Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Doggie Question

I chanced upon these photos two days ago.
You will notice Emirati men with their Arabian saluki dogs. They were waiting for the start of the traditional annual dog racing event in Shweihan on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi – part of the HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Heritage Festival (February 02-15, 2016). The race gives owners of Arabian pure-bred salukis the opportunity to test the abilities of their hounds in a traditional, natural desert setting.  

A dog may be man’s best friend but in Malaysia, Malays don’t touch and/or hold dogs because they believe their religion, Islam tells them that dogs are unclean.
Remember the “I want to touch a dog” event organized in PJ’s Bandar Utama on October 19, 2014? It was aimed to break the taboo many Malaysian Muslims have against dogs, reminding participants that dogs too, are God’s creatures and educating them about dog rescue and cleansing practices after handling a dog.
In the days following that event, Malaysian media informed us of the insults and death threats that event organizer, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, had received. Overnight, the thirty-something Malay was accused of being a closet Christian, part of a Zionist conspiracy to Christianize Muslim Malaysians or, simply, a “liberal”.
The Malaysia Insider reported a Facebook comment which went so far as to say Syed Azmi “should be stoned to death”. Another Facebook user suggested that in addition to taking action against Syed Azmi, Muslims should seek out the women who posed with dogs at the event, and pull off their headscarves to see if they were wearing crucifixes or had tattoos. These vitriolic comments came from Muslims in moderate Malaysia.
In the end, Syed Azmi had to offer an apology.
Anyway, Arabian Salukis are one of the oldest breeds of domesticated dogs in the world and are well-known for their excellent speed, intelligence, stamina and loyalty to their handlers.
The Saluki, also called the Gazelle Hound, Arabian Hound, or Persian Greyhound, is native to the area from eastern Turkestan to Turkey. It is believed to be closely related to the Afghan Hound, which is another ancient breed. 
It is said that the Muslims (I am certain Malaysian Muslims are excluded) consider them a sacred gift of Allah, and they are never sold but only offered as gifts of friendship or honor. Salukis with a patch of white in the middle of the forehead are thought by Bedouin tribes to have "the kiss of Allah" and are regarded as special.
Incredibly fast even over rough terrain, this desert sight hunter was used by the Arabs to hunt gazelle, the fastest of the antelopes, along with fox, jackal and hare. 
In fact, hunting with these dogs is an ancient traditional sport. Salukis hunt by sight rather than smell. The hounds were used by Bedouins in the harsh desert conditions to find food. They used Salukis along with falcons which spot the prey and hover over them so the Salukis can chase and catch the prey.
After the enforcement of the law banning illegal hunting in the UAE – salukis are mainly trained for participation in beauty shows. You may be interested to know that unlike western dog shows which focus on the dog’s physical appearance, the beauty contest also takes into consideration the hound’s character, hunting, chasing and guarding skills as well as mental condition.
And they are also trained as racing dogs.



And yet in Malaysia, Malays keep away from dogs. On October 23, 2014, the National Fatwa Council made the decision that touching and holding dogs is against Islamic doctrine in the country, which follows the Shafi'i school of Sunni Islam.

That means Malays cannot touch dogs but Arabs can. I am not wrong to make the observation that just by this one fact alone, it would seem that there is no one common interpretation in Islam. 

Methinks that the essential problem of interpretation originates from the fact that no major prophet has yet written his/her own scripture. Jesus wrote nothing and the New Testament was composed long after his death. It is not surprising, therefore, that its text is subject to many interpretations. Mohammad was also illiterate but is reputed to have dictated the Quran to be written down as it came to mind.

Also the issue of language, whether in the vocabulary used or in its translation. It has been established that Mohammad (like Shakespeare), invented many new words when they were needed to express his thoughts. If there is any doubt about the meaning of these new words, an opportunity for different interpretations arises.

I am certain that translating from ancient Arabic was already very challenging. [Likewise, it is the same with the Bible. The Old Testament was almost entirely written in Hebrew except for a few chapters in the prophecies of Ezra and Daniel and one verse in Jeremiah that were written in Aramaic. And Greek was the language adopted in the New Testament because it was the language of scholarship during the years of its composition from 50 to 100 AD].

John Lennon once said: “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It's just that the translations have gone wrong”.  

If God's teachings can be interpreted in very divergent ways, which version should we believe? What if the interpretations are not wholly accurate?

And if we wish to embrace God, cannot we find Him in our own way? And if we choose not to, is that okay too?

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