As I wander around the neighborhood of Beyoğlu, I point my camera and snap some pictures of the magnificent Galata Tower, then I spot a cat. I come closer, caress him until he purrs and seems really content, then I move back to the tower, before spotting another cat. I cross the Bosphorus to set foot on Asia, marveling the view of Seraglio Point where the minarets of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque seem to pierce the sky, then I see a cat. I reach her and give some strokes on her back and neck. She seems to relish every single touch, constantly purring until I continue walking.
Legend has it that one day Muhammad awoke to the sound of adhan, the Islamic call for prayer. When he was getting ready to dress himself, he found his cat – Muezza – sleeping on his robe. Instead of waking her up, he chose to cut his robe and leave a patch on which Muezza was sleeping.
Although there is no clear evidence of the story nor a reference on cat as a special animal in Islam, but many Muslims pass the story on over generations and across continents – Istanbul is no exception. Despite staunchly secular, many Islamic traditions are still carried on and practiced by modern Turkish people. As the tradition dictates, cats generally receive better treatment than other animals. It is not hard to find well-fed clean cats in Istanbul – touristy places, cobblestone alleys, seaside walkways, parks benches are some of the places where cats are easily found.
Sitting on a bench at the other side of Seraglio Point, next to Kennedy Avenue, I take my time to breathe the fresh air from the Sea of Marmara. The sun is setting and a cornucopia of stray cats are foraging for food. In this part of the city the felines are less fortunate than their counterparts in Sultanahmet area, albeit slightly. However none of them looks skinny – a molly even nurtures her spry kittens between the rocks on the shore.
A fierce-looking man stands on his big motorbike. His leather jacket and shabby bandanna attest his stern look. Just before he rides his iron horse, he grabs a small portion of food from nearby hawker. He then lowers his hand and feed the cats. This is Istanbul, where cats are special.