Islam and cats
Origins of reverence
Cats have been venerated in the Near East since antiquity, a tradition adopted by Islam, albeit in a much modified form. According to Hadiths, Muhammad prohibited the persecution and killing of cats.
One of Muhammad's companions was known as Abu Hurairah (literally: "Father of the Kitten", though meaning "The One with/having a kitten") because one day he saw a cat sticking to a wall from the heat of the weather, so he picked it up and carried it in his sleeve in order to protect it from the sun heat. Abu Hurairah claimed that he had heard Mohammed declare that a woman went to Hell for starving a female kitten and not providing her with any water, but this was disputed by Mohammed's widow Aisha.
There is also the story of Muezza that was sleeping on the sleeve of a prayer robe. Rather than wake the cat, the sleeve was apparently cut off, leaving the cat undisturbed.
The American poet and travel author Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) was astonished when he discovered a Syrian hospital where cats roamed freely. The institution, in which domestic felines were sheltered and nourished, was funded by a waqf, along with caretakers' wages, veterinary care and cat food. Edward William Lane (1801-1876), British Orientalist who resided in Cairo, described a cat garden originally endowed by the 13th-century Egyptian sultan Baibars, whose European contemporaries held a very different attitude towards cats, eating them or killing them under papal decrees. Aside from protecting granaries and food stores from pests, cats were valued by the paper-based Arab-Islamicate cultures for preying on mice that destroyed books. For that reason, cats are often depicted in paintings alongside Islamic scholars and bibliophiles. The medieval Egyptian zoologist Al-Damiri (1344-1405) wrote that the first cat was created when God caused a lion to sneeze, after animals on Noah's Ark complained of mice.
Hygiene and neutering
In Islamic tradition, cats are admired for their cleanliness, despite their strong connection with toxoplasmosis being problematic among humans with immunodefficiency-related ailments. They are thought to be ritually clean, unlike dogs, and are thus allowed to enter homes and even mosques, including Masjid al-Haram. Food sampled by cats is considered halal and water from which cats have drunk is permitted for wudu.
Muslim scholars are divided on the issue of neutering animals. Most, however, maintain that neutering cats is allowed "if there is some benefit in neutering the cat and if that will not cause its death". Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, a 20th-century Saudi Arabian Sunni imam, preached:
If there are too many cats and they are a nuisance, and if the operation will not harm them, then there is nothing wrong with it, because this is better than killing them after they have been created. But if the cats are ordinary cats and are not causing a nuisance, perhaps it is better to leave them alone to reproduce.
- Campo, Juan Eduardo (2009). Encyclopedia of Islam. Infobase Publishing. p. 131. ISBN 1438126964.
- Baldick, Julian (2012). Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism. I.B.Tauris. p. 155. ISBN 1780762313.
- Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman (2004). Islam: Questions and Answers - Jurisprudence and Islamic Rulings: General and Transactions -, Part 1. MSA Publication Limited. pp. 323–325. ISBN 1861794118.