Muslim Group supports student’s right to use service dog


by Marcia Lynx Qualey and Asma L. Saroya, 5/16/08 • A civil rights group is working again to debunk the myth that Muslims and dogs can’t get along.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today is clarifying Muslim beliefs about dogs and expressing support for a St. Cloud State University student who felt his service dog was threatened. CAIR-MN issued a statement following a May 12 article in the St. Cloud Times, which said that graduate student Tyler Hurd left the university because he feared for the safety of his dog.

Minnesota Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion. Muslims, and friends of Muslims, would like to change this climate. Engage Minnesota is a blog that begins that effort.

Hurd told the St. Cloud Times that while many Muslim students grew to like his dog, the dog was threatened by a student at one of the schools where he was doing his field training.

The Times article falsely states that Islam “forbids the touching of dogs.” CAIR-MN clarifies that many Muslims are uncomfortable around dogs, as they believe the saliva of dogs invalidates the ritual ablution performed before prayer. For this reason, it has become a cultural norm for individuals not to have dogs in their homes.

However, “the moral and legal need to accommodate individuals using service dogs far outweighs the discomfort an individual Muslim might feel about coming into contact with a dog, which is one of God’s creatures,” said CAIR-MN Communications Director Valerie Shirley.

The Prophet Muhammad himself allowed the use of dogs for protection and for hunting. There are also several Islamic traditions, or hadith, in which individuals are rewarded by God for protecting animals and punished for mistreating them.

Historian Montgomery Watt has said that Muhammad’s kindness to animals was remarkable for his time and social context. In Prophet and Statesman, Watt cited an instance when Muhammad reputedly posted sentries to ensure that a female dog with newborn puppies was not disturbed.

And some Muslims, particularly the blind, use service dogs themselves. At least one British mosque has allowed service dogs on the premises, following advice from the Muslim Council of Britain.

One unfortunate result of the St. Cloud Times article is that threats have been turned on the larger Muslim community. By Wednesday, there were more than 300 comments on the St. Cloud Times website about Hurd’s story, many of them hostile.

Shirley noted that, in 2007, a similar misunderstanding took place between Minneapolis cab drivers and passengers with guide dogs. At that time, CAIR-MN facilitated dialogue between the two groups and the misunderstanding was cleared up.

Abdinoor Ahmed Dolal, owner of Twin Cities Airport Taxi, said “Islam forbids us to turn away a blind passenger, whether they have a guide dog or not. Their rights come first.”

CAIR-MN said that it will continue to work with the Muslim community in Minnesota to educate them about their Islamic and legal duty to accommodate those using service or guide dogs.

Marcia Lynx Qualey is a mother, a writer, and works for the University of Minnesota’s “Voices from the Gaps” project. Asma Lori Saroya is the General Crime Victim Services Program Coordinator at the Council on Crime and Justice. She is a graduate of the College of St. Catherine and lives in Blaine with her husband. In her spare time, Asma volunteers with the Muslim Youth of Minnesota and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American–Islamic Relations. She also teaches English at the Cedar-Riverside Adult Education Collaborative. Asma is a fall 2007 graduate of the Minneapolis Police Citizens Academy.