One of the more charming customs of Islam and its adherents is the reverence shown toward cats. Being a bit of a cat person, I was amazed upon my first trip to the region to see the care strangers offered the street cats. People left out food for them, some were taken in a house pets. In fact, my wife’s first kitten as a child was adopted in that way, off the streets of Istanbul and hauled around the world.
The reason for this compassion, I’d like to believe, is human nature. But in Islam, the compassion comes from emulation of Mohammad, their prophet. When not spreading Islam, Mohammad had a soft spot for felines. His favorite cat, Muezza, was described as being an Angora with a blue eye and a green eye.
Several of his sayings—captured in the Hadith—say that Mohammad had a fellow traveler who was nicknamed “King of the Kittens”—Abu Hurariah. He claims that his cat saved Muhammad from a snake bite. To show appreciation, Muhammad stroked the cat’s neck, causing the cat to arch up for more caresses. Believers say that Muhammad’s blessing gave all cats the “righting reflex”—a well-known cat behavior.
For more practical reasons, cats are admired for their cleanliness, as bathing is a hallmark of Islamic custom. Cats are thus allowed to roam into Mosques, homes and hospitals. Food sampled by cats is considered clean—or halal. Others believe that cats are always looking for those in prayer, and will reward the pious with their company.
The most famous cat crazy story in relation to Mohammad follows like this:
Mohammad arose to the call to prayer—the adhan—by the muezzin of the mosque. He reached for his cloak only to find his cat, Muezza, asleep upon its sleeve. Rather than disturbing the cat’s slumber, Mohammad cut the cloak from the sleeve, leaving the cat undisturbed.
While some might see that to be a waste of outerwear, only a cat lover could appreciate such a sentiment. However, as much as I like my cats, I am not cutting off the sleeve of my parka to accommodate their seeming narcolepsy.
Depiction of 17th century Ottoman copy of an early 14th century (Ilkhanate period) manuscript of Northwestern Iran or northern Iraq (the “Edinburgh codex”). Illustration of Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī‘s al-Âthâr al-bâqiyah ( الآثار الباقية ; “The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries”) Photo credit: unknown / Foter.com / Public Domain Mark 1.0