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Follow Me I'm The Pied Piper

Why some Arab Americans are fearful of dogs?


In my neighborhood, not a single child has petted my dogs.  They hover at my gate and call out their names and "aww and ooh" at them but the second my tiny dogs come to the gate the children back off, some even run.  This is a dangerous and potentially life threatening thing to do if a larger dog roaming the streets suddenly sees a child running and decides to chase him/her.  I can't tell you how many times children run up to me when walking the dogs on their leashes and ask me if they can pet them.  I always say, yes but they never do.  They are just too scared. Despite this, children follow me around a great deal because of Snowball and Benji asking me a millions questions, "Do they bite?  Are they boys or girls and whats their names." 

Yesterday, I decided to take the mile and a half walk to Fordson High School to watch my nephews play football with the dogs in tow.   There were at least 10-12 children playing on one of the blocks that I had never taken before.   Everyone of them froze on their lawn as we passed.  I felt as if I was a parade as the kids stared at the dogs who have gotten use to the gawking from my own neighborhood.  Once we passed, one at time, each child began to follow us from a safe distance asking me the same questions that are asked of me every time I pass a child. 

When i was young just like any youngster I wanted a puppy.  Unlike some parents who would say no because kids are irresponsible and the parents would end up taking care of it more than the child, my parents (though I am sure thats another reason) were Lebanese Americans and that was just unheard of in an Arab American home because well, for one major reason they are considered unsanitary.  "Nijus" in Arabic.   I remember if I even petted a dog my mother would immediately order me to wash my hands.  If it was more than petting, no sooner than I would get home and it was straight to the bathtub.  It got to the point that I didn't want to pet a dog anymore.  So, you can imagine how fast I went to the pet store the week I moved out and got myself a dog.  I loved my little Coco and she loved me but if I ever went to visit my parents, Coco would have to stay home.  Coco has since died and I have today a maltese and a maltipoo whom I named, Snowball and Benji.

Arab Americans and more specifically Muslims, have been taught from a very young age that a dog would make them "Nijus" and unable to pray without the holy ritual of "Wadoo" the purification of one's self before prayer.  All clothing must be discarded from their bodies.  For this reason, Arab American Mothers are just way too dramatic when it comes to dogs.

My neighbor, a very devout woman is probably one of the most dramatic.  A very good woman, hospitable, generous and more than anything else, charitable.  There isn't always something she isn't doing like raising money or collecting clothing and food for the poor.  But her drama comes from her reaction to my dogs.  She has lived next door to me for nearly six years and her children are of age, 7 and 10. They are terrified of my dogs.  Every time they extend their hand to pet them through my gates, she would yell at them in a way that made even me scared. Often enough, their soccer ball always ends up in my yard and often enough I would have to come outside and toss the thing back to them as they would never come there if the dogs were outside.

I tried to make my neighbor understand that she and many mothers like her are doing a disservice to their kids by making them fearful.  For example, I took the dogs for a walk and was able to let them run in a field.  A small child who was also taught to be fearful of dogs began to run.   Snowball, who loves to run around with the kids in my family  thought the child was playing a game and he ran after him.  The child's parents laughed but I didn't.  Snowball only wanted to play but the child was traumatized by what he was taught, that dogs are "bad animals."

Of course, there are horror stories about some Arab Americans and their distaste of dogs.  Just recently, an Arab American was charged with animal cruelty but Arab Americans are not isolated with this sort of thing.  We have commercials running late night everyday about the cruelties by owners and believe me, they are not Arab Americans for the reasons I stated before.   Just because they are considered unsanitary, it does not allow for anyone to be cruel. In any religion, especially Islam, God orders kindness to all "living things" and most Muslim Americans are not cruel to animals as they are afraid of them.

In our family and in my circle things can be worked out if the situation calls for it. Many of my friends who were also fearful of dogs have managed to bypass their fear and their paranoia for my sake.  Often enough, the request is,  "Please don't let them jump on me."  But dogs are dogs and eventually those very same people are the ones who become more accepting. 

My mother who spends every Spring in Florida called and asked me one day if I would come to visit.  I told her that I didn't want to leave Snowball with anyone (when I just had him at the time).  Her answer?  "Just bring him with you."  I paused for a minute as I wasn't sure about what she said until she repeated it.  You can imagine my entire family's surprise to find Snowball running around in the back yard.  People thought my mother had turned senile. 

When my mother had to be in hospice at Henry Ford Village the nurses encouraged me to bring the dogs in.  It was very uplifting for the elderly who had to leave their pets at home.  I thought what could be more sanitary than a makeshift hospital and yet they are allowing what people think is unsanitary to come right in.  

My mother has since changed her attitude.   She loves Snowball and often comments about his white coat.  I crack up every time she calls out his name and tries to get his attention.  The funny thing though, I guess from their time in Florida together where he knew he was restricted from walking on the carpet, he knows not to approach or touch her.   Its like they settled on their boundaries and its a relationship that works well. 

The children were still outside after watching my nephew's game.  They saw me coming a mile a way and they prepared themselves.  They waited and I passed. Behind me the line formed again and the ever empty question followed, "Can I pet them?"I ignore the question now because I know what to expect.  I just smiled and kept walking with the kids still in tow and as I was about to cross to the next block the song, "I'm The Pied Piper" started to play on my iPod.

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Amal Berry September 10, 2012 at 04:21 PM
LOVE LOVE LOVE this article bcz I"m a fellow animal lover and a dog owner, and Muslim. It bothers me when we walk Gizzy and we see people jump out of the way, cringe, and mumble under their breath. It's the 21st century, we have hot running water, soap, disinfectants, enough with the archaic ideologies. I respect if someone doesn't want a dog to jump on them, or touch them, that's their right. But teaching your children fear and hate isn't doing them any good; have some boundaries, have some caution, but have an open mind.
Millie September 10, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Very happy to see this well written article. My observations of the "doggie drama" are similar. Some folks live near me and I love them dearly except when it comes to my dogs. This Muslim family has two little girls who love to throw treats to my dogs and make them do tricks but often seem to desire to touch but are forbidden. One of the girls asked me one day, Millie, is it true that if I touch your dog, my skin will fall off? I was saddened to realize normally smart educated people would tell such silly stories in order to frighten a child to prevent a simple pat of soft fur. I pray they come into this century and soon. Every child deserves a dog to love!
Curious September 10, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Maybe American will someday be more accepting of eating dogs like our friends in other parts of the world. After all, dogs aren't any less friendly or intelligent than pigs and we LOVE to eat tasty pigs! Cultural boundaries are interesting, aren't they? Pass the poodle!
City of Dearborn (Editor) September 11, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Please keep it civil, folks! We just had to delete a comment. This is certainly an interesting topic, and we know there will be some disagreement, but personal insults are not allowed on Patch.
Samia Saleh Kabbani-realtor September 11, 2012 at 03:19 AM
When I was a teen we had a dog named BRO. he was always a joy and fun to have around us. He ran with us chased cars protected my cat, and he patiently sat as our little kids tried to ride him like he was a horse. He was so cute. We loved him dearly. Yes we beleive that dogs are nijis. (insanitary) but I have to say to all Muslims out there. "YOUR HAND WILL NOT FALL OFF IF YOU PET THEM"!!!!! go ahead touch their coat. cuddle with a german shepard. or a maltese. They are so loving and obedient. You only have to wash the area that the animal hair has actually touched. Thats understandable. modt of us was our hands before we eat even if we havent touched a thing. I hate when I see kids so terrified from dogs. I wonder if the parents know what kind of dangerous perdictament they are putting on their kids when instilling fear like that. I love this article. I can imagine the kids following you around with the questions. they want to touch the forbidden fruit yet so scared of what would happen.
tianna September 11, 2012 at 03:33 AM
I love the article. I believe that understanding the concept of washing after touching a dog should be better explained to those who are ignorant to the concept. Yes, we do believe that dogs are unclean spiritually however, that does not in any way mean that dogs should be ignored or treated with ill intent. I have always allowed my children to interact with dogs and they have fun with my sisters dog. I believe the lack of exposure to dogs would lead to a natural fear which can be overcome with proper teaching and patience. Good article Mudds!
Amal Berry September 11, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Owning dogs in American culture is not some foreign concept; it's almost a tradition. However unlike certain other parts in the world, thankfully, eating them is not acceptable. There are many "cultural" aspects that we here chose not to practice. Eating pigs or not eating pigs is more of a religious aspect, or in a lot of cases a personal choice. In America however,dogs are not on the menu, and there are organizations that advocate for them, and for the ethical treatment of all animals, including pigs, unlike other parts of the world where animals are considered dispensable and are abused. Personally I'm proud that this country protects those creatures that God created that cannot speak for themselves.
Samar Awada September 11, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Fantastic article while explained! As an Arab American practicing Muslim, I also have to be careful for my clothing due to my prays when I am around dogs. How can I not love Dogs? I was born into a home which my father had already owned a beautiful Collie Breed. I will never forget how beautiful he was. His name was skipper. My parents told me a story about when I was two years old, I had fallen into a lake when no one was looking, Skipper jumped into the lake and pulled me out just in the nick of time. My parents where so amazed by the love and faithfulness this Dog had for me. My parents told me the doge would never allow anyone to come near me, he was so overly protective of me. One of my best friends God rest her soul, who was never married had a German Shepherd. Her Dog was so loving and kind but also very protective of her. I use to take my kids to her house all the time and the Dog just loved my kids and they love him too! I don't understand the fear some parents place in children regarding Dogs, when it's a proven fact they are so faithful and most loving. I can understand the need for cleanliness however like cats you can always find away to have the Dog around and and give the Dogs the love it gives us. I swear I feel Animals are sometimes more loving than most humans.. Great story Mudds. I love your Dogs and I love more how they love you and watch over you! I can't see you living alone without them. God bless you Mudds always.
AC September 12, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Dogs are great. They have quite a bit of personality and one can forge a strong bond with a dog. I think the subtitle is poorly chosen. Some dogs are vicious, so it is natural to fear them, whether you are Arab, Chinese or German. Dog lovers always ask the owners of unfamiliar dogs if it is ok to approach or pet the dog. Where I draw the line is allowing a dog into my bed, or on my furniture, or allow them to slobber all over my children. Keep in mind, they are still animals and they are filthy. Every dog I have ever encountered constantly licks its own rectum. How can you allow that same dog to kiss and lick you or your children? This is something I could never understand.
Amal Berry September 12, 2012 at 05:51 PM
AC-- i absolutely agree with you, always ask before you pet a dog, no matter how friendly or small it is. The dog doesn't know you, and especially for small children, they tend to tap the top when the dog isn't looking, startling the dog. I personally don't let my Maltese on our bed, he has his own little bed he sleeps in, and snores all night. I don't like the slobbering and agree with you on the kissing part. I tell my kids, don't let any dog near your face. But they're not filthy. A responsible dog owner keeps up with hygiene, including regular baths, wipes, perfumes, grooming, and breath sprays and chews. I may be a little excessive, but that was the deal when we got one. I have been in homes with no pets, that are a mess, and I've been in homes with 2 or more dogs, and they're impeccable. Also- keep in mind, cats clean themselves in the same manner; but there isn't the same stigma attached with cats as with dogs. I do completely respect your opinion. You have very valid points.
City of Dearborn (Editor) September 14, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Hi all, we made the decision to delete a few comments. Please keep conversation civil and on topic. Thanks!
Lee Jacobsen September 14, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Humans are carnivores, and eat other animals. Each culture has reasons for not eating certain creatures. I can understand not eating the 'smart' ones , like pigs, horses, dogs, cats, talking parrots, gerbals, pet turtles and other inert pets, monkeys that do tricks, and even circus fleas. However, in one country that is huge, and has many hungry folk, they worship an animal that we in the states regularly chop up into steaks. Is this animal as smart as others....? Does it matter? Customs vary, and when chocolate covered grasshoppers really catch on in the USA as a healthy snack, full of fiber and protein, we know humanity's world is getting 'smaller'.
Carol September 16, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Enlightening article. I really don't understand why Muslims welcome cats in their homes but not dogs. Dogs are haram...the only difference I see, is a litter box?
Amal Berry September 16, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Carol- exactly. A cat goes into the litter box, steps on "stuff" comes out, is much harder to teach to stay off the furniture, sheds, rubs up against you, sits on ur lap when it feels like it and coined the term "kitty breath". A dog you take outside to do their business, some don't shed, and can be trained where they can and can't go. A dental spray gets rid of any doggie breath. So I don't get it either. And I have 2 cats too, lol.
cmg September 18, 2012 at 08:42 PM
We had muslim neighbors with 3 boys. They used to jump the fence and come in our yard. One day it stopped, I asked one of the boys why and he said because you got a dog. I said oh that's sad, she won't bother you. So later when his mother came out I asked her and she said she was simply afraid of them. I said touch her so she did and fell in love with her. Then my husband took the dog out front for the boys and they fell in love with her and started coming back into the yard to play. Sometimes you just have to show those that are afraid that there is no fear. Especially the people that aren't used to dogs. And it's just not Muslims. Alot of people have the fear of dogs from what they hear, but they are truly man's best friend.

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