Having a dog in an Arab/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 prohibited from touching the saliva of dogs. If you do come in contact with a dog, you're supposed to wash your hands seven times before you pray. Most Muslims will avoid dogs at all cost to stay clean for their daily prayers. There are a few closet Muslim dog lovers, but they tend to keep their dogs outdoors.
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 houseas 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. A few days after he had arrived at our house, I had to take Oliver with me to the supermarket. I noticed something new was happening out there, something Arab-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 one. Strangers who used to skillfully avoid eye contact now wanted to engage me in warm conversation. Patriotic national hotline tippers, who are 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, and they talked to him as if he should know what they were talking about.
As a hyphenated-American, I discovered that owning a dog easily accomplished what many diversity training programs have failed to do for years. 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 post 9/11 homeland-security blanket. Arab-Americans: Get a puppy, now that you need a real friend.