Does Islam Forbid Keeping a Cat?

Islam is a religion that has cleanliness amongst its core values. Ablution has been declared mandatory in one form or the other for Muslims before they offer their prayers. Moreover, unclean animals such as pigs have been declared haram for consumption so Muslims may enjoy the benefits of clean animals. This raises the question of keeping animals within homes, as most animals are unclean by nature. However, there are certain exceptions, which are extended towards well-trained animals such as parrots, dogs and especially cats. While there are some restrictions for dogs, cats are generally seen as clean animals in Islam and readily welcomed in homes and even mosques. What is the reason for this?

Affection for Cats

The Holy Prophet (SAW) personally liked cats, as it can be seen from the hadith: “Affection for cats is part of faith” (Maqasid al-Hasanah, al-Sakhawi). It clearly defines that the Holy Prophet (SAW) identified the love for animals as being one of the signs of a truly faithful person. The Holy Prophet (SAW) even adopted a cat he met on his way back from the Uhud campaign and named the female cat “Muezza”.

Punishment for Cruelty Against Cats

There is a verified hadith in which Abdullah (RA) reported the Holy Prophet (SAW) telling how a woman had starved a cat to death. As a result of this heinous cruelty, she was banished to Hell for eternity.

“A woman was tormented because of a cat which she had confined until it died and she had to get into Hell. She did not allow it either to eat or drink as it was confined nor did she free it so that it might eat the insects of the earth” (Sahih Muslim).

This hadith goes to show the love that Allah has for his creation, especially cats. They are often portrayed as selfish and self-centered. In reality, cats are quite affectionate, though it takes time to develop a close relationship with them as they are selective in choosing their masters.

The Rewards for Generosity with Animals

Allah is forgiving, merciful and rewarding towards those who love his creations, especially animals. They are born without intellect and a proper way to defend themselves against humans, hence they are at our mercy. It is a test of humanity to see how well they treat animals, and Allah is most merciful to those who take care of animals.

“A prostitute saw a dog turning around a well on a hot day; it was panting due to thirst. She took off her shoe, filled it with water and gave the water to the dog. The woman was forgiven due to this deed” (Muslim, Tawba 155, (2245)).

The hadith defines how a prostitute was forgiven of her past for the simple act of offering water to a thirsty dog. She did this out of love for the dog without expecting any return. The act may seem small, but Allah was extremely pleased with it and, as a result, chose to forego her past entirely.

Can Muslims Keep Cats in Homes?

The above ahadith are offered as a prelude towards understanding why cats are favored by Muslims. They are generally clean, as they take care of personal hygiene by licking themselves clean. Their tongues are specially evolved towards cleaning their fur and removing loose hair. They do not defecate in homes, instead choosing to litter in a chosen box filled with sand, which can be easily provided with them. They may scratch furniture to mark their territory, but this habit can be removed easily through proper training. Hazrat Abd al-Rahman ibn Sakhr Ad-Dausi (RA), a companion of the Holy Prophet (SAW), was known as Abu Hurayrah owing to his devotion towards cats.

Eating from Food Where Cats Have Eaten

There is a hadith narrated by Hazrat Abu Dawood (RA) in which he remembers his mother telling how she had sent her servant to Hazrat Aisha (RA) to deliver some hareesah. Hazrat Aisha (RA) gestured for it to be put down while she finished her prayer. Meanwhile, a cat ate some from it, but she still ate from it. She described how cats are not unclean as they reside with us and further added that she had seen the Holy Prophet (SAW) perform ablution from the water similarly used by a cat.

This hadith can be interpreted in the form that Hazrat Aisha (RA) saw the cat and knew from looking that it was not inflicted with disease or unclean by nature. Otherwise, she would have left the food and explained so that it would not seem rude.

Abu Dawood (RA) also narrated from a chain of narrations how water was offered to a cat for drinking and it was used for wudu from the same vessel. He narrates how the Holy Prophet (SAW) labels them as clean as they can and do live among us.

Treatment of Cats in Islam

It is mentioned in the hadith of Holy Prophet (SAW) that cats do not invalidate prayers, as they are clean.

“Cats do not invalidate the prayer, because they are one of the things that are useful in the house” (Sunan Ibn Majah).

This removes the burden of having to keep them in specific areas of the house to keep it clean for praying.

Cats do not have a general habit of licking (as compared to dogs). Also, their licking is not accompanied by saliva. Moreover, they can be trained to refrain from licking the people, just like dogs. As with all activities, extravagant spending on animals is prohibited in Islam. People spend excessive resources of time and money to beautify their cats, which is unnecessary. These activities are discouraged in Islam. Besides that, the act of keeping a pet properly while fulfilling its responsibilities is completely allowed in Islam.