'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. It follows on from a popular series that ran in The National in 2015. 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.
All Quranic verses in English are from the Sahih International translation.
Next week, Rym Ghazal highlights stories of wild animals in the Quran.