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Abu Amir al-Fadl ibn Ismail al Tamimi al Jurjani: I have a cat

Abu Amir al-Fadl ibn Ismail al Tamimi al Jurjani: I have a cat
Photo: Cat painted by Mehmed Siyah-Kalem who flourished in 15th century Turkestan or Iran. Nothing is known of his life, but his work indicates that he was of Central Asian (presumably Turkish) origin, and thoroughly familiar with camp and military life. The paintings appear in the “Conqueror’s Albums,” so named because two portraits of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror are present in one of them. The albums are made up of miniatures taken from manuscripts of the 14th, 15th, and early 16th centuries, and one series of paintings is inscribed “work of Master Muḥammad Siyah Kalem.” Something of the style and techniques of Chinese paintings is apparent in these, and an acquaintance with Buddhist art, particularly in the depictions of grotesque demonic figures. There also is evident a mordant humour and a personal vision of men or animals as little better than devils, and this may be the origin of the painter’s name Siyah-Kalem (Black Pen). These paintings show a pessimistic forcefulness and realism wholly lacking in Persian art of the 15th century, and it is possible that they provided a major influence on Turkish painting, which departed from the idyllic, languid, and romantic path taken by Persian art.



I have a cat whose foot-pads I dye with henna
before I put henna on my own newborns.
Then I tie cowrie shells to her collar
to repel the harm of evil eyes.
Each day, before I feed my family, I see that she gets
our choicest meats and purest waters.
The playful thing. When she sees
my face contorted in a frown,
sometimes she sings, sometimes she dances,
sparing no exertion for my diversion’s sake.
I care nothing for the fire’s warmth when she lies with me
in the chill of winter’s longest nights.
When I give her scratches, she gives me licks
with a tongue toothed like the surface of a file.
If I avoid her, she fawns on me,
wheedling with her little high-pitched moans.
If I give her trouble she will show me her claws,
a sight that gives the eyes no pleasure.
When she plays with a mouse, she is at her saltiest
for she puts him through “humiliating punishment.” 
When he faints from terror, she busies herself
in batting him awake with a left and a right.
She teases him with feigned inattention, then
swoops like a falcon when he tries to creep away.
Just when he dares hope for peace from her,
those hopes are dashed with a serpent’s liveliness.

In this way do the decrees of fate ruin a man
and finish him with a cut to the aorta,
just when, amid the lively gathering,
he takes the cup of destiny from a server.
(Abu 'Amir al-Fadl ibn Isma'il al-Tamimi al-Jurjani recorded in The Merits of the Housecat by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti; Translated by David Larsen)



Recommended Reading:
‘The Animals' Lawsuit Against Humanity: An Illustrated 10th Century Iraqi Ecological Fable’
By Ikhwan al-Safa (Author), Rabbi Dan Bridge (Author), Rabbi Kalonymus (Author), Umm Kulthum (Illustrator), Rabbi Anson Laytner (Translator), Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Introduction)
To Purchase:
In this interfaith and multicultural fable, eloquent representatives of all members of the animal kingdom—from horses to bees—come before the respected Spirit King to complain of the dreadful treatment they have suffered at the hands of humankind. During the ensuing trial, where both humans and animals testify before the King, both sides argue their points ingeniously, deftly illustrating the validity of both sides of the ecology debate. The ancient antecedents of this tale are thought to have originated in India, with the first written version penned in Arabic sometime before the 10th century in what is now Iraq. Much later, this version of the story was translated into Hebrew in 14th century France and was popular in European Jewish communities into the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This exquisite English translation, illustrated with 12 original color illumination plates, is useful in introducing young and old alike to environmental and animal rights issues.
"Fons Vitae is to be congratulated for making this work available in its current form . . . the cooperation of representatives from all the religions of the Abrahamic family in the preparation of the present book—reminds us of the basic truth that the most crucial problems of today are those which all authentic religious people face together . . . They have provided a book of value for experts on medieval thought as well as ordinary readers interested in reading a fascinating story of enduring spiritual worth and great current significance."

(Seyyed Hossein Nasr, George Washington University)
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