In the dead of night, Sabihah lets her ten rescue dogs loose to roam the streets outside her Mumbai apartment. Blanketed in darkness and wearing her burqa, she sees these as the only hours in which she is safe from the harassment she encounters from many of her neighbors and fellow Muslims, who because of misinterpretations of Islamic teachings, view dogs as sinful and impure. For Midnight Strolls, photographer Pooja Jain captures the bond between the local strays and the woman who has risked everything to care for them.
It was while working at a veterinary hospital in the area that Jain first discovered the debate surrounding dogs and Islam. Although Islam does not condone owning dogs as pets, nothing the Quran justifies the mistreatment or neglect of animals. As veterinarian Dr. Ayoub Banderkel writes for Compassion in World Farming, Muslim communities throughout the globe are plagued by misinformation and ignorance that compels them to commit crimes against dogs that are in fact very much against the teachings of Muhammad. In his practice, he has witnessed people bringing in healthy animals to be euthanized in time for Ramadaan, or abandoning and starving dogs on the street.
After months of research and interviews with vets, pet stores, and members of the local Muslim community, the photographer met Sabihah, who explained to her that despite the community stigma surrounding dogs, the Quran does not prohibit feeding or touching canines. She lives with her adopted dogs, who were either abandoned or found as strays, and she also feeds the other local dogs who have been left on the streets. The dogs, notes Jain, see Sabihah as a mother, and she tends to them as children, with warmth and tenderness. The dogs are loving and gentle. Because she does not feel secure doing so during the day, Sabihah runs and plays with her dogs outside during the night, after everyone else has gone to bed. “No matter where she goes at night, she comes back home to where her dogs wait for her to set them free,” says the photographer.
In India, the High Court is currently deciding whether or not municipalities can capture and kill healthy stray dogs after “nuisance” complaints, a practice that runs against the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960. Despite the ignorance and challenges that stand in her way, Sabihah is helping to change the way the community views dogs. Through outreach and education, she and local organizations are encouraging people to adopt rather than euthanize animals in need, and women are some of the most active members of the movement. The media, says Jain, has shied away from sharing Sabihah’s story, and the neglect of dogs persists. Sabihah has no outside help in caring for these dogs, and yet she continues to devote her life to their well being, leading by example through her acts of compassion and courage.
To help the stray dogs of Mumbai, please visit World For All / Save the Helpless Animals of Mumbai, Save Our Strays Mumbai, PAWS, or The Bombay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
(Via: Feature Shoot – All images © Pooja Jain)