The Iraqi television network Al Sumaria is reporting that the Islamic State has issued a fatwa against breeding cats indoors, a surprising move, given the pivotal role kittens have played in Islamic State propaganda, as well as the high regard for the species in the Quran.
Al Sumaria cites “a local source in Nineveh,” the northern Iraqi region the Islamic State has plagued for the past two years, as hearing of the fatwa against breeding cats indoors and “keeping cats inside houses.”
“ISIS issued dozens of fatwas in Mosul based on its vision, ideology and beliefs,” Al Sumaria added, in a translation by English-language outlet Iraqi News. Islamic State jihadists reportedly insisted that the fatwa was not a violation of Islamic law despite their previous reverence for the animals.
Arutz Sheva highlights the Islamic belief that cats “are considered to be pure and even blessed animals in Islam”:
The law is rather incongruous since cats are considered to be pure and even blessed animals in Islam. One such Islamic tradition is the story of Mohammed’s cat Mueza. Mohammed apparently cut off the sleeve of his prayer garment so that it would not disturb her sleep and reportedly blessed cats and gave them the ability to land on their feet when jumping.
The treatment of cats in Islam stands in stark contrast to that of dogs, which are considered “impure”/haram and banned as pets in some Muslim countries. In Malaysia, for example, a teen girl found herself the object of Islamic outrage and targeted for legal action by a fundamental Islamic organization when an animal rescue group used a photo of her smiling and petting a dog to promote animal adoption.
The Islamic State has been using cats as propaganda tools as early as 2014, when they were still the “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” and had not yet declared the establishment of a “Caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. At the time, the jihadis popularized a Twitter account with the handle @ISILCats, modeled after the American website “I Can Haz Cheezburger,” in which cats were depicted with cute, misspelled captions, intended to be read as dialogue spoken by the cat in the photo.
The cats on the Islamic State account appeared often in the hands of jihadists, often also holding weapons and with captions like “I Luvs My Mujahid.”
Twitter eventually suspended the Islamic State cat account. More than a year later, however, a prominent Islamic State propagandist once again began posting cat photos, this time posing cats next to weapons and having their captions read as threats from the cats themselves to commit acts of terror. A man known as “Omar Hussein,” who made a name for himself as a youth recruiter for the Islamic State, posted photos of cats next to automatic weapons, grenades, and other jihadist material. One photo of a cat he identified as Lucy was captioned “Come closer and I’ll blow the entire house down!”
The Islamic State has previously used Western popular culture to attract jihadis, including failed attempts at recruiting soccer star Lionel Messi and former One Direction member Zayn Malik to the cause of global jihad. These recruitment efforts have attracted a number of European Muslims unused to the austere conditions in Syria and Iraq, many of whom have attempted to defect for reasons such as “I can’t charge my iPod.”