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A Man of Religion — and a Lover of Dogs

November 23, 2016
Aida Ghajar
6 min read
A Man of Religion — and a Lover of Dogs
A Man of Religion — and a Lover of Dogs
A Man of Religion — and a Lover of Dogs
A Man of Religion — and a Lover of Dogs


Komeil Nezafati’s Instagram page has so far attracted the attention of more than 24,000 people. They all want to learn more about the 33-year old mullah from the northern city of Amol and his touching encounters with stray cats and dogs.

Just under a year ago, Nezafati was walking in the streets of Tehran and came across a starving puppy, so exhausted it was unable move. Prior to this, Nezafati had been afraid of dogs, but he felt moved to buy a carton of milk and slowly nourish the puppy back to health.

Passersby were not encouraging. Everybody, it seems, had something negative or sarcastic to say. “Is this your child?” one person quipped. “Are you a dog lover?” teased another.

“First it bothered me,” he told IranWire. “But then I decided that saving the life of this creature was my duty. When the dog drank the milk and recovered it began to bark. Later, as I was traveling from Tehran to Amol, I gave any extra food I had to the dogs I saw on the side of the road. I took photographs of them and posted them on Instagram.”

“Your Ticket to Paradise”

Nezafati says he was encouraged by the responses he got on Instagram — quite different from what he experienced from the people in the street during that first encounter with the puppy. Some people were surprised that a clergyman would help dogs. Then one day his father, a farmer, asked him about the photographs people were sharing online. “My father’s opinions are important to me,” he said. “I asked him whether what I was doing was right. ‘This could save you and get you to paradise,’ he answered. His response encouraged me to help animals even more.”

About eight months ago, Nezafati and some of his friends created an organization called Mehr — “Kindness”— to feed stray city animals. They also opened a treatment center for them. Currently, it cares for 100 dogs and 150 cats. In addition to this, Nezafati also cares for 500 birds in his home, including geese, ducks, and an ostrich.

But how can a Muslim mullah connect with dogs? It is widely believed that in traditional Islam dogs are regarded as “unclean,” and many religious people refuse to pray in an environment if a dog is nearby. Nezafati agrees that Islam does deem dogs to be unclean and therefore untouchable — but not in all circumstances. He says Islam specifically warns against wet dogs, and the dangers of them getting a person’s clothes damp. “Even then, Islam orders you to change your clothes if they become wet from a dog; it does not say that the dog is inherently unclean.”

He has also said that Islamic practice actually advises its followers to be kind to dogs and other animals.  “Nowhere does Islam recommend that you should abuse animals or kill them. The Prophet and the Imams fed animals. In Islamic verdicts, it says that if you have a bowl of water for cleansing yourself before prayers and an animal is near death from thirst, then cleanse yourself and give the water to the animal. People are not properly informed about sharia edicts. Some people with religious pretensions insist that dogs are unclean without knowing the truth.”

Feeding Snow White

One of the best — and saddest — memories Nezafati has from the months he has been caring for stray animals is about a dog he called Snow White. He fed Snow White every night at 11:45 pm. The dog always recognized his car and rushed to greet him. “It always jumped into my arms,” he remembered. “One night, I was wearing my religious robe. I jokingly told the dog: ‘Islam has tied my hands and I cannot embrace you.’ It turned away and did not even come to eat its meal. I went to it, apologized, told it I was leaving and to come eat his meal.’ But 48 hours later, Snow White was killed by a car.”

The media paid most attention to another story though. It was about a sick dog, so ugly that apparently people found it quite frightening and avoided it. It was not certain that the dog would survive, even with treatment. Nezafati and some friends of his took the dog to the vet. Within two months, the animal, who they gave the name “Tired,” regained its health. 

Sajjad Gets a Kidney

Nezafati also looks after human beings in need. Not long ago, he came across an eight-year old boy named Sajjad in a hospital. He saved the boy’s life by donating one of his own kidneys. 

He said he met Sajjad by accident. At the time, he was working as a counselor at hospitals in northern Iran. He visited patients, and if they needed a doctor or financial help, he would introduce them to charitable people in town who might be able to help. “During one of these visits I came across Sajjad,” he said. “His did not want to endure the big dialysis syringes inserted into his arms. He was eight and had been treated with dialysis for four years. He had received a bladder implant and had had open heart surgery. If he did not receive a kidney implant, his liver would stop functioning and he would die for sure. You would've done the same if you had been in my place.”

Nezafati sold his car to pay the costs of medication and surgery. After three months, he made Sajjad’s wish come true. A documentary called “10, 4.5, 3.5” told his story. It was screened at the Tehran International Short Film Festival, which was held this year from November 8 to November 14. It was Mazandaran province’s only entry in the festival. 

Two Big Wishes

Nezafati says he has a new wish every week. But he has two big wishes. One is to save women and children who live on the streets and sleep in cardboard boxes. He wants to provide them with a better life. The other is to build animal shelters across Iran to save the continuing problem of strays. 

He believes the only way to control the population of stray animals is to sterilize them. He hopes, when the centers are set up, an effective sterilization program will be put in place so the situation does not get worse.“A dog gives birth to 5 to 12 puppies,” he says, “and since no one owns them, they roam the streets. Municipalities regularly kill them or torture them to death. With sterilizations, there would be fewer stray dogs to be tortured to death.”

For Nezafati, these wishes have become goals. But he lacks the financial resources to realize them. He continues to hope others with more financial power will help these dreams come true. For now, he turns to his Instagram page to post photographs of everyone he tries to look after: sick people, children, and animals. They all need help, he says, and he hopes the Iranian people will step up to the challenge. 


Leon Nitram
April 22, 2017


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