Thursday, March 22, 2012

Of Cats and Muslims: A Gaza Cat Story

In 2005, the municipalities of Gaza had a cat shortage. Cats are important to Gaza as they serve a great purpose, munching on rodents that gather by the local landfills. Apparently, the local governments used a strong kind of poison; so strong that it killed both the rodents and the cats. As the population of cats dwindled, the rodents ran amok. Those were tough times in Gaza, as little kids were traumatized by increasingly bold rabbit-sized rodents who were running around unchallenged.

The local governments within Gaza starting offering up to a $100 reward for anyone who could bring them cats, as cats were the answer to keep the rodents in check. So when I crossed the Rafah—Egypt border in August of 2005, and had to spend the night at the border holding area in the desert, cats were all over the place. When 4 other dudes and I wanted to eat our dinner, skinny yet adorable cats started gathering around us in the hopes they could eat, too. Luckily, we had enough shitty corned beef to keep them happy.

As the government put a value on cats, and as more people realized the key role played by those cuddly creatures, Gazans started to breed cats, and started to treat cats with more respect. Within a few years the cat population bloomed. But what’s more important is that people now see the value of cats. In the summer of 2009, I was amazed by how many cats were in the streets. What was more amazing is that many homes have a cat or two that shadow them and emerge at the time of supper. My mother-in-law would feed them, and she had one particular cat that could use a treadmill. Living in the US for such a long time, I came to really appreciate the love and attention the people of Gaza give to those cats. Considering Gaza was still under siege and they lost upward of 1,300 hundred Palestinians due to Israeli attacks on Gaza’s population only a few months prior, it was a breath of fresh air to see this relationship.

Muslims’ love for cats is well documented in history; in fact, one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions, the one that narrates many of his accounts with the prophet, is called “Abu Horayrah”, which translates to “the man with a kitten.” Abu Horaryrah used to have a cat on his shoulder all the time. His nickname took over his name so that till this day, few can tell with certainty what was his real name. While dogs are generally kept outside of Muslim homes, kittens are welcome inside it. Before you misunderstand me, there’s a story that in the time of the prophet, a lady who did all kind of wrongs in her life and lived a wicked life, was guaranteed a place in heaven. Why, you ask? She served a thirsty dog water! That sole act was deemed worthy of redeeming her from all her past transgressions.

It was narrated by Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) that “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘A woman entered Hell because of a cat which she tied up and did not feed, nor did she let it loose to feed upon the vermin of the earth.’ “ (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 3140; Muslim, 2242).

Another interesting fact: Muslims do not believe that you should buy or sell cats and dogs; you can only give them as a gift. This is derived from a hadeeth of Abu’l-Zubayr who said “I asked Jaabir about the price of dogs and cats. He said, ‘The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) forbade that.’ ” (Narrated by Muslim, 1569).

Back to a prank my brothers pulled on me in Gaza. Prior to my arrival in 2009, they found a cat who had just given birth to 3 cute kittens. My brothers asked me to take the kittens to the vet to get them their shots. I told them I’d gladly do it and took the kittens in a cab to the local vet, who mainly dealt with livestock. He looked at the three day-old kittens and said, “Bring them back in a few weeks. Those are too young for any shots and they could die from the effects.” I was disappointed, but I took the kittens back home and found my brothers laughing at me for being a grown man chasing after three kittens to put them in a box for a trip to the vet.

Here’s a video of my rascal nephew, Hani, whose nickname is Foxy. He is running around the cats to put them in the box so that we can transport them to the vet. The picture is of my other nephew Abdallah and his new best friend, a cat that shows up every morning at their apartment. I was told he feeds his cat with a spoon and his mother is enjoying this new friendship as her little boy is learning to take charge of something.

[Hat Tip Kellee Koenig]




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