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Birds of the Quran
Birds make several appearances in the Quran, in a variety of contexts. They were part of unforgettable stories in prophetic history, appearing with such illustrious figures as Abraham, Joseph, Solomon, David, and Jesus (peace be upon them). What follows are some of the references made to birds in the Quran and brief explanations. It is important to note that the Quran descended from heaven to this tiny miraculous planet where we were intended to live and die. The Quran, therefore, makes references to the natural world because it forms an important part of our experience and our ability to make sense of our purpose and ultimate destiny.
Abraham and a Calm Heart
Prophet Abraham’s story with the birds is one of the most turned to stories in the Quran. The theme it evokes touches the soul of all of us who seek a kind of reassurance that satisfies our natural desires for both belief and proof. The Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) asks: “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” He said, “Do you not believe?” He said, “I do! But this is so my heart may be calm.” He said, “Then take four birds and draw them to you. Then place a part of them on each mountain. Then call them; they shall come to you in a rush. And know that indeed Allah is overpowering, all-wise” (Quran, 2:260).
The most popular interpretation of this verse is that Abraham was ordered to take these birds and to physically cut them into pieces and to place each of these pieces on separate mountains. When Abraham called to them, Allah caused their parts to be rejoined and refilled with pulse and life. They then flew to Abraham with a speed that showed no sign of trauma—no sign that they had just been dismembered and scattered. And in this way did God show His prophet how He gives life to the dead. Abraham did not have doubt; what he wanted to know was “how” Allah gives life to the dead. Abraham had certainty that Allah gives life and causes death. What he sought was a higher level of certainty which involved his heart and eyes.
Jesus and Miracles
[Jesus said]: “Truly, I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I create for you a bird-like figure out of mud. Then I blow into it, and it becomes a bird—by Allah’s permission (Quran, 3:49). Allah said, “O Jesus, son of Maryam, remember My grace upon you and upon your mother when I aided you with the Holy Spirit so that you may speak to people in the cradle and as a grown man; and I taught you the Book and the wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and you created out of mud a bird-like figure—by My permission; then you blew into it, thus it became a bird—by My permission (Quran, 5:110).
Jesus was never unclear of his role; never unsure of his humanity; never confused about the fact that God is God, and nothing else is or ever was to any degree. The miracles that came at his hands were by the power, permission, and grace of his Lord, Allah the Exalted, who aided His Prophet with miracles so that the people would heed his words and follow his mission. One of the miracles bestowed upon Jesus is him taking a clump of clay and shaping it into the form of a bird. When Jesus blew into it, this clay became a live bird—a miracle from Allah.
Solomon and the Hoopoe
Animals have the ability to communicate with their kind, from the chemical secretions of worms sending messages to other worms to the songs of birds that warn or attract. Communication is essential for the survival of all creatures. Prophet Solomon was blessed with the ability to understand the utterances of animals, a miraculous ability to interpret otherwise unintelligible sounds in a way that was as clear to him as human language. And Solomon was the heir of David, and he said, “O people, we have been taught the utterance of birds, and we have been given of everything. Indeed, this is a manifest favor” (Quran, 27:16). There was one bird that was especially noted in the Quran. It was a hoopoe. Hoopoes are a family of birds that typically have long thin beaks and a crested head. The hoopoe in Solomon’s court was his personal messenger. And [Solomon] reviewed the birds, and he said, “Why do I not see the hoopoe, or is he of those absent? I shall surely punish him severely or slay him, or he must come to me with a clear excuse.” But [the hoopoe] was not long in coming, and it said, “I have found out what you have not apprehended, and I come to you from Sheba with tidings!” (Quran, 27:20-22). The bird reported to Solomon that it came across a kingdom ruled by a powerful and wealthy woman, Queen Sheba, who had a magnificent throne. But she and her people, as the hoopoe reported, bowed to the sun in worship, a fact that disturbed Solomon. Solomon sent a letter with the hoopoe to give to the Queen herself, inviting her and her people to the worship of the one and true God. All of his happened through the auspices of one special bird. Ultimately, Queen Sheba renounced idolatry and joined Solomon in the worship of God.
David and Birds Glorifying God
And We subjugated the mountains and the birds to give glory along with David (Quran, 27:79); And indeed, We gave David a great favor from Us: “O mountains and birds, repeat with him [My praises]!” (Quran, 34:10); And We subjugated the mountains to give glory [to God], along with [David], in the evenings and at sunrise, and the birds in assembly (Quran, 38:18-19).
These wondrous verses tell of three levels of worship and the glorification of God and reminds its reader that this world, all of it (what see and do not see), gives glory to Allah, the Creator and Sustainer. These verses, however, tell specifically of three kinds of glorification. First is the glorification of the mountains, that is, inanimate creation composed of inanimate smaller parts. Second is the glorification of birds, animate life forms whose songs and way of life give glory to Allah without error. Third is the glorification of David , a human being with the ability to chose to glorify Allah or not; a creature whose expression of glorification comes in the form of words, the highest level of communication among Allah’s creatures. All three kinds of creatures have been commanded to give glory to Allah through the “language” that matches each creation. We should note also that David was well known for the beauty of his voice, a melodic splendor from the throat and tongue of a great Prophet of Allah. The Prophet Muhammad once said to Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari, his Companion who was exceptionally gifted in the recitation of the Quran: “You have been given a mizmâr [exceptional sense of melody] from the family of David,” that is, a melodious voice that could bring people to tears.
There are several other contexts in which the Quran mentions birds, not the least of which include: the birds pelting the Companions of the Elephant who marched from Yemen to destroy the Ka‘ba; the story of the crow and the sons of Adam; and more. The Quran is a Book not from this world, but for us who live in this world. It teaches us the full range of lessons that we require to live peaceably and with peace of mind, and it also teaches these lessons by employing the things and creatures that are common to us all.