---- The following is lifted from the "On Freedom" blog at the Religious News Service: ----
A dog bit my hand in Beijing. A rat dive-bombed my foot in Yangon. A macaque clawed my shirt in Kuala Lumpur. All in the span of two weeks.
I’m no conspiracy theorist, but come on people. Asia’s animal kingdom is clearly plotting my demise.
When I stumbled upon the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event only 12 hours after arriving in Malaysia this weekend, I understandably kept my distance, a) because I didn’t want to risk another Beijing incident without rabies shots, b) because I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a joke.
Take a look at the event description:
“If you love dogs or are curious about them, head down to Central Park, 1 Utama and be enlightened about man’s best friend. The event is not about promoting dog ownership (although there’s nothing wrong with that), but to educate the public on the proper ways of handling dogs and what Muslims should do after petting them.
Remember to comply with the colour-coded system to avoid confusion: wear yellow if you would like to touch the dogs, orange if you’re only interested in observing and red if you’re bringing your dogs.”
It somehow read like the start of a Saturday Night Live sketch. Quotes I stumbled upon the next day did little to alleviate my skepticism:
- “[Organizer] Syed Azmi, who was busy making sure everything was in order, also managed to touch not one but a few dogs for the first time in his life. ‘I wanted to touch a husky but I was so busy,’ he said.”
- “Children were elated touching the animals. There were also some Muslims yelping when the dogs sniffed them.”
Only later did a friend confirm that this event, which drew more than 1,000 people, was no joke. To some conservative Muslims, it was no laughing matter.
Many Muslims consider dogs to be ritually unclean, meaning few keep them around as pets, meaning most dogs they encounter are likely strays on the street, the majority of which are certifiably unclean by any measure.
A Muslim scholar joined the event to demonstrate how followers of the faith should ritually cleanse their hands after touching dogs, a process that involves washing six times with clean water and once with dirt.
That lesson wasn’t enough to appease senior Muslim clerics who deemed dog petting wholly “haram” (forbidden) and urged the country’s Islamic authorities to look into the incident. An investigation is now underway.
The event organizer, a Muslim man named Syed Azmi Alhabashi, has since become the target of death threats and accusations of apostasy. Rumors circulating on WhatsApp claim that he is secretly Christian, Shia or Jewish and trying to corrupt Malaysia’s majority-Sunni Muslims.
Now Muslim scholars and opinionated Malaysians are taking to Facebook, battling over the permissibility of petting dogs and deciding on Alhabashi’s fate for themselves.
This fallout over Puppygate points to serious tensions among the country’s moderate and conservative Muslims and the nearly 40 percent of Malaysians who espouse minority faiths including Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism.
What started quite literally as a walk in a park with a dog has exploded into grave sin writ large, moral crisis, or subversive coup attempt depending upon who you ask.
Others say it was just a walk in a park with a dog. Let’s see what the authorities decide.