O Dog, the Son of a Dog
“Do not insult one another by (offensive) nicknames” (Qurʾān, 49: 11)
بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
The great Shāfiʿī scholar Shaykh Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī (d. 771/1370) writes in al-Tarshīḥ:
“One day, I was with a group of people in the courtyard of our house. A dog passed us with water dripping from him which was about to touch our clothes. So I rebuked him and said, “O dog, the son of a dog.” The Shaykh Imam [referring to his father Shaykh al-Islam Taqī al-Dīn al-Subkī, d. 756/1355] was listening to us from the inside. When he came out, he said: “Why did you humiliate him?” So I said, “I did not say but the truth. Is he not a dog the son of a dog?” He replied, “He is for sure, except that you uttered the words as an insult and to humiliate, and this is not appropriate.” So I said, herein is a beneficial point: Any creation [of Allah] should not be addressed by their inherent characteristics, unless the words are uttered in a non-demeaning manner.”
There is an important lesson in this story for all of us and in particular for some teachers who use the names of animals to scorn pupils and attempt to justify it. Prevalent examples include donkey, dog, cow or their equivalent in other languages such as Gada (donkey), Kuttā (dog), Bheyns (buffalo), Suwwar (pig) and Ḥimār (donkey). Humiliating a fellow brother or a pupil by using such words is clearly impermissible. The Prophet of Allah ﷺ said, “A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He neither oppresses him nor abandons him nor looks down upon him. The piety is here, [and while saying so] he pointed towards his chest thrice. It is a serious evil for a Muslim that he should look down upon his Muslim brother. All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his Muslim brother: his blood, his wealth and his honour.” Saʿīd ibn al-Musayyib (d. 94/712-3) said, “Do not say to your associate O donkey, O dog, O pig, because [if you do] he will say to you on the day of Qiyāmah: Do you think I was created a dog or donkey or pig?” A similar narration has been narrated from Ibrāhīm Nakhāʿī (d. 96/714). Imam Nawawī (d. 676/1277) explains that such words are repugnant for two reasons; firstly, it is a lie and secondly, it is hurtful.
Similarly, it is prohibited to describe a person with their inherent characteristics, for example tall, short, dark skinned, if the words are offensive or are uttered to demean, humiliate, scorn or undermine a person. Once the mother of believers ʿĀʾishah (d. 58/678) (may Allah be pleased with her) used her thumb to indicate the short stature of a woman. The Prophet ﷺ deemed this as backbiting and asked her to seek forgiveness from her. On another occasion, she described the mother of believers Ṣafiyyah (d. 50/670-1) (may Allah be pleased with her) as short. The Prophet ﷺ said, “You have said a word which would pollute the sea if it were mixed in it.”
However, if the words are used to refer to someone by which they are known such as ‘Ḥumayd the tall’ in a non-derogatory manner, this is permissible.
May Almighty Allah enable us to live in accordance with the Islamic teachings.
Allah knows best
21 Jumādā al-Thāniyah 1437 / 31 March 2016
 The source of this story is: Suyūṭī, Tanzīh al-Anbiyāʾ ʿAn Tasfīh al-Agbiyāʾ, Dār al-ʿArūbah, Beirut, 1408 H., p. 40.
 Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim (2564).
 Muṣannaf Ibn Abī Shaybah (26100).
 Muṣannaf Ibn Abī Shaybah (26102); Al-Jāmiʿ Li Ibn Wahb (364).
 Al-Adhkār (p. 365).
 Al-Jāmiʿ Li Ibn Wahb (558); al-Āthār (901); Musnad Isḥāq ibn Rāhwayh (1613); Musnad Aḥmad (25708); Shuʿab al-Īmān (6304).
 Sunan Abū Dawūd (4875); Sunan al-Tirmidhī (2502); Musnad Aḥmad (25560); Shuʿab al-Īmān, 6295).
 Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukhārī (6051); al-Adab al-Mufrad (754); Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī (16: 330); Sharḥ Muslim (4: 82); al-Adhkār (p. 340).