If you were like the millions of Americans still wondering whether President Obama is a Muslim or not, wonder no more. He is not.
The Obama family has just adopted a Portuguese water dog named Bo. Muslims don’t easily live with dogs, especially at home.
Having a dog in a Muslim household is an exhausting proposition. Who wants to wash or take a shower every time a dog touches or licks you, as I was brought up to do back home in Egypt? In Islamic tradition, Muslims are meticulous when it comes to touching dogs and would avoid touching their saliva at any cost, which it is hard to avoid if you are a dog lover.
If you do come in contact with a dog, you’re supposed to wash your hands before you pray; some Muslims would do as many as the magical seven washes. It is ironic this excessive washing ritual comes from people who were mostly living in places where water is hard to come by.
Most Muslims will go to a great length to avoid dogs to stay clean for their daily prayers. The few Muslim dog owners stay in the closet.
Still, after a long nagging from my daughter and a few Internet pictures of an angelic beagle puppy, I reluctantly agreed to let a dog into our home under a few conditions. The dog was to stay downstairs in what is now known in our house as the bunker, and my praying area would be designated a “no-fly” zone for the dog.
We brought home the 6-week-old, 3-pound beagle on a cold, crisp Saturday afternoon. We named him Oliver, and to this day I have no idea why.
Soon after he arrived, I realized that I’m not dog-owner material. A cat, maybe; we could agree to relax and ignore each other. But Oliver has a different idea of what our relationship should be. If you want to be a master of a dog you have to be ready to do useless things like asking the dog to fetch for something you don’t really want.
One day, alone and hungry, I had to take Oliver with me to the supermarket. I noticed something new was happening out there, something Muslim-Americans have rarely experienced since Sept. 11. People on the street, in their cars, in the parking lot and at the supermarket were giving me a new look — a friendly look.
Strangers who used to avoid eye contact now wanted to engage me in warm conversation. The sort of people I’d imagined were patriotic national hot line tipsters, usually more concerned about Muslim sleeper cells, now stopped me and cordially inquired about my puppy’s sleeping habits, breed and big black eyes. Families congregated around me with their children to see the cute puppy. They talked to him as if he should know what they were talking about.
As a hyphenated-American, I discovered that owning a dog accomplished what years of diversity training programs had not. Regardless of our race, color, religion or country of origin, we were one community of civilized dog lovers.
I now take Oliver everywhere I go. He is my homeland-security blanket. Muslim-Americans: If you want to get melted in the American pot, do as President Obama did. You need a friend. Get a puppy.
Ahmed Tharwat produces and hosts the Arab/Muslim-American television show “Belahdan” in the Twin Cities.