Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Cat Abroad

I can sunbathe in many different languages.

          When we lived in Paris, the guardienne of our apartment building was Tunisian, and a Muslim. I know this because I used to stop into her office sometimes to ask her where to find things in the neighborhood, or to chat with her when I saw her cleaning the lobby. She told me a lot about Tunisia—how beautiful the country was, how kind the people were. She told me charming stories from the Quran. K and I decided to spend our Christmas in Tunisia that year.
          Our timing, however, was spectacularly poor. We talked about a Tunisian Christmas off and on during the summer of 2001, and along about August we decided we would start making travel plans.
          You know what happened in September 2001. Suddenly North Africa didn't look like such a good destination for a holiday.
          But the thing I remember most when I remember our Tunisian guardienne is what she said to me one morning when she saw our cat sunning herself on our terrace. "You know," she said, "the cat was born in the arms of the Prophet."
          Aside from being a stunningly beautiful image of love—the Prophet Mohammed holding a newborn kitten—it is stunning for another reason. Raised as I was in a Christian ethic that has often equated cats with evil, I had simply never imagined a culture existed where the cat was allied with holiness.
          Islam, like all other religions, has a bright side and a dark side. This is the nature, unfortunately, of religion. I can't ignore the dark side any more than I can fail to honor the bright side. And what I always think of, when someone mentions Islam, is the Prophet with a purring cat in his arms, a smile upon his face.

No comments:

Post a Comment