ISTANBUL – Though divided along national identity and ethnicity lines, as well as questions of religiosity and secularism, the Turkish people have found unity in their love for cats, with stories of their kindness to the pets popping up more often.
Most stores, pubs, government offices, and cafés have their own feline mascots and bowls of water and dry cat food line the sidewalks everywhere.
Many attribute the Turkish people’s love of cats to the fact that they are considered ritually clean animals in Islam. There is also a hadith of Prophet Muhammad that urges kindness to animals.
In Turkey, animal abuse is usually met with swift condemnation by all quarters and can even trigger protests.
Here are some of our favorite stories of Turkish people taking their love the pets to a new level:
Cats in the Mosque
Across the Bosphorus on the Asian side of Istanbul, the imam of the Aziz Mahmud Hudayi mosque in Üsküdar opened the gates of his house of worship for the strays to take shelter.
“In Islam, we have a compassionate religion, God is the most gracious and most merciful,” he told The Guardian.
“We are responsible for these living creatures, they are our friends who cannot talk.”
“What we learn from the God and prophet we believe in is that anything other than mercy is inconceivable, and so the mosque is open every day, for any of these creatures, whenever they need mercy,” he added.
In one viral video on his Instagram account, he playfully wags his finger at a kitten as he sits inside the mosque in mock admonishment, and she leaps and bites it.
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Tuana Ekin Şahin, a 12-year-old student, has been working to build a new shelter for stray cats during winter.
Since the summer, Şahin goes every week, weather permitting, to İstiklal avenue to play the violin to raise money for more cat homes.
Thus far, Şahin raised over 2,000 lira (about £384), which she put towards building a large cat home in her neighborhood, and to feed local stray dogs.
“I was worried about embarrassment, but I knew I was playing for the animals, and that gave me joy,” she said.
“Playing in Istiklal is also practice so we don’t bother the neighbors,” her mother, Deniz, chimed in.
The domestic cat is a revered animal in Islam, admired for its cleanliness as well as for being beloved by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
According to many hadiths, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) prohibited the persecution and killing of cats.
One of Prophet Muhammad’s companions was even known as Abu Hurairah (literally: “Father of the Kitten”) for his attachment to cats.