Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

The Ali Story: Lessons from animals

Ali Al Saloom shares his insight and experiences from growing up in the UAE.

In this serialised feature, Ali Al Saloom shares his insight and experiences from growing up in the UAE

 

Last week I told of a life-changing visit to the former Czechoslovakia when I was 8 years old. I took home more than memories. My heart had melted when I saw a tiny golden German shepherd puppy in a market and my father had been persuaded to let me keep her. I called her Rita. I thought she was the cutest thing I had ever seen. My mother did not feel the same.

"Where did you find her?" she screamed as I first brought Rita to the house. I felt the world had turned dark. My father and I had no chance to answer before she ordered me and the puppy I was holding in my arms out.

Muslim, non-Muslim and expatriate friends alike are surprised when they hear about Rita, my first pet. There is an assumption among some expats that Arabs do not love animals and that some even hate certain animals, including dogs.

Growing up with Rita taught me a lot about my own cultural heritage, the faith of my father, his tolerance and how each generation must take the lessons they learn and improve their own world by opening the minds of others.

I will explain. My mother found it difficult at first to have a dog in the house. In fact, Rita never did live inside the house, she lived in the grounds in a little covered corridor so she had shelter and air. My father explained to my mother that Rita would protect the house when he was away. My mother could accept a dog only if it had a purpose. And so our journey began.

My father wove a palm leaf fence to mark Rita's territory just outside my bedroom window. He left my window open so that some of the air conditioning would cool her.

My mother was softer towards Rita than she showed. The morning after Rita arrived, my father saw her filling the water bowl and making sure the dog took it.

There is nothing in Islam that says you should hate or fear dogs, or any animal. A true Muslim will not enter heaven if he does not treat animals well. It is about context. Part of the experiences of the Prophet Mohammed tell of a man giving a dog water to drink from the same bowl as he himself drinks. The dog is thirsty and this is an act of charity and respect. The man still goes to heaven.

I don't blame anyone who is afraid that being near a dog will break their ablutions, their Wudu, or bring disease or that angels will not linger when a dog barks. They are only living what they have been taught.

Living in Bani Yas very near to the mosque, Rita, my father and I faced this first-hand.

A lot of people did not approve. It did not help that Rita started to grow and change. Her blonde hair, which was so beautiful and unusual, turned dark and her ears pricked up. She barked at the call to prayer. People would say to my father: "Do you think your prayers are answered when you keep that dog?" They called her "haram". My father's response was to say he would train her, that they would see and that I should not worry.

One day my father was training Rita, throwing a ball for her to catch and bring back. It was late evening and a group of men were sitting around a fire outside. On the far side of the street there was a man running. Everyone saw it like it was slow motion. The men started shouting to the man not to run, my father went to stop Rita ... but she was gone. My father told me later he had never run so fast but he couldn't catch her. In desperation he shouted: "RITA!" At the final moment she froze right in front of the man. My father told him to walk away slowly as he put the leash on Rita. The men were fascinated by Rita and how my father could control her.

When Rita was four one of my father's friends, who was a police officer, asked if they could use Rita for breeding. I remember going with him to see the most amazing thing - Rita and nine puppies, all blonde, like she used to be. Suddenly, I realised how much faster she had grown than me. She had been a tiny puppy in my care. Now she was a mother and I was still very young and small myself.

At that moment I said to my father: "Don't bring her home." I knew she should be with her puppies. She came back to us with one puppy six or seven months later but the puppy did not survive.

Rita lived with us for many years. When she was seven or eight she trained as a sniffer dog for the police. I was abroad, in the UK at a sporting camp, when she passed away. She was 10 years old and I was devastated.

Today I have salukis, gazelles, goats, chickens and a horse. I believe we must treat all animals as the souls that they are. My father taught me this and Rita taught me this. She was a very wonderful soul.

I keep a picture of her to this day and video footage of the flight all those years ago when, as a little boy, I carried a tiny puppy in a basket all the way from Czechoslovakia to Abu Dhabi.

Continues next week

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 This four-bedroom villa covers 4,790 square feet and is part of a new compound in Umm Suqeim.

In photos: Beachside villa in Umm Suqeim, Dubai for Dh800,000

Taking a closer look at a four-bedroom villa in Umm Seqeim, Dubai.

 Suresh Raina is part of the the IPL's Chennai Super Kings team, which take on Kings XI Punjab on April 18 in Abu Dhabi. Photo by Duif du Toit / Gallo Images / Getty Images

Chennai Super Kings cricketer Suresh Raina spotted at Ferrari World

One of the top batsmen and bowlers of the Indian Premier League’s Chennai Super Kings (CSK), Raina spent a day at Ferrari World with some of his team mates, and seemed to particularly enjoy the world’s fastest roller-coaster.

 Shah Rukh Khan plays a shot during a friendly match between the members of the support and administrative staff of Royal Challengers Bangalore and his Kolkata Knight Riders cricket team. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

When the worlds of Bollywood and cricket collide

With the first game of the Indian Premier League beginning today in the UAE, we explore the league’s Bollywood connections, which are as glitzy as they are controversial.

 A rendering of People Abu Dhabi by Crystal. Courtesy People Abu Dhabi by Crystal

People Abu Dhabi by Crystal to open on Saadiyat Island

Abu Dhabi’s nightlife scene just gets better and better. After venues such as O1NE Yas Island and Iris in Yas Marina opening last year, it’s Saadiyat’s turn with the launch of the glamorous People Abu Dhabi by Crystal.

 Dumyé Dolls’s fashionable rag dolls. Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane / The National

Top takeaways from Fashion Forward and where to find them

The ideas and designs that caught our attention and where you can learn more

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National