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.”
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.