A British shorthair kitten plays with a toy while being evaluated at an international feline beauty show in Bucharest, Romania. (Andreea Alexandru/Mediafax via AP)

Cats may not quite have taken over the Internet and our smartphones, but they’re definitely starring characters. Apparently that’s increasingly true even in ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, which was news to Saleh bin Fawzan al-Fawzan, a prominent cleric who is a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars.

In a television appearance that was posted online in mid-April and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, the sheik was told by someone off-camera that “taking pictures with cats has been spreading among people, who want to be like the Westerners.”

“What?!” he responded, incredulous. The other person had to repeat the claim half a dozen times, in a variety of ways — “They are taking pictures with them, Sheik” — before it sunk in.

Saleh Bin Fawzan Al-Fazwan, a prominent cleric who is a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, made a television appearance in mid-April during which he prohibits people from taking selfies with cats. (The Middle East Media Research Institute)

Fawzan, you may have guessed, did not approve. But even though he seemed appalled by the idea of selfies with cats and pronounced them “prohibited,” it’s worth noting that he didn’t seem to have anything personal against felines. “The cats don’t matter here,” he said. “Taking pictures is prohibited if not for a necessity, not with cats, not with dogs, not with wolves, not with anything.”

Saudi Arabia’s strict brand of Islam certainly outlaws many practices that are common outside its borders. But a total ban on photography is a fairly fringe view held by some hard-line clerics, who believe it violates tenets against depicting human or animal images. The official Saudi Press Agency runs photos, and ordinary Saudis take pictures and selfies as much as the rest of us — including while making the pilgrimage to Mecca (which does not sit well with some clerics).

The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia even allows himself to be photographed. So it’s unlikely that Fawzan’s edict will spell the end of cat — or dog — selfies in Saudi Arabia.

Wolf selfies? They don’t seem to be huge in the kingdom or in the West — yet.

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