The center of Iran’s most recently renewed culture war isn’t about alcohol, Western clothing, or Hollywood. It’s about dogs.
As Western influence has crept in, Iran’s wealthy have increasingly kept dogs as pets, especially in Tehran, and the government appeared to relax an earlier stance against them.
But this week, some of Iran’s parliamentarians considered a bill to ban dogs from public places as well as “private flats,” Agence France Presse reported.
“Walking dangerous, unhealthy or unclean animals such as dogs in places and public transport is forbidden,” the bill states. Violators will be fined $100-to-$500 and the dog will be confiscated.
There’s a long religious history that precedes the bill, beginning with the Muslim prophet Muhammed, who believed that dogs were najes, or unclean.
Dogs are in a list of unclean objects that also includes feces and dead bodies.
Muhammed lectured his followers to kill dogs, especially “jet-black” ones. He said that earnings from selling dogs were equal to the selling of prostitutes, that a man who owned a dog would lose commerce, and that a dog would annul prayer and stop angels.
Muslims who own dogs, including Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, are often criticized. Asra Nomani, a journalist who worked with Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, wrote in 2001:
The dog issue, in fact, seems to hound Musharraf. In India, a columnist refers to Musharraf as “a dog-loving nattily uniformed general.” Musharraf boldly posed holding his two dogs for his photo-op after taking over the country. Go figure. The man knew that many Muslims go running when a dog starts approaching them....We have to do something called wuzu, a ritual washing, before doing namaz. We’re taught that touching a dog makes you dirty for namaz, so that you shouldn’t keep a dog in the house.
In more recent years, Iranian police have confiscated dogs from their owners at random, the state media has lectured Iranians about how canines spread disease, and well-known clerics have railed against “holdable” four-legged friends. It is unclear whether confiscated dogs were killed by the police or moved elsewhere.
Last year, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi even issued a fatwa against owning dogs, warning that “there are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children.”
The language of this most recent bill makes it clear this is also about containing Western influence. The ownership of dogs “poses a cultural problem, a blind imitation of the vulgar culture of the West,” the bill states.
Omid Memarian, an Iranian journalist specializing in human rights, said that the ownership of dogs is “very frightening for idealogical decision makers who have set up norms and standards...and [now] find themselves in a cultural war with the West.”
“They consider this as a failure to make their dos and don't lists dominant,”he said.