Before my family and I went on our Moroccan odyssey, we fully expected to see cobras and monkeys in the market square in Marrakesh, donkeys pulling carts through the narrow streets of the Fez medina, caravans of camels with tasseled harnesses on the Saharan dunes, and maybe even goats climbing argan trees for nuts. I also assumed we'd see a lot of painfully-thin stray dogs, as common in developing countries as squirrels in Central Park.
We spent 10 days in Morocco, and I can count on one hand the number of dogs we saw. Apparently, some Muslims think dogs are unclean, lowly, idiot gross creatures. They don't allow them in their homes and wouldn't dream of having one as a pet. One of the worst insults you can make to a Muslim is calling him "a dog." I'm not particularly fond of canines either. They smell, are needy, and their drooling loyalty seems like aggressive stupidity. I'm a serious cat person. Our family includes four of them, only a few shy of a horde. Some might say (some have said), I'm the chairman of the Crazy Cat Lady Committee. My biggest travel fear is receiving a message from our sitter that reads, "Your cats are on the roof."
So you can imagine my joy to discover that Morocco is crawling with cats. They are everywhere, in every mosque, medina, market square, store, hotel, restaurant, garden and dig. We even hung out with the pride of kitties that lived in the airport in Fez. Not only were Moroccan cats omnipresent, they were well fed, healthy and friendly.
Mystified to find myself in this feline wonderland, I asked our tour guide, "What's with all the cats?"
Turns out, Muhammad, prophet of Allah, was a founding member of the Crazy Cat People Committee, Muslim branch. He surrounded himself with cats and doted on his fave, Muezza. The story goes, one day, Mohammad woke up for the dawn call to prayer, and found Muezza asleep on the sleeve of his robe. Rather than disturb his pet -- cats do get irritated when moved, especially off a book or keyboard -- Muhammad cut off his sleeve, and went on his way. When he came home later, Muezza bowed in gratitude. The prophet stroked Muezza three times, thereby granting her nine lives and the ability to land on her feet. Muhammad was known to give sermons with a cat in his lap, and to share a food and water dish with Muezza. Another story claims a cat saved him from being attacked by a snake.
The Quran endorses crazy cat love, too. It espouses that cats are super clean and can live in the home. If you starve, torture or chain a cat, you will go to hell (true in any religion). Muslims are responsible for the feeding of neighborhood strays and are forbidden from buying and selling them like propery (because no one really owns a cat anyway). It's okay to kiss a cat on the lips (some say "disgusting," I say, "cute!"). If a cat nibbles from a plate of food, it's halal. If a cat drinks from a tub of water, it's acceptable for wudu, a ritual prayer bath.
The cats of Morocco aren't sacred per se, like the cows of India, but they're cared for and cherished like the fluffy love nuggets they are. If I ever moved to Morocco, I'd be one of the only Jews in the entire country, but I'd still feel like I was among my people.