Turkish cats

March 5, 2012 • 2:25 pm

Is it as politically incorrect to say “Turkish cats” as it is to say “Muslim child”? At any rate, here are two feral juvenile cats I photographed in March, 2008 at the Prince’s Mosque in Istanbul.  I wanted to take the tabby home with me.

The tabby went in a hole:

Should I call them Muslim cats if they live at a mosque?

68 thoughts on “Turkish cats

    1. Yes, I was about to mention that Ceiling Cat now appears to have competition from Floor Cat. Choose your faith!

      Floor Cat is watching you … do something. Something bad, I’m sure.

      1. I have to confess that for a long time, I thought the ceiling cat logo was a cat wearing a mortar board,
        Not the patron idol of peeping Toms.

        Well, it does look a bit like it.

  1. Why should it be politically incorrect to refer to a cat from Turkey as a turkish cat? I don’t think it bothers people when a breed name includes a national or regional reference (e.g., Russian Blue, Cornish Rex, Scottish Fold). There is, after all, a breed called the Turkish Van, also known as the Turkish Swimming Cat because it does not have the cat’s legendary distaste of water (making a squirt gun useless as a disciniplary tool).

    It is evident, however, from the coat colors, that none of the thre cats pictured are Vans, which are mostly white.

    1. Is it a relevant fact that the cat is in Turkey, or is it unnecessarily nationalistic? After all, what does the cat care where someone draws the lines on some piece of paper? Cats normally do not define their identities, nor spheres of compassion, in terms of nation state boundaries.

      Call it a mosque cat. Or even an Istanbul cat. Those descriptors may have more relevance. But always constantly jumping to use nationality as the primary descriptor for everything is indicative of thinking in a way which is biased (toward grouping and differentiating people according to just one arbitrary scheme and without concern for the relevant statistical significance of that categorisation in any given case) and has barely progressed from racism, and is a thought pattern that does less than it could to further global harmony.

      It’s reasonable to mention race in context of, say, variation in lactose metabol. And nationality is a natural descriptor to apply to soldiers. But just as it sounds bigoted to suddenly raise the topic of a scientist’s race within a discussion of their arguments, nationality is a tenuous attribute to impose on a wild/stray animal. Much like jumping to ascribe religions to infants (which is something Dawkins implored us against).

  2. Well, the Mohammad character is reputed to have cut up his silk gown rather than disturb the kitten sleeping on it, so he wasn’t pure evil.

    More like 99 44/100% evil.

    I mean, doesn’t everybody know that, the proper way to deal with a kitten that’s fallen asleep on you is to rub its belly until you yourself fall asleep? What did the poor thing think when it awoke from its nap and found itself all alone?

    (Probably that it was fortunate it wasn’t an eight-year-old girl, but that’s a topic for another rant….)


  3. Gorgeous photos. I know people here will hate this question, but does anyone know if there is evidence for the claim that Muhammed was believed to be saved from a snake by a cat thus he put his “M” on cat’s forehead? You can see this M on many breeds and colors of cats, even black cats. The claim is that cats are considered sacred in Muslim culture as a result, although you’d never know it from the way sand cats are shot dead while resting. Not to assume that is from Muslims, though.

    I like this idea simply because I think it would protect strays in contrast to how they are treated in Greece or the U.S.

    1. If you’re asking for evidence that the claim is made…well, you’ve just presented it.

      If you’re asking for evidence that there’s any substance to the claim…well, there’s no credible evidence to support the claim that Muhammad was an historical figure, so what makes you think that there’s evidence to support a particular biographical detail?

      Oh — before the apologists get all huffy, let me point out that the claim is that Muhammad was at least a big a deal as any of the Twelve Caesars.

      For each of the Twelve, we’ve got scads of contemporary physical and documentary evidence. You can even buy for your very own collection a coin, minted during any one of the emperors’s lifetimes, with said emperor’s likeness on it, for about as much as you spend on one month’s rent / mortgage.

      For Muhammad, we have nothing until generations after the “fact” — and what we do have is a copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy of a document that claims he received wisdom from the voices in his head and rode a flying horse into the sunset. Come up with something during his reign and we’ll talk. Bonus points if it’s not shot through with blatant bullshit.



      1. Okay, your last paragraph somewhat answered my question. To clarify, what I was asking (and pardon my former spelling error) was IF Muslims, in their religious documents or teachings, recite this story about Muhammad and the M on cats’ foreheads.

        The goal being to determine if as a result, cats are considered to be somewhat sacred (or at least to not be harmed) by Muslims.

        Not really interested in the religion itself, only how protected cats are among Muslims. Would be an interesting human-animal culture phenomenon.

        1. I’ve heard the story many times over the years, though generally of the “cut his silk robe so as to not disturb the sleeping kitten” version rather than your “saved by a snake” one. But the punch line is always that Muhammad therefore blessed all cats with the Tabby “M”-for-Muhammad on the forehead…which never made any sense to me, since the Arabic spelling of his name looks nothing like the Roman letter “M.”

          It seems obvious that it’s the Muslim version of midrash — just like young little Moses smashing all the idols in the temple, or Jesus having a death match with Satan in Hell after the Crucifixion. You won’t find the former in the Tanach nor the latter in the Gospels, yet it’s a given you’ve heard both stories. They were both made up generations later as a sort of religious fan faction meant to illustrate a particular theological point about the character’s character.

          There’re a few (ex-)Muslims who frequent this Web site…I’ll let them comment on the status of cats in the actual Muslim societies they’re familiar with.


          1. The version of the story I heard in Catholic grade school is that the “M” mark on tabby cats was this one: Baby Jesus was fussing and wouldn’t settle down when his mother laid him in the manger (gee, I thought he was supposed to always have been well-behaved). A tabby cat crept into the manger with the infant and starrted purring until the child settled down and fell asleep. Mary was so grateful, she placed her initial on the cat’s forehead.

            Even though I was just a child, I couldn’t help but laugh at this. Mary was a peasant, and probably illiterate – and even if she could write, she would not have used the Roman alphabet. I got sent to the principal’s office.

            I found it almost as amusing at the time we were told that red berries on holly came from drops of blood when baby Jesus pricked his finger on a leaf. I asked how holly plants could ever have been around if they didn’t have seeds before then. Yup – principal’s office again.

            1. Well the Christians sure stole plenty of symbols and holidays from Wicca, not surprised they might steal one from the Muslims too (assuming a later historical date of the alleged theft).

          2. I guess it’s a bit silly to correct someone on the mythical behaviour of a mythical person, but I always thought it was young Abraham (father of monotheism) smashing the idols in his dad’s idol shop.

    2. I don’t think I’ve heard that particular story and I’m coming from a muslim country. About cats being ‘holy’, that is totally not true. In fact, since cats are carnivores, their feces are considered very dirty in Islam (I know it sounds weird, but there are different categories of dirty in Islam). So basically, I don’t see any reason why they should be holy.

      1. That’s probably not exclusive to muslims. Certainly most (Xtian or ‘cultural Christian’ i.e. agnostic or atheist) people I know would consider, say, doggie doos to be much nastier than either cowpats or horse manure. I think one reason cats are considered ‘cleaner’ in Western popular opinion is that they usually hide or bury theirs.

        (Okay, so I’m generalising wildly).

    3. We share our flat with a Greek cat
      of unknown belief system. My guess is that she is a pragmatist leaning strongly to snatchallyoucanism (about 6.999 snatchallyoucanist).

      As she is very fond of Greek food (olives etc…) and language (she responds very well to ‘ella’), I assume she considers herself to be Greek and therefore rejects the idea that the M on her forehead refers to Muhhamed.

      Her name means something like “alive; she who lives” in Arabic, which is very fitting. She shares the name with the yougest wife of Muhammed, but this is pure co-incidence.


      P.S. Many Greeks are very friendly to strays..
      P.P.S. I’m neither Greek nor Arab.

  4. At Kennywood, the local 110+y/o amusement park (which is very conscious of its historical status), I once saw a black guy walking the other way, dressed entirely in black – black shoes, black pants, black shirt, and a black Blues Bros hat. He was carrying a ~meter tall stuffed black panther – the sort of thing that might be the grand prize at a carnival games. I grinned and he grinned back. I almost said, “Aah, a black cat with a black cat,” but then thought he might find it politically incorrect. I’m still sorry I didn’t. It happened too fast.

    1. In India “Black Cat” would probably be considered flattering by some people since it is usually used to refer to members of the Indian army’s elite Commando unit.

  5. Beautiful pictures, Jerry. Whenever I point a camera in a kitty’s direction, the little buggers go berserk.

    Picture 3 is my favorite; it’s so sad. Little refugee cat checking in on its domain in the eye of the storm or something. Plus, you know, Basement Cat!

  6. It’s a Wahhabi tabby,
    A Byzantine feline,
    A feral felidae,
    The minaret’s pet.
    Yes, the Pasha’s puss,
    The Caliphate’s cat,
    It’s the moggy from Medina,
    A Hellespont purrer,
    A beast from the East,
    Yes, I’m certain, never sura.

  7. My wife and I were in Instanbul 20 years ago. Cats everywhere! Your photos remind me how ….. oh, ethereal? … cats can seem when they are hanging around antiquities.

    When I looked just at the cats and ignored the artifacts of modernity, I felt transported centuries/millenia back in time.

    On the other hand, seeing a poster in Instanbul for a concert by the bigot formerly known as Cat Stevens was a downer.

    1. What a nice thought, Newish Gnu; yes, they seem like the guardians of the monuments. Pretty sure that there are loads of cats hanging round the Forum in Rome.

      1. When I was in Rome, I noticed a very large number of cats apparently living in the Colosseum. Must be lots of mice/rats there!

  8. Since when is it politically incorrect to refer to a “Muslim child”?

    It may be philosophically incorrect, but I don’t hear a lot of political outrage over the term.

  9. “Should I call them Muslim cats if they live at a mosque?”

    Only if they earn their keep by being good “mosquers.”

      1. Or


        It seemed that there was a basement cat, middle cat and high cat. That would make it –

        *Warning – what follows is a horrible contrived pun with an LD50 of 50.*

        Three Mosquecat Tiers

  10. Do you refer to cats in the U.S. as christian cats? The reference to a religion is not terribly useful. But Turkish cat is useful in simply telling us where it lives geographically.

  11. I may not be sufficiently qualified in Islam to comment on it, but no, never heard anything about good ol’ M and the letter M like figure on tabby pattern. However, it has been told that the small colored patch on Van pattern’s shoulder/neck is related to a prophet (could be Mohammed), that he touched the back of the cat to bless it.(Van is close to Mt.Ararat, supposedly where Noah landed his ark.) Btw, Van cat’s not all white, Angora cat is white (all animal breeds containing the prefix Angora are white, cat, goat, rabbit). Vans have the Van pattern, but yeah, they are mostly white, or could be, there haven’t been much studies on both breeds.

    I was raised an atheist, my parents were all heretics, so never heard anything about cats being sacred, I mean, there is a story about a spider and Mohammed, but we don’t feed spiders. Both of my parents love animals, they are three cats inside house, mom feeds and names almost every cat in the hood, and dad regularly feeds three stray dogs (who repay by offering watch-dog services after dark, I call them part-time watch dogs.) So, I love animals mostly because of my parents but they don’t have any religious motives. The deal with the cats is, you don’t see much rats in İstanbul, because we have lots of cats, it’s mostly pragmatic, keep the cats around and feed them, they will get rid of the rodents in turn. It is true that there ain’t no reference to a cat in the Kuran or in Hadiths (kind of explanatory notes about the book). Generally it says to look after all animals and don’t mistreat them. Islam in Turkey is quite tricky, most westerners consider Islam as a single unified religion. No sir, there are may sects and sub-sects and schools etc., and practice differs from region to region. Different groups following different traditions. For example, the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam regards dogs as dirty (i.e. if you touch a dog you have to renew your ablution) no one says that dogs are bad evil animals, but because of this “dirty” nature, those people dislike dogs, they believe that a dog in the house will bring bad luck. It’s kinda stupid, defecating or ejaculating also “dirty” and you must perform ablution after, but I don’t see anyone avoiding these actions.

    To sum up, as a non-believer Turkish citizen born and living in İstanbul, I only witnessed these info about cats and the prophet and religion on non-Turkish and non-Muslim sources. Must be a sort of how onlookers interpreted it. Who needs a reason to look after, feed ans love domestic animals?

    1. I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will; every man can follow his own conscience, provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him against the liberty of his fellow-men. —Atatürk, Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey

      Not cat whiskers, but the Topkapı Palace museum displays the whiskers of Muhammad and many other sacred relics of Muhammad. The Ottomans moved these relics to the Sublime Porte when they conquered Mecca from the Mamluks in the sixteenth century.

      1. Steve, thank you for that wonderful quote from Ataturk.

        sludge, what is the likihood of Turkey retaining its status as one of the most secular countries of the middle east? I despair every time I read a story about successful religious backlash…

        1. ah, the current “religious” (liberal islamic) hype is just another fashion, it’s a bit of a long story about turkish politics and socio-cultural structure, I may not be able to dictate a block of text to give it in full detail. rest assured, things always change around here, current prime minister is now sick with cancer, probably with a high mortality, yet nothing is being told to the press so mostly we are just assuming. the hardcore religious/conservative base among all voters may be around 10%-15%, the rest is just liberal and/or right wing who vote due to lack of options, you may not want to believe, but it is a lot less dangerous than the current increase in Europe’s conservatism and xenophobia, which is a dangerous recipe for racism and despotism. actually there has been more progress in the last 10-15 years compared to “successful religious backlashes”, mostly thanks to eu harmonization projects and requirements though. it’s just a tool used by politicians, in a couple of years, someone else will show up using different tools and it will be forgotten. I hope.

  12. What’s especially interesting is that these cats were photographed in the cemetery of the Şehzade Mosque. The tall pillars they’re standing in front of are classical Ottoman tombstones, and the kitty in the hole in the last photo is sitting in a gravestone, adding a ghoulish frisson to the images…

  13. “Cat” Stevens … Too bad Allah didn’t drown him when he had a chance. I wonder if little Yousef’s songs now include killing the Christians, Jews and apostates? Cretin. Nice cats, but where is their medieval garb?

  14. “Should I call them Muslim cats if they live at a mosque?”

    Actually, no, as dumb as cats are they are too smart to convert to Islam. And, seriously, what cat isn’t a heretic? The only thing they share with Muslims is a distaste for dogs and that’s hardly enough on which to base a “religious” experience.

  15. The cats of Turkey are treated terribly, The are run over on purpose, poisoned, taken away in boxes and thrown into a canyon, just to name a few deaths.. kittens and older cats are quite usually used as a footballs and soccer balls.. Not many dogs as they are taken into death camp shelters, to die, either by fighting, starvation, disease, or a botched sterilization and then taken and dumped in the forest to die, there are hundreds of them in the forests, left to die.. dogs are quite often killed by bricks, my friend lives in a small tourist town in Turkey and see’s this daily..

    1. To what, specifically, is this charitable, merciful treatment of cats (and dogs) attributable? Is it merely and solely that, per Charles Darwin, “we bear the the stamp of our lowly origin”? It can’t be a religious influence can it? After all, religion is as pure as the driven snow, eh? How are women treated in Turkey?

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