Istanbul is a bustling place, full of people, but it doesn’t take long to notice that there are almost as many cats roaming the streets of this metropolis bridging Eastern and Western worlds. Cats have been living in Istanbul since the times of the Ottoman Empire. They arrived on merchant ships coming from Egypt. They soon felt at home in the city, and people at that time were gladly welcoming them as most houses in Istanbul were made from wood at that time, which attracted a lot of mice and rats – and the cats were efficient help to get rid of them. Today, you will find cats everywhere: taking a sunbath in the best seat of a café or restaurant, sitting in front of a shop or by the harbour waiting for someone to drop a titbit, or just wandering the streets looking for the next fun cat adventure.
Cats in Islam
Occasionally, you can even see a cat living inside a Mosque. I have seen many countries with many cats (and dogs) living on the streets and people taking care of them. However, finding them inside a religious place was new to me. So, I was interested in and did some research on the role of cats in Islam. I found out, that the domestic cat is a sacred animal in Islam. Unlike dogs, cats are admired for their cleanliness and therefore allowed in peoples homes. Even prophet Muhammad loved cats. As the story goes, a cat saved the life of the prophet Muhammad by protecting him from a snake. To show his gratitude he blessed the animal. He even had a favourite cat, who was called Muezza and he treated it with great care and generosity. And still today, cats are a favourite pet of Muslims. In Istanbul, you can tell that many people treat the animals with great care. You find little bowls with food and water on most street corners. We even saw a cat that was obviously hurt. But someone build a shelter for it and provided the cat with food, water and medicine.
Streetlife in Istanbul
Even though many people show kindness towards cats, their life is not always that easy. There are many cases of mistreatment and cruelty reported and many cats suffer from diseases, that can be transmitted and make the lives of the cats hard. However, there are many non-profit organisations and volunteers that help the cats to better lives.
Despite these challenges, the cats are extremely friendly, some are even cuddly. If you see that they have a tag in their ear, it is mostly safe to pet them. It means that they have been vaccinated (but washing your hands after is probably still recommended). The cats of Istanbul come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Nobody knows how many of them roam the streets of Istanbul exactly, it could be up to a million.
Fun fact: There is even a documentary on the cats of Istanbul. The film by Turkish director Ceyda Torun is called Kedi (cat) and was released in 2016.