Cats hold a revered place within Islam. A popular tale about the Prophet Muhammed (often wrongly attributed to the hadith) says that the Prophet cut his cloak rather than making a sleeping cat move. Detail of the Blacas Ewer #Mosul, Iraq, 1232 @britishmuseum #NationalCatDay
But there are also hadith that show the Prophet Muhammad esteemed cats, and that he mandated they be well-treated. One recounts that the Prophet promised hellfire to a woman who was accused of torturing a cat. Incense Burner, Iran, 12th c. @metmuseum
A Companion of the Prophet Muhammad and transmitter of hadiths, Abd al-Rahman b. Ṣakhr al-Azdi, was nicknamed Abu Hurayra (Father of the Kitten) because he adored his cat SO MUCH. Ewer with a Feline-Shaped Handle, Iran, 7th c. @metmuseum
In Arabic, Persian, and Turkish literature, cats are ambiguous, with good and evil qualities. On one hand, cats are said to be affectionate, clean, and to resemble human beings when washing, stretching, yawning, and sneezing. Majnun in the Wilderness, Iran, 16th c @britishlibrary
Cats hunt mice but also attack much larger animals (elephants can be seized by panic when encountering cats). Cats are skillful & can escape precarious situations. Large cats like cheetahs were used in hunting. Hunter with (itty-bitty adorable) cheetah, Iran, 12th c. @metmuseum
Cheetahs also often depicted as symbols of auspiciousness and protection alongside other, more fantastical creatures. Pierced Jug with Harpies and Sphinxes, Syria, 1216 @metmuseum
Large cats like cheetahs and lions frequently appear as royal symbols. Here, the cheetah's convex spots, carved in relief, reflect and multiply the cheetah on the other side. Fatimid Rock Crystal Ewer with Cheetahs, Egypt, late 10th–early 11th century, @DallasMuseumArt
The Norman Christian King Roger II was strongly influenced by the Islamic civilization he encountered after conquering Sicily. His mantle depicts a triumphant lion surrounded by Arabic Kufic script. Coronation Mantle of Roger II of Sicily, 1134, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Even the legendary Prophet and King Solomon, revered in Islam as he is in Judaism and Christianity, needed a kitteh below his throne. Solomon Enthroned, Iran, 15th c., (IO Islamic 3540, f. 1v) @britishlibrary
King Gayumars, the mythical first ruler of Iran, brought civilization to humanity by dressing them in leopard pelts. In this image, humans and wild cats exist in a perfect cycle of harmony under an ideal ruler. Shahanameh of Shah Tahmasp, folio 20v, Iran, 16th c. @AgaKhanMuseum
But sources also describe cats as willful, crafty, unpredictable, thievish, and cruel. They're ungrateful, because they close their eyes when eating, disregarding the one who feeds them. RT if psycho-kitteh sounds familiar. Pyxis of al-Mughira, Spain, 10th c. @MuseeLouvre
Cats are also associated with demons or with the jinn, and to bring the evil eye. Black cats are seen as mischievous and are blamed for breaking up friendships. Apparently they also occasionally sported hipster handlebar mustaches. Cat sculpture, Iran, 19th c. @MuseeLouvre
Al-Qāriʾ al-Harawī (d. 1605) wrote a treatise, the Kitāb al-birra fī ḥubb al-hirra (“The book of affectionate behavior on the love of cats”) that includes much praise, but points out that a cat will drop you the second they spot a mouse. Aquamanile, Iran, 13th c. @hi_shangrila
European observers were struck by how highly cats were esteemed in Ottoman times. Edward W. Lane (1801–1876), a British Orientalist resident in Cairo, described a cat garden originally endowed by the 13th c. Egyptian Sultan Baybars.…
BTW Sultan Baybars was, after Saladin, probably the most renowned Islamic ruler of the medieval era. Smiter of Crusaders and Mongols, he was known as the Lion of Egypt. His symbol was the lion, which he emblazoned on coins and buildings. Coin of Baybars, 1260, David Collection.
19th c. European observers described cats wandering freely in and out of houses and mosques in Ottoman lands, fed and doted on by people from all walks of life. John Frederik Lewis, Interior of a school, Cairo, 1865. @V_and_A
And even today, cats have a cherished place in Islamic lands - in Istanbul, this cat has been in residence in the ancient church (later mosque) of Hagia Sophia for 14 years…
Also in Istanbul, in 2016 Imam Mustafa Efe opened the doors of his mosque to cats, who obviously moved right in.…
And if you're a fan of Persian cats, you'll be pleased to hear that despite the occasional disapproval of theologians, Iranians adore cats as much as their Turkish neighbors.…
Perhaps most touchingly, in Syria, Mohammed Alaa al-Jaleel, known at the Aleppo Cat Man, runs a cat hospital outside Aleppo to treat injured and hungry cats during the Syria conflict. He drives out EVERY DAY to rescue cats. @theAleppoCatman…
And that, dear Twitter, is a little window onto the rich visual and cultural history of cats in Islamic lands. I wrote it, of course, with a cat curled up on my lap.
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