This Winter, an Imam Is Offering Shelter to Stray Cats in Istanbul

A community finds compassion and inspiration in the city’s furry strays.

Image via Facebook user Mustafa Efe

The cats of Istanbul are no strangers to social media—they’re the subjects of countless Instagram accounts, they’ve inspired a hashtag attached to more than 66,000 photos, and they’ll soon star in their own feature film. But who takes care of them when times are rough?

Imam Mustafa Efe has invited all cats to take shelter from the cold in Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi mosque this winter, and they’re taking him up on it. Istanbul residents have been leaving out food and water for stray neighborhood cats for years, but the cold winter months can be difficult for them if they don’t have shelter.

Taking care of the thousands of stray cats has become an integral part of daily life in Istanbul—in 2012, as many as 30,000 people took to the streets to protest legislation meant to clear the city of stray animals. So it’s no surprise that these kitties have brought in new visitors to the mosque, some of whom come just to see and play with the cats and post photos to social media.

Photographer Serdar Çelebi shares a photo of himself using his prayer beads to entertain one of the cats.

The imam regularly updates his Facebook page with photos of himself and the cats, often with quotations about compassion and sayings from the Prophet Muhammad encouraging people to kindness toward animals. Alongside the video of a particularly adored cat bringing her kittens all the way to the pulpit, he writes, “Our mosque’s Friday guests. A surprise awaiting us at the sermon today. The cat has found the heart of compassion and mercy.”

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