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‘Dog controversy among Muslims due to Malaysia’s identity politics’

 | August 19, 2017

Expert says the issue surrounding the prohibition on Muslims from touching and owning dogs is not purely a religious matter.

Maszlee-Malik-dog-controversyPETALING JAYA: The prohibition on Muslims from having physical contact with dogs, as promoted by certain quarters in Malaysia, is not due to purely religious reasons as it is related to the identity politics of the country, an expert on Islamic jurisprudence has said.

Maszlee Malik, a senior lecturer at the International Islamic University Malaysia, was quoted by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) today as saying that incidents where Muslims were taken to task for being seen touching dogs were politicised for “sectarian, ethno-racial or political purposes.”

“It is unfortunate that due to the failure of our education system to bring people together – caused by institutionalised racial polarisation – people are mutually prejudiced.

“Certain animals, certain symbols, and maybe certain attitudes or appearances are associated with certain races, ethnicities and religions,” he was quoted as saying.

“This is where for Malays these days, pigs and dogs are associated with non-Malays. So according to such identity politics, if you are Malay but you pat dogs, or you keep dogs, or are trying to make dogs pets, then you are not Malay enough, and so less Islamic,” he added.

“It is not a purely religious issue. Religion only came in to strengthen the identity politics.”

Earlier last month, Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) director-general Othman Mustapha criticised Nurhanizah Abdul Rahman who caused a stir when news surfaced that she had adopted a stray dog named “Bubu”.

Othman urged Muslims not to keep dogs as pets, saying Nurhanizah’s actions were against Islamic teachings.

His comments came on the heels of several other controversial incidents where Muslims were reprimanded and criticised for contact with the canines.

In Oct 2014, activist Syed Azmi Alhabsi was forced to apologise after he reportedly received threats for organising the “I want to touch a dog” event for Muslims.

In June 2015, actress Nur Fazura sparked an uproar when numerous social media followers hit out at her after she uploaded a picture of herself with a dog.

The SCMP report also quoted shariah lawyer Nizam Bashir as saying that while there was a push to brand Malaysia as being from the Shafie school of Islamic jurisprudence in which dogs are seen as ritually unclean, it was important to appreciate diversity of thought.

“Traditionally, Islamic scholars were quite accommodating of the fact that another person may have a different viewpoint on a particular issue.

“When we try to sort of enforce one sort of viewpoint we lose our richness of tradition and scholarship, and I don’t think that’s a good thing,” he was quoted as saying.

“Being insular only further reinforces the prejudice that anyone with a different viewpoint from you must be a deviant,” he added.

The report also quoted Derek Kok, an analyst with think-tank IMAN Research as saying that the issue with dogs was a particularly Malaysian one because of the multi-racial country’s identity politics.

“It isn’t a cultural war between conservative and liberal Muslims but rather it is reflective of a lack of theological diversity as only one school of thought is deemed correct by the state despite the differences in the various jurisprudence schools of Islam,” he said.

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