KUALA LUMPUR (Malaysia): Siti Sakinah Meor Omar Baki has been afraid of dogs all her life. Not only that, she was told that touching dogs is not allowed in Islam. That was the mentality and teaching instilled in her by her conventional family.
But today, Siti Sakinah, along with her four children, turned up at Central Park in Bandar Utama, Selangor, to participate in the "I want to touch a dog" event to overcome her fear.
"It is also to show that touching a dog is not haram. People are worried about touching the dogs more as it’s a sin instead of worrying about the biggest sins," said Siti Sakinah, a former religious teacher who currently works with an NGO.
She said her husband, an ustaz, gave her the permission to attend today's event.
"I wanted to jump for joy when he said 'yes' and I told my children they had to go. And all of them came today with me to overcome their fear and to learn that dogs are also creatures created by Allah that need love and care," said Siti Sakinah, who touched and petted a few dogs at the event.
"I am still scared of big dogs so I am touching the small ones first," she said gleefully.
Siti Sakinah and her children were among the many families who turned up at the event which was attended by more than 1,000 people.
The organiser of the event, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, said he was satisfied with the turnout.
"We only expected 60 but this is way more than 60. This is overwhelming and I hope I provided enough water for the dogs and apologise for any shortcomings," he said. Syed Azmi, who was busy making sure everything was in order, also managed to touch not one but a few dogs for the first time in his life.
"I wanted to touch a husky but I was so busy," he said.
Animal lovers who had arrived at Central Park since morning walked around with their dogs of various breeds like husky, German Shepherd, Doberman, Golden Retriever and poodle.
Chidren were elated touching the animals. There were also some Muslims yelping when the dogs sniffed them.
"I am curious, that is why I am here. I touched a few. I never had a chance like this before. I grew up in Kota Baru and I study at the International Islamic University Malaysia. My parents don’t know that I am here but my friends are very supportive," said Nik Farhana Nik Othman, 22.
Nik Farhana was accompanied by a friend.
Another woman who wished to be known only as Munirah Mohamad, 35, said her relationship with dogs began three years ago when she rescued a dog abused by her neighbour.
"I didn't know what to do. I was scared so I let the dog into my porch. I called the vet to come and pick him up for treatment. And I scolded my neighbour for abusing the animal," said Munirah.
Since then, she said she had rescued more than 50 dogs. Most of them are strays which she fed and treated. Some would return to the streets after being treated while others were adopted.
At present, Munirah has two dogs as pets. Both are strays but she only took one to the event today.
"I found my dog, Sasa, on the street with a broken leg. I took her home and nursed her to health. My family doesn't appreciate what I am doing. They feel that I am wasting my energy and money but, to me, dogs are also like other animals that need care and love," said Munirah.
She said all the negativity that she had encountered had made her think of migrating.
"Sometimes I think I want to leave but if I stay, I get to save more dogs. So I haven't decided what to do."
She said the event today was a good way to educate Muslims to love and show compassion towards animals.
"Sometimes people like to experience things themselves rather than be told what to do. Now, I rather show than talk. They are not listening anyway," said Munirah.
The "I want to touch a dog" event was put together to make Malaysians more aware of the furry four-legged creatures and also to educate others on how to practise "sertu" (cleansing).
This is to help many overcome their fear of dogs and bring together Malaysians to promote tolerance and understanding that goes beyond culture, race or religion.
Also present at the event was Ustaz Mohd Iqbal Parjin who gave talks on the touching of dogs in Islam.
"Dogs are also god's creatures. We need to overcome the mentality of seeing the animal as an offensive creature. Teach the young to love others but at the same time know the limit of touching one," said Iqbal.