It is hard for me to understand the expression of “killing all the dogs” stated in hadiths. How is it possible that Our Prophet, who did not hurt even an ant, gave such a command?

The Details of the Question
It is hard for me to understand the expression of “killing all the dogs” stated in hadiths. How is it possible that Our Prophet, who did not hurt even an ant, gave such a command?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

As is understood from narrations of hadiths, the command to kill is not specified to the dogs that we know. It is about all predatory animals. There is such a hadith in the Bukhari and Muslim hadith sources: "Five kinds of animals are harmful and could be killed in the Haram (Sanctuary). They are: the mouse, the scorpion, the crow, the kite, and the predatory dog." In another narration, one can kill them even in the state of Ihram. ((Bukhari, Badu'l-khalq, 16; Muslim, Hajj, 9: 66-72))

In some narrations, the snake is also included. The key word in the hadith is “fasiq” (harmful). The literal meaning of fasiq is deviating, digressing. A fasiq person is the one who violates the limit established by Allah’s commands and prohibitions. The reason why those animals are named harmful /fasiq is that they stray from the way of the majority of animals by harming humans and other animals. (Compare Nawawi, Sharhu Muslim, the explanation of the related hadith)

Al-Kalb al-Aqur (in the original text of the hadith) means the predatory dog. As far as we know, in all narrations, this title is used with dogs. This shows that the command to kill is not about normal dogs and that the dog is not sentenced to this punishment just because it is a dog. Indeed, Imam Nawawi adds these views when he explains that hadith: “According to the majority of scholars, the expression “al-Kalb al-Aqur” (predatory dog) is valid for all predatory animals. This is because the word al-aqur which is mentioned as the dog’s attribute means predatory. Therefore, the expression ‘predatory dog’ refers to all such animals like lions, tigers, wolves which are generally predators. (See Nawawi, Sharhu Muslim, the explanation of the related hadith).

The Prophet’s (PBUH) malediction against Abu Lahab’s son, Utba, is widely known: “O My Lord! Afflict him with a dog among your dogs!” and one night a lion came and found Utba among the caravan and tore him to pieces. (see Ibn Battal, Sharhu'l-Bukhari-al-Maktabatu'sh-Shamila, VIII/80).

Imam Malik says: It is permitted for a person in Ihram (performing Hajj/Pilgrimage) to kill animals/pests that pester him/her. however, it is not permitted for him/her to kill those that do not pester him/her. (al-Maktabatu’sh-Shamila, , IV/252). According to Imam Malik, what is meant with “predatory dog” in the hadith is any kind of predatory animals that attack and tear humans into pieces such as the lion, the tiger, the hyena, and the wolf. (Ibn Qudama, ash-Sharhu'l-Kabir, al-Maktabatu'sh-Shamila, III/302).

Actually, according to Malikis, all animals that attack and harm humans such as the violent wolf are “predatory dogs” and it is permitted to kill them. However, it is by no means permitted to kill those which do not harm humans. (Ibn Qudama, ibid.- al-Maktabatu'sh-Shamila, IV/14). According to one of the renowned scholars, Ibnu Abdilbar, no dog can be killed unless it is harmful. This is because Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) forbade aiming weapons at living beings. Besides, there are hadiths about the virtue of giving water to dogs.

In a hadith, it is stated: “there is a reward for serving any animate (living being)”. Furthermore, though everywhere there are many vigilant scholars who do not overlook irreligious acts, there is no such tradition as killing dogs. No Muslim scholar views keeping dogs as a hindrance to one’s witness (it is not seen as important as to be a decisive criterion in legislation). Only, in the sect of Shafii, it is seen as religiously unlawful to keep dogs without any need to do so (such as guarding cattle and sheep, etc.)” (Canan, Kütübü Sitte,13/ 516)

The hadith in question is as follows: Hazrat Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates:

The Prophet said, "A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way He came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, "This dog is suffering from thirst as I did." So, he went down the well again and filled his shoe with water and watered it. Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him. The people said, "O Allah's Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?" He replied: "Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate (living being)." (Bukhari, Shirb, 9, Wudu, 33; Muslim, Salam, 153; Abu Davud, Jihad, 47).

In another narration, The Prophet said: "A prostitute was forgiven by Allah because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that." (Muslim, Tawba, 155).

As is clearly understood from those hadiths, compassion towards all living beings, which are Allah’s creatures, is essential in Islam. In the renowned fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) book of the Hanafi sect, al-Mabsut, these views are included: “The meaning intended in the hadith with the expression ‘predatory dog’ is the violent predatory animals that cause harm such as the wolf and the lion. As Imam Shafii says, the message given in the hadith is this: It is not permitted to kill anything else other than the harmful, aggressive predatory animals.” (al-Mabsut- al-Maktabatu'sh-Shamila V/159).

Indeed, Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, a renowned scholar of the Shafii sect, states the following about killing the predatory dog: It is not permitted to let the predatory dog starve. On the contrary, if it is to be killed, it should be killed in the best possible fashion.” (see Tuhfatu'l-Muhtaj; al-Maktabatu'sh-Shamila, IV/252) Al-Bayjarmi’s statement is clearer in this issue: “Not only the beneficial dogs, the life of all dogs are respected and immune as long as they do not cause harm and do not turn violent and aggressive.” (Hashyatu'l-Bayjarmi Ala'l-Manhaj-al-Maktabatu'sh-Shamila, I/474) Accordingly, the animals that the Prophet permitted to be killed are violent, predatory, and aggressive animals.

An important point to note about the issue at hand:

As required by respect towards and belief in the religion of Islam, the Qur’an and the Sunnah must be regarded in the following three categories:

First, let us establish our perspective on the verses of the Qur’an: a. This verse is Allah’s speech. b. Whatever Allah intended with this verse, that will of His is rightful. c. Allah’s will can be this, or that. Having hesitations about the first two articles is not compatible with religion and faith. And the last article is a matter of explanation (tafsir) and comment or viewpoint, and it is just natural that views differ. At the same time, this is an expression of the value that Islam attaches to man’s freedom of knowledge and intellect. There is a difference regarding hadiths.

The statement that we made above in the article a about the Qur’an is somewhat different here. The evidence (that a statement is actually a hadith) for many hadiths is not as certain as the Qur’an. Therefore, we cannot say about each hadith that it is certainly Allah’s Messenger’s statement.

However, it is not right to show hesitation about the hadiths that the great scholars of hadith who are expert enough to recognize the Prophet’s word and who have developed great familiarity with his style, affirmed to be absolutely sound and true. However much it is despicable to attribute a statement to the Prophet that does not belong to him, just as much it is despicable to deny a hadith of his saying it does not or cannot belong to the Prophet, without trying to learn its intended meaning, and just because it does not suit to one’s mind. What if the statement that we do not like really belongs to the Prophet? As for the statement in the article b, it is valid for hadith/sunnah in the same way.

It is required by faith to say that whatever the Prophet intended with this statement, his will is rightful and true. The article c is valid for hadiths. Hadiths or the sunnah can be interpreted differently. Obviously, what we mean with different interpretation or explanation (tafsir) cannot be judged with ignorance or with the desire of the Satan and the soul, but must be judged with knowledge, wisdom, intellect, faith and good manners. Therefore, what people like us should do is not to infer decrees directly from the Qur’an and the hadiths, but to ask the authorities well-versed in the field.

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