Prophet Muhammed and Cats in Turkey

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Anyone who’s ever visited Istanbul, even for the shortest time, will have seen a kedi (Turkish for cat) or two (hundred). It’s no surprise really, as love for cats in Turkey goes all the way back to the life and times of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him. Muhammed was raised by his uncle who was a member of the Quaraysh tribe. As a boy he was illiterate, but when Muhammed was forty Allah revealed himself to him through the Angel Gabriel. Muhammed received Allah’s revelations for the next 23 years and they are now collectively known as the Quran.

The Prophet Muhammed had a cat named Muezza whom he loved very much. One day Muhammed was sitting on the sofa and Muezza was lying asleep on the edge of his gown. Like anyone who loves cats Muhammed didn’t have the heart to wake Muezza. Instead Muhammed cut away the fabric so he could get up, leaving his beloved cat sleeping peacefully. Sometime later his companion Ebu Nuaym saw Muezza drink water from the abdest, the fountain set aside for believers to perform ablutions before undertaking prayers. He was alarmed and told the prophet who replied, “Cats have the cleanest mouths”.

These words are one of the many hadith, that is, the teachings of the Prophet. Hadith are the words, actions and things approved of by the Prophet Muhammed and are collectively known as Sunna. Followers of Islam refer to both the Quran and Sunna for guidance on how to live a good life. There are many hadith resulting from the Prohpet Muhammed’s love of cats, and here are some of my favourites.

A cat killed a snake that tried to bite Muhammed when he was praying. Understood in light of the story of Adam and Eve, the serpent represents evil while the cat represents good.
A person who kills a cat has to build seven mosques.
If a cat drinks from the abdest fountain worshippers use for ablutions, the water can still be used for this purpose because a cat is not necis, meaning it is not unclean in a religious sense.
It is a duty to provide water and food for cats

This duty towards cats in Turkey is taken pretty seriously where I live in Istanbul. Two widowed ladies feed about 20 cats in the garden across the road from my Istanbul apartment and a man bicycles through the neighbourbood, even in the snow, to leave out cat food. Every summer the local council puts up huge billboards reminding people to leave water out for strays, and the sidewalks end up lined with cut down plastic bottles for this purpose.

Famous cats in Turkey

Gli, probably one of the most famous of the cats in Turkey.

Istanbul even has a few cats famous in their own right. Until her death in 2020, the Hagia Sophia was home to much loved moggie named Gli. The name means ‘Union of Love’ and this was one much-beloved spoiled kitty judging by the number of people who lined up to stroke her and take a selfie. She even had her own twitter handle @GliAyasofya.

Just down the road from me in Ziverbey, a rather regal looking but somewhat, shall I say, rotund looking kedi called Tombili ruled the roost. He became famous when a meme began doing the rounds, showing him leaning back enjoying a glass of rakı or tea, looking for all the world like an Ottoman pasha. Sadly he died in August 2016 but was so loved that a petition was taken up to have the local council officially commemorate his life with a sculpture. Some 17,000 signatures were collected, and on October 4 of the same year, World Animal Day, the Kadıköy deputy mayor unveiled the Tombili sculpture. I think it’s quite flattering, given Tombili’s actual girth. In a twist worthy of a thriller, the statue was stolen during the night of November 7, just over a month later. It’s not known who the thieves were, but clearly public outrage got the better of them because Tombili was found in a nearby street soon after.

A statue of Tombik, one of the much loved cats in Turkey.

As for me, I had a brief close friendship with a street cat called Muffin. For me it was love/hate. I loved him when he was affectionate but hated him when he swiped at me with his claws, which was quite often. He disappeared after major redevelopment started in my street. Thinking back, I’d say his relationship with me was one of hate/hate. He probably hated me because I didn’t feed him (given both he and another cat I called Son of Satan were in danger of obesity due to all the food being put out, why would I?) and because I wanted to pet him without giving him anything. Try as I might, I am still more of a dog person. Don’t hate me!


Find out more about my ultimate move to Turkey in my memoir Istanbul Dreams: Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom. Making the decision to come was easy. It’s choosing to stay that can be hard.

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  1. We stayed for a month in Istanbul in our motorhome and had two cats adopt us. It was so lovely and made us feel at home having a cat curl up on our couch. That’s one thing I miss about travelling.

    1. Yes, having a pet is a wonderful thing. You’ll just have to pet a lot of cats in your travels!

    1. I’m sorry for your grief and hope the memories you have of your cat will, in time, heal your sense of loss.

  2. Yes, I did see many cats when in Istanbul and even photographed a few. I can’t imagine why they’d leave with the plentiful Bosporus Strait there.

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