A Muslim couple is breaking taboos about contact with dogs within the Malaysian Muslim community through their work of rescuing stray dogs in need.
Shah Alam residents Nurul Ain Abdul Hamid, 28, and husband Muhammad Razeef Che Samah, 39, said they both grew up being around dogs, such as the guard dogs for their family farm.
But what prompted their journey as dog rescuers was a little dog called Marvela.
Nurul Ain, who works in e-commerce, said it started in 2018 when a former staff had contacted her regarding an abused stray dog they had taken in.
At the time, the couple was already running SI Home Shelter, a shelter for stray cats, for five years in Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam.
Nurul Ain posted a call for help on Facebook, but there was no response. So, she decided to care for the dog herself.
“When my husband and I found Marvela, both of her front legs were mangled. We brought her to a veterinarian who said that her front legs are no longer functioning. He advised to let it be but unfortunately, Marvela’s front leg became infected,” she said.
Although Marvela could be rescued, her two legs had to be amputated, but the little canine’s fighting spirit could not be quelled. The story of Marvela’s adoption recently went viral and caught the attention of celebrities Harith Iskander and his wife Dr Jezamine Lim.
Since 2018, SI Shelter has rescued 10 other dogs, on top of the 400 cats it has sheltered.
This costs the couple RM15,000 monthly, with the money going to rent, food, litter, medical bills and the wages for four workers.
The funds come from donations, including from the shelter’s Facebook page and Nurul Ain’s Instagram account, but the couple has self-funded much of the costs.
Nurul Ain acknowledges that her work with dogs is a “sensitive issue” among the Muslim community in Malaysia. The school of thought followed by Muslims in Malaysia frowns upon the casual touching of dogs.
This is because dogs, like pigs, are considered pollutants, and Muslims must cleanse themselves after contact with these animals.
“When we associate with dogs by touching and taking care of them, people will give you the cold shoulder and look down upon you, but for me, it all comes down to intent.
“I do not simply hold dogs and take photos and upload them online to avoid misrepresentation and invite mockery. Actually, when I stumble upon stray dogs, I would nurse them and shelter them,” she said.
Nurul Ain said that the dogs she rescued are all referred to her, and she believes it is something that is meant to be.
“I don’t go out to search for them. It is fate,” she said.
She added that there is no problem ensuring cleanliness, including performing Islamic obligations, as there is already a special type of soap, endorsed by Jakim, in the market for Muslims to cleanse themselves after being in contact with dogs.
In fact, rescuing dogs seems to run in the family. The first dog Ain had close contact with was a dog her father rescued and kept as a guard dog for their family’s farm.
Nurul Ain said her experience in animal rescue circles taught her that animal abusers come from all communities, but the taboo against dogs among the Muslim Malaysians, however, does mean there is hostility against the animals within some members of the community.
There are also many cases where stray dogs are poisoned or killed because of their unwanted presence in Muslim neighbourhoods, she said.
“Sometimes, when I look at Facebook postings, I see people complaining about dogs loitering around their neighbourhood and how they are attempting to poison the dogs, and there was a lot of approval for such posts.”
Nurul Ain said the prohibition against casually touching dogs is not a licence to abuse the animals.
“Dogs are also Allah’s creation and that even in Islam. Some stories highlight dogs, such as the story of a prostitute who gave water to a stray dog and was granted (afterlife in) Heaven because of that particular deed,” she added.
It is these teachings that inspire her to continue on her journey to help dogs in need, even in the face of hateful remarks against her by those who disagree.
“We are constantly reminded again in Islam that we need to be good to animals and to have compassion. So, when we see a dog in need, we can save it.
“I hope that dogs will, in the eye of the public, be seen as innocent creatures that want to be loved and receive attention, similar to other animals.
“Not all dogs are aggressive. If we just let them be, they will not attack you,” Nurul Ain said.