Apology on the cards as police pup picture sparks warning over offence to Muslims
A POLICE force has apologised over concerns that an advertisement featuring a German shepherd pup could be offensive to the Islamic community.
As part of a campaign to publicise its new non-emergency telephone number, Tayside Police used a picture of a black puppy, Rebel, on postcards to be distributed throughout the east coast region.
However, following the intervention of Mohammed Asif, a Dundee councillor who warned police the image would "not be welcomed" by some communities, the force described the publicity drive as an "oversight".
Mr Asif, a member of the Tayside Joint Police Board, raised the matter on Monday after claiming the potentially offensive nature of the postcards had been brought to his attention by members of the city's 3,000-strong Muslim community.
Traditionally, dogs have been seen as impure, and the Islamic legal tradition has developed several injunctions that warn Muslims against most contact with them.
Mr Asif, a Labour councillor for Dundee's Coldside ward, said some shopkeepers would refuse to display the postcard.
He said: "My concern was that it's not welcomed by all communities. With the dog on the cards, it was probably a waste of resources going to these communities.
"People who have shops just won't put up the postcard. But the police have said to me that it was simply an oversight and they did not seek to offend or upset."
Tayside Police said they chose the image of Rebel in light of the puppy's popularity locally and online, where his blog has attracted thousands of visitors. The postcards were sent to every home and business in the Tayside area.
A spokesman for the force said he was unable to provide costings for the thousands of postcards, and that the possibility of pulling them from circulation was still under investigation.
He added: "Trainee police dog Rebel has proved extremely popular with children and adults since being introduced to the public, aged six weeks, as Tayside Police's newest canine recruit."
He added: "We did not seek advice from the force's diversity adviser prior to publishing and distributing the postcards. That was an oversight and we apologise for any offence caused."
However, a member of staff at the Al-Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, a Dundee-based organisation which seeks to promote intelligent debate and understanding of Islam, disputed Mr Asif's claims that the image could be deemed offensive.
The staff member, who did not wish to be named, said: "In scripture, having a dog as a pet is considered forbidden, as they are considered unclean animals, and you must wash and clean after handling them.
"However, dogs can be used to hunt or farm, or even as guide dogs for the blind. I would not say a picture of a dog is offensive, but people have different sensibilities and different limits."
Osama Saeed, chief executive of the Scottish-Islamic Foundation, said Muslims traditionally regarded dogs differently from people brought up in western culture, and suggested that Mr Asif's remarks had been taken out of context.
He said: "It does not appear to me that Mohammed Asif has mentioned anywhere that Muslims as a faith group would find this offensive.
"This seems to be a complaint based on culture rather than religion. There isn't any Islamic basis for taking issue with a simple picture of a little puppy."
Ian Mackintosh, an Angus councillor and convener of the Tayside Joint Police Board, said: "The force has made it clear that it was an oversight not to consult their diversity adviser on this occasion and that there was no intention to cause upset or offence."
Mr Asif, depute convener of the council's leisure, arts and communities committee, was not available for further comment yesterday.
CONSERVATIVE Muslims have long-regarded dogs as unclean animals, but the issue can polarise opinion.
According to one hadith, a traditional story of the Prophet, Muhammad said a Muslim loses credit for one good deed each day he keeps a dog, and even said they should be killed unless used for hunting or protection.
Still, in another instance, Muhammad said that a prostitute who carried water in her slipper to a thirsty dog would go to heaven, her sins forgiven because of her kindness. The Muslim Council of Britain recently carried out a review of Islamic teaching on dogs, and supported their use for hunting or as guide dogs.
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