You will find them everywhere: in the streets, in the shops, in the monuments, watching over the tourists, alone or in groups, more friendly or more serious. I am talking about the cats, who live in large numbers, and for whom the Moroccans have a special appreciation. Here’s why there are so many cats in Morocco.
In a culture such as Morocco’s, where religion is a fundamental part, it is advisable to seek an Islamic basis for every deep-rooted custom. To this end, it is necessary to know that Moroccans have two main religious sources to which to turn: firstly the Koran and secondly the Sunna, a set of precepts based on the sayings and deeds of the prophet as told by his disciples (known as hadith).
In that sense, the Koran does not speak at any time of cats and only three times of the dog, focusing mainly on his skills as a hunter and guardian. There is a clearer distinction in the hadiths, pointing out among others that while if a dog has licked a bowl it must be thoroughly washed, this is not necessary in the case of cats.
For Muslims, dogs are impure and cats are sacred, even if it is not specified in the Koran
Personally, what I think lies behind it is a question of hygiene: Islam, like many other religions, in addition to pointing out behaviour based on respect for others and oneself, tries to preserve the health of the community that makes it up. Think about the case of ablutions: in addition to the symbolic and ritual character, given the health problems that existed in the past, it was probably also intended to indicate certain rules so that mosques would not become a focus of infection.
I like to think that for Muslims, hygienic behaviour is parallel to a good religious attitude, and that cats are preferred because they are presumed to be better clean. Obviously, there is a whole range of interpretations, from those who think that you only have to have a minimum of common sense when establishing contact with a dog to those who think that you should avoid having a dog around.
I would not like to end this section without pointing out that, despite the variety of interpretations, Moroccans do not mistreat dogs, as has unfortunately often been thought. So much so, that it is not uncommon for the Koran to speak of the obligation to respect all animals, even though their mistreatment is considered a major sin.
But is it true that cats are usually cleaner than dogs?
Yes. While cats spend several hours a day cleaning themselves, removing parasites and dead hairs, dogs, as a subspecies of wolves, prefer for example to wallow in the dirt to hide their smell so that their prey cannot detect it by smell.
Probably, to attribute to the reason of the entrance a single religious foundation would be a sin of simplicity, and surely it obeys to a mixture in which also the legends and traditions play a fundamental role, being complicated to discern to what proportion obeys each one.
To give two examples related to popular culture, it has always been believed that the prophet had a passion for animals, especially for cats, not being picked up by any hadith and much less the Koran, but belonging to the oral transmission that once, not wanting to wake up his favorite cat when she slept on it, decided to get up by cutting a piece of his robe.
With regard to dogs, the stories tend to be a little more disparate. One that I especially remember is the one that indicates that if a dog walks in the desert, being a scavenger, it can extract the corpses buried there. Curiously enough, it has a certain historical basis, since it is known that in the past the Berbers buried the bodies in shallow holes, changing them to deeper ones when they realized that they were being dug up by wild animals.
However, I believe that one of the main cultural issues that makes a Moroccan prefer a cat as a companion has to do with their strong sense of community because, besides the family, they take into account all the scales that make up society: their street, their neighborhood, their city, …
In that sense, they are likely to prefer an animal with greater independence and capable of moving and integrating into all corners of the city, than one that depends excessively on the care of a family. So much so, that cats do not usually belong to any particular household, but are cared for and fed by the community as a whole.
Be that as it may, the reality is that they usually prefer cats to be the ones who accompany them in the day and day and that this is just another of their cultural contrasts. Of course, to use our western vision as a yardstick, concluding that their preferences when sharing their life with an animal are less valid would be a complete mistake, when in fact it is just another difference, and as a difference it is positive and means one more ingredient to be interested in a country so different and yet so close to us.