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Cats of Islam

Cats hold a special place in Islam, reaching back as far as Muhammad’s own love of the animals.

First off, this is not a post about cats vs. dogs. The Quran and the hadith make it clear that dogs are great: a dog guarded the Companions of the Cave (the Islamic equivalent of the Seven Sleepers, who hid in a cave and then slept for three hundred years) and a prostitute who gave a thirsty dog water gained entrance to heaven for her kindness. But today I’m writing about cats.

Firstly, cats are ritually clean. That means a few things (them drinking water doesn’t make the water unclean for consumption, for example), but importantly it means that they can wander around as they like, even into the Great Mosque of Mecca. And apparently Mecca is full of happy and somewhat friendly cats.

Secondly, Abu Hurairah – one of the companions of Muhammad – loved cats so much that his name actually translates as “father of the kitten.” Abu Hurairah hung out with Muhammad for less than three years, but is the source for more sayings of Muhammad (hadith) than anyone else.

(Side note: a whole branch of Islamic religious studies attempts to identify the trustworthiness and precision, and therefore reliability, of hadith by examining the biography of the narrator – how well did they remember and accurately relate the words of Muhammad? I’ve heard that some scholars hold Abu Hurairah to be a little less credible than other narrators, but I’m not quite sure why. If you know more, let me know!)

Thirdly, there is a tradition – although as far as I can find it’s in neither the Quran nor the hadith – that Muhammad had a pet cat named Muezza. So the story goes, he heard the call to prayer but found his cat sleeping on the sleeve of his prayer robes. Rather than wake the cat, he cut off the sleeve and wore one-sleeved robes to prayer. As the owner of a cat who sleeps where she wants, I can relate.

Categories: Plants & animals Religion & belief Sciences

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

2 replies

  1. “So the story goes, he heard the call to prayer but found his cat sleeping on the sleeve of his prayer robes. Rather than wake the cat, he cut off the sleeve and wore one-sleeved robes to prayer. As the owner of a cat who sleeps where she wants, I can relate.”

    I found this really intriguing because in China, there’s another version of this tale.

    Shamelessly stolen from wikipedia (headword Cut Sleeve):

    “An oft-used euphemism during [the Ming dynasty] for male homosexuality was “cut-sleeve”, a reference to “the passion of the cut sleeve” between Liu Xin, better known as Emperor Ai of Han, and Han politician Dong Xian. According to History of the Han, the emperor, upon finding Dong sleeping on his sleeve and called to a meeting while lying with his lover, cut off his sleeve rather than stir the boy from his sleep.”

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    1. Oh that’s really interesting, thank you. I have some scepticism about the provenance of the story of Muhammad’s cat – as I wrote, it’s not in the Quran and there’s no hadith about it either – so it’s quite likely that it’s a later invention. I wonder if it was somehow borrowed from the Chinese cut sleeve story?

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