How tabby cats got their “M” marking

by Finn Frode
(Copenhagen, Denmark)

Milly - our old Norwegian Forest Cat

As you'll know most tabby cats carry a distinctive "M" marking in their foreheads. In Lorraine Chittock's book 'Cairo Cats - Egypt's Enduring Legacy' I found this story of how it got there:

"A cat once killed a snake that was attacking the Prophet. Grateful, Muhammad stroked her back - hence cats never fall on their back. He also put his noble hand on her forehead and that is why every cat has four dark lines on her forehead." (tradition of the Prophet quoted by Jalaluddin Rumi)

Just a legend of course, but a nice one that explains why the cat (contrary to the dog) is held in so high regard by Islam. Also read Michaels article: 'Islam faith and cats' here on the site.

Jalaluddin Rumi was a 13th-century Persian poet, theologian and mystic, who lived most of his life in the Anatolian city of Konya. I'm pretty sure he had a cat - and it must have been one of the ancestors of todays Turkish breeds.


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How tabby cats got their "M" marking

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Dec 18, 2010
my tabby cat
by: ursula

hi i have a tabby cat and there ''m'' mark looks tremendous;) i love her lots

Sep 06, 2010
by: shazza the singer

This is probably one of the most beautiful cats i have ever seen. Stunning. Lucky owner 🙂

Jan 28, 2010
Blessed cats
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

Yes, that's how it should look. We all know Furby must be blessed in some ways, so it's no wonder he wears the marks of the Prophet and Mary too. 😉
Another very clear tabby M seen here on the site recently is that of Mrs. Dennis' orange kitten August. That's very distinctive too.

Jan 25, 2010
Furby with M mark
by: Michael

Here is a picture by Joyce of little Furby sporting his version of the famous M mark:

It is a but blurred and diluted but very much there nonetheless.

Sep 19, 2009
Thanks Ruth
by: Michael

Ruth, thanks a lot for your comment. I very much agree that the cat should have been mentioned in the bible. As far as I am aware it is not mentioned at all.

If it had been and your text is a very good example, perhaps there would be less cat cruelty today or less neglect.

Sep 19, 2009
The story
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

My sister had the story I was looking for:
There is a book called “The Gospel of the Holy Twelve” said to be a translation of an early Christian document found in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. One legend in it seems to be among those things left out of the Bible when they ought to have been put in, for they bring before us the mind of Jesus Christ much more clearly than some other recordings by the disciples.

“As Jesus entered a certain village, He saw a young cat which had none to care for her, and she was hungry and cried unto Him, and He took her up, and put her inside His garment, and she lay in His bosom. And when He came into the village He set food and drink before the cat, and she ate and drank, and showed thanks unto Him. And He gave her unto one of His disciples, who was a widow, whose name was Lorenza, and she took care of her. And some of the people said, “This man careth for all creatures. Are they His brothers and sisters that He should love them?” And He said unto them, “Verily, these are your fellow creatures, of the great Household of God; yea they are brothers and sisters, having the same breath of life in the Eternal. And whosoever careth for one of the least of these, and giveth it to eat and drink in it’s need the same doeth it unto me; and whosoever willingly suffereth one of these creatures to be in want, and defendeth it not when evilly treated, suffereth the evil as done unto me.”

Sep 18, 2009
The M
by: Ruth

Thank you Michael.How very interesting !Yes tales alter in the telling when handed down generations, by word of mouth especially. Another version is that a tabby cat saved the baby Jesus from being attacked by a snake and that's why Mary blessed her with the M !

Sep 18, 2009
The Christian Legend
by: Michael

Hi Ruth, I just read up on the Christian legend. Finn gave us the Muslim one. Of course, legends get a bit muddied up when they are repeated over time. But the underlying theme of the Christian legend of the tabby M on the forehead is that Mary, Jesus's mother could not get Jesus to stop crying and go to sleep. She had tried everything.

A tabby cat (the tabby cat is the most common in the world and would certainly have been around in those days) entered the stable where Mary and Jesus were staying the night.

The cat jumped in next to Jesus and the warmth and purring put Jesus to sleep. As a reward Mary touched the cat on the forehead thus creating the famous "M" mark.

As I said there will be embellishments of this or more accurate descriptions but the underlying idea is the same.

Now the big question is what science has to say about this "M" mark. Why is the pattern exactly like that even though the tabby pattern on the rest of the cat varies considerably from plain ticking (Abyssinian) to spots, to stripes (mackerel tabby) to blotches (classic tabby).

I'll get back on that if I can find the answer. There is more than two legends! - more to come I hope on that too. What is interesting is the letter "M" features very often in relation to the cat. There is the Egyptian Mau and the origins of the word "meow" turns on the letter "M". The word for cat in many languages begins with "m" (origins of the word meow)

It all seems bound together.

Sep 18, 2009
Tabby cat's M
by: Ruth

Hi Finn, sorry I don't know where that story came from, I just remember my late mother telling me it when I was a little girl many moons ago. Her mother had told it to her,so it must be an old story.
I've been trying to find another tale lately too about Jesus with a cat in his arms,it's a lovely story but I can't remember it all,will post it when I find it.

Sep 18, 2009
Old girls
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

Hi Michael. Yes, you told about the loss of your old gal, but I don't recall you ever mentioning her name?

Milly's tabby "M" is maybe not the clearest one around, but it gave me a chance to post one of my favourite photos. 😉

She's our own breed and lay in the palm of my hand when she was newborn. The brightest of the litter and always very attached to my wife. Unfortunately none of the matings we arranged were successful, so our pedigree breed ended there - at least for now.

Now she's 15 and can't jump on tables as she used to. But she's still as bright as ever and with the knowledge gathered through her long life, her thinking is sometimes scaringly human.

Sep 18, 2009
The black cats and the blessed ones
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

That's a very nice legend too, Ruth. I never heard it before and I wonder where it's from and how long it goes back. Do you know?

If it goes back for centuries, maybe it has served to save at least some cats from persecution. In the days when cats (especially the black ones) were seen as Satan's creatures, a tabby cat marked by the Virgin Mary herself must have been much more safe from harm.

Sep 18, 2009
The M on the tabby's head
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

The version I grew up with, was that a tabby cat was always around the Virgin Mary comforting her in her sorrow at losing her Son Jesus Christ. She was so impressed at the cat's loyalty she blessed her by marking an X on her head and from henceforth all tabby kittens were born with the mark of Mary.

Sep 17, 2009
Hi Finn
by: Finn

Thanks, Finn, for this informative article - much appreciated. Love Milly and I love NFCs generally. I lived with a NFC mix and she was a super girl who I loved and still love dearly. She died 15 years ago. I may have told you already.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

    • Hi Maximus. Chika is a very fine looking cat with a magnificent "M" mark. Here is a different version of your v.good photo. My version is a bit cold in color balance. Thanks for commenting.

        • I don't like people making fun of religion especially such a strong religion like Islam and over a cat legend as well; what's wrong with people nowadays; Islam deserves respect and everyone knows that Mohammed was a fine fellow.

  • For Ralph Demattia, you are one nasty piece of work; cats are just cats and if there is a M on its head and there's a Muslim legend behind it then good for them.
    Suggesting people eat cats because their Muslim is appauling and a person like you should'nt be around even animals.
    Do 1

  • yea i hearld it was a mackeral marking or so i was told. Just love sooo much tabby cats they are the best.

  • Wake up ppl. How could this have anything to do with religion. Both Jesus and Mohammad peace be upon them spoke different languages. And that includes the beautiful mother of Jesus Mary. Not English. So certainly the letter "m" did not represent the first letter of their names back then.

    Simple logic ppl. Wake up!

    • It is just a nice fiction. The tabby "M" mark has nothing to do with religion. It is just a pattern of darker hairs amongst lighter hairs on a cat's forehead that is the result of the tabby genes inside the cat. Thanks for questioning it and for visiting.

  • I heard a different story: "When Mary & Joseph came to the manger a cat was lying in a nice bed of straw, Mary asked the cat if it would move so she could put the baby there. the cat moved and Mary ptted his head, marking him with an M as her sign."

  • The markings on the Tiger Tabbies had NOTHING to do with Islam. Those "people" only EAT cats! The Tiger Tabbie got the distinctive "M" because a Tiger Tabbie female and her mate were in the manger the night that the baby Jesus was born, and the Virgin Mary asked the cats to keep him warm, as the night was very cold. So they jumped into the crib and surrounded the baby with their warm furry bodies and kept him toasty warm all night. In the morning, to thank the cats, Mary blessed them with her initial for all to see forever - The "M" on their foreheads.

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