Of Cats And Men

by Thomas O’Dwyer

Mohammed Alaa al-Jaleel, the "Cat Man of Aleppo," rescues a young cat from a bombed building in the Syrian city.
Mohammed Alaa al-Jaleel, the “Cat Man of Aleppo,” rescues a young cat from a bombed building in the Syrian city.

The Prophet was sleeping when the call to afternoon prayer rang out across the town. He woke and reached for his prayer robe but a cat was curled up on an outstretched sleeve. A servant moved to shoo the animal away, but the Prophet raised his hand and motioned for the servant to bring scissors. Rather than wake the dozing cat Muezza, who had once killed a venomous snake that had threatened the Prophet, he sliced the sleeve off his robe, leaving the cat undisturbed. This legend of the warrior Mohammed and Muezza is one of the earliest records of a man’s love for a cat. Mohammed’s attitude to cats has meant that they have fared better under Islam than in other religions.

Ancients Egyptians had made cats divine and punished even the accidental killing of a cat with death. Islam instructs Muslims to revere cats and warns that mistreating a cat is a serious transgression. A 44-year-old ambulance driver, Mohammed Alaa al-Jaleel, became an internet sensation as the “Cat Man of Aleppo.” He risked his life to stay in the embattled Syrian city to rescue and care for distressed cats. His first cat sanctuary was bombed and gassed during the siege of the city. In the tradition of Muslim cat lovers, he ignored the danger from fierce fighting and bombing to care for hundreds of stray cats, often digging them out of wrecked buildings. Read more »