There are a few rules most of us know to be true. You stop at a red light, chicken is not meant to be consumed raw, Tony Hawk is a cool dude, and all cats are Muslim (ACAM). Pépito the cat? Muslim. The aristocats? Probably from Dubai. Hasbulla’s cat? Obviously Muslim. Jorts and Jeans? Muslim. The internet is filled with images and videos of cats on prayer mats, cats reading and refusing to walk on the Quran, as well as cats dressed up in little cute Eid outfits.
While some may attribute the feline-Muslim relationship to a cringe attempt to ascribe representation on to everything, this association between Islam and cats long predates the internet. In many cities in Muslim-majority nations, cats roam the streets; lounging about and roaming from shop to shop collecting food and a nice petting as they go. These cats, though independent, are affectionately part of the community, which recognizes them and tends to their needs.
Cats are revered in Islamic society. They are one of the few creatures allowed into mosques because they are considered to be clean. Islamic scholars are said to have kept cats in their libraries because they would eat the mice that would ruin books. Some say the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had a favorite cat named Muezza (translations of the name vary but are along the lines of “one who gives comfort/care/is cherished”). The story goes that once when the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to get up and pray but his cat was sleeping on the sleeves of one of his robes; so he merely cut the sleeves off his clothing in order to not disturb the cat. The Prophet (pbuh) had a companion who adopted the name “Abu Hurayrah” (father of the cats) because he would take care of many cats. Cats are also used as a cautionary tale to warn humans to treat God’s creation with compassion and kindness. A prophetic saying (hadith) tells the story of a woman who kept a cat in her home and tortured it; refusing it food, water and freedom until it ultimately died. The woman, we are told, was sent to hell for that act.
During the pandemic, I turned to faith as a source of solace. I began to pray the dawn prayer — something I neglected to do for years — and read nightly from the Quran. I have always turned to God to provide me with meaning and comfort; the challenges of the pandemic only deepened that connection. But more than just a set of abstract rituals, faith is a way of navigating life itself. When things seem out of control and chaotic, it is a grounding force to remind you what the purpose of life is and why you do what you do.
Sometimes the best way to be close to God is to put your faith into practice, and perhaps that’s why I have felt the pull to get a cat recently. Things may feel out of control, but when you take care of a pet, its life is in your hands. You may not be able to stop all the profound harm in the world, but you can nourish and take care of the life in your home. And, of course, pets are just a joy to have around. They provide you with warmth and love as much as provide them with love and care.After spending months with family, I am once again back in an apartment of my own and find myself browsing through the local adoption agency’s listings and looking through the cats — with a preference for males, because I want to be bros. The isolation I feel now is different than at the beginning of the pandemic — I’m still able to see some friends and do some things I enjoy, but because I work in public health, I am left with the acute awareness of just how many people are dying every day while the country seemingly moves on. In the midst of a global pandemic, you’re definitely not the only one aware of a mass death event, but sometimes it can feel that way. Coming home to cuddle with a cat would be a welcome distraction.
When the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to get up and pray but his cat was sleeping on the sleeves of one of his robes; so he merely cut the sleeves off his clothing in order to not disturb the cat.
But despite this pull towards a feline companion, I find myself hesitating — always visiting the adoption site, but never clicking “adopt.” I have never taken care of another creature other than some succulents I let dry out when I was a grad student; the obligation to commit seriously to another living creature is daunting. What if I move or change jobs? What if I couldn’t take him with me? What if I couldn’t find someone to take care of him? All questions that seem even more unstable in a time when many of us cannot look beyond next week, yet alone next year. It’s true that there will always be unknowns in life - things that we just cannot anticipate and part of faith is putting your trust in God’s plans. But that trust doesn’t absolve us from our own responsibilities.
Some may say I’m overthinking it, and perhaps I am. But my faith in God reminds me to think constantly about the responsibility we have to others, in this case, a cat. This responsibility is best embodied by the collective nature of cat care seen in some cities abroad; yes, people have individual pets as well, but people see the cats wandering the streets as part of their community and therefore all do their little part to take care of them. There’s no schedule, no preordained individual responsibilities to feed and treat; people just give the cats what they need when they come across them. This responsibility we have to others seems even more stark in a time seemingly defined by indifference to the suffering of others.
The truth is any animal I would get I’d code as Muslim. I’d get a small prayer mat for a rabbit, a little ornamental mosque for a fishbowl. But it’s also nice to have a rich religious and cultural tradition behind your choice of pet, a tradition that reminds you of what you believe in. Going the extra step to give your cat a Muslim name and getting it a little prayer mat and prayer clothes would not only be cute; but a reflection of the values I hold dear. Paradoxically, it’s these reminders that both drive my desire to get a cat and at the same time, keeps me from going through with it.
Still, all cats are Muslim and maybe someday, inshallah, I'll have one to be Muslim with me.
Abdullah Shihipar is a writer and researcher.