Creatures of the Quran
– domesticated animals:
‘And there is no creature on [or within] the Earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered.” (Quran 6:38)
In this sixth surat (chapter) titled Al Anaam (The Cattle), Allah reminds humankind to regard animals and birds as “communities” that are similar to that of man. t’s a reminder to respect them as we would our own communities. They can have close-knit family units, they have needs and wants, their own language and traditions, and will, like all living things, return to the Almighty in the end.
In celebration of Ramadan’s tradition of Khatm Al Quran – completion of reading the entire Holy Quran in the month of fasting – this four-part series will explore the animal stories in the Quran and what lessons we can learn from them. There are more than 200 verses in the Quran dealing with animals and six chapters of the Quran are named after animals or insects: Surat 2, Al Baqarah (The Cow); Surat 6, Al Anaam (The Cattle), Surat 16, Al Nahl (The Bees); Surat 27, Al Naml (The Ants); Surat 29, Al Ankabut (The Spider); and Surat 105, Al Fil (The Elephant).
In the first part of our series, the focus is on the domesticated animals, such as horses, camels, cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and dogs.
The 100th surat, Al Adiyat (Those Who Run/The Chargers, also sometimes referred to as The Charging Stallions), refers to horses. The opening verses describe them running:
“By the racers, panting,
“And the producers of sparks [when] striking
“And the chargers at dawn,
“Stirring up thereby [clouds of] dust,
“Arriving thereby in the centre collectively,
“Indeed mankind, to his Lord, is ungrateful.” (Quran 100:1-6)
Animals, birds and insects are mentioned in the Quran for mankind to appreciate and learn from, such as the example above of the horses and their might and glory, and the below verses are about all the good that animals bring:
“And the grazing livestock He has created for you; in them is warmth and [numerous] benefits, and from them you eat.
“And for you in them is [the enjoyment of] beauty when you bring them in [for the evening] and when you send them out [to pasture].
“And they carry your loads to a land you could not have reached except with difficulty to yourselves. Indeed, your Lord is Kind and Merciful.
“And [He created] the horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and [as] adornment. And He creates that which you do not know.” (Quran 16:5-8)
Animals are considered as gifts to humanity, praised for their beauty and help, so Islam has set kindness and mercy towards them as one of its founding bricks of values. Like the verses with horses, the camel is also praised, and mankind is asked to reflect in awe over this creature that can survive the harshest of terrains:
“Then do they not look at the camels – how they are created?” (Quran 88:17)
One of the prominent mentions is that of a female camel, whose mistreatment and death led to the destruction of a whole tribe.
“And O my people, this is the she-camel of Allah – [she is] to you a sign. So let her feed upon Allah’s Earth and do not touch her with harm, or you will be taken by an impending punishment.” (Quran 11:64)
“And the messenger of Allah [Salih] said to them, “[Do not harm] the she-camel of Allah or [prevent her from] her drink.
“But they denied him and hamstrung her. So their Lord brought down upon them destruction for their sin and made it equal [upon all of them].” (Quran 91:13-14)
The story of the Prophet Salih and the powerful tribe of Thamud, who were arrogant, oppressive and fell into idol-worshipping, is told through several verses in the Quran. It tells how the tribe doubted him and asked for proof of his prophethood. He had called on his people to worship Allah alone, and not to associate partners with Him. They in return asked for a miracle: a unique she-camel to come from the mountains or the rocks. And such a great she-camel did appear.
According to other sources, there were different miracles attributed to the camel, from one coming out of a big rock that split, to another being pregnant and giving birth, to the she-camel producing sufficient milk for everyone.
He called on them to be kind to the camel, respect it and not to cause it any harm. But the tribe hated Prophet Salih for his miracle, and so they plotted, and harmed and killed the camel. They mocked Prophet Salih and dared him to bring about punishment for their evil deed.
Salih told them they had three days before punishment for their disobedience and insolence.
“So the earthquake seized them, and they became within their home [corpses] fallen prone.
“And he turned away from them and said, ‘O my people, I had certainly conveyed to you the message of my Lord and advised you, but you do not like advisors.’” (Quran 7:78 -79)
There is a site named after Prophet Salih, known as the archaeological site of Al Hijr, or Madain Salih, within Saudi Arabia’s Al Medina region. It was the first World Heritage property to be designated in Saudi Arabia by Unesco, in 2008. Formerly known as Hegra, it’s the largest conserved site of the civilisation of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan. It features well-preserved monumental tombs with decorated facades dating from the first century BC to the first century AD.
The other animal mentioned in the Quran, yet often in real life is abused, is the dog. In the Surat Al Kahf (The Cave), a faithful dog accompanies a group of youths in the story of the People of the Cave, protecting them as they sleep for more than 300 years. Whenever people passed by the cave, it looked as if the dog was just keeping watch at the entrance, making them afraid to look inside. They were concealed and saved from those who were after them.
At the same time, other verses remind Muslims to behave better, using the donkey as an example. Even though the donkey is praised for its hard work in verses, Luqman, the wise, who has an entire chapter named after him, says to his son:
“And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice; indeed, the most disagreeable of sounds is the voice of donkeys.” (Quran 31:19)
Verses of the Quran are lessons. The domesticated animals are mentioned for their excellence, loyalty and many gifts for which humankind should be grateful. Harming them, like that of the miracle she-camel, brought about the wrath of the creator.
- Creatures of the Quran: wild animals
Each animal mentioned in the Quran has a role, regardless of size and species. Sometimes they are part of a story and sometimes they are the story, with timeless lessons to be learnt from them.
Some we can only imagine, such as Al Buraq (Lightning), a mythological horse described as a creature from the heavens that transported the Prophet Mohammed during his Ascension or the Night Journey (Israa wal Miraj), which are the two parts of Prophet Mohammed’s journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back during one night. The five daily prayers for all Muslims were commanded by God during this journey.
After exploring domesticated animals in the Quran in the first part of this series last week, this second part will focus on wild animals.
From elephants of war, the powerful lion and slithering snakes to the hungry wolf and leaping frogs, there’s wisdom in the verses in which they appear.
In the 105th surat (chapter), Al Fil, which is named after the elephant, the verses tell the story of the “people of the elephant” and how a marching army of elephants from Yemen were stopped from destroying the Kaaba, in Mecca, by an army of ababil birds (swallows) with showers of stones that they threw from the skies.
“Have you not considered, [O Mohammed], how your Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant?
“Did He not make their plan into misguidance?
“And He sent against them birds in flocks,
“Striking them with stones of hard clay,
“And He made them like eaten straw.”(Quran 105:1-5)
While there are different versions, the most commonly repeated and accepted story behind these verses is that a powerful leader, whose name was Abraha – king of Yemen (which at that time was ruled by the Abyssinians) – wanted to divert pilgrims away from Mecca to his church in Sanaa. He marched on with his army of elephants, but failed in the end. It’s also said that the leader of the elephants stopped at the boundaries of Mecca and refused to march on. Given this event’s significance, it was called the Year of the Elephant, with some scholars equating it to 570, the year Prophet Mohammed is said to have been born.
The significance of this story is how the power of a united front, even if by a flock of birds, could overcome the strongest of animals, such as elephants.
In other verses, using the lion, it illustrates the extent of fear from the truth, that they flee from it and from the remembrance of Allah and the Quran, as if “Fleeing from a lion?” (Quran 74:51).
Then we have the snake. Also known as a serpent, it’s referenced several times in the Quran in connection to Prophet Musa (Moses) and his famous staff.
“And [he was told], ‘Throw down your staff.’ But when he saw it writhing as if it was a snake, he turned in flight and did not return. [ Allah said], ‘O Moses, approach and fear not. Indeed, you are of the secure.’” (Quran 28:31)
The staff turning into a snake was one of Prophet Musa’s miracles, one that has biblical references as well, where the staff was also used to produce water from a rock and in the parting of the Red Sea.
Frogs are mentioned as part of a series of misfortunes sent to the disbelievers of Prophet Musa.
“So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people.” (Quran 7:133)
In other instances, the animals make an appearance as part of a Prophet’s story, such as the story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), son of Prophet Yaqub, who ends up being betrayed by his brothers because they’re jealous of the closeness between Yusuf and Yaqub.
In the 12th surat, named after Prophet Yusuf, the verses reveal the concerns of the father:
“[Jacob] said, “Indeed, it saddens me that you should take him, and I fear that a wolf would eat him while you are of him unaware.’
“They said, ‘If a wolf should eat him while we are a [strong] clan, indeed, we would then be losers.’” (Quran: 12:13-14)
Instead of killing him, the brothers throw Prophet Yusuf into a well, and go back to the father with a lie about a wolf.
“And they came to their father at night, weeping.
“They said, ‘O our father, indeed we went racing each other and left Joseph with our possessions, and a wolf ate him. But you would not believe us, even if we were truthful.’
“And they brought upon his shirt false blood. [Jacob] said, ‘Rather, your souls have enticed you to something, so patience is most fitting. And Allah is the one sought for help against that which you describe.’” (Quran 12:16-18)
Not all creatures mentioned are explained, with some remaining a mystery, such as Al Daba, which translates to a beast or creature, and as the verses reveal, will come as one of the signs of the coming of the day of judgement (the end of the world) and will have the ability to speak to humankind.
“And when the word befalls them, We will bring forth for them a creature from the Earth speaking to them, [saying] that the people were, of Our verses, not certain [in faith].” (Quran 27:82)
Whether feared or revered, the role that wild animals play in relaying messages and lessons remains profound and timeless, with a new generations of Muslims rediscovering them each time they read the Quran.
- Creatures of the Quran: Insects and bug
In the penultimate part of our Ramadan series, we examine the many types of insects – and the spider – that feature in the Quran.
The tiniest of creatures are paid homage to in the Quran, where in their hard work, contribution to Earth and mankind, and sometimes even in the plights they bring about, there is a wisdom behind their creation.
In this third part of our Animals in the Quran series, the focus is on insects, from bees and ants to worms, plus spiders, and the often less-welcomed: swarms of locusts, lice, flies and mosquitoes.
“And your Lord inspired to the bee, Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct.
“Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you]. There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colours, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.” (Quran 16:68-69)
In the surat (chapter) named after the bees, Al Nahl, Allah informs mankind about the healing power found in the different coloured honey made by the hard-working bees. The teamwork and level of organisation that goes into its production – because a single bee can’t make honey on its own – should be an example for mankind on the importance of working together. The bees are venerated for their diligence and sacrifices, and just how respected they are is highlighted in a hadith (narration) by the Prophet Mohammed.
He said: “By the one in whose hand my soul is, the believer is like a bee which eats that is pure and wholesome and lays that which is pure and wholesome. When it lands on something, it doesn’t break or ruin it.”
Then there’s the spider, nowadays often viewed as a nuisance and killed, which played an important role in protecting Prophet Mohammed.
When the Prophet and his companion Abu Bakr (the first Caliph) sought refuge in the Cave of Jabal Thawr in Mecca, those in pursuit from Quraysh couldn’t find them even though they passed right by their hiding spot. It’s widely told in Islamic narrations that Allah sent a spider and two doves to conceal the Prophet. The spider spun a delicate web across the entrance to make it appear that no one had entered the cave in a long time, while a dove sat at the entrance nesting with her mate. Together, they made it appear that no one had passed through the spot.
At the same time, the fragility of a spider’s web is used as an example to warn disbelievers:
“The example of those who take allies other than Allah is like that of the spider who takes a home. And indeed, the weakest of homes is the home of the spider, if they only knew.” (Quran 29:41)
The hard-working ant also gets a chapter named after it and it’s part of the story of Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon), who was gifted with the ability to speak and understand the language of animals, birds and insects. As told in the verses of the Quran, one of Prophet Sulaiman’s stories tells of his encounter with the smallest of creatures, the ant.
“Until, when they came upon the valley of the ants, an ant said, ‘O ants, enter your dwellings that you not be crushed by Solomon and his soldiers while they perceive not.’
“So [Solomon] smiled, amused at her speech, and said, ‘My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favour which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to do righteousness of which You approve. And admit me by Your mercy into [the ranks of] Your righteous servants.’” (Quran 27:18-19)
Prophet Sulaiman couldn’t hold back a smile as he heard the ant talk, and he thanked the Almighty for the many favours bestowed upon him, including his ability to understand and avoid trampling over the homes of the ants.
Mercy and compassion towards other living beings, no matter their size and shape, is one of the foundations of Islam. In one narration, Prophet Mohammed censured some of his companions for acts of cruelty towards birds’ and ants’ homes.
Abdullah narrated a journey with the Messenger of Allah in which they saw a red sparrow with two chicks, and when they took her chicks, the sparrow started to flap her wings. The Prophet came to them and said: “Who has upset her by taking her children? Give her children back to her.” The Prophet also saw an ant colony that they had burned and asked: “Who burned this?” When they admitted they did, the Prophet said: “No one should punish with fire except the Lord of the fire.”
The Quran refers to the creature of the Earth, believed to be a worm, that most take for granted, that gave away the fact that Prophet Sulaiman had passed away while sitting holding onto his staff. It was a lesson to the mystical jinn, over whom Prophet Sulaiman had power, who weren’t able to see what was right in front of them.
“And when We decreed for Solomon’s death, nothing indicated to the jinn his death except a creature of the Earth eating his staff. But when he fell, it became clear to the jinn that if they had known the unseen, they would not have remained in humiliating punishment.” (Quran 34:14)
The Quran also mentions mosquitoes, locusts, lice and flies to highlight how small creatures can be powerful, especially in big numbers, and some have been sent as punishment.
“So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people.” (Quran 7:133)
Whether useful or harmful, insects are created by Allah, and even though they may be small and not always liked, there’s a lot to learn from them. As revealed by the following verse, even a fly can be unstoppable.
“O people, an example is presented, so listen to it. Indeed, those you invoke besides Allah will never create [as much as] a fly, even if they gathered together for that purpose. And if the fly should steal away from them a [tiny] thing, they could not recover it from him. Weak are the pursuer and pursued.” (Quran 22:73)
- Creatures of the Quran: birds, fish and the whale
In the fourth and final part of our Ramadan series looking at the creatures of the Quran, we highlight the stories of birds, fish and the whale. This week, we focus on birds, fish and the whale, and their role in the Quran in teaching us about ourselves and how to live our lives.
There’s the story of the hud-hud (hoopoe bird) that passed on messages; the crow that taught man an important lesson that we use to this day; the patient whale; the quail; and fish of all sizes.
Seeing a crow or a raven is considered in various traditions as a bad omen, a creature bringing bad luck or bad news. While there are different theories as to why it’s viewed negatively, it could be because it’s the creature in the Quran associated with death and mankind’s first murder.
“And his soul permitted to him the murder of his brother, so he killed him and became among the losers.
“Then Allah sent a crow searching in the ground to show him how to hide the disgrace of his brother. He said, ‘O woe to me! Have I failed to be like this crow and hide the body of my brother?’ And he became of the regretful.” (Quran 5:30-31)
When the son of Prophet Adam, the first man on Earth, committed murder, Allah sent him a crow to teach him what to do with the body. After Qabeel (Cain) killed his brother Habeel (Abel), it’s said that the crow dug a hole in the Earth using its claws, dragged a dead crow into the hole, then covered it completely with dirt. Qabeel imitated the bird and buried his brother, feeling great remorse over his sin of killing. To this day, Muslims bury their dead, and there are different rituals and traditions that have been adopted over the centuries as they lay our dead to rest.
Then there’s the story of the hud-hud in the Quran, who Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon), also known as the King Prophet, was looking for as he was inspecting his flock of birds, and noticed he was missing. Prophet Sulaiman was known for his wisdom and knowledge, and was bestowed with many special gifts and powers, such as the ability to command wind and the mystical jinn, and could understand and speak the language of animals, birds and insects. In this particular story, Prophet Sulaiman was getting angry about the missingbird when the hud-hud appeared, bringing with it important news.
“But the hoopoe stayed not long and said, ‘I have encompassed [in knowledge] that which you have not encompassed, and I have come to you from Sheba with certain news.
“‘Indeed, I found [there] a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne.
“‘I found her and her people prostrating to the Sun instead of Allah, and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so they are not guided,
“‘[And] so they do not prostrate to Allah, who brings forth what is hidden within the heavens and the Earth and knows what you conceal and what you declare –
“Allah – there is no deity except Him, Lord of the Great Throne.’
“[Solomon] said, ‘We will see whether you were truthful or were of the liars.
“‘Take this letter of mine and deliver it to them. Then leave them and see what they will return.’” (Quran 27:22-28)
The bird told Prophet Sulaiman about the people of Saba (Sheba of southern Arabia) and their Queen, who worshipped the Sun. The bird then carried a letter from Prophet Sulaiman in which he called upon the Queen and her people to stop worshipping the Sun and worship Allah. The bird was instrumental in bringing the two figures together, and many legends surround her visit to Prophet Sulaiman, whereupon she eventually embraces his faith.
Size doesn’t seem to matter, with small birds having big roles, and big creatures such as the whale changing the course of a prophet’s life.
In the story of Prophet Yunus (Jonah), his name is forever associated with the whale, and he’s also named “Dhul-Nun” (The one of the whale). As retold in the Quran, Prophet Yunus was delivering the messages of Allah, and when those around him didn’t pay heed to him, he became disappointed and left in anger. Then on-board a ship, a storm hit and the passengers cast lots to see who would be thrown off the ship. Prophet Yunus ended up being the one condemned. He was thrown into the sea and swallowed by the great fish (whale), and it was inside this whale, which was instructed to keep the Prophet safe, that he reflected and learnt to be patient and repented.
“And indeed, Jonah was among the messengers.
“[Mention] when he ran away to the laden ship.
“And he drew lots and was among the losers.
“Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy.
“And had he not been of those who exalt Allah,
“He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected.
“But We threw him onto the open shore while he was ill.
“And We caused to grow over him a gourd vine.
“And We sent him to [his people of] a hundred thousand or more.
“And they believed, so We gave them enjoyment [of life] for a time.” (Quran 37:139-148)
Not all such animals mentioned had a direct story – some were referenced as gifts from Allah, such as the quails (known as salwa), tayer (birds widely translated as fowl) and fish from the sea as good and healthy food for mankind to appreciate and be grateful for.
“And We shaded you with clouds and sent down to you manna and quails, [saying], ‘Eat from the good things with which We have provided you.’ And they wronged Us not – but they were [only] wronging themselves.” (Quran 2:57)
“And it is He who subjected the sea for you to eat from it tender meat and to extract from it ornaments which you wear. And you see the ships plowing through it, and [He subjected it] that you may seek of His bounty; and perhaps you will be grateful.” (Quran 16:14)
So whether in the skies or in the seas, these animals of all shapes and sizes are seen as blessed and their lives and stories are examples for mankind to observe, learn from and appreciate.