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.

An illustration of a crow for the Creatures of the Quran series. Illustration by Vishal / Noun Project
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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 [answer] 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.

All the Quranic verses here use the Sahih International Translation.

You can read the previous three features on the animals of the Quran at