My Little Pony (is Islam-Approved)

I’m not a dog person, or a cat person, or a pet person. But I love horses, so naturally I perked up when I saw a headline about a blind Muslim woman who uses one as a guide.  Then I realized the headline specified, “Muslim woman”, and my wandering mind came back from my daydream of open fields and wild horses to the actual headline: “Tiny horse trains as a guide for blind Muslim woman.”

Mona Ramouni and her pony Cali. Image via AP.

Mona Ramouni and her pony Cali. Image via AP.

Why mention she’s Muslim?

Ah, the lead sentence explains, “Seeing-eye dogs are a nonstarter among many Muslims who consider the animals unclean…”

From the get-go, the reader is told to assume that all Muslims are strongly opposed to having a seeing-eye dog.  Let me state that many Muslims who would not generally permit dogs in their home would reconsider if a blind child or relative was in the picture. Now, whom do you believe, a reporter who did not grow up in a Muslim household or a blogger who did and coincidentally also dislikes dogs? See how sourcing is a problem here? “Many Muslims consider dogs unclean,” by itself is an accurate statement, but assuming that many Muslims would not have a seeing-eye dog is not. It’s like saying a devout Catholic woman diagnosed with anemia would never consider using birth control to regulate her period. If you want to argue that Natural Family Planning is less of an issue in the Catholic tradition than the concern for keeping dogs in an area of worship is in the Islamic tradition, please provide me with evidence.

In stark contrast to this lead, The Detroit Free Press starts of their excellent story by focusing on the main subject-not all Muslims in the world but one: “Mona Ramouni of Dearborn lost her eyesight as a complication of premature birth — she was born three months early.”

There is no mention of Islam or Muslims anywhere, because the reporter was smart enough to grasp that this is not a story about Muslims disliking dogs, but about a  resilient woman who never used one as a guide.

The next sentence tells us why: “She has never had a guide animal, and when she told her parents that she wanted one, they said that they would be her guides.” Aha! Suddenly the culprit is not Islam but overprotective parents.

Let’s take a look at the headline again, just for kicks. “Seeing-eye dogs are a nonstarter among many Muslims who consider the animals unclean.” A non-starter? As in, it’s not even negotiable? Says who? One Muslim family? Again, using the story of one Muslim family and the premise that many Muslims consider dogs unclean, does not in any way prove that they (ahem, we) wouldn’t use one as seeing-eye guide. Saying Muslims consider dogs unclean without offering any contextualization allows the reader to assume that Muslims don’t have dogs! Or worse, that they (ahem, we) wouldn’t even consider having one to help out a blind child. Did this writer even try to find a blind Muslim who actually does indeed have a seeing-eye dog? Or at least a blind Muslim who disagrees with the family in this story?

After all, this article gives us the impression that Ms. Mona Ramouni, the blind woman at hand, would use a dog if it wasn’t for her parent’s aversion to it:

“She’s an observant Sunni Muslim and respects her Jordanian-born parents’ aversion to having a dog in the home where she lives along with three of her six siblings.”

Wait a second, do Shi’as have dogs? Do Shi’as consider dogs unclean? Because if they do, I understand why it’s relevant to mention she’s a Sunni Muslim. Dearborn is not Baghdad after all.

Sourcing is obviously a problem her. The reporter probably thought so too, that would explain why he called up the Council on American-Islamic Relations‘ Michigan chapter to give the whole Muslims are opposed to seeing-eye dogs thing some more legitimacy. The story says,

While most Muslims believe dogs can violate ritual purity, horses are seen as “regal animals,” says Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations‘ Michigan chapter.

As opposed to dogs who are what, animals for the peasantry?

Walid explains, “Still, there would be concerns about bringing a horse into certain establishments and areas of worship as well,” he said.

Thank you brother for clarifying that. We will make sure “No horses allowed” is listed in our masjid’s bylaws right under “No horsing around with the opposite sex.”

Is it just me or is Walid saying there’s really no difference between a blind Muslim using a horse or a dog as a guide? It seems like either is permissible, but neither animal should be brought into a mosque or a designated area of worship.

Then again, why should I expect the reporter understand that when the Ramouni family cannot?

I am not denying that many Muslims hesitate in keeping a dog as a pet because of the ong-standing beief that they are flithy, and thereby invalidate one’s ablution, yet this belief is not supported anywhere in the Qur’an, which only mentions dogs favorably.  This means the idea of dogs as unclean doesn’t technically have a basis in Islamic law. Moreover, there is amongst Muslims varying degrees of adherence to this tradition, either informally with some families keeping dogs as pets, others keeping them only as guard dogs, and others not anywhere in the home at all, or more formally, with the Maliki school of thought disagreeing with the entire premise of dogs as unclean.

So in short, it is incorrect to link the story of one Muslim family who prefers not to have a seeing-eye dog for their blind daughter to a hypothetical situation in which many Muslims would also not have (or not even think about having, because it’s a “non-starter”) a seeing-eye dog based on the sketchy premise that Muslims regard dogs as unclean.

Moving on. Let’s go back to the CAIR quote. I get that the reporter wanted something to back up the dogs are unclean angle, but CAIR is a civil rights organization. They can’t magically issue some sort of fatwa about dogs and, even if they did, no one would care, because CAIR is a civil rights organization. It would have been better to quote the Ramouni family on why they felt it was unnecessary to get a seeing-eye dog for their daughter.

In addition, I would have appreciated more background about their decision to get a horse. Did this have anything to do with their daughter’s love for horses? After all, using horses as guides is kind of rare. We are told that “There are only a handful of the miniature animals trained as guides for the blind in the United States.”

So how did the Ramounis hear of it? Was it a neighbor’s recommendation, an advertisement, or are we to assume that no dog automatically equals “get a small horse”? At the end of the story, we  are told that Ramouni family built a shed in their backyard for the horse. (Dearborn Arabs understand how cool this is). I have to ask, if the animal is gonna stay outside, why not just get a dog?

I am not being a hater, I’m just being pragmatic. Watch this video of Ms. Ramouni, in jeans and a hijab climbing into a bus with her little horse and think about that. The Ramouni family should be able to see that a woman in hijab doing mundane things like riding public transportation draws considerable attention. A blind woman in a hijab even more so. Now imagine a blind woman in a hijab accompanied by a horse!

My imaginary passenger says, “Those Muzlims think dogs are unclean so their blind have to use a horse.” This assumption is factitious, but it’s entirely supported by the article, and it only furthers misunderstandings about Islam and stereotypes about Muslims.

According to the article, “The U.S. government may soon tighten the definition of a guide animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act to exclude farm creatures such as horses.”

With all due respect to Ms. Ramouni, here’s to hoping that Muslims don’t misguide their energy rallying the Justice Department over this.

Muslimah Media Watch would like to thank Abed Ayoub for the tip.

  • Meg

    Ok, I have to ask. Since I’m not a Dearborn Muslim, why is putting a shed up in the backyard such a big deal. Tiny yards, I’m guessing?

  • hussain

    yet this belief is not supported anywhere in the Qur’an, which only mentions dogs favorably. This means the idea of dogs as unclean doesn’t technically have a basis in Islamic law.

    What is this I dont understand, what are you saying here. It seems totaly against the principles of sacred and preserved islamic law that have been laid down since the time of the prophet.I’m not speaking about the dog issue here but what you seem to be saying is that if something is not mentioned in the quran than technically it doesn’t have a basis in Islamic law. Is this part of islamic fiqh? For the last 5 months I have regularly read this blog but now I’ll go elsewhere. You seem to find all sorts of things unacceptable and offensive yourself but your above statment is more outrageous.

    [This comment has been edited to fit within moderation guidelines.]

  • Broomstick

    lol. MUSLIMS DON’T CARE ABOUT DOGS, OK?!?!! lol, but seriously, you have a point there. So many people have asked me why do Muslims *hate* dogs so much and I’d have to explain, no, we don’t hate dogs…

    I think the media likes to mention that the woman is a Muslim because it makes the story a litle more sensationalistic and exciting. Naturally.

    Lol, no horses allowed in mosques… that shouldn’t be funny, but it just is.

  • Abed

    I think its a great thing. Being a “Dearborn Muslim” I can tell you the Free Press always does good work. I am not sure where you got the headline from but the original headline did not say “Muslim girl…” The AP changed it.

  • hussain

    Lets quote minority opinions when it suits us. Like the maliki school on this issue but dont use them when it goes against our way of thinking.

  • http://etharelkatatney.blogspot.com/ Ethar

    “We will make sure “No horses allowed” is listed in our masjid’s bylaws right under “No horsing around with the opposite sex.””

    Hilarious!

  • http://www.7obsessions.blogspot.com Yusra Tekbali

    haha thanks for the comments everyone.

    Meg, for me the shed thing reminds me of growing up, grilling outside in the backyard. We had a shed with clutter in the backyard. We had a sheep in the backyard too at one point. A lot of our Arab family friends had sheds too and would congregate in backyards.

    Abed, thanks for your opinion. It leads me to think that more Muslims participating in a community=less biased reporting.

    Hussain, I know that Shari’ah is based on the Quran and Hadeeth and tafsir of learned Sahaba and Ulamaa, but I am saying that because the issue of dogs is not mentioned in the Quran it is technically not part of Islamic law, but rather tradition that quite frankly has its origins in sketchy hadeeths. The Hadeeth’s about dogs are not “Hadeeth Hasan”, that is accepted 100% by all factions. Please explain where in my post you are referring to when you accuse me of only using the Maliki school of thought when it suits me.

  • clare

    I have read elsewhere about horses as service animals- one of the advantages is that they live longer than dogs.
    http://www.guidehorse.org/
    But I agree with the general criticism that the article makes too much of the fact that Ramouni is Muslim. I am with the Maliki school on this one- dogs are great! Good luck getting a guard cat! :)

  • Mudkips Carasov

    I don’t understand the point of this post and the anally retentive attempts to deconstruct what other people say.

  • http://www.dawudwalid.com Dawud Walid

    Since you should be aware that media quotes things and places them within a certain frame, I’m quite surprised by some of your “analysis.”

    Therefore, let me explain to you what I told the reporter as an Imam who has studied Islam academically as well as Exec. Director of CAIR-MI, which is a civil rights group. *Next time, do a simple Google search regarding the background of someone that you may believe is unqualified to speak about such topics. *

    I said the following:

    In general, most Muslims from the Middle East have an aversion to dogs as pets or in homes, which is true. Saliva of dogs is considered najasah (impure) according to most scholars.

    Now, I also told the reporter that scholars are of virtual consensus that dogs can be used to protect sheep/cattle and hunting dogs as well as used for “a useful utility such as being a guide dog.” That part of my statement wasn’t quoted.

    My statement of horses being problematic in certain places is true as it is for dogs regarding offending worshippers sensitivities in masajid. No one wants to see a dog or a horse in an area of prostration though she has the legal right to bring either into a msajid. Similarly, she has a constitutional right to take a guide dog into a nice restaurant but that would offend social mores.

  • Aynur

    How surprising, the media only took part of brother Dawud’s interview to publish. *sigh*

    On a side note though, most Muslims I know think dogs are totally “unclean”, and question the “Muslimness” of a person (if that’s a word) if a Muslim owns a dog.

  • http://www.7obsessions.blogspot.com Yusra Tekbali

    Salaamu Alaikum Dawud. Thank you for your comment. I am not denying or for that matter affirming your knowledge of Islamic law, etc. but you were quoted as a CAIR representative, and my concern lies more in the fact that this reporter felt it was necessary to quote CAIR to support an argument about the cleanliness of dogs, rather than say a civil rights case.

  • http://muslimmediareview.blogspot.com Ayman Fadel

    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/4581008

    The book of the superiority of dogs over many of those who wear clothes
    by Muḥammad ibn Khalaf Ibn al-Marzubān; G R Smith; Muḥammad Abd al-Ḥalīm

    I take this occasion to point people to my favorite book on the topic.

    I think many Muslims do have an excessive aversion to dogs. I remember once in the Sunday school when I was discussing having ritual purity for salaat and I mentioned that a dog’s saliva needed to be washed away. A young girl came to me after class and asked me if she needed to get rid of her dog! I told her simply to wash up after handling any saliva.

    I have 3 (outdoor) cats. 2 from a young age, and a stray who attached himself.

  • http://theeyesofmona.blogspot.com Mona Ramouni

    First of all, I didn’t want to make an issue of being a Muslim, as the story isn’t about that at all but about the power of positive thinking and of pushing forward despite obstacles. It’s a story about possibilities and seeing them even in the face of adversity.
    I have no aversion to dogs at all and in fact, would have gotten one had I lived anywhere but with my parents. As it is, I respect them enough not to go against their wishes in this.
    And yes, it is funny that they’d allow me to have a horse but want it outside. But there’s a lot more to the story that I’d rather not divulge. I needed a guide, a way to get more independence, and this, for various reasons, was what worked.
    I’m hoping that when the DOJ decides to ask for opinions on the question of what should be considered a service animal, people, and not just Muslims, will simply remember that a guide horse should be an option. It has nothing to do with being a Muslim and everything to do with freedom of choice. I won’t give Cali up unless someone pries my fingers off the harness, and I’m hoping it won’t really go that far. For all of you who are blessed with sight, please remember that being blind isn’t what’s hard. Not being to look in the mirror or see someone smiling back is really hard sometimes, but the hardest thing of all is not being able to drive or go places alone. May you never have to experience that. For me, though, Cali is so much more than a pretty little horse. She is my symbol of possibilities.

  • Fauzia

    Hi Mona,

    Insha allah, I pray that Cali, or any service animal that you use in the future, will allow you to have the mobility and independence that you rightfully deserve. I think everyone takes their good health and their faculties for granted; the young grow old and some of us will see that our bodies will not allow us to have the independence that we were once so accustomed to. The privilege of living a long life also comes with its hazards, too.

    I hope for you, as well as for all of us, that the DOJ rules in favor of broadening the notion of what constitutes a service animal so that anyone who needs one can be free to choose the animal that best suits their needs.

  • http://theeyesofmona.blogspot.com Mona Ramouni

    Hi, Fauzia,
    Thanks so much. I, too, hope that the definition of a service animal stays as it is. Minis have proven to be excellent guides, even if their care takes more work than a dog. I have to spread pine shavings on the shed floor so that Cali can lie down, and the bag weighs fifty pounds, while I don’t even weigh ninety. I also have to take more time to groom, feed, and pick up after her, but it’s all worthwhile.
    Here’s hoping that you all have futures full of health. I thank God every day that being blind is my only physical problem, as so many things could have gone wrong for me. My intent is to live a life I can someday look back on and think, “I have done nothing that would make God ashamed of me.” I have the same wants as other people, and with Cali at my side, I can finally take the steps that will help me reach the places I want to go.
    Everyone, take care, and have a great weekend. Today was gorgeous, one of those days that make you happy to be alive. I can’t wait for Cali to come for good so that we can take walks together or just enjoy each other’s company. My little horse can graze nearby while I read, or we can play “find it” with her ball, or we can invent something else to do.
    Enjoy the good weather if you’ve got it, and if not, hopefully, your turn will come soon.
    All the best,
    Mona

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  • Basil

    When I first read the published article, I chuckled at the absurdity of obtaining a seeing-eye horse instead of a dog due to cultural hang-ups. I also thought the idea of a seeing-eye horse was amazing…I’d never heard of such a thing. Ma’sha’Allah, seeing-eye horses and dogs (and all other manner of seeing-eye animal, for that matter) are amazing creatures.

    What’s unfortunate about the situation is that the issue of Muslims and dogs was even brought up at all; both by the reporter and by Mr. Walid. The reporter didn’t need to focus on that angle, as it fosters a sense of “otherness” in a very dog-friendly country and culture. Unfortunately, Mr. Walid squandered the opportunity to dissolve this matter and proceeded to offer the textbook Muslim response to dogs, indicating that there is a scholarly consensus that dog saliva is dirty and by extension that dogs have limited use approval in the minds of Muslilms.

    As CAIR is a political organization, it would have been far more beneficial to focus on commonalities rather than to take the bait of “why are you so different?” In a nation of dog lovers (“Lassie”, “Benji”, “Old Yeller”, et al), it would have been far more appropriate to simply state that seeing-eye dogs are commonly in the service of visually-impaired American Muslims, and that there are no theological prohibitions on the use thereof. Perhaps turning the conversation back to the interesting aspect of the horse itself or the accomplishments of its owner would have given the reporter less motive to focus on Muslim attitudes towards our canine friends.

    While reporters could certainly do the American Muslim community a favor by not making a big deal out of minor issues, our Muslim spokespeople should also be doing the rest of us a favor by getting media training and learning how to turn an interview into a positive opportunity.

    And lastly, this statement is false: “No one wants to see a dog or a horse in an area of prostration though she has the legal right to bring either into a msajid. Similarly, she has a constitutional right to take a guide dog into a nice restaurant but that would offend social mores.” I wouldn’t mind witnessing a seeing-eye dog or horse assist a fellow worshiper get to place of prayer (or to a table in a restaurant). Such creatures are blessings–miracles, I contend–and that is nothing to be offended by. Rather, it should be appreciated at minimum, and celebrated ideally.

    And God Knows Best.

    May God bless you Mona & Cali.

  • http://theeyesofmona.blogspot.com Mona Ramouni

    Salaam, everyone,
    How fortunate I am to live in a country where I have some basic rights, where I’m guaranteed the right to go anywhere the public can with my guide horse! Horses aren’t for everyone, and in fact, I would only encourage someone to get a guide horse instead of a dog if they were serious about taking quite a lot of time to care for it. Cali doesn’t live with me yet, but already, I’m working out how to accommodate her and still find ways to do all the things I want. She will make my life fuller, richer, but I have to put a great deal of work into her.
    That the reporter focused on my religion instead of what my horse is here for or what I plan to accomplish is something I regret. In fact, I made it clear that the story was about getting a guide horse, not my religious or cultural background. But of course, reporters want to sell papers, not educate the public.
    One day, I hope to be able to take Cali into a mosque with me and have her wait while I pray or listen to a lecture. She will be clean, of course, as one of the major chores I have to do is groom her daily and clean her feet. The funny thing is, before I even met her, the first thing I bought for her was a bottle of horse shampoo. She will be a reflection of me and a reflection of others with guide animals, and making a good impression is essential.
    Salaam, everyone, and take care. Maybe as Cali and I go about our lives, I’ll come across some of you, and you’ll remember that Cali is giving me something I never thought I’d have–a full life.
    All the best,
    Mona


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