, Iranian authorities have again deemed dog ownership as illegal, citing religion and Western opposition as its reasoning. “Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West,” Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi declared a year ago. “There are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children.”
Their rationale lies behind the religious decree that dogs are najas, religiously dirty, therefore owning one is haram, sinful. The dictate is a generalizing one: according to the Qu’aran, it’s not the dog itself that’s considered najas, but its saliva and the moisture on its nose, and they weren’t declared dirty for religiosity, but for health reasons. Remember, Islam predates the domestication of many animals, and at that time, dogs carried a wealth of diseases and bacteria in both their mouths and their noses.
Nowhere in the Qu’aran does it say you should shun animals, and in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Islam teaches stewardship of a Muslim’s environment, and that includes co-existing and protecting animals, even dogs. Yet it also teaches respecting the different living spaces between humans and animals, and at the time, dogs were not domesticated enough to bring into the home without posing a risk to the family’s health.
Dogs have long maintained a presence in Iran, even found on pottery pieces excavated near the walls of Persepolis, notes the Vafa Animal Shelter, and they were used as companions for hunting and guarding long before pets became popular in the West. However, keeping a dog inside the home has never been as culturally prevalent in the Middle East as it is in the West. Until recently, dog ownership was limited to a tight circle of the Westernized elite in Iran. Yet access to satellite TV and the internet has made it not only more mainstream, but also a sign of social status, making the war on dogs less about religion and more about control. “The authorities can’t stop people from buying expensive cars or clothes or jewelry. But the can prevent them from displaying their wealth by keeping pet dogs on the grounds that they are unclean,” said an analyst in Tehran.
And while the law against dogs is nothing new, the crackdown behind it is, marking this summer the first time dogs owners can face criminal charges. First-time offenders face a fine of up to five million rial, close to $500 USD, if their dog is seen in public. They’re given a ten-day period to get rid of the dog, or the authorities will confiscate the dog themselves. Cars can be impounded and driver’s licenses suspended if police catch the dog outside of its carrier. The punishment has only led dog owners to become discreet, either through waiting until the middle of the night or even driving hours out of the city just to walk their dogs.
“I used to take him out for walks but the police have stopped me several times and threatened to confiscate him,” Sanaz, an art student in Tehran who owns a St. Bernard puppy, told the Wall Street Journal, “so I just take him to the roof of our apartment building now and pray he doesn’t bark.”
Milad, 24, was chased by the police because they caught his white terrier sitting in the front seat. When Milad arrived home and opened the car door for his pet to escape, police pulled a gun on the dog. “I threw myself on my dog and said, ‘You have to shoot me before you kill him,’” he recounted. After neighbors came out in his defense, police backed off, but not without suspending Milad’s driver’s license for six months and impounding his car for three months.
Photo courtesy of Hamed Saber via flickr.
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