Iran’s “jihad” against cats and dogs

Mashari Althaydi
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"It's not the dogs but the economic conditions that don't allow us to have children.” This is what Mina, a young lady from Iran, had to say about a bill proposed recently by dozens of Iran’s MPs banning people from buying, selling, or raising pets, given the danger they pose on the Iranian people. As if that’s the most pressing issue to solve in Iran.

Iranians scorned the bill. “My cat is not dangerous,” said Mostafa, a young man whose rage was shared by thousands of Iranians.

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Mina, whose husband, Mohsen, owns a pet store on Eskandari Street in Tehran, said she won’t give up on her dog. Speaking to a global news agency, she recalled that “at one time, they banned satellite television, yet people continued to use it.”

Perhaps one can understand the initial fear of all that’s new, but with time, the wise learn to put their paranoid concerns to rest. What’s dangerous is the portrayal of this ban as religious discretion, because breaking with religious discretion can prove difficult once it solidifies into a firm belief in a sacred judgment.

Examples abound. In his wonderful page-turner The History of Slaves in the Arab Gulf, researcher Hesham al-Awadi discusses the resistance with which the banning of slavery was met by traders, commoners, and religious clerics in the Arabian region. Among the interesting examples he provides, al-Awadi says the Shah of Iran rejected British requests to ban the trade of slaves, using the wonderous excuse that these poor people are being abducted from Africa and Asia so they can be taught religion (Iranian-style). The Shah believed that banning him from doing them this “favor” is an unforgivable sin. When the British emissary told him about the efforts exerted by the region’s leaders for the emancipation of slaves, he responded: “We represent Shias, and we will not follow suit,” thereby stripping them of the representation of Islam (page 214).

In the Ottoman Empire, printers were initially prohibited and only became permissible after several decades. Ottoman pashas, such as Yusuf al-Nabhani and Raghib Pasha, were among the most avid opponents of the emancipation of enslaved people. In the Arab world, we have seen the prohibition of the education of girls and the opening of schools for boys, then girls. We all remember how Qutbist Islamists in Saudi Arabia vehemently opposed an “administrative” decision to bring the education of girls under the Ministry of Education, spurred by the mufti of al-Qaeda Abdullah al-Rashud, who later joined the militias of Osama bin Laden.

The fear of newness for a while is understandable. Perhaps it is an intuitive reaction to the unknown. But turning this resistance into a faulty rhetoric, such as the claim that allowing Saudi women to drive would affect their ability to bear children (!), must be curbed and displayed in the metaphorical museum of history’s wonders. It is also where Iran’s bill on banning pets belongs.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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