A little history may help us solve this mystery.
The earliest conquests of the Muslims were to the north and northwest of Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia: places populated by Christians. To the northeast, Muslims conquered the Sasanian Empire, which was peopled by Zoroastrians.
It was easy to distinguish the Christians, and to prevent fraternizing between Muslims and Christians. Christians had paintings, icons, and statues in their homes -- the very things which, according to the hadith of Bukhari, the angel Gabriel said would prevent him from entering a house. That led to Muhammad to command the same for his followers.
If Muslims were told that Muhammad, the Perfect Man (al-insan al-kamil) and Model of Conduct (uswa hasana), would not enter a house that had “pictures” (paintings, icons, statues) in it, then no Muslim would do so. And if Christians, precisely in order that members of the ruling Muslim class might enter their houses -- which for those Christians could be a desirable thing, for surely they would want to curry favor with the Muslims who now ruled over them -- they might find themselves more willing to do away with statues, paintings, and icons.
But dogs? Well, dogs are revered in Zoroastrianism.
The conquest by the Muslim Arabs of the Sasanian Empire (Persia) by 651 made the Muslims masters of the Persian Zorostrians. And just as the Muslims could use Muhammad’s ban on “pictures” to distinguish themselves from the Christians they conquered, a similar ban on dogs would help Muslims to distinguish themselves from the Zoroastrians they conquered:
“Ehtirám-i sag,” or “Great respect for the dog,” is a command among Zoroastrians. The dog is regarded as an especially benevolent and virtuous creature, which must be fed and lovingly taken care of. The dog is praised for loyalty, intelligence and having special spiritual virtues.
It is precisely because dogs were prized by Zoroastrians, and treated with great affection and reverence, that Muslims would want to clearly distinguish themselves from the inferior Zoroastrian infidels by treating dogs with contempt and even hatred.
Muslim attitudes toward dogs, and the fiendish cruelty with which, in Muslim Iran, both Zoroastrians and their dogs are treated by Muslims, have been described by the celebrated scholar of Zoroastrianism, Mary Boyce, who lived with Zoroastrians in 1963-64:
“In Sharifabad the dogs distinguished clearly between Moslem and Zoroastrian, and were prepared to go … full of hope into a crowded Zoroastrian assembly, or to fall asleep trustfully in a Zoroastrian lane, but would flee as before Satan from a group of Moslem boys …
The evidence points … to Moslem hostility to these animals having been deliberately fostered in the first place in Iran, as a point of opposition to the old (pre-Islamic jihad conquest) faith (i.e., Zoroastrianism) there. Certainly in the Yazdi area … Moslems found a double satisfaction in tormenting dogs, since they were thereby both afflicting an unclean creature and causing distress to the infidel who cherished him. There are grim … stories from the time (i.e., into the latter half of the 19th Century) when the annual poll-tax (jizya) was exacted, of the tax gatherer tying a Zoroastrian and a dog together, and flogging both alternately until the money was somehow forthcoming, or death released them.
I myself was spared any worse sight than that of a young Moslem girl … standing over a litter of two-week old puppies, and suddenly kicking one as hard as she could with her shod foot. The puppy screamed with pain, but at my angry intervention she merely said blankly: “But it’s unclean.”
In Sharifabad I was told by distressed Zoroastrian children of worse things: a litter of puppies cut to pieces with a spade-edge, and a dog’s head laid open with the same implement; and occasionally the air was made hideous with the cries of some tormented animal. Such wanton cruelties on the Moslems’ part added not a little to the tension between the communities.”
The extreme cruelty of the Muslims -- even Muslim children -- to dogs should not surprise us. Nothing in the behavior of Muslims toward the most helpless of non-Muslims, the Zoroastrian remnant in Yazd, should surprise us, as it did not surprise the learned Mary Boyce.
So the next time you read about Muslim taxi-drivers refusing to pick up passengers with dogs, or about Muslims in the Middle East fiendishly torturing dogs to death, look for the explanation in the conquest by Muslims of the Sasanian Empire, and the desire to distinguish themselves, 1400 years ago, from the "infidels" whom they conquered.
First published in PJ Media.