PETALING JAYA, Oct 19 — Being able take her two dogs to a public event attended by fellow Malay Muslims was liberating for Rina Z, who has been caring for dogs for the past 12 years.
As a lady in a hijab cautiously bent down to pet her dog, Kirby, Rina reminisced over the disapproving stares fellow Malays would shoot at ‘tudung’ — the local term for hijab — wearing women walking an animal that is culturally considered “haram”.
“I have a friend who wears a ‘tudung’ who helped walk my dog, and this woman just went up to her and started questioning her; ‘You are a Muslim? You are a Muslim?’ And then she went on and on lecturing her on how it’s not right (for a Muslim to handle dogs),” Rina said.
“Being a Muslim dog owner, you tend not to publicise the fact that you own dogs because you run the risk of becoming a social outcast... but I think it’s time to share the love,” she added, as Kirby meekly sought out his owner for reassurance among the deluge of people stopping by to touch him.
Rina was among nearly 200 volunteers and dog owners who converged at Central Park in Bandar Utama here for the “I want to Touch a Dog” event this morning.
The event was the brainchild of Syed Azmi Alhabshi, who admitted that it all started from his own desire to touch a dog.
“At the start it was all for my own selfish reason, but it has since gone beyond that. I see smiling faces, people who are afraid of dogs but finally touching dogs for the first time, just like me,” he said.
Like a kid in a candy store, Syed Azmi was taken in by the sheer diversity of dog breeds, jumping at every opportunity to pat any and every passing dog, while also jumping back in surprise every time a dog tries to sniff his hands.
This was a scene that was repeated all across the park, where curious visitors chatted with dog owners and volunteers while anxiously reaching out to touch friendly canines, some of which were noticeably puzzled by the rapt attention from their new friends.
Banker Narissa Rashid, 33, said there is just far too much ignorance among the Malays about dogs, to the point that they forget that compassion for all God’s creations extends to the animals too.
Her hijab-wearing colleague, who went by her given name Haneszah, 27, added that there is no reason why a Muslim shouldn’t get in contact with a dog, as there are clear guidelines in the Quran to explain canine interaction.
“This is just a cultural thing. Touching a dog is not haram. We’ve been rescuing dogs that have been hurt by the side of the road, so this is not the first time we’re touching dogs.
“It’s all about compassion, and we want to break past this Malay culture (against dogs) because they are also God’s creatures,” Haneszah said, after lovingly cradling a toy dog in her lap.