What do Somalis think of dogs?


What do Somalis think of dogs, cats and pets? 

There are really two questions that I get asked about this, and the answers aren’t exactly the same.  The first question is what Somalis think of dogs, and the second is what Muslims in general think of dogs.  The overall position of Islam on dogs is complicated, and you’ll hear different opinions depending on who you ask.  The way Somalis feel about dogs, however, is more negative.  Dogs aren’t part of the culture in Somalia, and the few that are there are wild. Because of this, they are more looked down on than in other parts of the world, and are seen as a (pretty dangerous) wild animal.

I am not all clear about the role of dogs or cats in Islam, but I know that there are a lot of Muslims who are misinformed about dogs. Until very recently, I thought dogs were cursed animals because of the way we stayed away from them growing up in Somalia. Nobody ever explained it exactly, but we were told when we were kids that if a dog touches you, our parents have to dip us in the river seven times. The image I had in my head when I heard that was that I was going to be drowned and it was the dog’s fault (give me a break here, I was a kid).

The second thing we were told was that we should stay away from dogs at all cost. If we see a dog, we should run like there was no tomorrow. When I asked why, my mom said it will bite me on the back of my ankles and I will never walk again. So the second image I had in my head was that I was going to be crippled for life and it was the dog’s fault.

The third thing that happened, which made me and dogs enemies, was that I got chased by wild dogs a couple of times, and in some instances, I thought I was going to die because of how scary the dogs were. So, me and dogs were not best friends until I met and got to know my friend’s dog Loki and one of my favored teacher’s dog Maggi.

Some Somalis probably are familiar with my stories and had some scary experiences of their own. I think it is generally understood in the Somali culture that dogs are dirty and shouldn’t be kept as pets. A Somali home is where the family sleeps and eats.  It is a sanctuary. It is where daily prayers are recited and performed. It should be daahir (clean) at all times. Traditionally, dogs have been seen as impure.

A pet like a dog or cat will make it hard to keep the home clean.

Another big part of Somali culture is our religion, which affects how we live and what we practice. So on top of dogs being wild, dangerous and not really part of the norm, we have Islam which says it is okay to own a dog, but it is not hygienic and therefore not permissible to keep a dog in the house. If the practice of Islam says you can’t have a dog or cat for a pet, the majority of the Somali people will probably follow that tradition without a question.

What I didn’t know before, but I now know, and some Somalis still don’t know, is that it is okay to touch a dog or any other animal. No animal or any creations of Allah has been cursed in any way. However — and I think this is where the freaking out and the feeling of spookiness about dogs comes from — if the saliva of a dog touches you or any part of your clothing, then you have to wash the body part and the clothing which the dog’s mouth or snout touched.

One of my neighbors in Somalia owned three big black dogs. Everybody thought he was out of his mind. Twenty years later in another continent, I am learning we were wrong and he was right. A Muslim can own a watch dog or a dog for another purpose.

I am glad a reader asked this question, because it was on my mind after an experience I had in downtown St Paul with Loki, my friend’s dog. I usually hang out with Loki and his owner in their downtown apartment. One night my friend was outside of a restaurant picking up dinner, and she asked me to hold Loki while she went inside to get the food. A car stopped at the red light and was at eye level with me. The driver looked at me and did a double take. He stared at me and the dog so much that he was there couple of minutes after the light turned green. He probably wanted to say something like, “What on earth are you doing? Don’t you know you shouldn’t go near a dog?”

Well, sorry, but dogs are part of Allah’s creation and we should treat them well and not be afraid of them.

16 thoughts on “What do Somalis think of dogs?

  1. Hi…thank you for having this blog. I was walking my dog tonight and my dog walked next to and then peed on some ornamental grass close to a University. A man (perhaps Somali?) saw this as he was walking right behind me. As I walked my dog into a grassy area beside the sidewalk, the man walked by and looked at me. I said “Hi”, but he did not say a word and perhaps was looking at me in a disgusted way. He works in the medical field as he was wearing scrubs…maybe something bad just happened at work. I may perhaps be reading into this, but is it especially offensive to see a dog pee or poop ? If so, I will go out of my way to ensure this does not happen in front of someone.

  2. Thank you so much for your article, Ifrah. I live near Rochester and was asked to speak after school this week for an environmental student group at a Rochester high school. I had my dog with me (because I live out of town I could not bring her home and be at the school on time following a veterinarian appointment). I had to put her back in the car because I was told dogs were not allowed in the school at any time due to faith issues surrounding Somali students. Surprisingly, the teacher knew little about the specifics of Somalis and dogs. So I googled and got your article. Thank you for filling me in!

    Fear and revulsion of animals saddens me because I consider the human/animal bond of major importance in developing a sense of humanity in people. There are many people of all cultural backgrounds in the States who fear or for some reason dislike dogs. It pains me to know this as my personal relationship with my dog and friends’ dogs provides so much joy for me. It is an established fact in the medical/psychiatric community that interaction with pets is both physically and psychological healthy for people. A Mayo Clinic oncologist has written a piece entitled, “Pets, not Pills” as a health benefit. I believe that, starting with children, it is especially important to introduce a loving pet into their lives. As you know, people can adjust and change – and reap the benefits.

  3. I was walking our 10 yr old Shih Tzu, Bennie by our local lake. There were only 3 cars in the adjacent parking lot. Two of them had Somali men visiting outside them. With so few people there on a gray misty afternoon and Bennie never one to run off, I did not have a leash on him. Just finishing our walk, Bennie saw the men and went over to greet them. The older man saw him, threw his arms up in the air, screaming, and started running in circles as fast as he could. He continued screaming and waving his arms as he did this. The startling response surprised Bennie, so he barked and chased him. The younger Somali man stood giggling as he pulled out his phone to record the scene. I had never seen such a display of antics in response to a fluffy little white dog. Trying not to laugh, I held up my hand as they went in circles and said “Please Stop You are encouraging this behavior”. “I’m sorry, but if you want a dog to chase you, then run. Dogs love to chase things that run”. I did not know the Somali view point on dogs, but this prompted me to look it up. The response this man gave can make them vulnerable to a dog bite with a nervous dog. To a dog, this type of person appears unstable. Fear is the biggest factor in attacks. Somalis would benefit on how to approach a dog . Appear confident, stand tall. We all need to learn from each other.

  4. Thank you! Your explanation was really helpful. On two occasions while walking my 10 lb. fluff ball with a furiously wagging tail, Muslim women have walked way out of their way or recoiled and walked backwards as we walked past. I am well aware there are numerous people who are not as infatuated with dogs as I am, but they usually just ignore us and walk on. In the future, I will make sure they see my dog is on a very tight lead and hope they will, over time, become more comfortable when in the proximity of dogs.

    • I agree dogs are not Wild dangerous animales they give happy and joy and thx i searched this cause i always see them and they always run a way or back up when they see dogs and im going to make sure they dont make dogs enemies 😀

  5. Thank you so much! I live in an apartment with Somali Americans. And it seems like everyone is afraid of my puppy even though he can fit in your hand. So I was trying to get a better understanding of the culture.

  6. There should be mor of an effort to educate Somali people about differences in this
    Country. They’re living in the past and act like we dog owners are imposing on them just because we exist.
    To us, this seems crazy and funny

  7. I had no idea Somalis don’t like owning dogs. This is even more odd when you consider that dogs are in plenty in the countries that neighbor Somalia. What you have written about not keeping dogs inside the house is also interesting because most Africans didn’t allow dogs to get inside the house. But this was because they were mainly used to guard homesteads – hence dogs stayed outside.

  8. i am an african-american who lives near riverside plaza near the west bank in south minneapolis … i had a lapso abpsa dog for 13 years …. he was a good and quiet dog who never barked at anybody … i was born a christian and born in america so i never thought about somalis and their feelings about dogs … i usually kept to myseif and i made sure my dog was well behaved in front of americans and somali people … i started to realize mainly older somalis were afraid of my dog ; and the younger somalis were curious about him because he was small and cute…i found out that somalis did not want to come close to my dog because my dog might lick their hand therefore they felt that was inpure … one day i bumped into a young somali girl on the elevator and i was with my dog in the elevator and she lectured to me that it was wrong of me to be in the elevator with my dog with her and some older somali women who were also in the elevator … we had said some expletives to each other as we parted … my dog died 2 years ago and i still feel conflicted about somalis and their feelings about dogs … they feed these pigeons who are like flying rats but they don’t like dogs … i love your article very much …

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