The Saudi religious police recently demanded that the Jeddah municipality ban pet shops from selling dogs and cats, on the grounds that Islam forbids it because of the concern that displaying the animals in shop windows could be exploited by young people for courtship purposes. The ban dumbfounded Arab columnists, provoking several articles on the subject. In a column in the Kuwaiti daily Awan, Saudi columnist Samar Al-Muqrin wrote that there should be a distinction between stray cats and house cats, and called on the religious police to reverse the ban.
The following are excerpts from the article:
“So far, I haven’t been able to tell whether or not my beautiful cat Nani is afraid of the [Saudi] religious police apparatuses. However, I can say for certain that if she were to encounter one of its employees face to face, she would flee and feel ruffled for the rest of the day — especially now that this ‘governmental’ religious apparatus has revealed its true feelings about her in the media, and that she and her friends have become its targets…
“Nani has come to be seen as an abomination, against which religious police officials must wage an unrelenting war. Therefore, I feel compelled to explain the situation to her, so that she understands why, from now on, she cannot accompany me on my walks and car trips, which she so enjoys.
“I will try to explain all this to Nani, otherwise she might think that her house arrest is of my own doing, [prompted by] a dictatorial decision, and might be angry with me. I will explain the situation to her, and I am sure she will understand that we are in the same boat — with a hole in it, that [the Saudi authorities] have forced us to board — myself, Nani, the women of our country, and all the cats and dogs. We have been forced to remain in [this boat] even though we know that it is flawed and sure to sink”
“I am well aware of Nani’s predicament, and am seriously contemplating how to smuggle her out of my aunt’s house and into my own without hurting her feelings. [The problem is that] right now I am outside Saudi Arabia, and Nani is spending her [summer] vacation at my aunt’s, along with several other cats who inhabit the house. I am worried that when I return to Riyadh and try to bring Nani home, she will be apprehended en route, since the streets are not safe and religious police lurk at every corner.
“If I try to smuggle her under the car seat, she will be angry with me because she believes that looking out into the street, ensconced on the windowsill, is her prerogative as a ‘free’ creature, endowed with the right to observe what is going on around her. Certainly, I am endangering Nani’s life, so I am far from easy on her account. Religious police officials have informed me that they are planning to arrest Nani and her girlfriends, but they never mentioned whether a special prison had been prepared for her or whether she would be bundled together with strays — a veritable disaster.
“I would certainly expect the brave religious police to adopt a more honorable policy. Can’t they see for themselves what is going on in the Saudi streets? All those stray cats copulating in public — simply revolting! They have no respect for pedestrians, nor are they concerned that small children can see them… I would expect [the religious police] to stop these nefarious practices that are carried out in the open… This is a priority — while Nani and her friends do not present any moral threat to society. They are neither wanton, nor engage in the debauchery rampant among street cats”
“I hereby call on religious police officials to retract their statements, since Nani and her friends are virtuous and will never overstep moral boundaries… Accordingly, I ask this respected government apparatus to retract its media announcements and demand that those who issued the fatwa [prohibiting the sale of cats and dogs] abrogate it. Indeed, it is inconceivable that in their hearts, imbued with faith and meekness, they aim to harm housecats while letting strays continue their criminal practices, in blatant violation of moral codes.
“I call on these compassionate [individuals] not to dump Nani and her friends together with those evildoers, and to make a clear differentiation [between housecats and strays], since [such a differentiation] is both logical and rooted in fact.”