CAIRO - Highlighting an Islamic duty to help the visually impaired, the Mufti of Malaysia's northern state of Perlis said Islam does not prohibit the use of service dogs to guide the blind.
"Using the services of guide dogs which are well trained is allowed in the religion, including the Syafie mazhab[Imam Al-Shafei school of Fiqh], which is subscribed to by Muslims in the country, Perlis mufti Dr Juanda Jaya told New Straits Times on Monday, January 7.
"There is no issue on using service dogs for various purposes like hunting, guarding and as guiding dogs," he added.
Considered as one of the most sought after service dogs, guide dogs are trained from young to act as eyes and ears for the blind.
Guide dogs are also trained to improve the mobility of the blind and have been proven to help them lead independent lives.
Perak mufti Dr Harussani Zakaria agreed with Perlis mufti.
He confirmed that Muslims were allowed to keep dogs if they were trained to be guard dogs or to be guiding dogs.
"It is said in a hadith that the angels do not like the barking of dogs and will not enter a house in which a dog is kept, Zakaria said.
But that does not mean that we cannot keep them for certain purposes.
"We are permitted to keep them, as long as they are not kept in the house, and we have to sertu [washing the skin with water six times and with a mixture of water and earth once] if we touch them when they are wet," he added.
Their opinion copes with a fatwa issued in 2008 by the United Kingdom's Muslim Law (shari`ah) Council allowing blind persons to keep guide dogs.
"A blind person, in the light of syariah law, will be allowed to keep a guide dog to help him and if required to take him to the mosque for his prayers," the 2008 fatwa stated.
Islam forbids Muslims to keep dogs as pets.
However it is permissible to have a dog for legitimate benefits such as hunting or guarding.
Issuing the fatwa, Perlis Mufti said he wanted to remove confusion on the status of dogs in Islam.
"People need to learn to differentiate between religion and culture in order to make decisions in their lives and to not follow blindly what others say about rulings in Islam," Juanda said
Fatwa Council president Dr Abdul Shukor Husni said there was no specific fatwa issued for guide dogs for the blind as Muslims never ask about them.
"It is mainly because we didn't receive any enquiry or requests from the affected community to consider a fatwa on guide dogs, said Shukor, while calling for Muslims who are concerned about the issue to come forward.
"If there is a request and we see a present need for the issuance of a fatwa on guide dogs, we will have a meeting to discuss this issue thoroughly."
Muslim Malays form about 60 percent of Malaysia's 26-million population, while Christians make up around 9.1 percent.
Buddhists constitute 19.2 percent, Hindu 6.3 while other traditional Chinese religions make up the rest of the population.