At first glance, it seems like a relatively normal, even low-key, event. According to Star Online, more than 800 people arrived this weekend at the One Utama shopping center in Petaling Maya, Malaysia, to attend the "I Want to Touch a Dog" event.
The event, news of which had spread on Facebook, had been designed to help those apprehensive of dogs learn more about them, and it seemed to have been a success.
"I am very happy," Nur Aliyah Mohammed Nasir, seven, told Star Online. "I touched many dogs and carried them. My favorite is the huskies."
However, it's not quite so simple. On Tuesday, the country's Islamic authorities told Agence France-Presse that they were investigating the event, while local clerics expressed outrage over it.
The problem? Touching dogs is regarded as a taboo by many Malay Muslims, many of whom adhere to the Shafi'i school of Sunni Islam, which views dogs as unclean. “Muslims cannot take this lightly and they need to refer to the religious authorities first if they want to do something that is against Shafi’i school of jurisprudence,” Pahang mufti Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Othman told the Malaysian press.
Nurul Islam Mohamed Yusof, a leader in the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party's youth wing, showed just how strong the feelings against touching dogs were, saying in a statement:
"Previously there was the organisation of 'Topless Friday' followed by 'Oktoberfest', then 'I Want to Touch a Dog'. We worry that there will next be a 'Sex & Condom' campaign with the rationale of 'safe sex' to ostensibly prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS."
Malaysia is a multiethnic but predominantly Islamic nation, and reports suggest that many of those who turned up at the Sunday event were Muslims. In fact, that was largely the point of the event, according to its organizer, Syed Azmi, who said he wanted to show dog lovers how to properly clean themselves according to Islamic practices [sertu] after touching the animals.
"The objective is to overcome one's fear of dogs, to understand them better and also to practise 'sertu,'" Syed Azmi had told the Malaysian Insider during the event. "It is not to promote dog adoption."
The backlash prompted by the event may be hard to get away from, however, and now even the Islamic authority that initially approved the event is claiming it was misled about its nature. Ultimately, the success of the event may prove that some Malaysian Muslims want to pet a dog — but in a country with an increasingly complex relationship with Islam, whether that's allowed by Islamic authorities is another matter altogether.
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