As I’ve mentioned before, many Muslims love cats but consider d*gs unclean. Muhammad himself is rumored to have had a cat named Muezza, and this story is a popular one:
Many Muslims believe that Muezza (or Muʿizza; Arabic: معزة) was Muhammad’s favorite cat. Muhammad awoke one day to the sounds of the adhan. Preparing to attend prayer, he began to dress himself; however, he soon discovered his cat Muezza sleeping on the sleeve of his prayer robe. Rather than wake her, he used a pair of scissors to cut the sleeve off, leaving the cat undisturbed.
Cats are often welcome in mosques, and when I visit Istanbul I always notice the prevalence of street cats and cats in mosques. Here’s a cat at the Prince’s Mosque:
. . . and me feeding the famous Hagia Sophia cat Gli in 2008. (In Turkey I always carry a box of cat food in my daypack.) At the time I didn’t know that Gli, now deceased, was so famous and beloved:
But on to the topic: medival Muslim cats, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below from Weird Medieval Guys:
It retells the story of Muezza, and adds that in the UK you can buy halal cat food named after Muhammad’s cat (click on screenshot):
But it wasn’t just the prophet himself who loved cats! They occupied a unique place in the medieval Islamic world. The Middle East and Mediterranean are famously full of stray kitties nowadays, and it seems that 500 years ago, things weren’t too different. Medieval Europeans who travelled eastward were baffled by both the sheer quantity of free-roaming cats and the affection lavished upon them by locals. Flemish nobleman Joos van Ghistele wrote of his surprise at seeing a cat shelter in Damascus in the late 15th century CE, and a 13th century CE Mamluk sultan apparently mandated that all the strays of Cairo be taken care of by the local government. An English visitor to Cairo in the late 19th century attested that the sultan’s wishes were still being upheld, much to the exasperation (and expense) of the chief judge, to whom the responsibility fell.
As well as collective care for strays by the community, a number of sources describe cats’ status as beloved pets for people from all levels of society in the medieval Islamic world. For much of the Middle Ages in Western Europe, pet ownership was seen as an indulgence afforded primarily to noblewomen and monks. High-ranking men might have owned hunting dogs, but these animals served a largely utilitarian purpose. The keeping of animals for emotional companionship would have been rather taboo for a Christian man of the day. Muslim men, whether nobles or humble labourers, don’t seem to have been subjected to the same stigma surrounding their pets.
Prince Rokn-al-Dawla of the Deylamites (in modern day Iran) reportedly had a pet cat that he was so fond of, petitioners would attach written requests to its neck to make sure that prince received them. One Sufi sheikh is said to have had shoes made for his cat so that it could sit with him on his prayer rug without snagging the fibres on its claws. Women doted on their cats, too, with one Persian source reporting that it was common for noble ladies to adorn them with jewellery and even dye their fur.
And a story depicted in the painting below:
Let me close this post by sharing another Nasreddin joke, this time about his wife and his cat:
After the Hodja got a liver recipe from his friend, he bought some liver. Nasreddin loved liver and he wanted to eat it very often. But everytime he brought livers, he couldn’t eat it because his wife said that the cat took the liver and fled away.
One day the Hodja became very angry and said: “Woman, I brought liver! Where is it?” “Oh”, said his wife. “The silly cat took it and fled away.” At this same time the cat was in the room.
The Hodja caught it, brought a steelyard and weighted the cat. Then he said: “That is exactly two kilos. And the liver which I brought was also two kilos. Now tell me: If that is the liver where is my cat, if that is the cat, then I want my liver.”
If you know about fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, you’ll know that the love of his life was his pampered longhair cat Choupette. Here’s a photo of Lagerfeld and his love that appeared on Choupette’s Instagram page, which is still going:
Harper’s Bazaar tells you everything you want to know about Choupette, including this:
The designer’s beloved Burmese has lived a lifestyle nearly as luxurious and chic as his, and following his death, she is rumored to inherit a portion of Lagerfeld’s €200 million net worth. Though, shockingly, that does not make her the richest cat in the world (Taylor Swift’s Scottish Fold, Olivia Benson, beats her with a reported worth of $97 million), she is certainly still amongst the wealthiest, and arguably the favorite within the fashion world.
Throughout her lifetime, the booked-and-busy feline has graced several magazine covers—including that of Harper’s Bazaar UKin 2013—and even had her own line of makeup and a book about her life.
She has traveled by private jet, alongside a handful of bodyguards, agents, chefs, and personal assistants. And she dined across from Lagerfeld every evening, during their time together, in the designer’s Paris apartment.
Lagerfeld told Numéro in 2016, “Now that she is an adult, she eats at the table with me. She sits across from me and only eats what she needs to eat. Before, she used to attack a shrimp, but now she only touches her four different dishes that are prepared for her the same day, served in lovely bowls. Everything has to be fresh, otherwise Mademoiselle sits in front of her croquettes in sauce for three quarters of an hour, giving me murderous looks, without touching them.”
The 11-year-old Burmese currently lives in Paris and is now owned by Lagerfeld’s former housekeeper, Françoise Caçot, who has since dropped her nanny role to care for the feline full-time.
From the article:
Choupette traveling (from Instagram):
As the Wall Street Journal reports below, Choupette was the theme of the Met’s Gala ball this year, honoring Lagerfeld, who died in 2009. Click to read:
An excerpt (my emphasis)
At this year’s Met Gala, the celebrity-packed museum fundraiser held on the first Monday in May, the most anticipated guest is a cat.
Choupette Lagerfeld, an 11-year-old Birman with enormous blue eyes and silky white fur, belonged to Karl Lagerfeld, the late German fashion designer and honoree of this year’s ball. For the former creative director of Chanel, Fendi and Chloé, who died in 2019 at the age of 85 without children, Choupette may be the closest thing to a living relative. Fans are hoping to see her strut the red carpet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in his honor.
“She was his baby,” said Françoise Caçote, Choupette’s caretaker. A former housekeeper for Mr. Lagerfeld, Ms. Caçote, 50, has been Choupette’s nanny since 2012 and inherited the cat permanently after her boss passed away. “He would say, ‘In my life, my priority is Choupette, and then everything else.’ ”
Mr. Lagerfeld often talked about how much he adored Choupette, and treated her to multicourse meals on Goyard dishes and supplied her with two maids. She has her own agent, coffee-table books, a skin-care collaboration and social-media followers spanning the globe.
Choupette didn’t show, but stayed in Paris.
Mr. Lagerfeld shared photos of the cat on his Twitter and Instagram and fans loved seeing the notoriously sharp-tongued designer, known for his long ponytail and signature sunglasses and leather gloves, be tender with an animal.
Choupette has graced the covers of British Harper’s Bazaar, Grazia and German Vogue and has posed with fellow celebrity catwalkers Linda Evangelista and Kendall Jenner. Most recently, she starred with Naomi Campbell in a May photo shoot for American Vogue. In 2015, Mr. Lagerfeldtold New York magazine that Choupette had earned 3 million euros from two modeling gigs.
In 2018, Mr. Lagerfeld told Numero, a French magazine, that he had left some money for Choupette in his will, which sparked rumors and some catty talk that the feline would inherit a fortune. But Ms. Caçote said she hasn’t received any money from the estate, and that the situation with Mr. Lagerfeld’s inheritance is complex.
Ms. Caçote said she takes care of Choupette with her own money and does so happily, as it was Mr. Lagerfeld’s wish. She and Mr. Berullier said they are setting up a feline-focused charity in the cat’s name.
Choupette is content at Ms. Caçote’s Paris apartment, she said. The cat likes to wake up early, and her fur is brushed multiple times a day. Choupette relishes walks on the balcony and treats herself to the catnip planted outside. Choupette’s favorite toys are Chanel paper bags and Chanel ribbons, Ms. Caçote said.
Jared Leto dressed up at Choupette at the Met Gala (tickets run, I hear, around $10,000):
. . . and so did Doja Cat:
Finally, here’s a story from Lady Freethinker about two women from Alabama who were arrested and fined for feeding stray cats on city property, but then had the charges dismissed. Justice was done!
PETITION UPDATE: Criminal Charges Dismissed Against Wetumpka Women Who Fed Stray Cats
Two women criminally charged after they fed community cats on public land in Wetumpka, Alabama, got a reprieve this week when city prosecutors said they’d no longer pursue the case.
Beverly Roberts, 84, and Mary Alston, 60, made international headlines in June 2022 when three police vehicles and multiple officers arrived on a vacant, county-owned lot and told the women to stop feeding and trying to trap the stray cats that liked to congregate there — or be arrested and go to jail.
Body camera footage showed the women asking questions about why they were being threatened with arrest. When Roberts attempted to hand her car keys to Alston, an officer told her, “It’s going to get ugly if you don’t stop.” Another officer handcuffed Alston’s arms behind her back, telling her she wasn’t listening “fast enough” and that “You wanted to keep talking so now you’re going to jail,” according to the body camera footage.
Wetumpka Municipal Judge Jeff Watson convicted the women of misdemeanor charges in December after a 5-hour long trial — Alston for reported criminal trespassing and obstructing government operations and Roberts for reported disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing. He sentenced the women to two years unsupervised probation and 10 days, suspended, of jail time.
Attorneys for the women — including William Shasy, a retired Montgomery County Circuit Court judge — appealed the ruling to the 19th Circuit Court. A GoFundMe account to help cover legal costs raised more than $87,000, according to news reports.
Following the appeal, Wetumpka prosecutors submitted a motion saying they would no longer pursue the charges, without giving a reason for that action. Circuit Judge Amanda Baxley signed off on the plan, also without giving comment on her ruling, according to court records.
Here’s a news video of the ladies being arrested. DEFUND THESE COPS!
Charges could still be reinstated, though, and prosecutors have until June 25 to do so. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll leave this be.
Lagniappe: Reader Peter sent me this photo and some notes:
Freddie Mercury of Queen (1946-1991) was well known as an ailurophile, as well for other things. According to the BBC (source: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-65375583), his friend Mary Austin is about to auction a large collection of Mercury’s possessions, including some great artworks, antique furniture, costumes, and of interest to WEIT readers, “his favourite waistcoat”, with hand-painted portraits of his six cats.
There is also his favourite waistcoat, worn in his final video These are the Days of Our Lives, in 1991. The silk panels of red, green and purple are each hand-painted with one of Mercury’s cats, Delilah, Goliath, Oscar, Lily, Romeo and Miko.
h/t: Ginger K., Thomas
11 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: Medieval Muslims’ love for cats; Choupette stars at the Met gala; arrested stray-cat feeders go free; and lagniappe”
By odd coincidence, I have spent a moderate amount of time studying the mediaeval Islamic world. The famous book ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ has been translated to English several times. I have read several of the translations. What I found in the stories somewhat surprised me. Alcohol was pervasive, if disapproved of by religious authorities. In the book, exactly one character refuses to drink (alcohol) and he makes excuses for it. Islam was utterly pervasive and unquestioned with no extremism to be found. However, I did not encounter too many cats. For the record, I highly recommend the book
I read the story about cutting off the sleeve of a priceless robe so as to not disturb a sleeping cat, but it was about one of the emperors of China, not Muhammad.
Pretty widespread apparently. Japanese example https://preview.redd.it/09oc8c3l3p071.jpg?auto=webp&v=enabled&s=396c0fbbc028c836101801c0db69e7632d1e7125 [was the chinese story a cat?]
Yes, it was a cat. It’s always a cat. Nobody seems to worry about disturbing a dog.
Lagerfeld’s Choupette is a Birman, not a Burmese. Birmans have a medium-to-long single coat, mostly white with dark points and white ‘mittens’ on all four feet. Burmese have a short coateer, dark brown or sable, without any white. Both breeds are heavier bodied than a Siamese [and lack the extreme head shape that modern show Siamese are cursed with].
For the joke about Hodja and the cat, I really want to know what happened. What did the wife say? Did she confess to liver-napping? But nowhere do I find the rest of the story.
The Sufis told a lot of stories about Nasruddin, and many were like this. I think that they were like koans, intended to jolt the listener out of established ways of thinking, so the whole point of this one is the final line.
One the other hand, there’s a story about Nasruddin repeatedly going through a border crossing with a donkey carrying a load of straw. The customs officer went through the straw every time and found nothing, and wondered why Nasruddin persisted in transporting loads of such a cheap commodity across the border – it seemed evident that something fishy was going on, but he couldn’t determine what. Years later, the customs officer bumped into Nasruddin and told him “Look, I knew that you were smuggling something across the border, but I could never figure out what it was. You can own up now – I’m retired and just curious.” “What was I smuggling? Why, donkeys, of course,” replied Naruddin.
So, a punch line. But still sort of koan-ish.
Interesting trifecta – thanks! Taylor Swift’s cat is worth $97 million? How wrongheaded is that?!
The joke about the cat and the liver reminded me of the story about the author Thomas Hardy. After he died his heart was taken taken out, to be buried in the local churchyard, while his body went to Westminster Abbey. The story is that his beloved cat Cobby sniffed out the heart and when noone was in the room consumed it for his supper. The story then gets worse. For the squeamish look away now….
This is truly disturbing, but I can’t help observing that it fits the tone of Hardy’s novels.
Welp, I guess every religion has offered something during its history, and Islam showed how to properly treat cats! Is it me, or does that cat figure look like a sculpture made by Picasso? Several hundred years ahead of its time!
Alternative theory regarding Nasreddin’s cat: it was a witch, and witches always weigh the same as a piece of liver. (It also turned his wife into a newt at one point, but it got better)
Finally, it’s a good thing those two women who were arrested were white, or we would have had another “reckoning” on our hands. Anyway, I’m glad the charges were dropped. While DAs in San Francisco, Portland (OR), Seattle, NYC, Chicago, and other places are refusing to prosecute even grand theft, assaults, robberies, and large-scale property destruction, among a litany of other crimes, these two old ladies had charges hanging over them for a whole freaking year just for feeding stray cats??