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Tuesday, July 16, 2019


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Hundreds of thousands of cats have roamed the metropolis of Istanbul freely for thousands of years, wandering in and out of people's lives, impacting them in ways only an animal who lives between the worlds of the wild and the tamed can. Cats and their kittens bring joy and purpose to those they choose, giving people an opportunity to reflect on life and their place in it. In Istanbul, cats are the mirrors to ourselves.

A recent article in The Economist points out Turkey is not unique among predominately Muslim countries for honoring its cats, which are considered ritually clean animals in Islam. In the hadith, the collected sayings, and actions of Muhammad, there are numerous examples of the Prophet’s fondness for cats.

By one account, Muhammad cut off his sleeve when he had to rise for prayers so as to not disturb a feline that had curled up on his robe for a nap. In another tale, the pet cat of Abu Hurayrah (literally “father of the kitten”) saved Muhammad from an attack by a deadly serpent. Muhammad purportedly blessed the cat in gratitude, giving cats the ability to always land on their feet. Cats were considered guardians in other respects for the Islamic world: they defended libraries from destruction by mice and may have helped protect city populations from rat-borne plagues.

Istanbul is made for the cat-obsessed on social media. A “Cats of Istanbul” Facebook page has over 66,000 followers, and on Instagram, iconic Istanbul scenery frames photogenic felines. In October, the Kadikoy district memorialized a cat named Tombili with a bronze statue following an online campaign. Tombili had become an Internet sensation after a photo showed the rotund cat lounging on the street, one paw jauntily hanging off a step. A mosque on the city’s Asian side also made headlines after photos circulated of cats at home among worshippers. The kindly imam, Mustafa Efe, welcomes strays with open arms.

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