Morocco, like many Muslim countries, is a paradise for cat lovers.
Anyone who has already gone out there has undoubtedly noticed that there are cats everywhere. In the corners of the streets, in the alleys, on the terraces, on the roofs and, above all, sitting waiting for a meal at the butchers of the souks. When they are not in their long hours of sleep, it is delightful to see them playing, lying on our lap or rubbing on our legs, not resisting a cuddle or a small sharing of food in any local restaurant. But why are there so many cats in Morocco?
A popular saying notes “If you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.” and the direct answer is that Morocco is a predominantly Muslim society where cats are tolerated and even protected and respected. Thus, Morocco is one of the many Muslim countries that honour their cats, since they are animals considered ritually clean in Islam. In the hadith, the collected sayings and actions of Muhammad, there are many records of the Prophet’s love for these beings and his relationship with them, which has resulted in counselling people to treat their cats as a member of the family, leading to respect and devotion on the part of the Muslims.
One of the most famous stories involves Muezza, the Prophet’s favourite cat. When the call to prayers was heard, Muezza was asleep on one of the sleeves of the Prophet’s robes. The Prophet wanted to wear the robe to go to prayers. Rather than disturb Muezza, Muhammad cut off the sleeve to leave Muezza in peace. Prophet then stroked the cat three times, which, it is said, granted Muezza seven lives. It is also believed that when the Prophet was delivering sermons in his house, he used to have Muezza on his lap. Another reference is his companion Abu Hurayrah’s cat. Abu Hurayrah means literally “father of the cats”, having received this name because wherever he went, he always had a cat with him. People say that this cat saved the Prophet Muhammad from an attack of a deadly serpent. Supposedly, in gratitude, Muhammad blessed the cats by giving them the ability to always fall on their paws and not on their backs.
Cats were considered guardians in other respects for the Islamic world; they defended libraries from destruction by mice and may have helped protect city populations from rat-borne plagues.
Throughout history, Islamic civilisation is thus full of examples of respect, love and understanding with which cats have been treated and considered. A behaviour that crystallised in strong cultural and mystical dimensions, of which there are still numerous and evident vestiges in Islamic art and science today.
Although it may be thought that all Moroccan families have cats, this is not quite the reality. There is a giant population of stray cats, many of them called “social cats” fed and cared for by the general population. At the same time, the cat population ranges from the well-fed and fairly content to the scraggly, sick, and malnourished. Travellers can help stray cats in the country by contributing to one of the various animal welfare associations or, in case there is a spare part of the meal at the restaurant, ask for it to be bagged up to take away and then feed it to the cats near their accommodation, which they will undoubtedly exist.
The history of Morocco is not complete without considering the strong feline presence, and indeed, the cats will be one of the memories of the country. These are some of the lovely creatures that reside in Morocco, just like its hospitable people.