cats in Istanbul

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Cats benefit from their association with Islam in Turkey, where the population is mostly Muslim though the laws and political system are secular.

2013-09-28 14.07.24-1IMG_1043A popular saying goes: “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”

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Islamic lore tells of a cat thwarting a poisonous snake that had approached the Prophet Muhammad. In another tale, the prophet found his cat sleeping on the edge of his vest. 

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2013-09-29 17.23.08-1Instead of shifting the cat, the prophet cut off the portion of the vest that was free and wore it without disturbing the pet.

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When President Obama visited Turkey last year, he paused to stroke a tabby cat at the former Byzantine church of Haghia Sophia while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan looked on with a smile. The cat, one of half a dozen living at the ancient site, seemed unfazed by the VIP attention.

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The special status of stray cats in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey reflects a tradition-bound country on the path to modernity. It partly derives from Muslim ideas about tolerance, and an urban elite with Western-style ideas about animal rights. 


 Turkey introduced an animal protection law in 2004, and state policy is to catch, neuter and release or find a home for street animals.  

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Alleged poisoning campaigns by some municipalities, usually targeting dogs, suggest laws are sometimes flouted altogether.

2013-09-29 11.36.32-12013-09-28 14.11.22-1Turkey’s Animal Welfare Act No. 5199 seeks to protect animals from torture, abuse and maltreatment. But under this law offenders are only subject to fines under the Law on Misdemeanors.  

(source: Cat culture thrives in Istanbul; Turkey prepares to pass stringent animal cruelty laws; Why are there so many cats in Istanbul)

©2014 TH

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