Black dog is a devil

The following article is translated from a chapter of this book, pages 170-176. The following piece should be read alongside this as well.

The following Hadith is under discussion:

عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏”‏ إِذَا قَامَ أَحَدُكُمْ يُصَلِّي فَإِنَّهُ يَسْتُرُهُ إِذَا كَانَ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِثْلُ آخِرَةِ الرَّحْلِ فَإِذَا لَمْ يَكُنْ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِثْلُ آخِرَةِ الرَّحْلِ فَإِنَّهُ يَقْطَعُ صَلاَتَهُ الْحِمَارُ وَالْمَرْأَةُ وَالْكَلْبُ الأَسْوَدُ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ يَا أَبَا ذَرٍّ مَا بَالُ الْكَلْبِ الأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْكَلْبِ الأَحْمَرِ مِنَ الْكَلْبِ الأَصْفَرِ قَالَ يَا ابْنَ أَخِي سَأَلْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم كَمَا سَأَلْتَنِي فَقَالَ ‏”‏ الْكَلْبُ الأَسْوَدُ شَيْطَانٌ ‏”

Abu Zarr, reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: When any one of you stands for prayer and there is a thing before him equal to the back of the saddle that covers him and in case there is not before him (a thing) equal to the back of the saddle, his prayer would be cut off by (passing of a) donkey, woman, and black dog. I said: O Abu Zarr, what feature is there in a black dog which distinguish it from the red dog and the yellow dog? He said: O, son of my brother, I asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) as you are asking me, and he said: The black dog is a devil.[1]

The question asked is, ‘how is the black dog a devil’?

This doubt can be addressed from multiple perspectives:

  1. It should be taken on face value that the meaning of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was that the black dog is actually a devil.
  2. It should be understood metaphorically; a black dog was called a devil because it is very dangerous.
  3. The black dog could be a metamorphosis of the devil.
  4. It’s not impossible that the devil particularly specified the black dog for entering it
  5. The dog and its attributes in the Bible.

We shall discuss each of these as follows:

  1. It should be taken on face value that the meaning of the Messenger of Allah () was that the black dog is actually a devil.

عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏”‏ إِذَا قَامَ أَحَدُكُمْ يُصَلِّي فَإِنَّهُ يَسْتُرُهُ إِذَا كَانَ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِثْلُ آخِرَةِ الرَّحْلِ فَإِذَا لَمْ يَكُنْ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِثْلُ آخِرَةِ الرَّحْلِ فَإِنَّهُ يَقْطَعُ صَلاَتَهُ الْحِمَارُ وَالْمَرْأَةُ وَالْكَلْبُ الأَسْوَدُ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ يَا أَبَا ذَرٍّ مَا بَالُ الْكَلْبِ الأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْكَلْبِ الأَحْمَرِ مِنَ الْكَلْبِ الأَصْفَرِ قَالَ يَا ابْنَ أَخِي سَأَلْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم كَمَا سَأَلْتَنِي فَقَالَ ‏”‏ الْكَلْبُ الأَسْوَدُ شَيْطَانٌ ‏”

Abu Zarr, reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: When any one of you stands for prayer and there is a thing before him equal to the back of the saddle that covers him and in case there is not before him (a thing) equal to the back of the saddle, his prayer would be cut off by (passing of an) ass, woman, and black Dog. I said: O Abu Zarr, what feature is there in a black dog which distinguish it from the red dog and the yellow dog? He said: O, son of my brother, I asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) as you are asking me, and he said: The black dog is a devil.

The saying of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) that ‘the black dog is a devil’ was understood by some on face value saying: ‘The devil takes the form of a black dog because the black dog is the most terrifying and harmful; if the one praying sees it, he gets distracted which is why it has been called a devil’.[2]

Additionally, it is reported in Hadiths that the devils take numerous forms which is why it is reasonable to accept the meaning of the Hadith on face value.

  1. Abu Taa’labat b. al-Khushani said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) saying: “Jinn can be seen in three forms: form of black dogs and snakes, a form flying in the air, and a form coming and going“.[3]
  2. Hisham b. Zuhra said: “I went to Abu Sa’id al-Khudri and found him praying. I sat to wait for him until he finished the prayer. I heard a movement under a bed in his room, and it was a snake. I stood up to kill it, and Abu Sa’id gestured to me to sit. When he was finished, he pointed to a room in the house and said, ‘Do you see this room?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘There was a young boy in it who had just got married. He went out with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) to al-Khandaq, when he was there, the youth came, and asked his permission, saying: “Messenger of Allah, give me permission to return to my family”. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) gave him permission and said, “Take your weapons with you, I fear the Banu Quraydha tribe, they may harm you”. The youth went to his family and found his wife standing between the two doors. He lifted his spear to stab her as jealousy had been aroused in him. She said, “Don’t be hasty until you go in and see what is in your house”. He entered and found a snake coiled up on his bed. He transfixed it with his spear and then went out with it and pitched it into the house. The snake stirred on the end of the spear and the youth fell dead. No one knew which of them died first, the snake or the youth. That was reported to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and he said, “There are jinn in Madina who have become Muslim, when you see one of them, call out to it for three days. If it appears after that, then kill it, for it is a devil”.[4]

When the one praying is speaking in private to Allah, he is in closeness to his Lord and in seclusion to Him. He is ordered to be careful of the devil bothering this seclusion and closeness. This is why (physically) covering oneself (from distractions) was instructed, so that the devil does not disturb the prayer. In such an instance, the devil is an intruder cutting off the serenity, tranquility, and concentration in the prayer. Moreover, the Hadith says that the black dog is a devil as well as the donkey. Therefore, one is instructed to seek refuge with Allah at night when the donkey brays because it has seen a devil. That is why the Prophet (ﷺ) has ordered to wear the covering so that the devil does not interrupt the prayer.[5]

Ibn Taymiyyah said: The black dog is a devil; Jinns take its form as well as the form of a black cat because black gathers the power of a devil and has the power of heat.[6]

  1. It should be understood metaphorically; a black dog was called a devil because it is very dangerous.

جَابِرَ بْنَ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، يَقُولُ أَمَرَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِقَتْلِ الْكِلاَبِ حَتَّى إِنَّ الْمَرْأَةَ تَقْدَمُ مِنَ الْبَادِيَةِ بِكَلْبِهَا فَنَقْتُلُهُ ثُمَّ نَهَى النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنْ قَتْلِهَا وَقَالَ ‏ “‏ عَلَيْكُمْ بِالأَسْوَدِ الْبَهِيمِ ذِي النُّقْطَتَيْنِ فَإِنَّهُ شَيْطَانٌ ‏”

Jabir b. Abdullah reported: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) ordered us to kill dogs, and we carried out this order so much so that we would also kill the dog coming with a woman from the desert. Then Allah’s Apostle (ﷺ) forbade their killing. He (the Prophet further) said: It is your duty regarding the jet-black (dog) having two spots (on the eyes), for it is a devil.[7]

Al-Nawawi said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘the jet-black dog having two spots between the eyes is a devil’. Jet-black means that it is extremely black, and the two spots are two white spots known above its eyes.

And his (ﷺ) saying: ‘it’s a devil’ is invoked by Ahmed b. Hanbal and some of our companions, that it is not permissible to hunt with a jet-black dog and it is not permissible to kill it because it is a devil, but he allowed hunting with other dogs.

Shafi’i, Malik, and a group of scholars said: ‘it is permissible to hunt with a black dog like any other dog; the Hadith does not intend to take the black dog out of the breed of dogs. Therefore, if a black dog licks a utensil, it should be washed in the same way as if a white dog licked it.[8]

Qadi Abu Laila said: What is the meaning of the statement of Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) regarding the black dog being a devil even if it is known that it was born as a dog? Also, what is the meaning of his saying that ‘camels are Jinn’ even though the she-camels give birth to it. The answer is that he (ﷺ) meant it metaphorically comparing them to devils and the Jinn because the black dog is the worst and the least useful, and camels are similar to the Jinn in their difficulty. He called the jet-black dog a devil because of its impurity and it is the most dangerous and barren dog as well as the fastest. Nevertheless, it is the least useful and the worst in guarding, and it sleeps the most.[9]

Ibn al-Qayyim said that he (ﷺ) distinguished the black dog from others in cutting off the one in prayer. Abdullah b. As-Samit asked Abu Zarr what Abu Zarr asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) as well to which he (ﷺ) responded, ‘the black dog is a devil’. The devil appears mostly in the form of the black dog, then it is obvious that the passing of the enemy of Allah cuts off the prayer, it makes the prayer unpleasant and detestable to Allah; therefore, the one in prayer should start afresh. If a black dog is a devil, then in every animal breeds we have devils, the violent and the rebellious ones. Moreover, the devils among the men are the violent and the rebellious ones too. And camels are the devils of cattle. Therefore, the passing of this breed of dog (in front of the one in prayer) is unpleasant and detestable to Allah which is why the prayer should be started afresh. It can be understood in a similar way that the passing in front by the enemy (devil) is similar to interruption by a word of humans (talking around), or a noise or a passing of wind, or by the sleep of a person (breaking off his ablution).[10]

  1. The black dog could be a metamorphosis of the devil.

This means that the dog was a devil in the first place who takes the form of a dog.

Ibn Qutaybah said: Dogs can either be from predatory animals or Jinn. We cannot ascertain in which class do dogs belong through intellect or analogy but it can only be known through the sayings of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) or someone who heard from him (ﷺ). It is not a defect on us whether dogs are from predatory animals, Jinns or transformed from Jinns. If they are predatory animals, then he ordered us to kill the black ones and said, “They are devil”, because the black animals are the most dangerous and most prone to bite and the fastest; yet still, they are the least useful, the worst in guarding and in hunting, and sleep excessively. Hence, his saying, “They are devil,” means that they are the most evil of all dogs.

However, if the dogs are from the Jinn or transformed from Jinns, then what is meant is that the black ones are devils (Shaytaan), so kill them due to their harm. The Shaytaan are the rebellious jinn whereas the Hinn are weak beings and are weaker than the Jinns.[11]

Ibn Abbas said: “Black dogs are Jinn, and the ones with spots are Hinn”.[12] Ibn A’raabi narrated that Mosahir b. al-Mohil sang: I spend liking devils communing with Jinn and Hinn.[13]

  1. It’s not impossible that the devil particularly specified the black dog for entering it

If Christians believes that God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, appears in the form of His creation, then how do they object to the devil appearing in the form of a black dog?

  1. The dog and its attributes in the Bible.

The dog is described in the Bible as an animal that runs and howls through the city streets (Psalms 59:6,14) they return at evening: they make a noise like a dog, and go around the city.

It eats what is thrown to him (Exodus 22:31) You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.

And licks the blood (1 Kings 32:38; Psalms 68:23) or devours the dead bodies (1 Kings 14:11, 16:4; 2 Kings 9:35; 1 Kings 21:23, 36) so the blood stains on its feet.

The dogs sometime gather and attack people (Psalms 22:16, 20). The dog was one of the first animals tamed by the human early on; he used it to help the sheep herder from wild beasts and thieves (Job 30:1). It became domesticated and followed its owners from one place to another, lives with them in the house where it eats the crumbs that fall from its owner’s table (Mark 7:28). The dogs would come and lick the sores of poor people who stand by the door of the rich (Luke 16:21). Dogs were used for hunting but most dogs remained brutal. Its food and returns were unclean and were used as a term of reproach or of humility (1 Samuel 24:14; 2 Samuel 3:8; 9:8; 16:9; 2 Kings 8:13). The term ‘dog’ is used as a figurative form for one who does not appreciate or understand the holy and sacred things (Matthew 7:6) and those who come up with false precepts (Philippians 3:2). It happens to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to its own vomit” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:22); or following ones desires like dog’s way (Deuteronomy 23:18). The later Jews were called by this title because of their lack of adherence to the Shariah. Jesus used the same term again to describe a situation of grace intended to be done and used ‘dog’ as an example (of evil) (Matthew 15: 26 and Passed 7: 27). A woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!”. However, Jesus replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs”. And she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

The Mosaic law considered it impure because it doesn’t have a divided hoof that chews the cud (Leviticus 11:1-8).

The Lord spoke again to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Say to the Israelites, ‘Of all the beasts of the earth, you may eat any animal with split hooves and that chews the cud.

You may not bring the {hire} of a prostitute or {the earnings of an adulterer} [into] the house of Yahweh your God, for any vow offerings, because {both} are a detestable thing to Yahweh your (God Deuteronomy 23:18).

References and footnotes:

[1] Muslim (510).

[2] Commentary of al-Suyuti on Sunan an-Nasa’i 2/64.

[3] Sahih Ibn Hibban (6156), Al-Tabarani’s al-Kabeer 22/214, Mustadrak al-Hakim 456/2, and said: This Hadith is authentic in chain, though they did not record it.

[4] Muslim (2246).

[5] Fath al-Bari Ibn Rajab 4/135.

[6] Majmu’ al-Fataawa 19/52.

[7] Muslim (1572).

[8] Al-Nawawi’s commentary 5/507: 508, Fayd al-Qadeer 64/5.

[9] Tuhfat al Ahwazi 53/5, Tamhid 229/14, Fayd al-Qadeer 5/64.

[10] I’laam al-Mawqi’een ‘an Rabb il-‘Alameen 93/2.

[11] Interpretation of different Hadiths (135:136).

[12] It is mentioned by Ibn Abd-al-Barr in Tamhid 230/14, it was transmitted with a weak chain of narrators; Ismail b. Muslim Makki: weak (Taqrib al-Tahzib 1/54), (Tahzib al-Kamal 3/198); transmitted in al-Meezan from Ibn al-Madeeni who said: I heard Yahia and he was asked about Ismail b. Muslim Makki that the first time was not mixed, and said: I have seen in Ibn al-Jawzi’s transmitted from Ibn al-Madeeni (Nihayat al-Ightibat 61). Ibn ‘Adi said: Al-Sa’adi said: Ismail b. Muslim is very weak. Nisa’i said: Isma’il b. Muslim’s Hadiths are rejected (Al-Kaamil fi al-du’faa 1/282).

[13] Lisaan al-Arab 13/132.

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